“Ask any Korean which dish he or she cannot live without, and they will answer: kimchi
,” states chef Young Jin Song. So it’s no surprise that this pungent pickled vegetable dish is the star attraction in his latest cookbook, Korean Cooking
This South Korean staple is all-but-certain to electrify visitors’ tastebuds, especially if they’re travelling during the colder months. Kimchi has helped Korea ward off the long, harsh winters, when fresh veg is scarce, for a millennia.
Prepared using cabbage and a zingy homemade seasoning, it was once stored outdoors in huge earthenware jars to keep it cool and fermenting during cold spells. Fridges are a more poplar option nowadays, but you’ll still see rows of kimchi jars atop roofs. The final tangy masterstroke – hot red chillies – became popular with Koreans during the Japanese invasions (1592-1598).
Since then it’s had an explosive effect on the country and its inhabitants, and that’s not because of the chilli. It’s estimated that Koreans consume around 18kg of the vitamin-rich dish every year. Most locals eat it daily, sometimes as an accompaniment to meat or fish, sometimes on its own – even for breakfast – or as part of a stew, savoury pancakes or fried into fritters.
Popular kimchi alternatives include turnip kimchi – made with fish sauce, chilli, garlic and onions – and radish kimchi, which uses immature white radish with its leaves attached. Want to learn more about the dish’s history and many variations? Then pay a visit to Seoul’s Kimchi Field Museum.
Classic cabbage kimchi Serves 10
1 head Chinese cabbage (about 2kg)
Salt For the marinade:
50g coarse sea salt
2 tbsp table salt For the seasoning:
½ white radish (about 500g), peeled and thinly sliced
25g Korean chives
25g minari or rocket
5 garlic cloves
15g fresh root ginger, peeled
½ Asian pear or 1/2 kiwi fruit
1 chestnut, sliced
3 spring onions, sliced
50g Korean chilli powder
120ml Thai fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 red chilli, sliced
1. Make a deep cut across the base of the Chinese cabbage and split in two, then quarter. Put in a bowl, cover with water, add the table salt and soak for two hours.
2. Drain the cabbage and sprinkle with the sea salt, leaving to stand for four hours.
3. Cut radish slices into thin strips and the chives and minari (or rocket) into 5cm lengths. Finely chop the garlic, ginger, onion and Asian pear or kiwi fruit. Combine the seasoning ingredients with 120ml water.
4. Rinse the softened quarters of Chinese cabbage. Place in bowl and coat with the seasoning, letting the seasoning permeate deep into the leaves.
5. Place in an airtight container and stand for five hours, then refrigerate for 24 hours. Recipe taken from Korean Cooking by Young Jin Song, out now Main image: Kimchi stew (Shutterstock)