I can't pinpoint when my obsession with kimchi started. Or, fermented vegetables for that matter. I love that sour tang of patiently aged produce, that signature "zing!" that hits you in the back of your teeth in such a way that you can feel it in your temples. I can eat whole jars of sauerkraut in one sitting, juice and all. One of my favorite, regular and admittedly strange breakfasts is a plate full of scrambled eggs topped with sauerkraut and diced avocado. The more kraut the better. I don't know what it is about the stuff and I don't care. Sometimes you just have to go with it.
My love for kimchi comes from an equally strange place. I did not grow up eating or knowing much about Korean food. I am not well-versed in its cuisine. All I know is that I have an innate affinity for the flavor of kimchi– spicy, garlicky, fermented cabbage, laden with onions and ginger kissed. If and when I get the rare chance to eat Korean food, I house the kimchi portion of the banchan. When I visited San Francisco for the first time last year, I delighted in a Kimchi Ramyun bowl from Namu Gaji, a comforting bowl of hand pulled noodles in a spicy kimchi broth that I still talk about like an old lover.
As my love for kimchi grows, I've taken an interest in learning more. Enter Maangchi, a blog by a woman named Emily Kim. My Korean food tour guide, if you will. For a beginner like me, the Maangchi website is helpful on so many levels. Kim offers lists of Korean food products, how and where to find Korean ingredients and best of all, her video tutorials. Plus, she's got pretty dope knife skills for a home cook. I followed the Maangchi recipe for Kimchi and kkakdugi (Korean radish).
I came upon some gorgeous Napa cabbage heads while working on a story about the Bush n' Vine, a third generation family-owned farm in York, South Carolina. Nearly nine pounds of it. If you're local, the Bush n' Vine also sells their produce inside the Atherton Mill and Market food hub. Making kimchi is not hard, but it takes time. Then, it takes patience. The process of salting the cabbage and preparing the signature gochugaru (Korean red pepper) paste that is the hallmark of traditional kimchi takes a few hours and then fermenting takes weeks longer. Old school kimchi was placed in jars and buried in the ground to ferment. I let mine go for about three weeks, mostly in the refrigerator but for a couple days on my countertop which helped the flavor immensely.
I've been sharing my bounty with friends and finding uses for it everywhere–on my eggs (because that's my life), on top of soy braised short ribs, over rice, out of the jar… the options are endless. The obsession is real. My house stinks, kimchi stains linger on my fingers (although I did use gloves for the initial application of the kimchi paste) and I'm already plotting my next batch. Next up is kimchi-jiggae, kimchi buchimgae and this kimchi relish.
How about you? Tell me of your fermenting adventures.