Monday, November 2, 2009

Homemade Kimchi

You can't serve Korean food without a little assortment of goodies to go with it. Banchan is an assortment of tiny appetizers, often vegetable-based, and it's the kind of thing I live for. Little spicy pickles and tons of things to try? Yes, please! Of course, the most famous banchan of all is kimchi: spicy, fermented, garlic-laced cabbage (or radish, or cucumber) that's totally addictive. Back when I was in college, I told my roommates, "If you see me eating this, you know I don't have a date later that night."

Kimchi is a perfect example of the kind of food that's totally intimidating to make unless you've seen someone else do it. Something about pickling and fermenting things seems like a science experiment that could end in death if you don't know what you're doing. That's why we're lucky to have people like Maangchi on the interwebs. She makes these things seem totally within reach.

The process works more or less like this. You salt some veggies to get the water out of them. You cover them in a delicious paste of chili, garlic, and oysters (if you're brave) or shrimp paste (if you're me) and you leave it out for about 48 hours to get all funky and delicious. For good measure, I sing a little song to my kimchi when I toss it: "Kimchi, get nice and stinky for me." I think it helps.

I don't think anyone can explain how to do this better than Maangchi, but for those of you afraid to use raw, defrosted oysters, I can offer this substitution: shrimp paste. Available at most Asian markets, it adds the funk, without the fear factor.

Watch Maangchi make kimchi. Yum!

Kimchi and kaktugi from Maangchi on Vimeo.

Here's what I did:

1. Use 1 tablespoon of coarse salt (kosher or sea salt) to salt the leaves of a quartered Napa cabbage (I used Savoy, because I had most of a head leftover from the brown rice bowl). Get most of the salt down towards the stem.

2. Peel and dice one daikon (Japanese or Korean), place in a bowl, and add one tablespoon of salt. Toss.

3. Let your cabbage and daikon sit for about two hours. Flip the cabbage. Toss the daikon. Allow both to rest for another two hours.

4. When four hours (total) are up, make your chili paste.

½ cup of sweet rice flour
3 cups water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 cups hot pepper flakes
1 cup fish sauce
1½ heads of garlic, peeled, minced (or crushed)
1 bunch green onions, washed and sliced
1 cup shredded daikon (optional) Note: I left this out of the first version I made by accident, and actually liked the final flavor better.
1 tablespoon of fermented shrimp paste (available at most Asian markets)

5. Cook the sweet rice flour and water in a small pot until it makes a smooth paste. When bubbles start to form, stir in the sugar and turn the heat off. 

6. In a large bowl, combine flour paste, pepper flakes, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, green onions, shredded daikon. Stir.

7. Add shrimp paste. Stir.

8. Rinse cabbages and daikon very well. (I only rinsed once the first time I made this, and the result was much too salty). You will want at least three changes of water. You can taste the vegetable to make sure it isn't too salty before proceeding to the next step.

9. Rub chili paste over each leaf of cabbage. Place cabbage quarters in an airtight container and seal. Leave at room temperature for up to 2 days, testing every 12 hours to see if kimchi is sufficiently fermented. Kimchi will continue to ferment in your refrigerator; it keeps indefinitely. Toss daikon with leftover chili paste and seal in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Again, you can test to see when it's achieved the right level of sourness for your taste.

Incidentally, my husband and I both think Kimchi would be kind of a cute name for a girl. Do you think this qualifies as child abuse?

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