Joanne Lee Molinaro – The Korean Vegan

Joanne Lee Molinaro

My guest today is known as THE KOREAN VEGAN. Joanne Lee Molinaro is an attorney by day and author and creator of Korean Vegan content. She shares how she turned a “hobby” into a new career, and how through this process dove deeper into her Korean customary foods and spices. Joanne believes that with a few easy to find, but special ingredients you can change a meal into something special. She shares a lot of her beautiful creations in her latest book THE KOREAN VEGAN. We not only talk about food, but we talk about the strength to leave a bad relationship, telling your folks you want to follow your dreams, and taking a chance when you have a “great job” to pursue something new.


Listen to the episode here:


Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTubeiHeartRadioAmazon Music

Key Topics:

Joanne Lee Molinaro – The Korean Vegan

My guest is Joanne Lee Molinaro. Joanne has a fascinating story. Her parents moved from Korea to Illinois with the hopes of their two children having the American dream. Joanne is a dutiful daughter. She went to law school and became an attorney at a law firm. She met her second husband who was raised vegetarian but he decided because of his athletic interests and stuff that he was going to try to go vegan all the way. She didn’t want to lose that fellowship with her husband so she thought, “Not only will I go vegan but I’m going to learn more about this.” 

What’s fascinating is she goes back to her Korean roots to explore other interesting ways to zhoosh up the food. Lo and behold, the Korean Vegan was organically born. She has a book, a huge following, and she’s going to be stepping out of her law practice. She’ll have the opportunity to do cases if she wants but she’s diving headfirst into her Korean vegan world. It’s a fascinating story, it’s how her family dynamics work, her relationship, and now her pursuit of a dream and her passions. I hope you enjoy.

First of all, thank you for coming out of your way to come here. I always feel in person is so much better.

You don’t have to do a lot to get me to come out to this beautiful area here.

The nature here is special. What I find fascinating about what you’re doing is everywhere in the world, we all sit around and share food but then you look at whether it’s music and some other custom. I can learn so much about you and your family through your sharing of your food and the whys like certain spices or, “My grandmother…” or, “My mother did it this way.” It’s one of the most impactful ways to exchange and share culture. You did not set out to be the Korean Vegan title. You go to law school, which I imagine you were doing your duty by being a dutiful daughter.

Everything that I have done in my life probably up until this point has been about pleasing my parents and making sure I’m being a good daughter. Certainly, law school was part of that.

Growing up as a teenager, do you wrestle with that or do you say, “I accept that this is how it is,” and you drive through?

I wrestled with it a lot, probably more than the average young person. Looking back, it’s all rosy and wonderful but I was rebellious and disobedient as a daughter. Even though on paper, I checked all the boxes, straight A’s, the report card is great, top ten, and all that stuff but I have always been vocal about my opinions on what is right, what is fair, and what is reasonable. I thought it was incredibly unjust that my parents only let me watch one hour of TV when all my friends were watching as much TV as they wanted. I thought it was misogynistic that I didn’t get to go to sleepovers but my brother did.

I remember that moment when I asked her, “How come Jason gets to go to sleepovers and I don’t?” She said plainly, “Because you’re a girl.” It was a no-brainer. I remember thinking, “That’s sexist, eomeoni.” In retrospect, it was obvious to her because she was protecting the daughter. She understood the vulnerabilities that are unique to little girls that I was not aware of. My mom was always like, “You’re disobedient. You always talk back. You never accept anything. You should be a lawyer.” My response was, “I’ll never be a lawyer.”

I have a kid like that.

In my heart of hearts, there was something ingrained in me, always wanting to obtain their approval. I wanted more than anything in the world for my parents to be proud of me.

Did you feel they sacrificed?

Yes.

People sometimes don’t realize what that would be like, how strong your parents are, and the sacrifice of moving.

Their immense sacrifice, whether I was conscious of it, was not something I could ever separate from. That was part of who I was. At a certain point, I felt it was part of my inheritance. This idea of education, why is that important? It was a survival mechanism for my family. As a result of that, I could never separate doing well in school from survival. That goes hand in hand.

