I have talked about wanting to be French. I also want to be Korean. This is not because of the Olympics, although I was incredibly impressed by the opening ceremony. This is about the food. I have always loved Korean food: flavorful, rich, vibrant, and loaded with vegetables. To me, it is a perfect cuisine. Cooking authentic Korean food is not something you can easily teach yourself.
Fortunately for me, one of my closest friends, Sora, is Korean. She’s also from Michigan, so we are bonded by our Midwestern roots as well. She does numerous things well. My younger son and I are slightly obsessed with her mung bean pancakes. A meal at Sora’s house is a real treat–authentic cuisine that is delicious from start to finish. No matter how good a friend someone is, getting anyone to reveal family recipes ordinarily involves a slow dance. But Sora agreed to share her killer kimchi (or kimchee, as it’s also spelled) recipe, and boy is it fantastic. I wanted to keep this post authentic. Sora provided some fascinating history about where this recipe came from, her South Korean heritage, and this type of kimchi in particular.
“My mom is from Kwangju in the Cholla Province of South Korea. This area is known for its rich soil and agriculture, thus producing some of the best produce in the country. The Cholla Province is also known to house some of Korea’s best traditional cooks and food.
The kimchi from this area is spicier and more saucy than other neighboring regions and many believe it to be the best representation of kimchi. However, every Korean family has their kimchi recipe and that’s what makes kimchi special, there is no right way, it’s all based on taste and preference”.
“Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mom make endless amounts of kimchi and oh the variations of kimchi from “oy kimchi” (cucumber), “baechu kimchi” (whole Napa cabbage) to “chongkak kimchi” (radish). She would fill bottle after bottle of kimchi storing them for our future meals, and we loved every single bite. When the local Korean grocery started carrying pre-made kimchi, my mom thought this was a time saver.
Little did she know that my siblings and I would denounce store-bought kimchi as a watered-down, (short-cut) 7-up cheat version of “true kimchi.” There is no replacement for homemade traditional kimchi. Once you’ve had good kimchi, you can’t go back to any lesser version.
Kimchi making is a badge of honor for a Korean cook and one that is achievable for any kimchi admirer. Traditionally, kimchi would be stored in the ground to “refrigerate” and allow for fermentation. We now have special “kimchi refrigerators” that allow for perfect fermentation temperatures to store kimchi for lengthy periods up to 12 months”.
Kimchi is a staple in the Korean cuisine. Considered a national dish in both South and North Korea, kimchi is a traditional side dish made from seasoned fermented vegetables, most commonly Napa cabbage. It is estimated that Koreans eat about 40 pounds of this spicy condiment per person per year. That’s a lot of kimchi.
To my amazement, there are hundreds of different types of kimchi and each version can vary substantially, as Sora mentioned. Kimchi has been around for a very long time, some trace it as far back as the Three Kingdoms, around 37 BC, although the ingredients have evolved slightly with the introduction of chili peppers in the early 17th century. From a health perspective, kimchi is loaded with good stuff and Americans have finally caught on.
Koreans eat this fiber-packed condiment on just about everything, and I get why. Used in soups, pancakes, tacos, and burgers, it makes everything better if you ask me (or my husband, who is a huge kimchi fan). Loaded with vitamins A, B, and C and also contains “healthy bacteria” lactobacilli, which is found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This bacteria helps promote good digestion, prevent yeast infections, and may even help stop the growth of some cancers.
So whether you are a long-time lover of kimchi or a curious foodie, I encourage you to eat it if you haven’t yet and not to be afraid to try to make it. At Sora’s suggestion, I included two recipes that seem almost identical, but they are not. These recipes do not contain any added sugar but Sora mentioned at times people will add some to balance the heat. On occasion, her mother will add a bit of plum syrup to hers. Sora shoots straight. She has named these two recipes simply “easy” (a quicker version made with chopped Napa cabbage) and “hard ” (one with identical spices but with quartered cabbage requiring more prep work). Both versions are fantastic.
NOTE: Here are links for some suggested ingredients used to make kimchi: Salted (fermented) shrimp sauce, Viet Huong fish sauce, Korean red pepper powder, and disposable plastic food safety gloves.