I was stirring a cup of roughly chopped kimchi into a pan of sauteeing onions the other night when Lou Reed's "Ride Into the Sun" came blasting through the kitchen speakers. I couldn't remember the last time I had heard that song, but just as I was thinking this, a feeling of joy surged through me. I paused, holding my wooden spoon in mid-air.
It's always surprising when a strong emotion shows up unexpectedly during an otherwise mundane moment. You're just doing what you do, minding your own business. In my case, I was making dinner by myself while everyone else in the house was happily engaged in other activities.
The song itself reminded me of being young, discovering Lou Reed's music for the first time in the form of The Velvet Underground. I remembered listening to it at the age of fourteen and feeling then that somehow the world was suddenly different, I was different, and that my life would never be the same again. The things he wrote about! Drug use, addicts, Holly from Miami F-L-A who "plucked her eyebrows on the way/shaved her legs and then he was a she" -- people who lived on the margins of the margins of society. I was a Chinatown- and Chinese Baptist Church-raised girl, but somehow he spoke to me.
Fourteen. It feels so profound and real, whatever you're feeling at that age. You're alive in a way that no one else is. You're convinced of this undeniable fact, certain that you are connected to the deepest, truest parts of yourself. You hear your favorite song, or one that has those lyrics that mean something, and you are rapt as you suddenly feel altered yet again...and forever. I made such feelings known to the world by way of the canvas bookbag I carried everywhere; I'd painted Lou Reed's face on it so that it covered the entire front flap. Stomped around in my Doc Martens.
Perhaps that's what it was, the feeling that had appeared when I was tossing some kimchi into a frying pan that particular night: a deep sense of aliveness. It was as if a gap had opened up in the everyday which allowed the slender glimmer of another time to slide back into my momentary existence, just like that, before disappearing again. Such moments, nearly forgotten gifts of the past.
But I started off talking about kimchi and cooking, didn't I? Well, let's talk about it then, shall we? I've posted about kimchi mac n' cheese and my family's kimchi pasta, but I've never posted an actual kimchi recipe. Well, that's being remedied here today.
If you're not very familiar with kimchi, it is a staple of the Korean diet, which Lauryn Chun of Mother-In-Law Kimchi describes as "more than one type of recipe; it is one of the most versatile pickling techniques." Kimchi can be made using a wide range of vegetables, from napa cabbage and chives to bok choy and even butternut squash. Here in the West, the type we most often see is napa cabbage or daikon mixed with a seasoning paste containing salted shrimp or fish and red chili flakes.
This version makes a smallish amount, which is a good place to begin, is very easy and adds just the right bit of joy and aliveness to my life these days. Here it is, along with a bit of Lou Reed.
Everyday Kimchi (Napa Cabbage and Daikon Radish)
Makes 3 pints
Adapted from The Kimchi Cookbook.
Tips: Use glass or ceramic bowls and containers for mixing and storing. Pack your vegetables very tightly. Keep out of sunlight. Resist the temptation to open the jar when you are initially fermenting this at room temperature. Opening it up will introduce oxygen which can promote the growth of mold. You'll be able to see some bubbling up, which means that things are happening. Also, note that the ambient temperature will affect the fermentation rate. Somewhere in the 65°F to 70°F range is ideal. If it's cooler than that, it will take slightly longer and if it is warmer it will ferment faster. At Momofuku, they put their kimchi straight into the refrigerator to ferment rather than leaving it at room temperature, so that's an option too. Just know that the fermentation process will take longer.
For the initial vegetable brine:
1 medium head napa cabbage (about 2-3 pounds), cut into 1 1/2" squares
1 medium daikon radish, cut in half lengthwise then sliced into pieces 1/8" thick
1/4 cup kosher salt
For the seasoning paste:
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon peeled, finely grated ginger
2 tablespoons anchovy sauce, such as Red Boat
1/2 small apple, peeled and grated
1/4 cup Korean chili pepper flakes (gochugaru)
2 green onions, green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons water
Set aside three clean glass pint jars. Mason jars work well.
Combine the cabbage and daikon with the salt in a large bowl. Set aside aside for about an hour. Drain the liquid. Rinse the vegetables to remove any residual salt. Drain in a colander for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, place the veggies in a salad spinner to remove extra water.
In a mini-chopper or blender pulse together yellow onion, garlic, ginger, anchovy sauce and apple. A paste will form. Transfer it to a bowl and add the chili pepper flakes, combining well. Allow mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes so that the flavors can come together.
In a large bowl, mix together seasoning paste, vegetables and green onions. Combine thoroughly, flipping the vegetables and seasoning paste around so that the paste is evenly distributed throughout. Pack as tightly as you can into the clean jars. Add the water to the bowl and swirl it around to collect any remaining seasoning paste. Pour this into the packed jars, dividing evenly. Cover the jars tightly. Place a tray or plates under the jars. The vegetables will expand as they ferment, which may cause an overflow of liquid.
From here, you can let the jars sit at room temperature for about three days before placing into the refrigerator. Or, place them directly into the refrigerator for a slower and longer fermentation process. Your kimchi can be eaten beginning in about 7 days if initially left at room temperature. I like it best at about 14 days. It's alive and will continue to age and ferment, changing in taste and texture. This is best eaten within 6 months.