10 October 2010

Cooking therapy


I have been craving kimchi--really, really craving it.  It's kind of funny, because it actually has never figured largely into my diet growing up as a European American.  In fact, the first time I ever heard of it was in college, eating out with some roommates once or twice back then.  Now, years later, after having it a number of times over the course of the past few months, I have this persistent longing that just won't go away.

And so I gave in, jumped into the process undaunted, made a batch, and have now devoted a section of my refrigerator to the storage of some of the most beautiful kimchi ever.  Yes, it's beautiful.  And abundant!  I had to use the largest food storage containers I could find in my house.  For some reason, this taps deeply into some of my most primal instincts...I feel like I've been a dutiful provider, a competent housekeeper, a feeder of the stomach and soul... it just totally presses my "satisfaction button" knowing that I now have so much delicious kimchi on hand.

As I reflect on the steps of the actual process, I am realizing how joyful and life-giving it was for me.  The recipe, on intial reading, appeared rather involved, but as I lifted each cabbage leaf, salting, washing, and massaging them with kimchi paste in turn, it became a calming, centering therapy one evening in the middle of a busy week.  Though I love the touch of soft dough and enjoy kneading bread dough by hand, I've discovered that the tactile pleasure of preparing kimchi in this more traditional way is superlative.  What fun it was, elbow deep in my largest work bowl, stuffing one layer at a time!  And the fragrance of the red pepper paste, promising of the succulent kimchi to come--absolutely mouth-watering!

I hope you will be inspired to make this sometime yourself...I think you will love the process as well as the results!

Traditional Kimchi
Adapted from Maangchi

2 heads Napa cabbage
1 cup salt
1/4 cup sweet (aka glutinous) rice flour
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 cups gochugaru (Korean hot pepper powder) or more, to taste
1/2 cup finely minced garlic
1 one-inch knob of fresh ginger, finely minced
1/2 medium white onion, grated or finely minced
1 1/2 cups green onions, finely sliced
1 cup Asian (or regular) chives, cut into 1 1/2 inch strips

Salting the cabbage:

Cut each cabbage into quarters, cutting through the core.  Wash cabbage in cold water, submerging completely to soak all leaves, then sprinkle each leaf with salt, using about 1/2 cup salt per head of cabbage.  (Try to sprinkle more salt on the thicker stems than on the thin leafy parts.  The goal is to draw water out of the cabbage and cause it to wilt.)  Place salted cabbage in a large bowl and let sit for 2 hours.

After the first 2 hours, turn pieces of cabbage in the bowl, exchanging the top and bottom layers, so that they get salted evenly, and let sit for 2 more hours, until cabbage is soft.  (Total salting time should be about 4 hours.)

Thoroughly rinse the salt off the cabbage under running water and/or by submerging in 3 fresh changes of cold water.  Let cabbage drain.

Making the kimchi paste:

To make the kimchi paste, whisk together sweet rice flour and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  As soon as boiling begins, whisk in the sugar and continue to cook one more minute.  Let cool, then transfer to the largest bowl you can find!

To the flour paste, add the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and grated white onion and whisk together.  Then stir in the green onion and chives.

Putting it all together:

Before getting started with this final step, set up a work station: the drained wilted cabbage, the large work bowl containing the kimchi paste, and a large (air-tight and seal-able) storage container ready to receive the prepared kimchi.  Next, put on some rubber gloves (to protect your hands from staining as well as from the painful capsaicin).  You will definitely want to be working with your hands, not only to better coat each leaf, but also for the tactile enjoyment!

Place one of the quartered cabbage pieces in the large work bowl.  Scoop up a handful of the paste and spread it onto each cabbage leaf, massaging it into each of the curls and folds of the cabbage.  Place the coated cabbage into the storage container.  Repeat with remaining cabbage pieces, then close the container with an air-tight lid.

If you like your kimchi on the fresher-tasting side, like I do, store the kimchi immediately in the refrigerator.  Or, if you prefer the slightly sour, fermented flavor, let kimchi sit overnight at room temperature until desired level of fermentation is reached, then store in the refrigerator.


The Church Cook said...

I was hoping to see a photo of you with those kimchi rubber gloves on! Perhaps Santa will bring you a kimchi refrigerator this Christmas! Bravo, Erica!

the Junkie book said...

i love fresh kimchi like you do. i enjoyed korean cuisine for one whole year during my stay with korean students. i could never actually stop eating it!!

Anonymous said...

I am addicted to kimchi as well. Recently I came across this post and this is my new favorite and most easiest recipe to make a satisfying kimchi: http://aeriskitchen.com/2010/08/garlic-chive-kimchi-%eb%b6%80%ec%b6%94-%ea%b9%80%ec%b9%98buchu-kimchi/
Hope you will try it and become your favorite as well.

erica said...

thanks for the link to the 부추 kimchi recipe! I just recently became familiar with this type of leek/chive and it sounds like it'd be a delicious kimchi as well!

Laura said...

hey erica,

i saw this article and thought you might be interested in it:

erica said...

i love hearing from you all--keep these wonderful comments coming!

thanks Laura, for the interesting article link--i'd heard a rumor that the cabbage prices were climbing in Korea, but i had no idea it had reached the breath-taking price of $14 a head! wow!

Anonymous said...

Love kimchi, but it doesn't keep well in my fridge and so I just buy a little container of it once in a while at an H-Mart. Thank goodness they have ajumas that make good ones! Have you tried making cucumber ones?

erica said...

I've made oi muchim, but haven't made oisobagi kimchi yet...I really want to try making it someday soon, looks so good!

I know what you mean about storing the kimchi--fortunately it works in my fridge for about a month, but a DREAM would be to get a kimchi refrigerator one of these days! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow... one month? What am I doing wrong? Mine lasts tops 2 weeks. I think it's funny that there's a kimchi fridge... when we lived in Korea back in the day, we would bury them inside an earthen urn to keep them cold. Of course this was in the winter time.

the Junkie book said...

paid thru my nose and bought some nappa cabbage. but don have korean red pepper and chives. so am trying half of it with substitutes and lemme see how it turns out!

erica said...

good luck Thoma! i'd be curious to know what substitutes you are using--let me know how it turns out! :)

the Junkie book said...

substitutes didn work. i used our red chilli powder which i used quite less. i think if you taste it you may run around like a headless chicken!! we south indians are known for our fiery cuisine. the absence of green onions and chives spoke thru. after tasting the best kimchi made by a korean samonim...this didn even qualify to be its bridesmaid...haha!

but it's nice and edible and am gonna finish it! next batch will be after i get hold of it all...

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