I was a résumé writer and I was looking through résumés and I was like, “What are these people doing?” I was writing their résumés and I was like, “They’re MBAs, business people, and doctors. I don’t want to do those things. Lawyer, that sounds feasible. Why not do that?” I enjoyed law school. I thought that I would be a transactional lawyer because I always said, “I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like getting into fights,” which is true but I have strong opinions about things. I’m not shy about sharing them in the way that I think it needs to be shared.

I interned at the law firm that I work with and I was like, “I want to be a transactional lawyer. I want everyone to come together, make a deal, and be happy.” I was like, “This is boring.” I did a mock trial workshop at that internship and I was like, “This makes me feel alive.” I decided that I’m going to be a trial lawyer. That’s what I’m going to do and that is exactly what I am, a trial lawyer.

When I first started The Korean Vegan in 2016, it was a hobby. I did whatever I felt like it. I didn’t think of it as a career potential. I didn’t monetize it. I was doing it for fun and as a creative outlet. It was easy to make time for it. Now, it’s different. The answer is, there isn’t time to do both in a way that either merits. I have to make a choice. Anthony was my first real substantive relationship with someone outside of my culture.

You met Anthony and you said that there are differences. Living with another person is already difficult. It’s like, “You’re in my shorts. I’m in your shorts. Here we are again.” You now add two different cultures. What are the things that show up that are different and how do you guys work your way through them?

I am driven by creating sustainable joy in every facet of my life. Click To Tweet

Being there and listening is 90% of it, Gabby, to be honest, because it demonstrates everything. It demonstrates humility, which is important. It also demonstrates compassion. It demonstrates solidarity. It demonstrates intellectual curiosity and engagement in many ways, especially during a pandemic when you can’t be with your family, your community, and the way that you may be used to. When somebody takes the time to listen and does it in an active way, you do feel less alone even if they can’t join you emotionally. That’s important.

For me, when Anthony starts showing interest in not the Asian-American community but, for example, the Black American community and their grief. When he starts showing interest in issues related to slavery, the residual effect of that, or other issues related to oppression, that makes me feel very much I am with a partner who cares and values the same things that I do. Also, in some ways, it’s born out of his love for me as his wife.

You meet Anthony and how deep into the relationship when he goes, “I’m going explore and experiment with becoming a vegan.” Was this around an athletic quest with running? What was the impetus for that?

Music is a big thing for my husband but I would say fitness and running is 50% of it for him. Obsessed is only a slight overstatement when it comes to his fitness. He read a book by Rich Roll, Finding Ultra, and he was inspired by that. He read that book and he’s like, “I’m going to go vegan.” He had already been a vegetarian for more than 21 years. In the first 21 years of his life, he didn’t eat meat. He was already acclimated to a vegetable-centric diet. It wasn’t until he was in college that he was essentially persuaded that he needed to eat meat to be bulky and strong.

He’s close already. For you, do you start slow? Do you cut back on meat? How do you say, “I’m going to take this adventure on with him.”

That’s exactly what I did after fighting. We fought a lot about it. I was like, “I don’t want to go vegan. I’m Korean. I can’t go vegan. You do it by yourself. I don’t want to do it.”

I feel like most Asian diets have so many vegetables already and that they use either the meat for flavoring of the broth. Yes, you have it but I feel that’s in a way why cultures are healthy because they are diverse with how many vegetables. 

I was being stubborn.

You’re from Chicago. 

It’s a meat and potatoes city. I was like, “This is crazy. Why are we even having this conversation right now?” I had always viewed veganism through the lens of a non-ethnic diet. I view it as a white diet.

You can say it, hippie. 

