A surprisingly high proportion of my cooking and eating habits are based around trying to make it up to that half cabbage languishing in the vegetable drawer or that barely-scooped pint of rice that came with the take-out food and has outlasted its compatriots, or whatever else is languishing forlornly in there, in the cold and the dark. Okay, so maybe I'm overdramatizing things, but I'm also making myself feel guilty digging into that overanalysis of why I hate wasting food.
But I digress. Pickling is a great solution to this important moral dilemma on just about every front. Not only is a great direction for leftovers, namely those tragic survivors of the vegetable drawer, but, once pickled they stay good for far longer, meaning you can take them off the fridge worry list. You might even be more inclined to use them.
My first adventure with kimchi late last summer really opened it up as a flexible, accessible, exciting framework, both in research and in practice. Research revealed the breadth of things that fall under the heading of kimchi, and highlighted the degree to which, like many beloved dishes whose authenticity is fiercely defended, it is traditionally made with whatever is available. I'm not trying to a go down a postmodern garbage disposal and say that anything is kimchi if you say it is—it must include some kind of salted vegetable and feature flavor as a function of time—but if you want to put an umbrella over it, you're going to need a pretty big umbrella. In practice, I tossed together the green cabbage, beets and carrots languishing in the veggie drawer with healthy doses of garlic, ginger and chili and made a tasty, spicy mixed pickle.
I struggled with whether to call it kimchi or not, however. Though inspired by the flavors of a more traditional kimchi, I had virtually none of the classic components on hand, and lack the authority of Korean heritage or training to stamp it with that word. And yet, there is no word that better communicates the concept I was aiming for. The linguist in me loves the efficiency of it: aside from the non-descript mixed pickle, which I used above, we don't really have a good phrase in English to describe it. Beyond efficiency, what I made almost certainly has more in common, spiritually if not substantially, with what Korean grandmas keep in their special fridge than, say, most powdered chai mixes have with actual masala chai or, to get up on the cultural high horse available to me, those frozen pierogi have to do with what I make for Christmas Eve dinner every year. With some apology, until we get a better phrase to describe it, I will continue to use kimchi to describe my savory, fermented mixed vegetables.
While the last batch used paechu kimchi, the most instantly recognizable, chili powder and cabbage focused version of the dish as a template, this interpretation looked to baek kimchi and dongchimi as its models. Like the earliest iterations of kimchi, which predate the introduction of chili to Korea, they lack the ruddy, chili powder-induced hue often associated with kimchi. The primary components, which stared me down from the vegetable drawer are several simulacra of the daikon radish (cabbage sibling kohlrabi, hakurei turnip, and european radish), carrot garlic mustard greens that I had been ogling on a trail near a friend's house. The last component was the aromatics: a healthy dose of garlic and ginger and a little fresh jalapeño.
With all ingredients assembled and washed, the first part of the process is to cut them up into bite-sized pieces and mix them up. This is the most labor-intensive part of the process, but not the hardest. That would be waiting.
It will take 2-3 days for it to start developing any sour tang, dependent on the
- Five Things I Learned at the Kimchi Museum - Informative entry from the blog of a British expat living in Seoul which mostly discusses Korean TV Historical Dramas about a visit to the Kimchi Museum. Far more than a simple list, each item is discussed to the point where it could be its own post.
- The Tigress' Kimchi Primer
- Sandorkraut, "Vegetable Fermentation Further Simplified" - His website also has a searchable fermentation Q&A and a fermentation support forum
- Mei Chin, "The Art of Kimchi." Saveur Magazine, Nov. 2009.