Kimchi is a new obsession for us in the food to glow family. We had our first taste a few years ago – love at first bite – but having made it a few times, and bought it many more, it is a not infrequent addition to our breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mostly as a flavouring, but also as a central ingredient too.
If something seems like it might be a little bland, instead of reaching for hot sauce or salt, we tend to reach for the kimchi pot (okay, I do). I should perhaps squeeze some into a tiny pot and carry it in my handbag, like some do Tabasco sauce. I could start a trend. A better one than carrying around tiny dogs.
We love kimchi’s crunchy, pungent, slightly spicy flavour, with the kick from traditional Korean pepper paste or flaked pepper – gochujang. Which is not as spicy as it sounds. Or even from non-traditional and definitely hotter, sriracha.
But we would have to go a ways to being honorary South Koreans: over 50 per cent of people enjoy at least a spoonful of it at breakfast, lunch AND dinner. It is estimated that just over 12 per cent of the average South Korean diet is kimchi. That’s a lot of kimchi!What Is Kimchi Anyway? And Why Would I Want To Eat It? Here I am blathering on about kimchi when some of you may be scratching your head wondering what the hell I’m on about. Basically kimchi is spicy, sour, umami-infused fermented cabbage – kind of like a Korean version of sauerkraut. But even if you don’t like sauerkraut, you may very well like kimchi. It has a lot going on that, if you like things a bit punchy, a bit spicy, a wee bit whiffy even (I am really selling this, aren’t I), you are going to go crazy for kimchi. If you like ‘smelly’ cheeses, kimchi-love is almost guaranteed.
Basic kimchi is Napa, or chinese, cabbage, chopped (or not) and fermented over days with a combination of salt, a little sugar (or something like apple juice), garlic, ginger, hot pepper (optional though most use it), and either kelp powder or shrimp paste/fish sauce.
It is a two-stage, very easy process to make kimchi, but does require a bit of boldness and faith on your part.
Changing something from a raw state to a fermented, lively – living – food is nothing short of amazing. The beneficial good bacterias grown during the process make the cabbage and other add-ins more than the sum of their parts. Highly digestible, gut-detoxifying, bad cholesterol-lowering and nutrient-enhancing, kimchi is considered by some to be one of the most nutritionally valuable foods we can eat. It is also very high in fibre and very low in calories: a typical serving of 100 grams is around the 30 calorie mark. And with over 200 official varieties to make, you will never get bored eating this fabulous food. Of course I had to make my own version, using a favourite Scottish ingredient. Naturally it was with kale!
Bought versus Homemade: To be honest, the bought stuff can taste fantastic. I’ve never had a duff purchase. We are lucky to have numerous Chinese supermarkets that stock Korean products. But many of you may not be able to get kimchi easily, or may want a vegetarian version – most commercial ones use fermented shrimp paste to get the requisite pungent, briny flavour. Kelp flakes or powder are the go-to ingredients to get your umami hit without going the fish route. I use wakame flakes, and I don’t bother grinding them.
Some of the recipes you see are quite basic (I like), while some are more long-winded and traditional, and use such things as glutinous rice powder and oysters (intrigued, but not going there). Here is a link to an easy kimchi recipe from The Kitchn that I use as a template. But I get inspiration and ideas from looking at many other recipes. Here is an intriguing vegan version from the blog, Beyond Kimchee (note the alternate spelling). You will see that not only are are there numerous methods to choose from, but that you can use all kinds of vegetables and natural flavourings to customise your kimchi.
If you have never knowingly had kimchi before – and if you have ever been to a Korean restaurant you WILL have had it, even if just a dollop on your bibimbap, or presented with a selection of pickles – I strongly suggest you buy some first. Or visit a Korean cafe to try it. I would hate you to spend a few days preparing and watching (yes, watching) your kimchi and then find it is not for you. But I hope you will love it as much as we do, and want to have a go with making your own.
