Kimchi is a magical example of fermentation at work. Fermentation is a beautiful thing when making beer and sourdough starters, but once you try kimchi, it’ll be your new favorite fermented food. I promise!
For me, as I’m sure for many others too, this time in quarantine has made me really nostalgic for a time not too long ago when we could freely go out to restaurants for dinner and spend time eating with people other than only those we live with. Just the atmosphere of a restaurant and the idea of spending time with friends made eating fun. Now, dinnertime just feels like one more mundane task to get through after a long day of staying at home. Dinner needs to become fun again, so I’ve been racking my brain for something different and punchy to spice things up (both figuratively and literally).
There’s one thing that I’ve been wanting to make myself for a long time that ticks the exciting column due to in part to both its taste and appearance. And that is Kimchi.
Kimchi is a Korean cuisine staple of salted and fermented vegetables, like napa cabbage and Korean radish, that can be mixed with many different seasonings, such as gochugaru (Korean chili powder), spring onions, garlic, ginger, etc. I like kimchi because it’s so versatile; I can have it as a side dish, add it to soup, put it in an omelet, or just eat it right out of the jar.
Food with Asian influences and a long shelf life have always held a special spot in my heart (and stomach), and I’m happy to report kimchi satisfies both requirements. It can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a month, and to make Kimchi even more appealing, it gets better with age. The longer it sits, the tangier and stronger its flavor becomes.
I recently purchased a cookbook (during one of my many quarantine-induced boredom online-shopping sessions) by the New York Times food columnist, Alison Roman, called Dining In (it has so many great recipes, there will no doubt be more posts to come from it), and in it there’s a recipe for kimchi.
Roman’s kimchi recipe calls for napa cabbage over Korean radish, so if you’re one who prefers your kimchi crunchy, I would substitute Korean radishes for the head of napa cabbage that this particular recipe calls for. One more note, kimchi is usually spiced with the Korean chili powder, gochugaru, but if you don’t have that, it’s totally fine, just use red chili flakes instead (your kimchi, like mine, just won’t have the red coloring of traditional kimchi).
This will make a mildly spicy kimchi (you can always add more chili powder or red pepper flakes for additional heat) that’s also slightly sweet. This sweetness comes from the addition of an Asian pear, adding yet another level of flavor to your kimchi.
Need some exercise during this quarantine time with the gyms closed and overly strenuous exercise discouraged? Well, kimchi can solve that problem for you too. So roll your sleeves up and harness your inner masseuse because when making kimchi you have to massaging the heck out of that cabbage. You have to do this because massaging the cabbage it will cause it to shrink down to a much more reasonable-looking and manageable size.
When you first get out your cabbage, slice it up and put it in the bowl, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be saying, “There’s absolutely no way I need this much kimchi!” but trust me, once you put in a little sweat-equity, you’ll see that it’s the perfect amount. So don’t be afraid of overdoing it, just really get in there and massage that kimchi as if your life depends on it. Your kimchi will reward you for your effort later.
I feel like I’ve said the word ‘kimchi’ so many times that at this point, the word’s lost all meaning (Kimchi! Kimchi! Kimchi!). I swear though, if you’ve never had it, please, please, please, give kimchi a try. It’ll give you the chance to spice up dinnertime and make eating exciting again, while also helping you to get in your workout for the day. You won’t regret it!
Here’s the recipe I used from Dining In:
Happy fermenting! 🙂