Friday, August 3, 2012

Kim Chi

For those of you who are not fortunate enough to have Korean friends who have introduced you to kim chi please let me do the honors. When we lived in California we were introduced to Korean culture through numerous Korean friends who were kind enough to share their table with us, most notably my dearest friend Twyla. Kim Chi is a fermented cabbage dish and it is the most well known traditional Korean food and, as I understand it, is a side dish at almost every Korean meal as well as an ingredient in various other dishes.

In 2001 we visited some of our closest friends in Thailand (Twyla and her brilliant husband Rob and artist son Toby) and were able to stop in South Korea on our way home. It was there that I discovered kim chi bokumbop, which I will share a recipe for later (after I ask Twyla how she made it), but my love of kim chi was solidified there. I wasn't aware of this until recently, but most kim chi has fish sauce or sea creatures in it. Eek! This necessitated the creation of a vegan kim chi recipe using soy sauce, lemon juice and sea salt to replace the fish sauce.

In researching for this recipe I watched dozens of youtube videos on making kim chi and I learned several lessons:

1) Kim chi can prevent or cure almost every illness including but not limited to: cancer, depression, heart disease and sexual dysfunctions.
2) Your cabbage must be rinsed 3 times after soaking.
3) You must wear comfortable clothes when you are making kim chi.
4) You should wear pink rubber gloves when mixing your kim chi. Note: I thought this seemed sissy until I did it without gloves a few hours hands still feel like they are on fire.
5) There are over 200 varieties of kim chi.
6) Korea grows the best cabbage in the world, and makes the best sea salt - better than France.
7) Korea introduced pickled vegetables to Japan, not the other way around.
8) Kim chi never goes bad.
9) Every one has one essential ingredient that must be added to their kim chi to make it the most delicious and perfect kim chi.

There are several methods for making kim chi. The traditional way is dry salting whole cabbage, I'm using a quicker method of cutting the cabbage into smaller pieces and soaking it in a salt brine.

5 lbs. Chinese or savoy cabbage (Chinese is the traditional cabbage used, I had to use savoy this time because I couldn't find any good Chinese cabbage in town)
1 leek, thinly sliced on the bias
5 green onions, julienned
2 small carrots, julienned
About 3/4 c. diakon radish, julienned
1 white onion, roughly chopped
10-12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 c. tamari, shoyu or soy sauce
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. dried hot chiles ground into a powder or Korean chile powder (I ground up Thai hot chiles that we had dried from our garden last year in the blender) 
1 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. rice flour or other flour
2-3 Tbsp. sugar

1) Slice your cabbage in quarters lengthwise and remove the portion of the core that is lodged on each section by cutting across it diagonally. Slice each quarter in half lengthwise and then chop into square pieces width wise (basically get the cores out and chop the cabbage into about 2" pieces.

2) The cabbage must then be soaked in a salt brine solution that is 15% salt to every 1 liter of water. The amount will depend on the size of the bowl or bowls you are using to soak the cabbage in. Let the cabbage soak for 3-5 hours in the salt brine and then rinse in clean water 3 times and drain. Turn the cabbage around in the brine occasionally to make sure all of the cabbage gets evenly soaked.

Rinsing the cabbage in a clean sink.
3) As the cabbage soaks, cut up the following vegetables and set aside in a bowl: leek, green onions, carrots and daikon radish.

4) In a small sauce pan combine the rice flour (or other flour) and water and cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat your spoon (about 5 minutes). Then add the sugar and stir to combine while cooking for another minute. Set this mixture aside to cool a bit.

5) In a food processor combine the white onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sea salt and lemon juice and puree and then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

6) Add the flour and sugar mixture and the hot chile powder to the large bowl with the onion, garlic, ginger soy sauce mixture and stir to combine.

7) Next add the vegetables (leeks, green onions, etc.) to the chile paste and toss with your hands to completely combine. Here is where you should put on your pink rubber gloves. I am not usually sensitive to hot peppers and I wish I had worn gloves.

8) Next add the cabbage that has been brined and thrice rinsed and again toss with your begloved hands to completely coat the cabbage with the chile paste. When it is completely mixed transfer the kim chi to any kind of fermenting/storage container that is glass or ceramic. Since it only ferments for 1 or 2 days before refrigerating it is sensible to place it in whatever jar or jars you plan to store it in once it is transferred to the fridge (such as mason jars).

9) Let the kim chi stand at room temperature for 1 to 3 days and then transfer to the fridge. Or you can use some of it right away if you want to.

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