Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kimchi - Sort Of

What follows is a not-so-successful recipe attempt. But first, a story.

My father-in-law likes radishes.

My (brace yourself) husband's brother's wife's friend's mother is a Korean-American who grows giant Asian radishes for the purpose of making a favorite Korean dish, kimchi. Knowing FIL's love for adorable little American radishes, Sarah asked for a big ol' honkin' expat radish from the Kim family to give the man as a joke. The radish was shared, the joke was played and then the radish was headed to the trash can.

The trash can! Can you believe it? I rescued the poor dear and vowed to find a use for him. Two Facebook friends pointed me to a recipe for kimchi, found here . I decided to go for it. Throwing away perfectly good produce because the joke is over is a bad idea.

Trying to follow the recipe, I got as far as this and then I started having problems. I had the will and the drive, but not the urban Asian Food supermarket required. I call this picture Still Life with Radish and a Boatload of Garlic.

The first three ingredients were attainable enough, but then shrimp packed in a Korean brine? That's OK, we'll leave it out. Brooks is allergic anyway. And then there was Korean powdered red pepper? That's just not at my small town supermarket. There was some other spicy looking thing in the Asian aisle of my market, and I bought that, but by this time I just knew whatever I was making was never going to look like any kimchi that would be recognized by Eaters of Kimchi.

My personal health standards also did not allow me to leave it on the counter for 3-4 days before eating. I covered it and put it in the fridge.

I have do say, it was interesting to get some of those strong flavors in my mouth. Mike thought so, too. It was very garlicky and very spicy. I've seen other directions which instruct to cut up the radish thin like cole slaw. I think that would have improved the texture for me. But none of us really feel like we should fix it again, given another seven pound radish falling into our laps.

All week, as I've been working on this post, I've kind of wondered what I thought the point was, if I couldn't really recommend it and hadn't made it precisely. But I still think processes like these are gratifying for the purpose of trying something new, trying something from a culture not easily found in my area, making substitutions where you must and seeing if you can turn out something new and great. I really liked the Process, even if we didn't like the Product and I wanted you to know about it.

Have you had any similar experiences?


  1. Heh. Are you kidding? Did I not tell you about the fermented beet tops? They're actually in the same culinary camp with kimchi...fermented veggies that are supposed to be nutritional powerhouses. I had close to a bushel of beet tops after I thinned my beets and I couldn't bear to throw out that good nutrition. Sauteing seemed too pedantic. So I Googled and then fermented those babies. I thought, as I was doing it, that the results were probably going to be nasty. And they were. But the point, as you say, was the process. And we ARE going to eat fermented vegetables in this house (besides sauerkraut) and like it! I have a book on the subject. I'll look at their kimchi recipe and send you the results.

  2. fascinating. I've toyed with making kimchi because we adore it so much and it's not cheap at the Asian store. Have you had kimchi before?
    That's a cute photo of you with your radish!

  3. When Janelle and I worked at the food co-op in Indiana we sold Kimchi. I didn't bother with a dish, I'd just eat it out of the jar it came in. There's a guy that makes fermenting crocks at our church. I want to get one and start making all kinds of Kimchi, sauerkraut, and fermented vegetables.
    Have you read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon? It's all about fermentation's nutritional value.
    And as far as experiences making recipes with hard-to-get ingredients, wait 'til my book comes out :) My mom has spent a lot of time trying to translate things we made in Africa into American grocery store ingredients. But not only are many of the things just not available anywhere around here, some things we don't even know what to call it in English. But my favorite is probably this soup made from dried okra.

  4. @Reb - Oh dear. That does not sound good. But I admire the heck out of ya.

    @Margo - I had never had, nor even HEARD OF kimchi before this endeavor. I'd be interested in trying the authentic stuff.

    @Jon - Wow. I can see that you'd have quite the unique palate that would be hard to satisfy out of American supermarkets.


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