Kimchi, a dish made from fermented vegetables, is a staple food in Korean cuisine and in Korean-American author Min Jin Lee’s family. Lee is the author of the novel “Pachinko,” a historical family saga that follows four generations of ethnic Koreans who migrate to Japan, and our July pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This.”
Throughout the novel, we often get glimpses into traditional Korean cuisine, whether it’s the delicious meals Sunja’s mother manages to throw together at her small boarding house or the kimchi Sunja and her sister-in-law decide to sell in the streets to make money for their family. Lee said she got the idea to include that storyline because “women around the world who are poor and illiterate and have very little basis for capital will usually make food and sell it.”
Earlier this month, PBS NewsHour visited Lee and her mother in their home in Harlem in New York City to learn how to make their family recipe for stuffed cucumber kimchi, or “oi-soh-bahgi.” To make the recipe, watch the video with Lee and her mom in the player above, or follow the steps in the text recipe below.
Stuffed Cucumber Kimchi (Oi-soh-bahgi)
By Mi Hwa Lee (Min Jin’s mom)
20 minutes to prepare
Eat fresh, or allow to ferment for 1-3 days
4 cups water
3 Tbs. Kosher salt
8 Kirby cucumbers
“Soh” or “Dressing”:
1 ½ cups Chinese chives (cut into ½” lengths)
2 heaping Tbs. gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
½ large sweet onion, minced fine
4 stalks of scallions, chopped
1 Tbs. minced ginger
8 cloves of garlic, minced fine
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. rice flour
3 Tbs. water
disposable plastic gloves
2 clean, quart-sized jars with lids
HOW TO MAKE IT
1. Prepare salt bath:
Add salt to water and heat to boiling.
2. Prepare cucumbers:
Wash and trim edges of the cucumbers. Cut cucumbers in half, then make criss-cross incisions, leaving ½” uncut, which will serve as the base.
Pour salt bath over prepared cucumbers. You will soak the cucumbers for 20 minutes, rotating them every 5 minutes or so, making sure that the solution spreads evenly.
3. Prepare “Soh”:
To prepare the slurry, add 1 T of flour to the 3 T of water. Heat over high heat for 10-15 seconds, stirring the whole time to create a paste. This will aid the fermentation process.
Combine: chives, garlic, onion, slurry, fish sauce, gochugaru, ginger, and scallion. Put on plastic gloves to protect your skin from the gochugaru. After it is well mixed, taste a piece of chive for seasoning.
Drain the cucumbers from the salt bath after 20 minutes. Squeeze each cucumber section well to remove as much water as possible.
4. “Bahgi” (‘To stuff’):
Open the cucumber and place about a tablespoon of stuffing into the middle then cover the exterior with more stuffing. Rest the stuffed cucumber in your dressing bowl, allowing it to be coated in the stuffing. Repeat with the remaining 15 pieces.
Put 8 pieces of cucumber into each quart sized jar. Add ½ cup of water in the stuffing bowl and let all the seasoning mix with the water. Add a pinch of salt to taste. Place half of the kimchi juice into each jar.
The pickles are ready to eat now, but they taste better left out in the counter overnight. The next morning, the cucumber kimchi must be refrigerated. The kimchi pickles can keep for a few days, but are best eaten within a week.
Kimchi pickles can be served with any grilled meat, fish or tofu, and of course, steamed rice.