My Kimchi Story
My Kimchi (Kimchee) Story
“Do you have any kimchi that doesn’t have MSG (Monosodium glutamate), anchovy or shrimp?” I asked.
“No” Centre Point staff answered.
“You use to stock it, why don’t you sell it anymore?” I asked.
“Make your own” Centre Point staff answered.
Well, I just might do that. I thought.
It took me another year and a day to finally make some kimchi.
I love Korean food and of course, kimchi. I would grab one of those manufactured kimchi packets kept in the refrigerated section of the Chinese supermarket. The kind of kimchi no self-respecting Korean would ever eat. As I worked in the Covent Garden area it was convenient to do a spot of shopping on my break. I’m an ingredient reader, if nothing else. So, I’d pick up the packet to make sure there was no shrimp or anchovy listed among the ingredients. MSG was of some concern, but if the kimchi didn’t contain fish ingredients I was good to go. All of a sudden, I noticed that none of the kimchi kept in the refrigerated section was vegetarian. The reason for this I have yet to find out, but it meant that my convenience packet kimchi days were over. It’s not like kimchi is difficult to make or the ingredients are hard to source, at least not in London. What put me off making my own kimchi was the garlic. Don’t get me wrong; I love garlic. Roasted garlic, spaghetti alla puttanesca, garlic mashed potatoes, but these are all forms of cooked garlic. I admit I had a fear of raw garlic. I was afraid the smell of garlic was going to take over my fridge, spread through out the kitchen and then engulf the entire house. My fears were not completely unfounded. I once brought some kimchi to work and ate it at my desk. Surprisingly, none of my colleagues said anything, but it didn’t stop the perceived vapour of shame from emanating from my pores.
I vowed to never do that again.
My love of kimchi is much stronger than my concern for raw garlic. It’s safe to say that I must have gotten over my raw garlic phobia. What took me so long, I really don’t know.
So on Friday, I visited Centre Point to pick up a few ingredients for my kimchi making session on Saturday. The two main ingredients I needed to find were Napa cabbage to make (baechu kimchi) and Korean chili powder (kochukaru). Substituting either of these ingredients just won’t do, you have to buy the kochukaru and preferably the coarse one. As far as peppers go Kochukara is not particularly hot, but it helps to give kimchi that crisp, pungent and refreshing kick that will make your mouth happy.
First, I wasted some time visiting a few shops in China town, such as See Woo, thinking they might carry a few Korean food items. Then I tried to remember where the Korean food store I had visited in Soho was. Rain was predicted for 4pm and as usual I was cycling around town and didn’t want to get rained on. Back to Centre Point. I was looking for at least a 500g or 1kg bag of the Korean chili powder, but they only had the 227g size and I wasn’t sure it would be enough to make more than one napa cabbage load of kimchi.
Get on down to K-Town
If I am to start my monthly kimchi making practice, I guess I will have to make a trip down to New Malden, Surrey to purchase bulk supplies. It’s been at least ten years since I took a trip to New Malden or New-Mal-dong, home of the largest Korean community in London and possibly Europe. If you check out the address listed on the back of many of the Korean food products you’ll notice the wholesalers are located there. Korea Foods Co. Ltd seems to pop up a lot.
When I lived in NYC I visited Koreatown often. If I was in the vicinity it was always a good excuse to treat myself to some mandoo. When a good friend moved to L.A. she took me on a tour of L.A.’s Koreatown located in the Mid-Wilshire district. As you can imagine there is a lot of hustle and bustle in Koreatown. Within this sprawling concrete jungle she managed to find restaurants with vast outdoor seating and lush landscaped areas hidden away from street view.
Until I can make a trip to Seoul, K-Town will have to do.
Kimchi is good for the Seoul
It’s tasty and it’s also touted as one of the world’s healthiest foods.
According to Health magazine it’s “loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but it’s biggest benefit may be in its (healthy bacteria) called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.”
On Tuesday when the kimchi will be ready (fermented), I can’t wait to make Kimchi Fried Rice (Kimchi Bokkeumbap), Tofu Mushroom Hot Pot (Dubu-busut Jeongol), Soft Tofu Stew (Soondubu jjigae), Kimchi pancake (Kimchijeon or Kimchi jeon).
1 head of large Napa cabbage
1 cup of Korean chili powder (kochukaru)
40g crushed garlic
5g chopped ginger
2 bunches of spring onions
1 pureed pear
1. Split the cabbage into quarters keeping the root intact.
2. Sprinkle course salt evenly between all the cabbage leaves. After about 10 minutes, immerse the cabbage in a container of salted water (1 part salt: 2 parts water). Let the cabbage soak for about six hours. Turning it occasionally about ten times during the process.
3. Rinse the salted cabbage at least twice and let it drain for about 2 to 3 hours. It’s important not to over-salt the cabbage. Leaves should remain slightly crisp.
4. Combine and stir the Korean chili powder, sugar, ginger, garlic, and pear. Then add the strips of spring onion. Mix well.
5. Coat each cabbage quarter with a generous amount of filling, making sure it gets between each leaf.
6. Let it ferment for two to three days in a cool area or in the refrigerator.
Adapted from a recipe included in the Korean Tourism Organization booklet Korean Cuisine: Refresh Your Senses.
Also check out this kimchi recipe from the Vegan 8 Korean website which includes vegan mushroom oyster sauce and kelp.