By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributing writer for Food Network.
Maybe you’ve tasted kimchi at a Korean restaurant or heard it’s touted as a probiotic-rich fermented superfood. But kimchi still has a lot to unravel, which is why we turned to Pascale Yamashita, a recipe developer, food stylist, food photographer and avid food lover who grew up in a Korean family and now lives in Japan.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made with pickled and fermented vegetables. Baechu kimchi is the most iconic, made with napa cabbage, salt, garlic, ginger, green onions, fish sauce, and gochugaru (Korean chili flakes), which give it its signature spiciness and red color. “What’s special about kimchi is that pickled/preserved vegetables are pickled and then fermented,” Yamashita said. “After these three stages, kimchi has a unique taste.”
“Kimchi” refers to all vegetable pickles. “This number will be equal to the number of Korean vegetable varieties, including mountain vegetables available in Korea,” Yamashita said. Some examples of other vegetable kimchi include kkakdugi (radish), oi sobagi (cucumber), and Kkaennip kimchi (perilla leaves). Not all kimchi is made with gochugaru, so it’s not red, Yamashita said. One is mul kimchi, or water kimchi, which includes dongchimi, a cold broth-based radish kimchi that Yamashita says Koreans love for its refreshing taste and as a palate cleanser after a meat-heavy meal .
Kimchi was originally created to preserve vegetables for future consumption, especially during the colder months when vegetables are scarce. To make enough pickles to last at least three months to a year, families come together to have enough labor to process the hundreds of napa cabbages needed to make such a quantity. This village-driven tradition of making and sharing kimchi is known as kim-jang.
Growing up, Yamashita visited South Korea every year, and she remembers her grandmother attending the Gold Medal with relatives. After all the ingredients are gathered, the women sit together to make the kimchi, and different groups take care of each step of the kimchi-making process, such as cutting, washing or pickling the cabbage. “Imagine women squatting in the backyard around many large bowls and containers that prepare them,” Yamashita said. “It’s also an event where people can share, chat and gossip, and is often where women learn how to make kimchi for the first time.” At the end of the process, families get together for a small party to taste the new creation before fermentation of kimchi, a treat that can only be enjoyed on the day.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, white-collar workers even received gold medal bonuses from their companies, and the pickles were worth a few months’ wages, Yamashita said. Today, not many women make kimchi at home, and kimchi is readily available at grocery stores. Some families still attend Jinzhuang in the fall and share the harvest with family and friends, Yamashita said. Gold medal events and demonstrations were also held at company and community centres as a means of cultural preservation and education. The gold medal is also recognized by UNESCO as part of Korea’s intangible cultural heritage.
Overall, kimchi is sour, spicy, and salty, but its flavor profile depends on the type of vegetables and supplemental ingredients used, and how long it has been aged. “Kimchi is usually crunchy, but depending on the vegetable, it can be crunchy too. But all the ginger, garlic and scallions are still delicious, the saltiness of the fish sauce, and the sugar that turns into lactic acid in the process,” Yamashita Say. “Kimchi gets stronger and stronger as it ferments.”
Adding fish sauce to oysters, anchovies sauce, or fermented squid can change the umami and saltiness of the final product, as well as minor differences between basic ingredients such as the roughness of salt, different types of hot sauce, water content, and sweetness. The taste of cabbage as well as garlic and ginger can also affect the taste of kimchi. “If you’re in Korea, and you look at the different regions, you’ll find that one region’s kimchi is spicier or saltier, while another region’s kimchi is lighter and refreshing,” Yamashita said. “It is said that the further south you go, the spicier the kimchi. The further north you go, the milder the weather.”
Pickle recipes vary from family to family, and family recipes reflect their own tastes and ingredient preferences. The basic ingredients of kimchi include gochugaru, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, rice glue, salt and sugar. It usually also includes shredded radishes and carrots; sometimes Asian pears or apples are added to the brine for sweetness. Additional ingredients can be added or added, such as oysters (though oysters will break down in the kimchi if kept too long, so are best eaten within 2 to 3 weeks), or minari, which will give the kimchi an herbal flavor but can overpower the other ingredients.
