Koreans love zesty delicacies, and traditional kimchi recipe is perhaps their favorite. To many of them, a meal without kimchi would be incomplete, even unthinkable. But what exactly is kimchi?
Kimchi is part of the international family of pickled vegetables. It is similar to the sauerkraut of Germany, the paocai of China, the tsukemono of Japan, the achar of India, and the pickles of other regions. In all its variations, kimchi provides Koreans with essential vitamins as well as a distinctive flavor, which invariably draws a strong reaction from the first-time taster.
Detractors protest that their nostrils and taste buds are overwhelmed by the garlic and hot red pepper. Yet, aficionados find the assault on their senses sheer delight, and they keep coming back for more.
As people seek to lend spice to their meals, kimchi is becoming known worldwide. Servicemen from the West, immigrant workers, and thousands who came for the Seoul Olympics in 1988 got to taste it.
As a result, in some countries kimchi now stands on the threshold of acceptance in the realm of fast food beside such multinational fare as hamburgers, tacos, chow mein, sushi, and hot dogs. Some non-Korean airlines serve it with their meals. In supermarkets in Japan, as many as ten million Korean-made kimchi minicups were sold over a three-year period. But how is kimchi prepared?
Traditional kimchi recipe-A Fermented Delicacy
As vegetables are preserved in salt, they become crisper. Salt suppresses the growth of most of the harmful microorganisms and facilitates the production of useful ones. Such fermentation produces amino acids and lactic acid, so kimchi comes to have a unique taste very different from the original taste of the vegetables.
Then the ingredients are mixed with seasonings. It is no longer just garlic and red pepper that find their way into kimchi pots. A host of other ingredients, ranging from the mundane to the exotic, are also used—green onions, carrots, leeks, ginger, sesame seeds, pears, oysters, salted baby shrimps, chestnuts, abalone, pine nuts, seaweed.
Note that kimchi is a side dish. No matter how much one likes it, kimchi is seldom eaten alone. It is meant to be eaten as a complement to other foods, particularly rice. To Koreans, kimchi and rice go together much as bread and butter or bacon and eggs do in other cultures. The neutral flavor of rice and the zesty and salty flavors of kimchi complement each other.
Traditional kimchi recipe-Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
The fame of kimchi has grown with the spreading demand for more healthful foods. Until recently, the nutritional value of kimchi was overlooked because of its taste.
However, as a result of the current emphasis on increased vegetable intake, kimchi is now praised for its nutritious qualities. For example, Chinese cabbage, radish, and red pepper are rich in vitamin A. Powdered red pepper has an abundance of vitamin C. The green part of leeks contains vitamins A and C. Besides, the fiber in cabbage aids digestion.
The various fermented seafood pastes added to kimchi are a good source of proteins and amino acids, which the vegetables normally lack. The oyster—the seafood item most frequently used in kimchi—contains a substantial amount of calcium, iron, glycogen, vitamins, and essential amino acids.
It is believed that there are over 100 kinds of kimchi. The differences may include the main or secondary materials, the region where the particular kimchi is prepared, the period of fermentation, and the temperature and humidity at which the kimchi is made.
The secrets of making delicious kimchi have been handed down from mother to daughter and are the pride of many a family. In fact, kimchimaking skill is often used as the benchmark for a good cook.
Kimchi for a New Lifestyle
Nowadays, it is not necessary to prepare kimchi at home. Hothouses provide vegetables year-round. Factory-made kimchi can be purchased at almost any local grocery store. In modern urban apartments, large-scale kimchi production is not feasible or practical; however, smaller quantities can easily be preserved in the refrigerator instead of in kimchi crocks.
Kimchi is a survivor. It not only survives long winters but will probably survive changing lifestyles, as it has for centuries. Would you like to taste it? Do not be dissuaded by its tangy aroma. Most likely you will find one of the over 100 varieties of kimchi agreeable to your palate. When this happens, “Mat-itkae duseyo!”—that’s Korean for “Enjoy your food!”
Spicy Korean Kimchi
1 pound [0.5 kg] Chinese cabbage
2 tablespoons salt
4 cups [1 L] cold water
2 cups [0.5 L] very hot water
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons finely chopped dried red pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
PREPARATION: Separate the cabbage leaves, and sprinkle them with salt. Pour in cold water, and allow the mixture to stand in a cool place for eight hours or overnight. Rinse the cabbage well and squeeze out excess liquid. Pour very hot water over the seasonings and mix well.
Combine with cabbage leaves. Put the combination into a large glass bowl. You may have to cut the leaves in half to make them fit. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a cool place for about two days. Drain the leaves, and cut them into bite-size pieces. Pack into a glass jar until ready to serve. Makes one pound.
Preparing Winter Kimchi
In the past when refrigerators were unknown, long Korean winters—with temperatures near the freezing point—necessitated the preparation of food that could last a long time. Kimchi was the answer. The making of large quantities of kimchi is called kimjang. The season for this was from about the end of November to the middle of December.
When extended families lived together, kimjang could involve some 100 heads of cabbage! The amounts of other ingredients could also be enormous, considering the variety of kimchi types.
Sometimes family, friends, and neighbors would gather to help with kimjang at a particular household and then all would move to the next family’s place and help there. Many companies still give their employees ‘kimchi bonuses’ at that time of year to cover the large outlay of money required to buy all the ingredients for winter kimchi.
How were large quantities of kimchi stored? In jars or crocks. One month before kimjang, crocks were buried in the ground. After the prepared kimchi cabbage heads were neatly placed in the crocks, the cabbage was pressed down with a flat stone and covered with a lid. Because earthenware crocks are porous, the kimchi would keep for a long time.