I was like, “I don’t eat quinoa. I don’t eat kale. That’s not my diet. Are you trying to take my Koreanness from me?” That’s how I viewed it. I was reluctant about it. He was like, “You don’t have to join me. I’ll do it on my own.” I know that you have a close relationship with your husband. I’m like, “You’re going to take the fellowship of food away from our relationship? No, I don’t accept that either.” I had this choice, “Do we go our separate ways when it comes to how we eat and approach food? Do we try it and see what happens?” I decided, “I’ll try it. I’ll see what happens.” It was not that hard.

Joanne Lee Molinaro

Joanne Lee Molinaro – The average vegan who doesn’t run marathons could probably eat whatever and they don’t even need to think about it.

How did you take the steps towards saying, “I’m going to learn more and make this creative.” With food, you want to feel full. You want to have those textures, those flavors, but also you want to have enough fat and enough things so you are full and satisfied. 

For me, it was a matter of taking the food that I grew up eating, which looking back was nutritious because it’s veg-centric and whole foods-based. We’re not talking about anything processed. It’s the vegetables from my backyard. My grandmother was a farmer so we brought all the vegetables from the backyard.

Strongest people in the world, the women. 

We’re zhooshing it up with a little bit of soy sauce, maybe a little bit of the fat from the tofu, and things like that. It wasn’t complicated. There was a reason why there was a point in my life where I became unhealthy, physically, and that was when I went to college and I started eating hamburgers, pizza, French fries, and milkshakes every day. That’s what you get at the college dorm, those foods. When I was growing up from the ages of 3 to when I went to college, I was fine and perfectly healthy.

My number one goal was to try and veganize some of these things that you grew up eating because that way, you don’t have to feel threatened by this diet that is going to take away your Koreanness and you get to eat all the things that you loved eating anyway. Also, a big bonus, because you’re the one who’s creating these dishes, if you want a little bit more sweetness, you can do that. If you like your kimchi a little bit on the sweeter side than your mom does, you can do that. If you like things a little bit saltier, you can do that.

Does your mom go hard on the kimchi?

She makes salty kimchi and I like less salty and sweeter kimchi. I made kimchi with her and she’s like, “I’m going to make my own.” I was like, “Alright, umma, you can have the salty one. I’ll have a little sweeter one.” You combine all of that and undertake that process of delving into the ingredients and even the process. For example, making kimchi is a process. You become so much more familiar with this cuisine that as an Asian-American, you tend to take it for granted.

The book is beautiful, The Korean Vegan Cookbook. If I opened your cabinet and you had a list of spices that if people had, they could work some magic, what does that look like? Maybe if there’s something unique or special about the spice or what it does, you could share that.

I would say there’s only one spice that I use consistently and it’s called gochugaru, which I know you had some trouble finding.

I’m trying to find them. 

I have some in my bag. I brought some with me. Gochugaru is endemic to Korean cuisine. You’re going to see it in a lot of the dishes. Gochu means pepper and garu means powder so it’s Korean pepper powder. That’s more a flake in certain situations but it’s used to make kimchi and it’s used to make a lot of braised dishes, a lot of doenjang-jjigae, which is a popular tofu stew. The base is that chili powder. It’s got a sweet flavor almost and it’s spicy especially if you get the kind directly from Korea. My mom gets hers from the farms in Korea. She brings bucketfuls back when she goes. That is probably the only spice that I use regularly other than black pepper. Black pepper is used as well in a lot of Korean cooking.

It’s interesting when you think about a lot of customs, they all come from probably a real functional reason. 

Nutrition.

It’s like cream and coffee when cream was real because then you would absorb the caffeine slower and get fat and do all these things. I love that. Kimchi is such an important food. If you talk to anyone, especially when you talk about gut health and all of these things, Kimchi is on top of the list besides natto. I don’t know if most of us are brave enough if we weren’t raised on natto to eat natto. Have you eaten natto?

