Adventures with Kimchi

I haven’t yet declared this on the blog, but most people who know me know I have a slightly unhealthy relationship with Korean food – unhealthy for my finances, that is (nutritionally speaking, it’s infinitely better than a lot of other eating out options in Delhi). I crave it daily, but can only allow myself a fix about once a month. This is mostly because there are two Korean restaurants in this city that are really truly good. The first (where I was introduced to the cuisine) is succinctly named “Korea”, and is an affordable joint run by a Korean family near Delhi University’s North Campus (which is located in a far corner of the city, while I live in the other corner, and now work in yet a third one). It was here that in my last year of college, I first fell in love with japchae – springy potato starch noodles with crunchy vegetables, wood ear mushrooms and meat; Jjamppong – a spicy noodle soup that was my staple order for a few months; and of course kimchi – which needs no introduction. Sadly college ended sooner than I was willing to bid farewell to Korea, and it would be two years before I’d get my fix again.

Enter: Gung (The Palace). I first heard about this restaurant from a friend of a friend, who new to the city had naturally discovered places that us residents had been completely unaware of (somehow Delhi offers itself up more easily to newbies and tourists). It sounded expensive, but fortunately by this time I was gainfully employed (it was only later that I realised how much more gainfully employed I needed to be to eat here often enough to satiate my cravings). I was mesmerised. It started with the barbecue, which more than the theatrics of having meat cooked at your table, was the best pork I’d ever eaten in the city, and was accompanied by sides that covered our whole table. Carmalised sticky savory peanuts, bean sprouts in a sesame dressing, wilted spinach, cold potato salad, cauliflower in a funky addictive sauce, oh lordy I don’t think I can go on. Each time you went back, they’d have changed the lineup a bit…you just couldn’t get bored.

I was hooked, to the barbecue, to the seafood stew, and most of all – to the Kimchi. I cannot adequately express my love for it. But I can tell you I’ve paid a pretty penny to buy kilos of it to eat at home: with rice, fried into rice, with noodles, fried into noodles, with stews,..you get the drift.

The thing is that despite my undying love for Korean food and kimchi, I need to be able to spend my money on other loves: clothes, japanese food, shoes, other newer food, inexplicably expensive tickets to cultural events, fancy pants baking ingredients, and you know…other stuff.

Hence, I have decided to start learning how to make this stuff at home. I’ve already got a pretty good handle on japchae (which is dead easy, I’ll share the recipe soon), but what I really really need to know, is how to make kimchi.

This was my first expriment:

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Sadly, this hasn’t been successful, though I have a pretty fair idea of why and how and what I need to do next time for better results (welcome to the world of cooking friends, it only rarely starts and finishes with a perfect recipe!). As a cautionary tale, I’ll give you a brief list of the reasons why this attempt did not work:

1. I used oyster sauce instead of rice porridge for the fermentation: I saw one odd recipe that used this, and since I always have a bottle of the stuff on my shelf, and don’t usually stock rice flour, I thought it would be a good idea to use it since it would make my grocery shopping easier. But it didn’t work too well fermentation-wise and also color-wise. It made the bright red chilli color darker, and a more muted orange.

2. I used Indian chilli powders: Once again, what I wanted from the homemade version was accessibility, I wasn’t looking for a recipe that required trips to the one or two Asian stores in the city. But, there was a marked difference in flavor. The Indian chili powders (I used a combination of Kashmiri and kuttu) were much spicier and gave the kimchi a smoky flavor, which I didn’t want.

3. I used too much salt: I combined a more traditional recipe with the oyster sauce recipe, without realising I was salting twice – once during the salting process and then again in the seasoning (the oyster sauce recipe didn’t call for the salting process). This was a silly calculation error on my part.

So, despite this little failure, I have to say I’m not going to find it hard too finish my jar of kimchi – it’s still a pretty delicious pickled cabbage and the salt balances out when frying it with rice. However, I am going to plan my next adventure a bit better, and I’ve already found a more sensible (and single!) recipe for this: http://eatingandliving.blogspot.in/2012/01/baechu-kimchi-napa-cabbage-kimchi.html. The only change I’m going to make to the new recipe is to chop the quartered cabbage into bite sized pieces before salting: it makes storage and portioning a lot easier.

 Wish me luck!

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2 Responses to Adventures with Kimchi

  1. Disha says:

    What is cooking if there aren’t a few disasters! And this wasn’t even that bad to be qualified as one.. Atleast you didn’t blow up the kitchen :) Keep at it! I’ll be waiting for the recipes.

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