Adventures in kimchi, part II

Radish kimchi Jenna Cho

Korean food stripped down to its very basic is a bowl of rice with a couple of side dishes. One of them, without a doubt, is kimchi — a spicy, fermented vegetable dish. I doubt you'll ever walk into a Korean home that doesn't have some kimchi hanging out in the fridge.

The best known variety is the napa cabbage kimchi, but the radish varieties have always been one of my favorites. This version uses daikon radish, which you can find at well-stocked supermarkets and at Asian grocery stores. (I go to Lee's Market in New London or New Asia Market in Groton.) If you've never had daikon before, it's nice and crunchy and has a peppery spice to it. It has a high water content so proves delightfully refreshing especially in the height of summer.

Traditionally, kimchi was prepared in enormous bowls set on the ground, women hunched over them in what is known as the kimchi squat. Feet flat on the ground, butts nearly touching the ground, these women labored over the kimchi, which was stored in large clay pots that were buried in the ground to let ferment.

My mother and my aunts still mostly prepare their kimchi and side dishes from scratch. But instead of underground storage, they now all use kimchi refrigerators set at specific temperatures ideal for storing kimchi.

Korea is a rapidly evolving country, and the younger generation generally eschews tradition for convenience. Why make kimchi when you can buy it, along with any side dish you so desire, at the store? All you have to do is make the rice, made all the more mindless with the ubiquitous use of rice cookers.

While I appreciate the old-school methods and am sure they beat the pants off the modernized versions of kimchi, when I crave Korean comfort food, I love that I can prepare it with one quick trip to the store and less than an hour of my time. It tastes like home and family.

One note: I tried two different recipes for radish kimchi. While I like this one better, I'll post a link to the second recipe on the blog so the more adventurous of you can try that one, too. I prefer this version because it's more streamlined — the other calls for sweet rice flour that you form into a paste, then add to the radish, which every Korean I know says they don't do for radish kimchi. (It's more of a napa cabbage kimchi technique.)

P.S. If cucumber kimchi is more your thing, I made that in August.

Radish kimchi

adapted from maangchi.com

2 pounds daikon radish (about 1 medium daikon)

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2-4 scallion stalks

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder) — more or less to taste

Peel the daikon, rinse and pat dry. Cut into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl.

Sprinkle salt on the radish, toss to coat and let stand for 30 minutes.

Drain most of the brine, but leave behind about 1 tablespoon of brine in the bowl along with the radish cubes.

Add garlic, scallions, fish sauce, sugar and gochugaru. (Add more or less gochugaru to taste. I don't like my kimchi too spicy, so I only used about 2 tablespoons of gochugaru.) Toss by hand to combine well. (You may want to use a plastic bag as a glove so you don't end up with kimchi-scented fingers.)

Transfer the radish kimchi to a glass container, pressing down to remove as much air as possible.

Store at room temperature for several days to ferment. When it's fermented to your liking, store in the fridge to slow the fermenting process.

Add the gochugaru gradually if you're not sure how spicy you want your kimchi to be. The kimchi pictured here wasn't red enough, so I added more gochugaru.
Add the gochugaru gradually if you're not sure how spicy you want your kimchi to be. The kimchi pictured here wasn't red enough, so I added more gochugaru. Jenna Cho
Gochugaru is the key ingredient in any kimchi. Be sure to get the real thing at a Korean grocery store - there's one in New London and another in Groton.
Gochugaru is the key ingredient in any kimchi. Be sure to get the real thing at a Korean grocery store - there's one in New London and another in Groton. Jenna Cho

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