Registered dietitian Dana Angelo White says that because kimchi is made through lactic fermentation, just like sauerkraut, yogurt or kefir, it produces probiotics that help build a healthy gut microbiome, which helps support Digestion and immunity. and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc. Plus, there are about 30 calories per 1/2 cup.
“A lot of Korean moms tell their kids that it’s a vegetable that has all the goodness of yogurt, so it’s a double combination of what your mom wants you to eat,” says Yamashita.
“Koreans usually enjoy rice and soup with their meal, and there are several side dishes known as banchan, so kimchi helps add some rich crunch to the softer, savory banchans. Many people like to drink good Bone broth, usually people eat it with rice, and kimchi goes well,” Yamashita said.
Yamashita shared that another popular way to enjoy kimchi is Ssam, which means “wrapped.” Roasted or boiled meat, usually pork, wrapped in Korean lettuce or perilla leaves and kimchi, and sometimes Korean fermented soybean paste. Kimchi is often sauteed with onions, garlic and chili sauce. One such dish is dweji-kimchi bokkeum, which literally means stir-fried pork and kimchi, and is usually enjoyed with rice.Sour kimchi varieties are usually washed, then chopped and added to stir fry or Korean Kimchi Stew/Soup called Kimchi Jjigae. Another classic Korean dish made with kimchi is kimchi bibim guksu (pictured above), a recipe that uses kimchi, gochugaru, chili sauce and sugar to achieve a balance of spiciness and sweetness.
Kimchi will continue to ferment after opening, so it will become more pungent and sour over time. If the vegetable loses its crunch, or the flavor becomes too tart or strong, it may become less appealing. Yamashita shared that in Korea, some people throw away their old kimchi, while others love it. “In Korea, you can exclusively buy old kimchi that has been fermented for a few months. Usually, people like its rich taste, or people buy them to cook dishes like kimchi (a type of stew) or kimchi fried rice.”
You’ll know it’s time to toss the pickle when the sourness turns rancid, if there’s an extreme color change, such as a Napa cabbage pickle going from bright red to brown-red, red-orange, or if it develops mold. Yamashita recommends storing kimchi in the refrigerator to extend its shelf life, and always wash your hands and clean utensils when handling kimchi (using contaminated utensils or handling kimchi without washing your hands can cause kimchi to grow on it).
Kimchi accompanies almost every meal in Korea, so it pays to master some basic recipes. Then try adding kimchi to traditional dishes and creative spins, anywhere you can benefit from funky, crunchy, umami flavors. Try adding it to a bowl of ramen or rice, or use it as a condiment, like this burger kimchi mayo. The younger generation in Korea loves kimchi and melted cheese, adding it to fried rice and grilled cheese sandwiches, Yamashita said.
All families have their own variation of this iconic pickle recipe. Developed by Jackie Ji Yoon Park for Food Network Kitchen, this one is based on her grandmother’s recipe. Kimchi is a labor of love, but with a little planning and preparation, you can salt the cabbage the day before, make dashima anchovy soup and rice glue, and save the rest of the prep until the next day . It pays to make a batch of homemade kimchi in its spicy, funky, and sour glory.
You can use any type of cucumber here, but Kirby cups make for an extra crunchy and tasty dressing. Cucumber kimchi is the perfect addition to Korean BBQ or other grilled proteins, and a great burger topping in place of kimchi. Don’t worry about eating them all at once – they’ll last up to a week in the refrigerator.
This pickle is made from perilla leaves, a leafy green herb in the mint family. This kimchi is infused with a water-based sauce that helps lightly season the kimchi while letting the fresh and herbal mint flavor of the perilla leaves shine through.
Although it doesn’t have the salty and sour taste of fermented kimchi, this quick kimchi makes delicious kimchi in a fraction of the time. A spicy and tasty paste made with jalapeños, garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes wraps chopped napa cabbage and green onions, then marinates in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.