What is oi muchim?
Originally from Korea, oi muchim is the traditional spicy cucumber salad. It can be prepared from several varieties of cucumbers, but be careful to choose them fresh and crisp.
Also, the spicy oi muchim salad is part of the tradition of kimchi, vegetable dishes that are left to ferment in brine for several weeks until they develop an acid taste typical of spicy fermented vegetables. Oi muchim is often served to accompany the famous Korean BBQ.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi (김치) are dishes prepared from vegetables marinated in brine. They are salty and generally spicy. Koreans serve kimchi as an accompaniment to each meal. These kimchis are the symbol of a good home.
Kimchi can be prepared from several kinds of vegetables. Cabbage and radishes are the most commonly used vegetables. Also, it is common in Korea to prepare kimchi from other varieties of vegetables such as cucumber, sweet potato, lettuce, and spinach.
Brine salt is preferred over regular cooking salt for preparing kimchi in the initial salting stage. Indeed, it has larger grains and is less processed, which preserves the aromas of fermented vegetables. This salting step is crucial in order to drain the liquids from the vegetables before seasoning them.
Different types of kimchi were once prepared at different times of the year. The seasonality of the vegetables was a factor of choice in their preparation. It was also necessary to take into account the seasons of the year, in order to ensure optimal conservation of these fermented vegetables.
Oi muchim or oi saengche?
In Korea, you will find this spicy cucumber salad under two names: oi muchim (오이 무침) or oi saengche (오이 생채). But is there a difference between these two names?
The Korean language uses characters from the Chinese alphabet called Hanja (한자). Before the invention of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet as we know today, most Koreans were illiterate.
In 1443, King Sejong the Great created the Hangeul Korean alphabet. Before the creation of this alphabet, the privilege of writing was reserved for elites who were fortunate enough to have an education or aristocrats. These elected officials were called yangban (양반).
Before 1443, Koreans spoke their own dialect but used Chinese characters to write, which made things complicated. Indeed, the Korean language and the Chinese language have very few similarities. This is why it was so difficult to write Korean words with the Chinese alphabet (Hanja) in the past, before the Hangeul was created.
Etymologically, oi means cucumber and muchim means “covered with sauce” in Korean. Oi saengche has a different meaning. Indeed, the word saengche comes from the Chinese word (生菜) which means “raw” or “living” as opposed to cooked dishes.
The different varieties of cucumber
Cucumber is a capricious species to cultivate, as it appreciates being close to cabbage, beans and lettuce. However, the cucumber does not mix well with the tomato or the potato.
The oi muchim salad can be prepared with several varieties of cucumbers. These three species are the most frequent:
- The kirby cucumber. It has a rough surface and is mainly used for pickles in the United States. It has a mat skin and seeds. It is usually a crunchy cucumber. Also, it may have a bitter taste due to the presence of cucurbitacins.
- The English cucumber or hot-house cucumber has a shiny peel. It is the most common cucumber in France and in Europe. This cucumber is long and shiny. It is seedless, has no bitterness and it is customary to remove the skin before consuming it.
- The Persian cucumber is short, smooth and shiny. It is also known as beit-alpha or mini cucumber. It is generally eaten with the skin, raw or in salads. It comes without seeds and has no bitterness.
The different types of kimchi
One of the most famous kimchis is certainly the one made with napa cabbage. It’s called baechu kimchi (배추 김치).
Another variety of cucumber kimchi is very popular in Korea: oi sobagi (오이 소박이). It is a kimchi made from cucumbers stuffed with seafood (usually salted shrimp) and Korean pepper paste. They are consumed frequently in spring and summer.
- 1 large cucumber
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- ½ teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Thinly slice the cucumber (¼ inch / 6 mm thick).
- Gently mix with salt and set aside for about 15 minutes.
- Drain off excess liquid and mix well with all the other ingredients.