I wanted more than anything in the world for my parents to be proud of me. Click To Tweet

I have but I prefer doenjang. There are three levels of fermented soybeans. There’s miso, which a lot of people are familiar with. When you go to a Japanese restaurant, you get some miso soup. It’s a mild and lovely flavor. There’s natto, which is completely on the other end of that which is pure. Korean food has doenjang which is the middle between what I would say miso and natto. It’s also incredibly fermented. It’s pungent. It can knock your teeth out if it’s particularly strong and if you eat it plain. Usually, you eat it as a dipping sauce or as part of stews and braised dishes. That fermented soybean flavor is prevalent in Korean food. Soy is everywhere in Korean food, which is a shame because many people are intolerant to soy these days.

First of all, let’s go back to kimchi. If people got your book, you could figure it out. How long does the whole process take? If somebody goes, “I’m going to try and make some kimchi.”

That depends. Number one, it depends on how many people you’re making it for. A lot of times, in Korean culture, you’re making it for a lot of people. You’re not making it for one. You’re making it for your whole family. By family, your cousins, your sisters, your brothers, their children, and all of that. In some cases, you’re making it for the whole village. Everyone gets together that time in the fall, the whole village gets together, they go outside and they make their kimchi together. That can be a couple of days and more if you’re making it for that.

If you’re making it for your own household, for example, I would say you probably want to block off at least half a day to prepare the kimchi. At that point, it’s not ready to eat. You’ve got to wait at least three days if you’re okay with leaving it outside at room temperature. If not three days, then probably at least 1 week to 10 days if you’re fermenting it in your fridge. For vegan kimchi, you may even want to double that because you don’t have the fish sauce and shrimp paste, which often facilitates the fermentation.

Those are the little differences for people. That’s  what’s great about your book is you are hand-holding so you go, “I can comfortably or confidently try these new things.” Where do you find your protein? Because you guys are athletes.

The average vegan who doesn’t run marathons could probably eat whatever and they don’t even need to think about it. They’re getting their protein from their vegetables. Even if they’re eating a highly-processed diet, there’s probably protein in that. Much of the world has been trained to think we need a lot more protein than we do. In the world that we live in, protein deficiency is no longer a concern, to be honest.

If you’re an athlete, if you are training for endurance events, you need to be mindful of not only protein but about everything, all of your nutrients. Protein is one of them and it’s certainly a component of that. For me, I like to get all of my nutrients from as many whole foods as possible. That’s my preference. My body prefers that too. It doesn’t seem to respond to supplements. I’ve tried. The only three things that I supplement regularly are vitamin D3, vitamin B12, and my omegas every day.

Do you have a framework of oils that you work with? A tricky thing for people is navigating the oil, especially the industrialized hard oils because they’re hard on us and that creates a lot of chronic inflammation. Do you have a toolkit of oils that you are your go-to?

The two oils that I use most frequently are extra virgin olive oil and that is partly a function of the fact that my husband is Italian-American. I do have a specific brand in mind. Also, sesame oil. I don’t cook with sesame oil. I use that to drizzle for a little bit of flavor at the end. Those are the two oils I use most often. Everybody’s body is different. My body handles carbs just fine. I can eat rice, potatoes, pasta, and all of those things. I cannot handle fat. I have to be careful about how much fat I use in my food, particularly if I know I’m going to be active the next day.

It’s interesting because you’ll hear a lot of times people talking about being metabolically flexible or people who go into ketosis and they’ll burn their stored fat and use consumed fat so that fuels them. It is always interesting to see how people are different and that one size doesn’t fit all. You start getting involved in cooking and on a fun experiment, you started The Korean Vegan. How long into that until you thought, “I can put together a cookbook.”

I never thought I could put together a cookbook until somebody asked me to do it.

Joanne Lee Molinaro

Joanne Lee Molinaro -Much of the world has been trained to think we need a lot more protein than we do. In the world that we live in, protein deficiency is no longer a concern, to be honest.

What do you mean? Is it someone who had been watching videos and stuff who said, “You should put together all your recipes.”

