As you may or may not know, Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable, typically made from vegetables such as cabbage, radishes, or cucumbers.
The word “Kimchi” originates from the translated meaning “salting of vegetables.” Kimchi was born from an era absent of refrigerators, and during the cold winter months Koreans looked to fermentation as a way to preserve food. While most people associate kimchi with its vibrant red color and spicy bite, there are over a 100 different types of kimchi, each type derived from a particular season. As a Korean-American, my love for kimchi has grown deeper as time as passed. I have learned that kimchi goes beyond the limits of a side dish in Korean cuisine.
Kimchi celebrates culture and family. One of my first memories of kimchi was at a very young age, maybe 3 or 4 years old. My mother would rinse the spicy crushed red pepper off each piece of kimchi and feed it to me atop a spoonful of rice. As I got a little bit older I would help my mom make kimchi, she’d mix the ingredients in a large tub, occasionally shaking her cupped hand asking me to pour her more crushed red pepper or garlic. She’d smear them all together, folding it over and under the cabbage.
Then my mom would search for the “best piece” and like a crane, lower it into my mouth between her forefinger and thumb. Finally, we would decide together if anything was missing. I’d hold the glass jar and my mom would tightly pack each layer, leaving a little room for the kimchi to ferment.
Kimchi was a necessity in our household for every meal, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kimchi making was a special activity that my only my mom and I shared, but every batch of kimchi we made was shared with family and friends.
Kimchi is nutritious. It is naturally low in fat and is full of vitamins A, B, and C and healthy bacteria, lactobacilli. You can find lactobacilli in yogurt and other fermented foods. When you first taste kimchi, when it’s fresh, the ingredients are slightly separate from one another. During the fermentation process, kimchi begins to produce lactic acid (where the lactobacilli are). The kimchi begins to become sourer in taste as the ingredients ferment together. Older kimchi can be used to fry with rice or to make kimchi soup. The lactic acid that kimchi produces helps your body suppress bacterial infections, cultivate good bacteria in your stomach, potentially prevent gastrointestinal cancer, and delay aging.
Kimchi is easy to make and made with real food ingredients. In this day and age, I find three obstacles that get in the way of healthy eating, 1) most foods have been processed until they have barely any nutrition 2) “real” food like produce and fruits are expensive 3) switching to healthy cooking can be overwhelming. But with kimchi, the ingredients are few (most can be locally grown, as I am trying to do this season) and the recipe is easy. While each Korean family or rather each Korean mother makes their own special kimchi, some with fish sauce, some with ginger, here are the basic kimchi ingredients.
Chinese, or napa cabbage
Crushed Red Pepper
Carrots (optional, I like it for the color & taste)
Naturally Kimchi’s shelf life is longer than most, because of the fermentation process, the flavors of kimchi change and progress thus Koreans have different recipes to go with Kimchi’s multiple stages of flavor. I encourage everyone to try and make a batch of kimchi, grab a recipe from online, a book, or better yet make some with a friend. Take a delicious journey with Kimchi & reap the health benefits along the way!
Also, if you’re in town don’t miss my mom and I teaching a workshop:
Learn how to make kimchi
Monday July 22nd, 2013
At the Sydenstriker Cabin at Pearl S. Buck