So this particular entry doesn’t so much involve discovering something cheap and fantastic; instead it’s about creating said discovery. Seoyoung is constantly reminding me how little most Americans know about Korean food. Yes, I’m sure most of you had have bibimpop: a rice dish delivered in a hissing hot cast iron bowl, topped with assorted veggies, chili paste and a fried egg. Another familiar dish to most would be the beef galbi or bulgogi–both are meet dishes, marinated and brought to the table to be barbequed by yours truly. I do adore these dishes, but Seoyoung has shown me a whole new Korean world. Not only have I eaten chilled and julienned beef sashimi, tossed with asian pear, cucumber, sesame oil and sugar, but i’ve had iced beef broth soup and pork belly with oysters. But now i’m just wallowing in the past and trying to control my salivary glands…
What I really wanted to get down and dirty with here is the concept of fermentation. You know what i’m referencing! Kimchi!! Cabbage or cucumbers, chives or daikon. Korean kimchi can be so much more than the cabbage kimchi you and I are most familiar with. One day at work, in preparation for a colossal pig roast, she put together a huge batch of cucumber kimchi. I’m not sure how one could not fall head over heals for this amazing transformation of a cucumber. She salted the kirby cucumbers, and after a few hours of the salination permeation co-habitation, she stuffed them with chives, onions, chili, garlic, ginger and mini shrimps, and then let the recreation of fermentation ensue! It resulted in a refreshingly crunchy, spicy, and tangy union that left your mouth aching for more.
Not only has she shown me this kimchi, but she has introduced me to chive kimchi, baby daikon kimchi, oyster kimchi, etc. I had no idea so many kimchi’s were alive! The fermentation means they’re alive, right? So I got so excited over these revelations (is anyone tired of the -tions yet? cuz I can keep going) and insisted she document the making of one of her kimchis. And a recipe was crucial as well, in case any of you would like to try this at home. I should mention that the kimchi odor is very unique; some may even utter the words gross. But the smell is one thing, and the taste is another. I actually got into an argument with a guy at my house who plugged his nose when I pulled the beautious daikon kimchi from my fridge. He said there was absolutely no way he would ever put a piece of it in his mouth. After fifteen minutes of heated discussion, I bribed him into tasting it. He put one piece into his mouth, conceded it wasn’t so terrible, and then proceeded to inhale the majority of my tub. I love being right!!
These pictures are of a very refreshing kimchi called water kimchi. The main focus of this kimchi is actually the liquid. You can eat the vegetables, but the most delicious part is the water. The ingredients are salted so as to draw out the liquids from the vegetables: she includes daikon, spring onion, red and green finger chilis, some asian pear and apple for sweetness, garlic and minaree. Minaree is from the same family as parsley yet has a very distinct flavor. Seoyoung had a mild ecstasy fit when we found minaree in Flushing. She hadn’t seen it since Korea, so she basically horded the whole lot (for $3) and ran home to make kimchi with it. Turns out you can find minaree in Korea town, or you can substitute parsley instead. But back to the story, after the vegetables are salted, you put them in a large jar and fill with water to the top. With the lid on, you let the jar stay in your kitchen, not the fridge, for one to two days to ferment. Then chill, and enjoy this salty-sweet liquid when the heat is beating you down.
And if this home experiment sounds a bit too taxing, then I would recommend going up to 32nd street (if you live in NY) and buying some ‘chong gak kimchi’ from the restaurant Kum Gang San in Korea town. I ate a tub, literally a bathtub’s worth of it, in a week. I know, I shouldn’t admit such things.. But it’s a fabulous alternative if you’re not up to the task of mastering the art of kimchi.