Friday, December 16, 2011

my kimchi background or not my kimchi background

in the course of finding a reason why i am still a beginner at kimchi-making i could have come to the conclusion that it is that it was a grown-up-thing. then i read this excuse at orangette and couldn't repeat what had been said already :)

so here is the other explication:

my parents actually never got into western cooking when living in germany (not that they didn't like it but because every time & energy left was spent to prepare & procure korean ingredients, which was tough in those days in a small west german town :)). thus normally i would have got normal korean taste buds.

it was our german daymother then, a dedicated housewife, who introduced me and my sister to what we referred to as german food. in retrospect it was typical middle-class cooking of the early 90ies:
potatoes every day in every form, creamed spinach, stuffed red pepper, cucumber salad, homemade yogurt and streusel cakes... pizza with a thick bread crust (which we loved and would have never questioned), spaghetti bolognese (made with the infamous industrial condiment...). no bufallo mozarella, no dijon mustard. no sea- nor fusion food.

there was not a single exotic or exclusive produce in her kitchen but also we don't remember a single dish that wasn't delicious. not only did she cook every day but also there was desert every day :) one of my favorites was her "stuten" - a dense white yeast bread with a hint of sweetness that was served with lots of butter every second week - when we came back from swimming courses with a great appetite.

i think, she cooked the best that she could with the produces and circumstances given (among the suppliers was a discounter that is so disdained among today's foodies but that recently opened a successful branch in queens, nyc and also runs the popular trader joe's - just to put that into context :)). and apart from my family background it could be the influence of her cooking why until today, it is still the humble stuff that takes my heart. while everything fancy and glamorous, i just seek out of curiosity.

after leaving this culinary home behind and moving to korea, i was craving for pasta, breads, cakes and anything else "western" all the time. and as banchans were always abundant and western food totally deficient at our home, it never came to my mind to make anything else than the latter after i left home for studies. for a long long while.

but since last year i felt it was about time to get back to the roots and to finally make kimchi by myself - grown up or not :)

II. preliminary notes on kimchi:

1) it can be
incredibly elaborate to process 40 kg of chinese cabbage at once which is a normal family batch for gimjang. while in germany my mother had to preorder her supply of cabbages before the day of the farmer's market. it must have seem so excentric for the market people, who did not know anything about kimchi, to see how many cabbages one woman alone could take away in a day :)

2) on the other hand: it is a
piece of cake when processing just a single cabbage.
it was hilarious to see the first jars with tiny batches of kimchi popping out in blogs and it made me giggle. but now i think little batches totally make sense in a beginner's stadium.

kimchi making is like bread making: it is all about finding your happy medium in a universe of variable coordinates. the quest will never end but also, it won't take long to get the first satisfactory, if not mind-boggling results!

4) possibly there are as many sorts of kimchi as there are of bread. (think of how endless variations exist of turning flour, water and salt into a delicious bread. kimchi includes a couple of more components...)

5) you can add
radish, spring onions, chili, pears, seafood and other extras but in order to make good kimchi it is no more necessary than:

chinese cabbage
- garlic

- ginger

- gochugaru
(korean red chili flakes)
- fish or
shrimp sauce- glutinous rice flour
- salt, sugar.

- rubber gloves and a food container.
- no other condiments at this stage, please.

my beginner's recipe for one chinese cabbage

(prep time 30 min. waiting time 2 hours)

1) half one very small
chinese cabbage (1 kg)

2) dissolve 200 g salt in 2 l water

3) soak the cabbage in the salt water and let it sit for 2 hours. turn the cabbage around once every half an hour so that it is soaked evenly.

4) prepare the chili paste:

a) puree

  • 4 garlic cloves (except for the very young garlic i remove the root parts),
  • 60 g peeled and cut onions
  • 13 g peeled ginger
  • 80 ml fish sauce
  • 13 g sugar

b) in a separate huge bowl mix

  • 20 g glutinous rice flour with
  • 100 ml boiling water and
  • 30 g gochugaru

c) add the puree to the gochugaru mixture and mix well until it becomes a smooth sauce

5) slice 100 g onions very fine and add into the sauce.

6) put on the rubber gloves. wash the cabbage under running water and wring it out.

7) throw into the bowl and coat the cabbage with the chili sauce.

8) fill the cabbage in a food container as airtight as possible but leave some free space. pour all remaining sauce over the kimchi.

9) keep it one day at room temperature, afterwards stored in the fridge.

10) after five to ten days it will be fermented enough to cook with it. raw kimchi can be eaten at any stadium.
if well covered with the kimchi liquid it will last several months.

more praise on kimchi and a meal suggestion in the next post!


  1. Will ich schon immer mal versuchen, scheint mir aber immer zu kompliziert!! Vielleicht jetzt, die Bilder erklären ja einiges.

  2. liebe sybille, mir geht es so mit dem sauerteigbrot... solange ich es nicht angehe, nehm ich es keinem übel, der sich nicht an kimchi heranwagt :) du wirst sicherlich aber auch dafür ein händchen haben!