First of all, I did not have videos. It was all still photography at that time. Maybe I had 3 or 4 YouTube videos that I quickly was like, “I can’t do this too much work.” It was Instagram. That was it. I was approached by a literary agent, my agent, and he was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to write a memoir? Do you want to write a cookbook? You could write a good cookbook. I’ve seen your recipes and photos.” I was like, “I’ll do it.” Before then, it was a hobby. I was a lawyer and I still am a lawyer. I never viewed myself as a cookbook writer or an author. I thought nobody would want to publish my cookbook. Lo and behold, a week after my pitch is out there, I got an offer from a fairly well-known publishing company.

Are you doing it in a vacuum all alone? Are you getting feedback? This must have been amazing for your mom and maybe other family members who are like, “You should do this and this.” How did that process go?

A lot of it is me. Mostly, I would say, me. I had a specific idea about what I wanted the book to look like. I’m working with a wonderful editor and I do defer to her when it comes to certain decisions. The amazing thing about this journey has been social media and the role my community has played in the development of my book.

Before TikTok, it was largely going to be lots of recipes with a little bit of writing sprinkled in. Once I started my TikTok and my stories were resonating with many people, all of a sudden, they’re like, “We can include more of your writing.” Something that I’d always wanted was to share as many stories as recipes.

This book that I’m putting forth into the world is a product of a lot of different voices who weighed in on what it should be. Ultimately, it’s the execution of my vision but I’m grateful to my social media community for being like, “No, it should have more stories. We like this cover. This cover should be the one.”

You let them all chime in on that stuff?

Absolutely.

Everyone has an opinion even when you don’t ask them.

We were throwing around the cover options to everyone in my family, the art director at the publishing company, my editor, my agent, and certainly my husband. Everyone had an opinion and they were all over the place and all over the map. There were eight different options. I feel strongly, I was like, “It should be number three.” My mom was like, “No, don’t do that one.” I was like, “Let’s make Instagram decide and see what they have to say.” Luckily, 90% agreed. It was three and that is the cover of the book.

How has your family, your parents, Anthony, and everybody responding that you’re making your transition, possibly a professional transition? Are they scared for you? Are they excited? 

I am making a professional transition. I’ll be withdrawing from the partnership with my firm. It’s liberating, wonderful, and joyful. Gabby, I haven’t been this happy.

Do they think you’re nuts? 

Yes. This is the first argument I’ve had with my mom in probably years.

The firm, are they like, “What are you doing?” 

Of course, they don’t want to lose me.

All the prisoners inside the firm are like, “Make a run for it.” 

They don’t want to lose me and they won’t be. I’m stepping down from the partnership but I’m staying on with the firm and that’s because I love them and they love me. I’m lucky to have that family at a firm. Most law firms wouldn’t do that. My law firm is amazing. I’m going to be staying on as of counsel, which allows me to do what I want.

Being genuine and sincere is in vogue right now. That's what people want. Click To Tweet

If I want to do some legal work here and there, pro bono cases that are important to me, then I have the option to do that with the backing of 1,000 lawyer firms. That’s awesome but if I want to spend more time creating with The Korean Vegan, they fully support that as well. I decided, “Now it’s time for me to hop on that train.” Telling my mom that was like, “Oh my god.”

Was that a sit-down or was that a drop-off on the phone?

It was on the phone. I was like, “I’m going to move to LA next year and I’m quitting my job.” My mom was upset. We had the first argument we’ve had in probably over a decade. I was incredibly hurt by that conversation because I was like, “Umma, I’ve been doing everything right for 42 years. Why can’t I have my chance now to do what I want? Don’t you believe in me yet?” It was like that.

If you think about it, as an outside person, you are honoring your culture and your parents in a modern-day way which is a beautiful way of bridging the world. If you were born here, then you would be a kid from the US. Somehow, you’re finding a way to blend and share that and it’s amazing. Do you have special knives that you use?

I have my Miyabi knife, which is a vegetable cutting knife. That’s about it. Whatever knife it is, you get an attachment to it. Now I travel with my knives. Normally when I’m doing an extensive cooking demonstration, I bring my knives. I usually have that and the Zwilling vegetable cleaver. Those are the two knives that I use most frequently. I’m not fancy. I’m not a chef. On TikTok, there are all these Michelin-rated chefs out there and they’re like, “This is my $50,000 knife.” I’m like, “I don’t know how you can have that in your kitchen without being nervous all the time.”

