We are little bit obsessed with fermentation, in particular fermented cucumbers seem to be one of our favourites! Last year we put up our fermented dill pickle recipe, which truly is one of the most popular recipes in our house, and we eat them non-stop throughout winter. I think it’s because in the depths of winter, eating a fermented, crisp cucumber tastes so delicious and fresh, at a time when you seem to be eating basically all cooked food.
So this year we have been experimenting with cucumber kimchi - which combines two of our favourite things together: Cucumbers + kimchi.
Fermentation is super good for you – this style of preserving, preserves all of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in the vegetables and additionally adds lots of good bacteria, to help maintain gut and immune health. We try to have something fermented with every meal, especially coming into winter and throughout it, to keep us well as it begins to get so cold.
Early autumn where we are, is generally the most prolific time of the year – where the summer garden is still thriving and the abundance of wild foods begins (e.g. wild weeds, wild mushrooms, game). But this year it seems autumn is a little colder, a little earlier than normally – with some of our crops already looking as though they have been hit by a small frost. And that's been the way all season, it's been a very 'compact' one. So we are quickly trying to respond to nature, pickling and preserving all that we can and getting ready for winter, as our diet changes, and we have less fresh food around – basically so that we can enjoy things like cucumbers, between now and next summer!
If you are in the southern hemisphere, like us, this is for you to prepare for winter and get preserving. And if you are in the northern hemisphere, this is for you to get excited for your summer crops ahead!
And this batch of kimchi in particular, is for an out of this world lovely person named Sophie. We owe her a fresh batch of kimchi, in exchange for this absolutely life changing fermenting crock that she handmade for us.
Makes 2 x 1L jars // Time overnight soak + 30 minutes prep + 5-7 days fermenting
This recipe makes a crunchy cucumber kimchi, with a little sourness from the lactic-acid (good) bacteria and is medium-hot! Adjust chilli heat as desired!
2.5 kg cucumbers, sliced finely or mandolined
250g unrefined salt (10% fresh vegetable weight)
150 g Korean chilli powder (see note), or 300g fresh red Korean chillies (more if you like it extra hot!)
5 x large (150 g total) spring onions, finely chopped
5cm piece (35g) fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 bulb (35g) garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamari
200 g honey or unrefined sugar (e.g. rapadura, panella)
1 tablespoon unrefined salt
2 x large sacrificial leaves - cabbage or wombok leaves work great!
2 x 1 litre jars with lids
Day 1, vegetables:
Place cucumbers into a very large mixing bowl or bucket and cover with sea salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Cover with enough unchlorinated water (must be unchlorinated for the fermentation to work later) to submerge all of the cucumber. Place a weight (like a plate/s) on top so that all of the cucumber is submerged (don't worry if a few slices escape!) and leave to brine overnight.
Day 2, paste:
The following day, strain the vegetables and submerge in fresh water. Strain and taste. When ready, the cucumber shouldn’t taste at all bitter and be just saltier than seems normal. If a lot too salty or bitter at all, wash, strain and taste again. If not salty enough, add more salt until you hit the spot.
Place all paste ingredients in a mortar and pestle or blender and grind/blend thoroughly until smooth. Taste. If you want it hotter, add more chilli. More pungent? Add more garlic. Remember there will be a distinct sourness introduced from the lactic-fermentation, which will change the flavour a little! When you’re happy with the flavour, combine the paste and the cucumber in a big mixing bowl and massage thoroughly with your hands. You may want to wear gloves (it’s SPICY!)!
Put it in jars & ferment:
Stuff the mixture into jars, pushing down to extract the liquid out of the cucumber. Place one “sacrificial” leaf on the top to each jar to keep everything else totally submerged under the liquid. Put the lids in place but don’t fully tighten and place the jars on a plate (they’re likely to overflow during fermentation!). Leave your kimchi at room temperature for 5-7 days depending on the temperature (you want the temperature to be around 20-40 degrees).
At about day 5 start to taste your kimchi by removing the leaf on top and tasting the cucumbers underneath. When ready, your kimchi will be sharply acidic and smell very strongly pungent but it shouldn’t smell ‘off’ at all. The cucumber should still be crunchy. If the cucumber has turned soft, or black/colourful moulds have developed something has gone wrong and the batch should be discarded. If a little white mould develops at the surface though that’s totally fine, just scrape it away and discard - underneath will be magical.
Once your happy it’s ready, store it in the fridge. It will last here for as long as it takes to eat it all!
Korean chilli powder (gochugaru) is key if you want to nail kimchi (I.e. don't just use any old chilli powder). We grow our own Korean chillies (seeds are widely available online).
We are running a pickling and preserving workshop in Melbourne, Sunday April 17th. Come along!
We will talk you through preserving with the seasons - bottling (preserving with heat) and fermentation (preserving for health!).
Click here for tickets.