This Korean cucumber side-dish is cool and crisp, a great accompaniment to any spicy meal. The recipe may seem complicated, but the steps are quite easy and this dish can be prepared with little effort while you are making the main part of the meal. Serves 4-6.
5-6 small pickling cucumbers, OR 3 large
1/3 cup kosher or sea salt (NOT iodized table salt)
3 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
a pinch of dried chili flakes for garnish (preferably the mild Korean pepper found in Asian markets)
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly to remove any wax on the skin. If using the large cucumbers, slice them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice the cucumbers into paper-thin wafers. (A slicing mandolin makes the work faster, but always remember to use the guard as the blades on these are very sharp and dangerous.)
Fill a large bowl with filtered water and add the salt. Stir to dissolve, then add the cucumbers. Let sit for 2 hours, or until the cucumbers are wilted and flexible.
To remove the excess salt from the cucumbers, rinse them in a colander and then rinse out the bowl. Refill the bowl with fresh water and add the cucumbers to the unsalted water. Let stand for about 15 minutes. The excess salt will migrate into the water and leave the cucumbers unsalted. Taste one to make sure the salty flavor is gone. When the cucumbers are ready, pour them in a colander and rinse one more time, then rinse out your bowl again.
Next, grab a handful of the wilted cucumbers slices and squeeze out the extra water. Don’t be afraid to squeeze hard! Remove as much water as you can and put the cucumber ball into the bowl. Continue in this way until you have wrung out all of your cucumbers. Add the vinegar, sugar and chili flakes to the bowl, then stir well to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the ratio of tart to sweet to your liking. Transfer to a serving dish; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This dish may be made ahead of time as it keeps well in the fridge for several days.