They store a big truffle and you’re like, “Woah.”

You’re anxious.

I want you to direct everybody where they can find you. It’s important that it’s the idea of following your passion and that’s scary for all of us. It’s even harder when you come from a good family where there is an expectation, a family that has sacrificed but the reminder that if you’re willing to work hard, it’ll work out. Also, there isn’t one right way. You said, “I’m not fancy.” Yes, but you’re doing it your way. A lot of us will battle with transitions, changes, or going for dreams but also then feeling a little bit we’re an imposter. 

I’m sure you get there and you think, “I’m American but I’m Korean but I became a vegan in the last few years.” You don’t have to be vegan your whole life to be Korean Vegan and you don’t have to be from Korea. It’s reminding people that if you’re genuine about your intention and you work hard, that is the representation and the sharing.

Being genuine and sincere is in vogue right now. That’s what people want. They’re hungry for sincerity, authenticity, whatever that even means, and those types of things. A couple of things, number one, embrace who you are. You’re uniquely you and I mean that in every sense of the word. There’s this great book called Range by a man named David Epstein. He talks about it from the perspective of athletes and how some of the greatest athletes in the world or even some of the greatest success stories are from people who’ve tried a lot of different things and failed.

What those failures ultimately do is create this unique fabric for who you are that uniquely equips you to be successful at whatever it is that you do. Embrace your uniqueness, embrace your failures, and embrace all of those times that you tried something and didn’t quite meet somebody’s satisfaction because those are the things that will ultimately catapult you to become your unique self. The other thing is you’re right, everyone has their different path.

It’s scary. 

It is terrifying.

You can be successful at something but if it’s not the thing that you want to do or there’s something else that’s showing up that’s exciting to you, it’s important to listen to that and look at that.

I was listening to a podcast that you’d done with somebody and you were talking about the meaning of success. I was watching these beautiful Malibu mountains. We’re spiraling up these hills and I’m like, “What does success mean to me? What is that?” It’s easy to say, “Joanne is successful. She’s a partner at a large law firm. She did everything she set out to do with her career. Isn’t that success?”

To me, that isn’t what drives me anymore. I am driven by creating sustainable joy in every facet of my life. It begins with me and my husband. That’s where it starts but it also extrapolates to what I do with my career. That is success. You don’t need to make a lot of money. You don’t need to be at the pinnacle of your corporate hierarchy. Those things are irrelevant to me now.

Tell me all the places people can find you. I’m excited to see what you do next.

First of all, thank you very much because that means a lot coming from this woman who has created this empire. Honestly, when you think about that book by David Epstein, you’re the perfect example of that. You’ve created this empire of all these different things so thank you very much. You can find me on TheKoreanVegan.com, that’s my website. That’s where all of my recipes are cataloged other than the ones that are in the book, which is The Korean Vegan Cookbook. Otherwise, I’m @TheKoreanVegan on virtually all social media, Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram, and YouTube. It’s fairly easy to find me.

Joanne Lee Molinaro

Joanne Lee Molinaro – When somebody takes the time to listen and does it in an active way, you do feel less alone even if they can’t join you emotionally.

What’s your favorite vegan dish? What’s a treat for you? 

I love donuts. I am my father’s daughter. My dad will eat an entire box of a dozen donuts by himself. Now he can’t do that because he’s in remission from cancer.

Wasn’t there a documentary about the Donut King? Where was that guy from?

I have no idea.

I don’t want to say he’s Korean but I feel like he was Vietnamese or Korean.

My dad loves donuts. I love donuts. There’s a particular Korean donut that’s in the cookbook called Kkwabaegi. We love those donuts. I have them maybe once every 3 or 4 months. That is a big treat. Otherwise, I love Jajangmyeon, which is the cover of my cookbook. It’s a soybean noodle dish. It reminds me of my dad because we used to go out and eat noodles like that all the time.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you for having me. I had so much fun talking to you.

