Capital for, lowercase bidden.
Yet here it is—kimchee. Right on the table. I’ve got the house to myself for 24 hours and this is the vice that whispers most compellingly. By morning, the place should be aired out and nobody will be the wiser.
It’s the smell. That’s what gets me in trouble. Some who make it at home actually keep separate refrigerators (even outside) in which to store these aromatic Korean pickles. Pungent and penetrating, nearly every variety of kimchee—from cabbage to radish—infuses the entire place with garlic and hot peppers. My gumbo and red beans are no strangers to garlic or peppers, but there’s no restriction on them because neither stinks up the place quite the same way. Those don’t ferment, you see. And that’s when the penetrating power of Korean pickles shoulders its way in.
Southern California kimchee lovers with home-pickling injunctions are in luck. While nearly any Korean market has kimchee for those who aren’t allowed or don’t want to make it, Zion Market has dozens (hundreds?) of prepared kimchees for take-out. Every now and again I head there to load up on red pepper paste and threads, cheap sea salt…and stinky-ass contraband.
When I have more than a single day alone, I will occasionally crank out a quick cucumber kimchee nearly identical to the one I picked at Zion along with a dried radish version (in the bowl, above). If all you know is the Napa cabbage type, give this fresh and crisp one a spin.
Cucumber Kimchee (Oi Sobagi)
10 Kirby cucumbers, about 5” long
1 small bunch of green onions (about 5), chopped fine
I entire head of garlic, chopped fine
2 Tbl. fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbl. red pepper threads or 1½ Tbl. New Mexican chile powder
2-3 Tbl. kosher or sea salt (plus extra for salting)
2 tsp white sugar
Wash the cucumbers and trim the blossom end from each. Cut each cucumber down its length almost to the stem end, but not all the way through. Turn the cucumber and make an identical cut at a 90° angle to the first. The cuke should still be held together at the stem end. Rub salt into the cuts and place in a colander to drain for an hour.
Mix the spring onions, garlic, ginger, pepper, and sugar in a nonreactive bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of kosher or flaky sea salt to taste (remember: not subtle).
Rinse and drain the cucumbers. Stuff them lightly with the mixture. Pack the stuffed cucumbers carefully into a big glass jar or two. Let ferment at room temperature for at least one day, when they’re begin to sour slightly from the fermentation. Refrigerate once they reach a point of sourness you like, then eat them all within a week.