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Kimchi: Fermented Vegetables Are at the Crossroads of Art & Science

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Note: We now offer Korean chile flakes to make kimchi)

Kimchi: Once and Future Food

Kimchi is so vital a cultural tradition it has its own character in the Chinese alphabet. First known as chimchae, it translates as “pickled vegetables with salt.” A Korean meal without kimchi is not a meal. These vegetables are mankind’s earliest cultivars—cabbage, onion, radish, garlic, and has been fermented for over 2,000 years. It costs just pennies to make, but once you get to know it as a powerhouse of enhanced vitamins, probiotic bacteria in the trillions, an embarrassment of riches in digestive enzymes—you now realize that it is a once and future food.

My first meet up with kimchi was with F-U-D; Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. As a self-trained cooking instructor in the late 80's, I decided early in my schooling to visit this small mom ‘n’ pop Korean restaurant. My intention; to know more about this ancient cuisine. I sat at the bar and watched a gent eating kimchi. He was sweating, his eyes were fixed and dilated, and there was an in-the-moment aura about him. I sensed he was a Korean war vet revisiting another time and place. With F-U-D I ordered a bowl. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have years of overseas duty to break into this dish. It was swim or sink—and I sunk like a rock. My sweating, dilated, fixated eyes were screaming “Uncle!”.

So, I filed this experience away and left the Korean peninsula for the milder climes of the Mediterranean and acquainted myself with a very teachable cuisine. I did not forsake Korea, but returned a few years later, when visiting world cuisines with my new invention, the Perfect Pickler®. I intended to dilate and fixate my eyes on my terms. Here’s my ken of kimchi... don’t let spice overrule your palate. There is nothing so un-mojo or non-macho than trying to find your tolerance with chiles. You will find this a delicious recipe using five common ingredients with a different style of preparation I am introducing to you. Called wet kimchi, it eliminates many hours of work and wait time. You’ll be “all in” with the simplicity and ease of making a major class of brine fermented veggie.

Let’s deconstruct kimchi and build a pronto recipe that will be a great mainstay in your kitchen, both as pickled cabbage and as a key ingredient in making a variety of quick meals.

Kimchi is so embedded in the Korean diet that there are over 2,000 books about it to be found in the Korean national library. I’ll bet each home has its own kimchi twist. The core ingredient for our starter recipe is Chinese or Napa cabbage. Its supporting actors are: daikon or icicle radish, scallions, fresh garlic and ginger. From there you can exchange cabbage for cucumbers, dried seafoods, fruits— like apple or Asian pear can add a sweet note. The chili used, “gochugaru” is actually found in flake form and is not high-level heat in itself, except that so much of it is used in the traditional recipes that it can overwhelm the tasting experience. The traditional method to make kimchi is to form a paste with these chili flakes and smear it generously over salted, whole cabbage leaves and left to ferment. This can be an all-day process. We tweaked it into about a half-hour process. It is one of the easiest recipes you will find.

Instead, we are going to chop the cabbage into 1-inch squares, finely slice

the daikon and scallions, and mince the garlic and ginger. The chile flakes get tossed in the dry mix and packed into a clean jar and a salt and water brine is poured to cover. Done!!! And it is delicious.

After four days at about 70 degrees you can add two optional components to gild the lily: a teaspoon of honey, agave nectar, or sugar, and a teaspoon of fish sauce. I just made a half-gallon of kimchi using this wet method and it took a little over thirty minutes including set up and clean up. It cost me under $3.00 for ingredients. From that I will show you how to make a lasting menu of dishes and condiments.

Here is a comment from a recent kimchi pickler: "I tasted the first batch yesterday and was blown away with how good it is. The little bits of ginger just explode in my mouth!" - Paul Busman


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