My Grandmother loves her vegetable garden. At the age of 90 I think she looks forward to tending to her little patch of greenery more than anything else in the world. Each summer I can expect to get fresh cucumbers, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and Swiss chard, just to name a few things. This year she has 16 cucumber plants and there are enough cucumbers everyday to eat, pickle, and to give away. They are her pride and joy. If I don’t see her in the house watching the Phillies (her love of baseball is another story) or the Travel Channel, I can count on her being outside gazing lovingly at her cucumber vines. This past week she has been letting me pick the cucumbers each morning and in the evening. They are growing so fast that there are noticeable differences within 12 hours; it’s amazing! Of course she keeps track of how many cucumbers we’ve harvested (98 so far) and today we pickled them, Korean style.
My Grandma told me that the young, tender cucumbers are best for this kind of pickling, and if I were to buy them I should look for Korean cucumbers (they are pale green and slender) or Peruvian ones (that’s my Mom’s note). As she served as our supervisor, my Mom and I shouted out our questions every now and then to ask and confirm what we needed to do. I made this once with her before but I thought today I’d write out all the ingredients and the steps taken, so that I can record the recipe. We had a lot of cucumbers today (including 5 I picked moments before) so this will make a large batch…
25 cucumbers (Korean cucumbers- Chosun-ohyi)
Several bunches of Korean chives (buchu)1: cut ~1 inch long
5-6 scallions: chopped
3 Tbsp garlic: minced
1 medium onion: grated
Korean chili powder3
Coarse sea salt
1 We used today was from the garden but Korean groceries should have buchu. They look like regular chives but the Korean ones are flat, and a bit peppery. They can be cut up (~1 inch) and mixed with a flour-based batter, and made into thin pancakes.
2 Sometimes the liquids/juices from fermented shrimp paste is used but I find that too potent, so we used some Thai fish sauce instead.
3 In Korean it’s called gochu-garu. Gochu = peppers, garu = powder. There are different varieties based on what you’re making. We used a type of chili power for making kimchi, which is coarser than the ones used for soups and stews.
1. Rub each cucumber with coarse sea salt and set aside.
2. Cut the cucumbers in thirds and make two incisions in the middle, making sure that the slits don’t go all the way to the end.
3. In a large bowl, put a layer of cucumbers down (the thickest & the end pieces first) and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Put the rest of the cucumbers on top, adding more salt on each layer. Not to waste anything I washed the salt off of my hands and let the salt water drip into the bowl containing the cucumbers, but there shouldn’t be a puddle of water and the cucumbers don’t need to be submerged.
4. While the cucumbers are pickling in salt, mix all of the other ingredients in another bowl- buchu, grated onion, minced garlic, chopped scallions, chili powder, and fish sauce. The amount of this mixture really depends on how many cucumbers you’re pickling. It’s a guessing game but you can’t go wrong by having a bit more or a bit less. The same is true about the chili powder; if the powder is particularly spicy you’d use less. When all combined however, the mixture should be a bit saltier than you think- this is a pickle recipe after all.
5. You know the cucumbers are ready when the slits you cut bow out with some pressure from your fingers. Set aside the ones that are ready and be patient until the thicker pieces are salted through (for us, it took about 25 minutes).
6. An important step and this cannot be skipped! Rinse the salted cucumbers so that the residual salt is washed off. We poured cold water into the bowl of salted cucumbers first and then squeezed each one to get all the water out.
7. Now here comes the messy part. Stuff each piece of cucumber with the buchu mixture, making sure to fill in all the slits.
8. Layer the finished pieces in a plastic or a glass container. Push down to make sure there aren’t any air pockets in between and let the container sit in a cool area for a few hours before putting it in the refrigerator- we let our sit for about 4 hours.
As you can guess, nothing about Korean cooking is exact. How long you leave it outside depends on the weather and how quickly you want to eat the pickles. This cucumber dish is typically made in the summer time when cucumbers are in season. If it’s really hot outside and you want things to move along quickly, then you can let it sit out longer but it should keep for a few months in the fridge. As it cures and pickles the color of the cucumbers will slowly turn yellowish from green but they will always be really crunchy. We decided that we won’t eat this until about a month from now so the container is sitting in a separate fridge and will stay there for a while. I don’t like the pickles to be too sour but the right amount of “done-ness” is also very subjective.
Grandma wants to make a different kind of pickle next week- I hope she lets me help…