Something many of you may not know is that when I lived in Japan I did have a host family even though I wasn’t a student. To get into Japan, I worked for a foreign exchange company called LABO* on a special work/study visa. This specific visa is given by the Japanese government in accordance that the green card holder works for free (a stipend for living costs is okay) and studies a cultural aspect of Japan and sends written essays/reports back to them for review. (Imagine your homework being analyzed by the Japanese government! Cool, right!) For me that meant I studied Japanese independently, at a university, and through private certified tutors. Additionally I studied Japanese fine arts such as origami, history, kendo, and my favorite cooking (among a few other things). Through this amazing opportunity, I studied Japanese cuisine quite intensely and can cook most traditional Japanese dishes.
As an added bonus, I lived in the bottom of Japan in an area called Kyushu. Many families down in this area during WWII sent their children to South Korea to “re-educate them” but also as a way to protect them from the war. My host family went through this process and my grandmother was sent to Pusan, South Korea during the war. Hence, my host family still today made weekly South Korean dishes and even traveled there a few times while I lived with them. Through them I learned to love South Korean cuisine and then traveled there on a long break from work. It was my first hand experience in learning to cook South Korean food and also how to enjoy the authentic cuisine. Hence, I now behold an addiction to homemade kimchi – no, the stuff sold in stores is not the same.
Traditional kimchi does have fish sauce in it, so buyers be warned if you don’t want to eat fish then don’t buy the traditional recipe kind. A lot of it contains MSG too. Before going vegan I would make traditional kimchi from a popular online cooking guru but now I am making vegan kimchi in my kitchen and couldn’t be happier with the results. Here’s my recipe for a successful almost traditional vegan kimchi:
Preparing the Cabbage:
1 whole head of Chinese cabbage – use whatever you can find
1 Korean Radish (if you can’t find it- go ahead and use any kind about 1-2 c)
½ c salt
1. Chop the cabbage and dice the radish in pieces large enough to pick up with chopsticks. (around 1-2 square inches)
2. Toss the pieces in a large bowl and wash the vegetables thoroughly. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables and massage it all in with your hands. Let it sit for about an hour.
3. Stir the vegetables again and then let it sit for about another hour.
4. Rinse the vegetables really well once again so all the salt is removed. Set aside.
Thickener for sauce:
½ c white flour
1 ½ c filtered water
4 tbsp white sugar (make sure it’s vegan sugar)
1. Whisk together the white flour and the water in a small pot on high. Whisk until it thickens, it should take about 2 minutes or less.
2. Turn off heat and whisk in sugar. Set aside.
Creamy savory red sauce creation:
¼- ½ c garlic
1-2 onions (I like to coarsely chop to reduce blending time)
½ c soy sauce (yikes I know but remember you are making a ton of kimchi)
1 tbsp ginger (don’t bother with peeling)
1- ½ c red pepper flakes*
1. Toss all the ingredients in a food processer and give it a whirl. I like mine a bit chunky but this is how I was taught so it all goes down to preference.
2. Place the red mixture with the thickening sauce in a large bowl (largest one you have) and give it a good mix.
3. Add the vegetables and mix thoroughly. I was taught to use my hands again at this point but I don’t like the red hands that proceed so I use a spoon. (gasp!)
4. Place the finished kimchi in a sealable containers in the fridge for a few days and tiny bubbles will form, which basically states the kimchi is now fermenting (which is what you want). Ta-dah! You can actually eat the kimchi fresh too or eat part of it as you are putting it in the containers (like me) and then store the rest for later. The fermented kimchi will last a few months in your fridge, if you don’t eat it all up like me. Yum!
*Note about LABO: This is a wonderful program for teens and adults around the globe. They have short term stays and longer stays. I highly recommend this program for anyone looking to go to Japan or even just try something new. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
**So you may have noticed there is really only one ingredient that you must really have from South Korea and that is the red pepper flakes. They are one-of-a-kind and really make the taste of kimchi. To date I have not found an easy substitute but rest assured it is vegan. I like to buy in bulk and then pack in the freezer where it stays fresh for over a year. Thankfully it’s not that pricy but you will find it is cheaper in an Asian store if possible.
Question of the Day: What’s your favorite South Korean Dish?