In fact, we love kimchi so much that Mr A just yesterday said to me, after polishing off a plate of my fourth kimchi pancake experiment in as many weeks (coming soon), “feel free to keep experimenting on us.” And he meant that in a good way😉.
Ways To Use Your Kimchi: I use kimchi in many ways, and will doubtless find others as I grow more in love with its briny, savoury, wholesome taste. My current top ways are in pancakes (kind of like a Japanese okinomyaki), with fried leftover rice and stir-fried greens, in savoury porridge, in quesadillas, in a fabulous grilled cheese (a current fave, if a bit fatty!), in noodle soup, as a tiny lift for a vegetable gratin, on avocado toast, and with hot almond butter-coated noodles. If these don’t quite ring your bell, have a look at these treatments from Serious Eats.
Today’s recipe is a fun lunch dish I dreamt up one morning. I originally had thought of putting it in a rice crepe – a dosa – but quickly realised that kimchi needs something more robust than a diaphanous wrapper to contain its juicy goodness. And what more appropriate wrapper than a cabbage leaf? Not the most elegant thing to eat, but my oh my, it is incredibly good. And don’t be put off by the wordy instructions: I have included tips on boiling the eggs and blanching the vegetables. If you are au fait with those things then you need only read the ingredients list!
This wrap is a super way to try kimchi for the first – but almost certainly not the last – time.
Want to know more about kimchi – its history, uses, nutrition and more? The website I Love Kimchi is for you.
Kimchi and Avocado Wraps (grain free)
If you are keen on combining textures and flavours in your food, this will be a must-try. The only sticking point is that you need the kimchi on hand – either bought or homemade. Once that minor detail is sorted this cabbage-wrapped treat can be made in a flash.
Change out the ingredients to suit you but we love this with blanched cabbage leaves, spring asparagus, avocado and still-warm hard-cooked egg. Winter add-ins might include roasted winter squash slices and tart apple (strange but it works).
Kimchi wraps are nourishing, tasty and very healthy too. And I guess I should also add, a tad messy!
2 large cabbage leaves or collard leaves
6-8 young asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed/snapped off
handful of fresh sprouts (I used radish and alfalfa)
half cup of prepared kimchi (bought or homemade)
Hot pepper flakes/powder, optional
1. Hard-boil the eggs your usual way. I place them in a small pan of cold water – just to cover – and bring them just to boiling, then turn the heat right down to simmer. I let the eggs simmer for one minute before turning the heat off, covering and leaving for 10-12 minutes. This works every time for me, but use your own method. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and rinse under cool water. Crack and peel. Slice the eggs and set aside, lightly covered.
2. Fill a large pan with about four or five inches of water; bring to the boil. Take the cabbage leaves and lay them in the water; leave for 15 seconds. Pull them out with a slotted spoon or tongs and run under a cool tap. They should be softened, but if not pop them in for a few more seconds. Set aside on a tea towel. Keep the hot water.
3. Bring the pan of water back up to the boil and add the asparagus spears. I cook the asparagus for no longer than 2 minutes so as to retain the colour, and most of the crunch. Either plunge them in cold water or lay them flat on a tea towel to cool.
4. Now it is time to assemble the kimchi wrap. Cut the avocado and slice. We tend to just have half the avocado between two, but use more if you like. Lay the cabbage leaves on a flat surface and add ‘lines’ of kimchi, avocado, sprouts, asparagus and egg. Sprinkle over the hot pepper flakes, if using, and roll up. To keep it less messy for eating, pull up the bottom of the leaf to come one quarter the way up (you may need to cut a nick in the rib to help it fold) and pull the sides in tightly. This should prevent too much spicy kimchi spillage!
Eat immediately or wrap tightly in parchment paper and string for a bagged lunch.
Note: If you are making this just for you, use one egg and divide between the two leaves. I usually have two wraps as I am always hungry! And greedy…
Miss R’s track of the week is Sizzle Bird’s re-mix of Empty, by Metric.