Why It Works
- Salting, draining, and squeezing out excess moisture from the cucumbers allows them to absorb the assertively seasoned filling.
- Without fermentation, the vegetables stay crisp and sweet, making this a light and refreshing summer kimchi that can be enjoyed immediately.
This summertime banchan brings me back to my childhood, when I'd keep my aunt Young Mi company while she stuffed salted kirby cucumbers with meticulously cut vegetables tossed in gochugaru, pausing occasionally to pinch my cheeks with her gochugaru-stained hands.
What Is Oi-Sobagi?
Oi-sobagi is the answer to satisfying a need to eat kimchi immediately. Unlike baechu kimchi, this stuffed cucumber kimchi isn’t fermented; it's meant to be enjoyed fresh, the same day it’s made. Without the pucker of lactic acid fermentation, and the waiting time required to achieve it, oi-sobagi eats more like a refreshing cucumber salad than a sour pickle. The cukes, and the vegetables they're stuffed with, retain their crisp bite, while also picking up fruity spiciness from gochugaru and savory funk from salted shrimp and fish sauce.
The Right Cucumbers
Other than requiring a little patience and precision with vegetable knife cuts, making oi-sobagi is a breeze. It’s important to start with the right cucumbers for stuffing: they need to be unwaxed and sturdy enough to hold up to being filled. I’ve found that kirby cucumbers, which are often grouped in the “pickling cucumber” category, are ideal for this recipe. Their thick skins and dense flesh make sturdier oi-sobagi that won’t fall apart after being salted and stuffed, which can be more of an issue with longer English or Persian cucumbers.
The Basic Method
Once you’ve found the right ones, cut them open, leaving them intact at one end, and salt them to draw out excess moisture. While they drain, prepare the filling of julienned daikon, carrot, and Asian pear, which you'll toss with garlic chives, scallions, fish sauce, salted shrimp, and gochugaru. Salt from the fish sauce and shrimp draws out moisture from the vegetables, which is then absorbed by the chile flakes, which in turn will stain the slaw-like filling red. The cucumbers are then ready to be stuffed, and enjoyed (although they will also last for up to a week in the fridge).
- 2 1/4 pounds (1kg) kirby or pickling cucumbers (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon (12g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or an equal amount by weight
- 4 ounces (115g) daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (about 1 cup; 100g)
- 1 medium carrot (4 ounces; 115g), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (about 1 cup; 100g)
- 1 small Asian pear (about 6 ounces; 170g), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks (about 1 cup; 100g)
- 2 ounces (55g) garlic chives, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
- 3 scallions (50g), root end trimmed and discarded, halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 2- inch pieces
- 3 medium garlic cloves (15g), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon (20g) saeujeot (Korean salted shrimp), drained of brine
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fish sauce
- 1/2 cup (55g) coarse ground gochugaru (Korean chile powder)
Using a sharp knife, trim and discard both ends of the cucumbers. If using long cucumbers (about 10 inches), halve crosswise; for smaller kirby cucumbers, leave whole. Working with one piece of cucumber at a time, halve lengthwise, stopping 1/2 inch from the base to keep cucumber intact. Rotate cucumber 90 degrees and repeat cut, producing a quartered cucumber held together at one end. Repeat with remaining cucumbers.
Set a colander inside a large bowl. Sprinkle cucumbers evenly with salt, seasoning the cut-open interiors as well as the skins. Arrange in colander, cut-side down, and set aside until cucumbers are softened, pliable, and have released a good amount of water into bowl, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup (60ml) of the salty cucumber liquid left in bowl; discard remaining liquid, and wipe out bowl.
In now-empty bowl, combine daikon, carrot, Asian pear, garlic chives, scallions, garlic, saeujeot, and fish sauce. Using clean hands, gently mix until thoroughly combined. Set aside until vegetables release moisture and look wet on surface, about 1 minute.
Add gochugaru and gently mix until gochugaru is thoroughly incorporated and begins to absorb liquid released by vegetables, about 1 minute.
Working with one cucumber at a time, gently squeeze cucumber to release any residual excess moisture. Hold cucumber by un-cut end in your non-dominant hand and, using other hand, pick up approximately 1/3 cup (70g) of the vegetable mixture and gently stuff into cavity, taking care to keep cucumber intact. Transfer to a serving platter or container that can comfortably fit cucumbers in a single layer. Repeat stuffing process with remaining cucumbers. Top oi-sobagi with any leftover filling and reserved cucumber liquid. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
This recipe works best with small, thick-skinned, firm kirby or pickling cucumbers. Persian or English cucumbers can be substituted, but they won't stay as crisp. Make sure to use unwaxed cucumbers.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Oi-sobagi can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Serve cold or at cool room temperature.