For years, we’ve looked sideways at foods we don’t quite understand and that we suspect will be unusual in flavor and/or texture. Particularly strong flavors of fermented fish and vegetables are not part of our mountain western taste traditions. Sure, we grew up with bold flavors like blue cheese, liver, and the occasional “fishy” tasting fish (that was a bad thing). But exotic foods like kimchi are not the sort of things we were raised on.
Ah, how things change. And thank goodness! Our time in California has dramatically broadened the range of things we prepare in our kitchen. That includes the big, stinky flavors of sardines and salted cod. Our pantry now contains Thai fish sauce, seaweed, daikon radish … you get the idea. Slowly but surely, we’ve come to our senses.
Kimchi is as Korean a thing as you will ever eat. It is traditionally present at every meal. To say that kimchi is commonly eaten is to grossly understate its importance and its ubiquity. As you might expect, a national obsession with a particular food has resulted in a wonderful variety of kimchi styles. Like so many fundamental culinary ideas, kimchi is essentially an idea or technique. Brined, fermented vegetables and added flavor in the form of sugar, spice and/or fish. The possibilities for variety are endless.
This “starter” kimchi recipe is simple and quick. The ingredients are all available in nearly any well-stocked chain grocery store in the world. How much of each ingredient is endlessly variable. Try it, see what you think, and try it again with your variations. It’s especially good with Kalbi (Korean barbequed beef short ribs) and white rice. Enjoy!
1 Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped peeled ginger
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons fermented chili sauce (such as Mother In-law’s)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1/2 Asian pear, grated on large hole box grater (no seeds or core)
a pinch of red pepper flakes
Quarter cabbage lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 2-to 3-inch pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons salt in a large bowl and let stand, tossing occasionally, 2 hours.
Rinse cabbage well, then drain. Squeeze out excess water with your hands and transfer to a large bowl.
Purée garlic, ginger, fish sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and fermented chili sauce in a blender until smooth, then pour over cabbage. Add scallions and grated pear and toss well. Marinate at least 1 hour.
Cooks’ notes: Kimchi keeps, chilled in an airtight container, 1 month (flavor will get stronger).