We have a little extra treat with this podcast. For me with food, what I’ve learned through cooking so much is that you’re going to show us something simple. Who doesn’t eat cucumbers or cut up cucumbers? By adding 1 or 2 ingredients, you make it a little more special and perk up the whole meal by one of the sides or the dishes being special. We want to encourage you to keep trying new things, preparing food at home, preparing it for yourself, for your health, your family, but also reminding you it doesn’t always have to be complicated. 

Both of us feel the same way. Many people who cook at home, it becomes overwhelming or you think, “It’s boring.” Especially since you’re here, we’re going to take advantage of, for example, cucumbers. With 1 or 2 special ingredients that are easy to find at your markets or you can order them online, we’re going to show you how you can spice up your whole meal by making one of the sides special.

Gabby asked that I show you how to take something you’re probably going to do anyway like chop up a bunch of cucumbers and jazz it up or spice it up as the case may be with a little bit of Korean flavoring. This is cucumber kimchi, it’s what I often think of as kimchi for newbies. A lot of people can be intimidated by making kimchi, rightfully so. It’s a bit of a process but this one will take you 40 minutes, including the pickling time. It’ll be incredibly delicious, easy to make, and the perfect accent for a lot of different things that you’re probably going to be making for dinner anyway.

Let’s get started. We’ve got a bunch of cucumbers. You can use any cucumbers you like. I like the curvy cucumbers or the Persian cucumbers, these smaller varieties. If you have an English cucumber or regular convert, that’s fine too. I’ve given them a good rinse and we’re going to chop them up into about 0.25-inch-thick pieces. I’m going to dump them into this bowl.

Honestly, the longest part of the recipe is chopping up these cucumbers. It smells good in here already. I’m going to dump these into my bowl. The great thing about this recipe is you can do this with zucchini as well. When zucchinis are in season at the height of summer, I love making this recipe with zucchini. It adds a different level of sweetness and texture that I enjoy.

I’m going to get started with the pickling process, which is the process where we add a little bit of salt to draw out the liquid from the cucumber and that’s how it gets bendy, which is what I like to call it. It’s the texture that you want. I’m going to get that process started while I continue to chop up the rest of my cucumbers.

We’re going to add a little bit of salt here. I’m adding sea salt. Usually, when you’re pickling something or kimchifying as I like to sometimes say, you’re going to be using a little bit more salt than you probably are used to. Don’t worry, we’re going to rinse off the excess salt later. The salt is not there for flavor. A little bit is for flavor. Most of it there is for that utility that we need. We needed to draw out the excess water. I’m going to give this a toss to make sure that our salt is evenly coating our cucumber.

This dish, cucumber kimchi, there are lots of different varieties of it in Korea. We’re making a simple kind but you can jazz this up even further by adding some garlic. Sometimes I’ll add some red onions because I love that zip from the red onion. You can add scallions, it’s another great way of adding flavor and dimension to this kimchi dish.

Sometimes people add sesame oil to it at the end. What a beautiful, lovely flavor to complement the spice. There are a lot of different directions you can take this in. The reason I love making this dish is that it’s forgiving. You don’t have to have perfectly cut cucumbers. If you add a little bit too much salt, don’t worry, we’re rinsing it off at the end. This is one of those dishes that’s genuinely difficult to screw up so that’s another reason this is a winner in my book. We’ve got all of our cucumbers and I’m going to toss it to make sure that the salt is adequate. I’m going to add probably a touch more salt too.

The name of the game is a little bit of waiting. We want this salt to do its job and draw out that liquid. What will end up happening is these crispy crunchy cucumbers are going to wilt and get a little bit bendy. I recommend that you wait about 15 to 20 minutes for that process to be fully complete. We’ve already had some of these cucumbers sitting in our salt for a little bit. Probably in the next 5 to 10 minutes, it’s time to rinse them off under cold water.

