Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring Cabbage Kimchee, the taste of home

Have you ever shed tears over a plate of food?

A while ago I was watching an episode of "Baking with Julia" out of boredom and I saw this world famous cook, the Julia Child, was weeping over a plate of brioche tart that her guest pastry chef made.
I had no doubt that the brioche tart tasted divine and I am sure Mrs. Child was so satisfied with it.  However people just don't cry over a plate of food no matter how delicious, scrumptious, out of this world it is. Why do you think she got so emotional over that tart?

Food, in general, comes to different approach to people. For some people food is just food, a mean to sustain life... an eat-to-live type philosophy. 
For others it comes as an indulgent form of art, more for a live-to-eat approach. 
No matter what your philosophy is, food takes major part of your life and it does bring a joy, gratitude, love and so much more. 
Food helps bond people, builds memory, comforts you and your loved one's spirit whether we are happy or sorrow.
It does for me and it did for Mrs. Child.

I want to share a special Kimchee recipe. No, it has nothing to do with Julia or her brioche tart. But it did brought me into tears just the same way brioche tart did to Julia Child.

There was time, almost two decades ago, I took a break from school in U.S. and served as a missionary in very rural parts of South Korea. It was tough life and I missed my family and friends. I didn't live on a life of luxury where I can spend money or time on delectable dishes.  I had many cravings on my mother's home-made Kimchee.
Then, one day I received a box from someone who just moved from my hometown area. She met my mother and my mother asked her to deliver the box to me. 
I open the box. Out of surprise there was this spring cabbage kimchee that I was craving for. 

I cried...
I cried because I felt my Buddhist mother's unconditional love and support toward her Christian daughter through this kimchee.

I cried again...
Because it tasted so good.

Ever since then, whenever I see these spring cabbages I think of my mother.

These are the spring cabbages. We call them Ul-ga-ree (얼갈이).
They are basically preteen stage of cabbages, only available in spring and early summer time.
Substitute with typical Asian Napa cabbages if you can't find them.
Young, crisp, yet tender, these "greenies" can turn into very good kimchee quickly and easily.
I will show you how.


So here they are.
Cabbages, Asian chives, Korean chili flakes, fresh red chilies, shrimp sauce, anchovy sauce, garlic, onion, ginger, sugar and some cooked white rice.

First, rinse the cabbages to get rid of dirt inside and cut them into 2-3" slices.

Use Korean coarse sea salt. It makes all the difference.
DO NOT USE table salt, please! They are not the same breed. You can't expect the poodles to herd your sheep, right?

Spread a layer of cabbage in a large shallow bowl or in you sink, sprinkle some salt on top.

You need to repeat the layers so the salt can cover the cabbages evenly all over.

Cover them with another bowl or plastic.
Or something more attractive if you care for how things look in your kitchen.
This will help the cabbages not to dry out. Let them soak in salt for 45 minutes.
Too long to wait? Go do some laundries or scrub your bath tub while waiting.

About 45 minutes later you will see them slightly wilted.
IMPORTANT: Turn them over so the bottom part goes up to top.
Cover again and wait another 30-45 minutes.
Now I have a job for you to do while waiting.

Gather up your sea creatures, whatever appeals you.
I have anchovies, shrimps, Pollock fish, and sea kelp, all in dried forms.
You can use all of them or just 1-2 of them. It doesn't matter as long as they are from the sea.

Simmer them with some water to make rich stock. Let it cool down and strain to reserve 1 cup.

Now, go back to the cabbage.
Hmmmm, they look totally dead...

Grab a piece of stem part and bend it.
If it is willing to bend like that without breaking, your mission is accomplished.
Boy! when was last time I was able to bend like that...? I better do some yoga this week.

Rinse them 3 times and let them drain in a colander while you are preparing the filling.

I forgot to add this gorgeous pear lady in the photo up above.
I usually use Asian pears to make kimchee but the Asian pears at the store looked pretty miserable with black patches all over. So I chose firm bosc pear instead.
Hi Mrs. Pear!

Cut them up to chunks along with other ingredients.
Do you see some rice peaking through on the right? Interesting?
This is what my mother use when she makes kimchee. This will save your time from making rice glue separately. Pretty smart, isn't it?

