Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Kimchi Chronicles

The kimchi making bug still has me obsessed, which means that dinner still consists of some sort of grilled meat, short grain brown rice, and an assortment of banchan. Since summer in the Bay Area is having an extinction burst, these meals are perfect for a day when you just want to throw something together and call it dinner, especially if the rice was made earlier and only requires a jaunt in the microwave. The banchans are made on different days, but they are all meant to live long, nonperishable lives. At various times I've thought about how lovely it would be to have a refrigerator dedicated to banchan, a staple in so many Korean households, but those thoughts are shortly chased away by the reality of my living situation: only 2 people to feed, we already own an extra freezer in the garage, no room to put a chest refrigerator anywhere, and I have no idea how much longer my banchan obsession will last.

The last round of cabbage kimchi consisted of Napa cabbage, radish, and carrots as the base vegetables. I used up the last of my Mexican chili powder (I think it was ancho?), so I treated myself to a trip to the Korean grocery market to pick up some more staples: gochujang, doenjang, and some Korean chili flakes. (For those of you in the Bay Area, Koreana Plaza is a fun field trip, but beware alert in the parking lot because there's a lot of backing up without looking going on!)
Grocery shopping with the boy means that we'll end up with some random food item that will require some research to use up. During this trip, he grabbed a bag of dried fiddlehead ferns and this bag of either dried squid or dried cuttlefish. He could not resist the drinking squid or the promise that this squid would go good with beer. What a sucker.
Thankfully, a little web search pulled up plenty of recipes for the dried squid. Maangchi is a wonderful resource for Korean food, and the added videos and cute commentary can easily absorb your afternoon. I used her recipe for seasoned dried shredded squid (ojingeochae muchim), and I'm happy to report that it is delicious! The squid is right: it is perfect with beer. My only change to the recipe was to substitute brown rice syrup for the corn syrup, and I used canola oil instead of olive oil (olive oil? really?).

Another banchan I made are these stewed black beans (kong jang). These are what I go nuts over at Korean BBQ restaurants, and they turn out to be a snap to make. My only changes to the recipe was to omit the corn syrup and to add an equal amount of sugar towards the end of the cooking time. Also note the the black beans are black soybeans (edamame), not the black turtle beans commonly available here. If you cannot find dried black soybeans, you may substitute regular soybeans. The tricky bit is that when you go to a Chinese or Korean market, "black beans" usually refers to the black soybeans. If you want to make sure, inspect the package of dried black beans. The skin is black, but the flesh underneath is a pale green.

Can anyone explain to me why there is so much corn syrup in Korean recipes? I tried to buy a gochujang without it, and it was impossible. I'm sure that Korean grandmothers weren't using the stuff 100 years ago, so what gives? Is this simply a matter of economics? I notice that other recipes use malt/barley syrup, too. Luckily, I have a jar of brown rice syrup from some long ago recipe, and that does the trick.

Since I bought a package of Korean chili flakes, I was chomping at the bit to make this cucumber kimchi (oisobagi kimchi). It's currently sitting in the back office, the coolest spot in the house, fermenting for a day. It was good right away, but it will be even better once it the flavors meld more and there's a bit of lactic acid in the mix.

Now, it's time for props. There are a number of fantastic Korean websites out there that I have been reading over and over again for recipes, brand recommendations, and inspiration.


  1. Maybe they used syrup in place of sugar...but my mother in law used to use honey for some of her recipes.

  2. Honey! It makes sense that honey was originally used in a lot of these recipes. Thanks!



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