I know, I know–no such thing.
Efforts to convince my girlfriend’s Omma to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey with her homemade kimchee met with the expected scorn, but after a full day of comparatively bland holiday stuff she was good enough to show me her “quick” and easy version of a fresh, blistering kimchee, just the thing to scrub the guts of all those carb laden holiday remnants.
This is a woman who, in the suburban wastes of Colonial Heights, Virginia, makes her own persimmon vinegar from a tree in the backyard, grows hot and mild chili peppers and dries them in the driveway, and throws back a shot of bear gall bladder-steeped Bacardi after dinner with barely a grimace. She doesn’t do easy.
Over a three day stretch the indulgent Mrs. Kim also managed to make japchae, kimbap, seaweed soup, and the earthy Chinese-Korean black bean noodle dish jajangmyeon (of which I’ll have a lot to say about in a future Omnivorous). But the long version of her kimchee would take all day, incorporate four different kinds of “anchovy,” and the preparation of a flour-and-water mixture that sounded an awful lot like a roux. She told me if I wanted to learn how to do that I’d have to learn Korean. My questions were giving her a headache.
This short recipe, and I use the term loosely–she doesn’t measure or follow recipes–was made with a single head of Napa cabbage but still took a full morning to prepare (see the attached pics). We pulled off the leaves, sliced them once or twice lengthwise then across in two-inch pieces. She mixed about a quarter cup of salt in two cups of water, poured the brine over the leaves, occasionally turning them over in the mix, as water leached from the vegetable.
After four hours we rinsed the cabbage, now significantly reduced in volume, and while it drained added a bunch of scallions cut on the bias, a head of garlic with two fat knobs of peeled ginger, both minced, then the juice from half an onion and half an Asian pear squeezed through a cloth. No sugar, no MSG, thank you very much. All of this was thrown into a big bowl along with two liberal doses of chili powder, one hot, one mild, from the peppers she’d grown in the garden. We tossed this with the cabbage and mixed things around, adding indiscriminate dashes of fish sauce from three different bottles (aka, the “anchovy”). I recognized the popular Squid and Crab brands found in most Asian groceries and a third I’d never seen before. Not sure what each was meant to add to the flavor profile (“Too many questions!”).
Then the mix was left to sit on the back porch. We had a little with lunch–it was crisp and fresh with strong, clean heat. By dinner it had mellowed a bit and reduced enough to fit into a large freezer bag, which was later stowed in a carry on that sailed through airport security.
Kamsamnida, Mrs. Kim! Jal meogeoseumnida!