My Year of the Cucumber

I feel grateful for the cucumbers. I killed my tomatoes this year. There, I said it. I think it was a combination of poor transplant timing, a non-gardener house sitter, and the persistent rain this year, but they seemed like they barely stood a chance.

Maybe it’s just as well – I am usually cursing the plants come August, desperately trying to keep them alive and fighting off disease, horn worms, heat, and raiding birds. 

At first I was disappointed, but looking back now as the weather cools a bit, I’m realizing that despite the rain, I grew my best crop of cucumbers this year! I declined to id the diseases taking over the vines…but they lasted into early September, providing cucumbers for fresh eating, pickles, and kimchi!

We enjoyed a lot of cucumber kimchi this season and were sad to finally finish up the last of the last batch. It became one of our favorite garden dishes this year! Cucumber kimchi is quick to come together and quick to ferment, and we used it to dress up salads, as a topping for many meals, and  a flavor-packed snack and appetizer for munching in between meals. Recipe below!

IMG_2871

Cucumber Kimchi

This kimchi can be made from any type of cucumbers, but I prefer small, freshly harvested pickling varieties. I try to harvest them young before their skin gets too tough and their seed cavity grows larger (and more watery) – but if you’re faced with an abundance of cucumbers of any variety and most harvest ages, this is a good treatment that will help them last a little longer as a good salty snack!

Gather

  • 3 pounds cucumbers
  • Salt
  • 2 large shallots or 1 onion
  • 1/2 bulb garlic
  • 2-inch piece ginger
  • 2 tbsp Gochugaru chili flakes
  • 1 tbsp Fish sauce (substitute miso to make it vegan)
  • 1/2 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Rice wine vinegar

Make

  • Wash the cucumbers, scrubbing off any blossoms. Cut the cucumbers first into one-inch coins, then cut a cross into one side of each thick coin about half-way through (leaving the bottom end fully attached). But don’t worry if you cut fully through a few – it’s ok! Lay the cucumbers out in one layer with the cut sides up and sprinkle some salt all over. Set aside.
  • Make the paste. Peel and thinly slice the shallots or onion.. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger. Mix the shallots, garlic, and ginger together with the chili flakes, fish sauce, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. You may need to add a bit of water to thin the paste to a spreadable consistency – think stone ground mustard. Taste the paste – adding more salt, sugar, acid (vinegar) or savoriness (fish sauce or miso) – as needed. The paste should have all these flavors with a slight balance towards saltiness and savoriness. 
  • Pat dry the cucumbers with a clean towel. Now (if you have gloves, I usually use them for this part), rub the paste all over the cucumbers and try to push some paste into the cracks. Lay the cucumbers again in one layer into a dish and cover. Leave on a counter out of direct sunlight to ferment. Some enjoy this after only a few hours as a salad, though I prefer to ferment for 2-3 days at room temperature. Start checking for a deeper fermented flavor at 2 days – but the cucumbers should still be crunchy. Once they have developed some deeper acidity but still have a good crunch, move to the fridge and enjoy over the next two weeks!

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