Put all, EXCEPT the fresh chilies, in a blender and add the reserved stock.

Blend them, babe!  until smooth... You can taste it if you want to know what gross means.

Add the fresh chilies and pulse 2-3 times. You want to see them in small pieces, not pureed.

Now, mix in with dried Korean chili flakes.

Add anchovy sauce, shrimp sauce, sugar, and pre-made pureed ginger.
(If you use fresh whole ginger, take 1" piece and blend with the other ingredients all together.)
The consistency of the filling is more like thin banana bread batter.

Cut your Asian chives into 2-3" as well.

Remember my Holy kimchee glove?
You will need a pair to protect your delicate hands. Put them on and press the cabbages firmly to remove excess water out from them.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cabbages and chives. Add the kimchee filling.
NOTE: DO NOT to use all the filling in the recipe. I usually make more than enough so I can use leftover to make quick side dishes or uses as base for spicy soups or stews. The filling can last 2 month in the fridge.

Mix with your hand, as you are massaging them. You can squeeze them gently if you love them so much...
Use only one hand though, in case UPS guy knocks on your door or your phone rings.
You want one hand of yours to be free from the red devil...

I like to sprinkle a little bit of toasted sesame seeds at last.
They are done!
My dark windowless kitchen doesn't justify the glory of this kimchee well.

Put them in a container with air tight lid.
You can eat this kimchee right away with some rice and soup.
Let this kimchee sit on room temperature for 2 days and refrigerate afterward. They will taste divine after fermented.

I would like to believe that the tears of Julia Child was not just on the taste from the tart.
It was from the memory in France she couldn't forget.
The people she loved, the food she craved, the city she enjoyed...
That brioche tart did pull the memory out of her heart.

My mother's kimchee did same thing to me that day

I sometimes wonder if Julia Child ever tried Korean kimchee in her life time.
I bet she would have cried, and even sniffed, if she tasted,
for a very different reason...

Spring Cabbage Kimchee
(얼갈이 김치, ulgaree kimchee)

2.5 lb spring cabbages (about 3 bunches) or Napa cabbages
1/2 bunch Asian chives or 2 bunch green onions, cut into 2-3" slices
3/4 cup Korean coarse sea salt
1/2 Asian pear or Bosc pear, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1" ginger piece, peeled and cut into small chunks or 2 tsp pureed ginger
3 tbsp cooked white rice 
1/2-1 cup seafood stock
5 fresh red chilies (long finger size chilies)
1 cup Korean chili flakes
4 Tbsp Korean anchovy sauce
2 Tbsp Korean shrimp sauce 
1Tbsp sugar
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Seafood stock:
2 cups water
5-6 large dried anchovies
same volume of dried shrimps, Pollock, and/or sea kelp

Cut off the base of the stem and rinse the cabbages to remove all the dirt. Cut them into 2-3" slices.
In a large shallow bowl or in you sink, spread a layer of cabbage and sprinkle some salt all over. Repeat the layers until all the cabbages and salt are used. Cover with another bowl or plastic to prevent them form drying out. Let it soak for 45 minutes and toss them to turn around. Let it sit another 30-45 minutes until they are all wilted and the stem bend easily without breaking.
Rinse the cabbages and let them drain in a colander.
Meanwhile, make seafood stock by combining your choice of dried or fresh seafood with water. Let them boil and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Let the stock cool in a pot with the seafood. Strain the stock and reserve 1 cup.
 To make kimchee filling, in a blender puree pear, onion, garlic, ginger, rice and 1/2 cup seafood stock until smooth. Add the fresh chilies and pulse 2-3 times. You should have some small pieces of chilies visible.
Mix the purees with Korean chili flakes, anchovy sauce, shrimp sauce, and sugar. the filling consistency should be more like thin banana bread batter. Adjust amount of stock if needed.
In a large mixing bowl, combine well drained cabbages, chives and 2/3 of Kimchee filling. Toss well as if you are massaging them around. Add more filling if needed.
Sprinkle sesame seeds and toss well. You can eat fresh right away with some rice or let it sit in the room temperature for 2 days to ferment.
Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge all the time after fermented.

Printable recipe

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