The world is becoming flat. With modern trade and transfer, we are increasingly borrowing, buying, and taking from cultures that are far away. This is easy to observe when it comes to food, and not just in restaurants: Here in the CSA box we have gotten some Korean produce: daikon and napa cabbage!
Korea’s climate is much like our home in Kansas. While settlers and Native Americans might not have had access to these vegetables, produce diversification is helpful for farmers and offers us the opportunity to see the similarities and appreciate the differences in ways people live across the world. Today I’d like to share Korea’s national dish: kimchi.
It is a spicy fermented dish. Ultimately, there are dozens of combinations and variations, but you throw vegetables—radish, cabbage, carrots, and the like—together with a rich, energetic blend of garlic, pepper flakes, ginger, and other spices. It is also easy to make at home, so long as you are not spooked by the fermentation process which takes about three days.
I massaged the vegetables in salt, and then let them soak in brine for a few hours while I blended the spices. After a thorough mixing, I put the mixtures in jars: one of radish and one of cabbage, careful not to seal the lids too tightly. The fermentation will make the contents bubble up, and I will open them a few times to poke a knife in to release pent-up gasses.
After three days I was left with an incredibly dense, nutritious, vitamin-rich "stew" that will clean out our sinuses. It can be eaten on its own, as a topping, or added to broth, sauces, or oils as a base for soup or cooking in a pan. I made soup, with strips of beef in broth to simmer. The scent is strangely fresh and very distinctive.
I enjoyed the burning zest with extra cabbage leaves and Greek yogurt—I'm a little wimpy. It made me wonder a bit about my own traditions and way of life. Lack of kimchi was considered a dire emergency by the Korean military in history, dramatically affecting the morale of soldiers. The act of partaking of this homegrown pride of another nation made me consider my own, eliciting deep reflection and wonder.
Have you ever made a dish in a tradition outside your lineage?
Share a story about foreign food with us below!