Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cucumber Salad - Korean Style

I don't eat Korean cuisine enough. I really like a smoky room of sizzling meat on Korean barbeque grills. It's a heavy meal when you get their Bulgogi. If you've done it, it's quite a raucous show with pungent garlic smell and sizzling meat.

Usually the waiter takes your order and fires up your own personal small bbq grill in the center of your table. They return with thin sliced slabs of marinated protein, anything from beef to chicken, and pork (and a selection of veggies to grill, too.) They will get things going for you, and you finish cooking the meat to a desired doneness.

But the thing I especially like are the myriad of small veggie filled small bowls that come with your meaty meal. Banchan or "side dishes" are an essential part of any Korean dining experience. Usually the veggies are pickled or lightly cooked. Gamy, spicy cabbage, called Kimchi, is the most familiar. I especially enjoy the milder spinach and cucumber dishes.

I'll be cooking up a few of these Banchan for you, so keep checking back.

First up is a lightly marinated Cucumber Salad. I used smaller cucumbers for this recipe. You can get them in an oriental market, but an easy substitution are Persian cucumbers, that are starting to appear at regular grocery stores. These smaller cucumbers also have tiny seeds, but still taste like the typical cucumber you can get anywhere.

For this recipe you can use regular, or Korean/Persian cucumbers. My local 99c only Store sometimes stocks one pound bags. The other ingredients are cheap, too, just a little garlic, green onion, vinegar, oil, sweetener, and some sesame seeds.

I thin-slice my cucumbers, but you can slice them any thickness or even cube them. For typical large cucumbers it's okay to scoop out the larger seeds (or just leave them in - it's up to your taste.)

Some recipes call for salting the sliced cucumber and let them "sweat" to remove excess liquid. I don't go that far. I really don't see the point, as the sliced cucumber is in a liquid of oil and vinegar anyway, so a little extra "water" is not a problem, really. And you can drain the Cucumber Salad before serving.

Recipes also call for a Korean chili sauce, but I use a few chile pepper flakes instead.

This is a refreshingly light small Cucumber Salad I think you will enjoy anytime, whether you're in a smoky Korean restaurant, or just kicking back at home.

Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 1/2 pound of cucumber - I used 3 small Persian cucumbers. It's okay to use 1 regular large cucumber. They both taste the same, the main difference is seed size, Persian cucumbers have very small ones.
  • 2 green onions - chopped.
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic - chopped. Fresh or from jar.
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar - okay to use any favorite.
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil - okay to use any favorite tasty oil.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar - or any sweetener. Okay to add more to taste.
  • Salt to taste
  • A small sprinkle of red chile flakes - optional. Even 4-6 pepper flakes is enough, especially after some marinating time has passed.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds - When serving sprinkle on a little bit more for appearance.

Simple really. Thinly slice cucumber. I used the slicing part of my metal box grater, but you can do it with a sharp knife, too.

Slice 2 green onions. Discard any yellowing greens stem parts and the white root.

Add veggies to a bowl. Add sesame seeds and chopped garlic.

Sprinkle on salt, sugar and red pepper flakes (optional.)

(Some recipes call for salting cucumbers 20 minutes before, so they sweat out extra liquid. I don't see the point; even rinsing off salt later, they will still sweat. And there is liquid from vinegar and oil, so extra cucumber water is not big deal to me.)

Drizzle on rice vinegar and sesame oil. Mix it all together. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Okay to drain some excess marinade when serving.

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