It’s been about fifteen minutes that the cucumbers have been sitting in the salt and you can tell the cucumber has gotten super bendy and that’s exactly what you want. You’ll also find a reservoir of water at the bottom of your bowl. If you were to mix everything with the spices like this, you would find it to be too salty, at least in my opinion. What we’re going to do is we’re going to rinse off that excess salt and we’ll come back and add some more flavor to this. You want to get rid of as much water as you can. You don’t want to dilute the flavor.

Joanne Lee Molinaro -

The Korean Vegan Cookbook: Reflections and Recipes from Omma’s Kitchen

You don’t have to do this but my mom does it. She will take the cucumbers and she’ll squeeze some of that liquid out and she’ll put it in her bowl. You can take the cucumbers and squeeze out some of that excess water and put it in your bowl. If you have time and if you want to do it that way, you can do it that way. It does make it a little bit easier for the sauce to stick. Honestly, sometimes, I’m busy or I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to do it. I haven’t and it honestly tastes good. You don’t have to but that is the more traditional way to do it or at least the way that my mom does. The cucumbers are rinsed and now it’s time to add some flavor.

This is super simple. We’re going to add a handful of ingredients to enhance these cucumbers. First, we’re going to add some gochugaru, which is Korean pepper powder. It’s Korean chili powder. It’s sweet and also intensely smoky and full of heat. I would add at least a tablespoon but it’s up to you in terms of your tolerance for spice. I’m going to add about two tablespoons. You can add less or more depending on your spice tolerance. It smells good. Immediately, your whole room is going to smell intensely smoky and wonderful. I love the smell of gochugaru.

For the next few items that we’re going to add, we’re going to add some mirin or sweet cooking rice seasoning. I’ll add about a tablespoon of that. We’re going to add a little bit more acid with some rice wine vinegar or rice vinegar, about a tablespoon of that, and then sweetness. In traditional recipes, you add a little bit of sugar. I like to use maple syrup, agave, or any other sweetener that I have lying around the house. I’m using some maple syrup. If you’re comfortable with sugar, you can use regular old white sugar or you can use whatever sweetener you prefer. I’m going to add about a tablespoon of this maple syrup and that’s it. Those are the only flavors that I am adding to this kimchi.

You can make the flavors even more intense by adding some garlic, you can add some onion, you can even add carrots and scallions. These are things that are going to pickle with time as well. We’re going to toss this. We’re going to use a spoon and we’re going to mix everything up. The great thing about this kimchi is you can eat this right now if you want. You can add this to a salad, quinoa, or a burger. It’s delicious, flavorful, and it’s got that lovely crunchy texture of pickled cucumber.

However, as you’ll find with any kimchi, the flavors will change over time. They’ll get more intense, more concentrated. To me, the sweet spot for this particular kimchi is about five days out. I stick it in the fridge in a jar and let it do its thing for about five days and you’re going to find the most delicious pickled cucumbers or kimchified cucumbers, if you will, that you’re going to want to add to everything. Let’s give it a try right to see where we’re at.

Sometimes I will add a little bit more sweetener, maybe a little bit more salt depending on where things are at. This is wonderful. In five days, it’s going to be fantastic. That’s it. Cucumber kimchi is one of those dishes that you can make because you’re already going to be chopping up some cucumber anyway. Add a few things, a handful of ingredients to turn it into something special that you’re going to want to add to about everything that you eat. Thanks, everyone.

Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.

Resources mentioned:

About Joanne Lee Molinaro

Joanne Lee MolinaroWith over 3.5 million fans spread across her social media platforms, New York Times best-selling author Joanne Molinaro, a.k.a The Korean Vegan, has appeared on The Food Network, CBS Saturday Morning, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, and The Rich Roll Podcast. She’s been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR, and CNN, and she just released her debut cookbook + memoir with Penguin Random House on October 12th.

 

Subscribe to The Gabby Reece Show

Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTubeiHeartRadioAmazon Music
editor