Forget cigarettes…Give me kimchee.
Forget making cookies in the weeks before Christmas…Let’s all make kimchee.
Forget quilting bees and craft nights…Let’s all get together to make kimchee.
Forget cheese…We want kimchee.
Supposedly this can all be said of the Korean nation, where the average person consumes about fotty pounds of kimchee per year. To put that in better perspective, that’s more than the typical American consumes of coffee or cocoa or nuts. cheese, eggs, shellfish, or fish.
Why even bring up the topic of kimchee at this point?
Because we’re talking about cabbage and refrigeration, and I always seem to have at least one jar of kimchee in my fridge at all times…and found some yesterday as I was cleaning out my fridge.
So what exactly is kimchee?
Kimchee, the traditional Korean dish, is a condiment of salted and fermented vegetables such as napa cabbage and daikon radish, sices such as chili powder and ginger, and salted seafood.
Kimchee, the national dish of both North and South Korea, is do revered by Koreans that during the Vietnam War, negotiations were made by the Korean and American government to ensure that kimchee was available to the Korean troops.
Koreans have been eating kimchee in some sort of fashion way back since 37 BC.
During this timeframe Buddhism, and the related vegetarian lifestyle, became important factors in the Korean lifestyle.
These ancient Koreans were highly skilled in the art of fermenting and pickling vegetables in order to help preserve the lifespan of certain foods.
Koreans can, and do, actually make kimchee out of anything edible.
This fact leads to infinite possibilities and preferences depending on what region you may be and what season it is and what ingredients you have close at hand.
In fact, today there are over 180 recognized varieties of kimchee available.
The most typical type of kimchee available today is “mak kimchi,” or simple kimchee…a type of kimchee typically made with cut cabbage, radish, and scallions and a seasoned paste of red pepper, garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce, salted shrimp, or kelp powder.
More than 70% of the kimchee sold on the market today is mak kimchee.
But here are a few more ingredients to consider as you would like to make kimchee yourself…
Vegetables...Even though napa cabbage is the vegetable most commonly used to make modern versions of kimchee, the cabbage was only introduced to Korea at the end of 19th century.
Other vegetables used to make kimchee can include…
- Mustard greens
- Radishes (Korean radishes, ponytail radishes, gegeol radishes, yeolmu radishes)
- Soybean sprouts
- Sugar beets
- Sweet potato vines
Chili Pepper…Even though chili pepper is now the expected spice in kimchee, chili pepper was not used until much later than the early days of kimchee. In fact, chili peppers were introduced to the Korean people around the year 1614 by Portuguese traders.
Gochugaru, or red pepper powder…This spice gives kimchee its expected spicy flavor. You can find this spice in Korean grocery stores and online…and in different grades of coarseness and spiciness…more on this later…
Other spices used to make kimchee include garlic and ginger. Garlic wasn’t used as a spice to make kimchee until the early seventeenth century.
The most common fish used to give kimchee its authentic flavor is saeujeot, Korean salted shrimp. These shrimp are very small and naturally fermented.
You can find these shrimp in the refrigerator case of Korean markets….more on this later.
Two more options as far as the “fishy” part of kimchee would be kelp powder and salted anchovies.
But before we go and buy the first jar of kimchee that we see and look at recipes for making our own kimchee and finding ways to kee it from rotting in the back of our fridge, let’s see why we should eat kimchee…and all fermented foods…in the first place.