I have a big ol' garlicky spot in my heart for kimchi.
In my opinion, the national dish of Korea is one of the world's best-kept secrets. It's salty, spicy, satisfyingly crunchy and also good for you -- what's not to love?
I was born in South Korea and raised in Alaska, and I've watched as the state's Korean population has grown. Nationally, kimchi is showing up on trendy restaurant menus, glossy food magazine covers and even in bloody mary bars.
Yet, I've talked to many Korean restaurant owners who decided to start restaurants focused on Japanese or Chinese food because they feel there is more local demand for it.
Alaska is usually a few years behind when it comes to food trends. While we do have a few standout Korean restaurants already, it would be a stretch to say we have anything near a Korean food scene. But from Barrow to Bethel and Juneau to Anchorage, it is a cuisine standing in the shadows, waiting for its moment to shine. It's my hope that in the near future Korean food will be commonplace throughout the state.
In the meantime, it's easy to make your own kimchi at home and incorporate it into your cooking.
Kimchi is a super-spicy fermented cabbage condiment (think sauerkraut marinated in hot sauce) that is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner in Korea. Kimchi is a staple of the high-fiber, low-fat traditional diet that has kept the country's obesity at bay. Kimchi is used in everything from soups to sandwiches and as a topping on pizza and burgers.
Alaska-made kimchi is truly spectacular because our homegrown cabbage is sweet and crunchy, perfect for pickling and fermentation. I received a head of Napa cabbage in my Community-Supported Agriculture share of vegetables from Chickaloon this week and have a few quarts of kimchi fermenting on my kitchen counter. It makes my mouth water to think about eating homemade kimchi in the dead of winter.
You can make kimchi with any vegetable, or even fruit if you are feeling adventurous. Some of my coworkers recently made delicious kimchi featuring beach greens and wild edibles.
Kimchi is also a probiotic powerhouse and an excellent antioxidant. It is loaded with "healthy bacteria" called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like yogurt and miso soup, as well as vitamins A, B and C, and fiber. It really is a superfood, and adds a flavorful kick to anything.
½ cup salt
1 gallon water
1 small head of garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/3 cup chili paste or 1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths (use the dark green part too)
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and grated or finely sliced
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (or agave nectar)
1. Slice the cabbage lengthwise in half, then slice each half lengthwise into 3 sections. Cut away the tough stem chunks.
2. Dissolve the salt in the water in a very large container, then submerge the cabbage under the water. Put a plate on top to make sure it stays underwater, then let stand for 2 hours.
3. Mix the other ingredients in a very large metal or glass bowl.
4. Drain the cabbage, rinse it and squeeze it dry.
5. Mix other ingredients to make a paste. Add cabbage and mix together.
6. Pack the kimchi into the jar, pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the vegetables. Leave at least 1 inch of pace. Seal the jar with a lid.
7. Let the jar stand at room temperature for 1-2 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow.
8. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.
Kimchi fried rice
Optional additional ingredients:
Makes one 10-inch pizza