"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Salty, sweet, spicy, and simply divine.

This is what I did on my term break:

Went to bed late
Got up late
Had my heart broken by Wally Lamb (again)
Went to the Grampians for Easter (again)
Ate chocolate daily
Crocheted 3/4 of a beanie/beret thing
Worried over my youngest child, away on an arduous camp
Bought an AMAZING set of cheapskate knives
Celebrated my husband's birthday
Became addicted to kimchi

Are two weeks long enough to develop an addiction?  They must be, because here I am, craving mouthfuls of crunchy, salty, tangy, spicy, stinky goodness every hour of every darned day.  And not just any kimchi, but homemade kimchi, which is like nothing you get in either restaurants or shops.  Shop- or restaurant-bought kimchi is all right, but homemade is not anything you can call "all right" – nothing you can be ambivalent about.  It is either love with a violent passion, or completely turn away from.

This term break began with the discovery of Maangchi, whom I promptly fell in love with, for her skills, knowledge, warmth, sultry voice, and her honest and earthy enjoyment of everything she eats.  And it continued with trying a few recipes out here and there.  And then it culminated with my first batch of kimchi, made in desperation out of stuff I didn't want to throw away.

I came home from the Grampians (see What I Did on My Term Break, above), and had my usual shock-horror response when I saw the contents of my refrigerator crisper, which I'd totally forgotten about before I left. Even though I'd never made kimchi before, I decided to make it out of the things that most desperately needed using: a bag of discounted coleslaw mix I'd bought on impulse, a bunch of bok choy whose outer leaves were beginning to wilt, carrots, and a couple of bunches of spring (green) onions that were papery on the outside but still had sweet and tender centres.  

Obviously not a purist's kimchi, but it was good.  Even before fermentation it was like a million plus a million times better than any kimchi I'd ever had before:  the salting process totally removed the bitterness from the bok choy, and the flavours were rounded and full.  After a couple days' fermentation on the bench, the flavours had deepened and I now had something quite complex on the palate.
So I started me thinking: can you make kimchi out of anything? The nice people in Maangchi's forums assured me you could.  I had dreams of pumpkin and broccoli stem kimchi and all kinds of weird and wonderful things, but the first thing that came my way was a whole pile of Chantenay carrots on special.  I had this image of Maangchi munching on very crunchy cubed radish kimchi (kkakdugi) and I knew my time had come.

By this stage, I had availed myself of what is probably the most important ingredient making kimchi this way:  the chili flakes.  Now… I am the queen of substitutions, but after a few tries I have to say:  there is no substitute for Korean chili flakes here.

Chili powder won't do (it has too many foreign flavours), and ordinary dried chili flakes are too potent (plus they don't – at least in Oz – have the wonderful colour).  If you're happy to go to your closest supplier of Korean chili flakes, go, right now, and make this, straight after that.  And enjoy IMMEDIATELY.

See, this is the beauty of homemade kimchi, and an experience you cannot have when you're getting it in a restaurant or out of a box:  munching on freshly-made kimchi.  Yes, yes, fermented kimchi is delicious, but freshly-made is an absolute revelation.  Times like this, Maangchi says, all she needs is the freshly-made kimchi and a bowl of rice, and I can see why.  You just want to enjoy it straight away and have absolutely nothing come between you and it, except perhaps for the comforting earthiness of steamed rice.  I had leftover Asian-style broth from last night's noodle soup, so instead of rice, I made a delicious potful of fluffy ttukbaegi gyeranjjim to go with it.

It was Heaven.  Heaven, I tell you.  Go and make kimchi now.  It's quick, it's easy, you'll never be the same again.

Here's how.

You begin by degorging the veg in salt and sugar.

Look at all the liquid that's released after just 30 minutes.  You'll be draining most of this away.

Dump the other ingredients on top…

... and then just mix the heck out of it.  Hands are quickest and easiest, but wear rubber gloves.  I don't want to hear that you mixed this with your bare hands and then tried to remove your contact lenses and thought your eyes were going to melt off.  Not that I speak from personal experience or anything.

You can eat it right away or refrigerate it, or put it into a container to ferment for a couple of days before refrigerating.  Either way, it'll be salty, sweet, spicy, and simply divine.

I used to think that kimchi was just a condiment or side dish.  Well, it is, but it's so much more than that.  Think of it as one of your essential ingredients.  Once you realise that not only can you eat it as is, but also add it as one of your special touches to whatever it is you're making, you'll never go back.

1 kg Chantenay carrots, small as you can get them
1 kg white radish or daikon
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
4 spring (green) onions, chopped
1/2 bunch garlic scapes (shoots), cut into same length as carrots
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
2/3 cup Korean chili flakes
1/4 cup fish sauce

What you do:
1.  Cut the tops off the carrots, and place in large bowl.  (If some carrots are extra large, cut in half.)  Peel radish or daikon, and cut into sections as long as the carrots.  Cut each section into six or eight wedges, and add to the bowl.  Sprinkle over sugar and salt, mix, and allow to degorge for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.
2.  Drain vegetables, reserving the liquid.  Add remaining ingredients plus 1/3 of the liquid you drained off, and mix well.  Your hands are best for this, but please – wear rubber or disposable plastic gloves!
3.  Kimchi is ready to enjoy straight away, but you can also ferment it (in fact, you may want to do half and half).  To ferment, pack into a sturdy container, jar, or large Ziploc bag.  Leave at room temperature for 1-3 days.  Kimchi will be fermented when it begins to smell sour; it may also display bubbles on the surface.  Once fermented, store in the refrigerator.

Yumbo McGillicutty!


  1. Looks incredible. I've never had this (shhh) but will definitely be rectifying that! I must say - you know how to "take a break!"

  2. You'll either fall totally in love, or you just won't care for it in the slightest. Either way - give it a go! Kimchi - either my recipe or a more traditional one - has to be tried at least once in a lifetime.

    Thanks for popping by. :)

  3. Mmmmm this does look grand. And I can always use a little heaven in my life.

  4. It sounds like you had an amazing break!
    I may be biased, but Kimchi is a great addiction!!!

    Twitter: @aSquishyMonster.com

    1. Not only did I have an amazing break, but I've had a break about kimchi. I've discovered you CAN make it out of just about anything, and there's no turning back now! My favourite is the cubed white radish and beet. Mmm…

      Thanks for stopping by - I love your vids!

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So! Whaddya reckon?