Crazy About Kimchi

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At the New Amsterdam Market, Lauryn Chun discusses the history of kimchi. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib
At the New Amsterdam Market, Lauryn Chun discusses the history of kimchi. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib
The base of kimchi: brined cabbage.
The base of kimchi: brined cabbage.
The cabbage is covered with a chili pepper-based paste.
The cabbage is covered with a chili pepper-based paste.
Plastic gloves are used during preparation because chili peppers and salt can irritate skin.
Plastic gloves are used during preparation because chili peppers and salt can irritate skin.
A finished jar of kimchi. It should remain a few days at room temperature, then refrigerated for more fermentation.
A finished jar of kimchi. It should remain a few days at room temperature, then refrigerated for more fermentation.

When Lauryn Chun was growing up in California, her Korean-born mother advised her to never take Kimchi, Korea’s most popular food, for lunch —or even eat it in public. The smell, she explained, would offend Americans.

That advice would sound odd to the 17 people who came to Chun’s cooking class at the New Amsterdam Market last month. They were eager to learn how to prepare this fermented dish, often made with cabbage, that Koreans eat daily.

“As soon as I heard about it, I signed up,” recalled Joe Langford, who had rolled up his sleeves in preparation for the class (making kimchi can be a messy affair).

“I said, ‘I gotta learn how to make it.’ I like to have it around all the time, and I spend a lot of money on it!”

In addition to the incentive of saving money, several people extolled the benefits of the “healthy” bacteria contained in fermented foods. Caroline Press said she ate about a quarter of a cup of kimchi every day after
work.

“It’s like a snack,” she said. “It feels healthy, feels good.”

Press and her fellow students were each given a wooden cutting board, a bowl of bright red paste, its essential ingredient chili pepper flakes, and plastic gloves. Then a large bag full of brined cabbage was opened and the pungent odor illustrated Chun’s mother’s fears.

Chun is a kimchi guru of sorts—she began selling her artisan line of kimchi called Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi in 2009 and has since authored “The Kimchi Cookbook,” published last month.

Before starting the class, she gave the group some background about the pickling tradition, with its recorded history in Korea going back to the 12th century. In the past, women would prepare kimchi in the late fall, she said, sometimes using up to 100 cabbage heads that were buried in the ground in earthenware pots, where they slowly fermented and could be used throughout the cold winter months.

As the students slathered the layers of cabbage leaves with the paste, Chun looked over their shoulders, providing pointers.

“Take time to rub it in,” she told one woman. “Get right into the end of the leaf,”
she said to another.

Brant Shapiro, who came with his son, 9, and daughter, 11, ended the afternoon by buying two bottles of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi. Would he now consider eating more of it? Maybe even using it instead of the sauerkraut that he puts on his daily turkey sandwich? Shapiro didn’t reject the idea.

“I’m Jewish, not Korean,” he noted. “But who knows?”

 

A Kimchi Recipe You Can Try

Square-Cut Napa Cabbage Kimchi (Mak Kimchi)

from “The Kimchi Cookbook” by Lauryn Chun

Prep: 30 minutes

Brine: 1 hour

Fermentation: 3 days

Makes 8 cups (10 to 12 servings)

 

Brine:

2 medium heads (about 4 to 6 pounds total) napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares

1/2 cup kosher salt

 

Seasoning paste:

1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow onion

4 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons anchovy sauce

2 tablespoons salted shrimp

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup Korean chile pepper flakes

4 green onions, green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces

1/4 cup water

 

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the salt and set aside for about 1 hour. Drain the liquid and rinse the cabbage to remove any traces of salt. Let the cabbage drain in a colander for 20 minutes, or use a salad spinner to remove most of the water.

Meanwhile, make the seasoning paste. In a mini food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse together the onion, garlic, ginger, anchovy sauce, shrimp and sugar until a paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the chile pepper flakes. Set aside for 15 minutes to let the flavors combine.

In a large bowl, mix together the green onions, seasoning paste and drained cabbage until combined thoroughly, making sure the seasoning paste is distributed evenly among the leaves. Pack the mixture tightly into a 2-quart container. Add 1/4 cup water to the mixing bowl, and swirl the water around to collect the remaining seasoning paste. Add the water to the container, cover tightly and set aside for 3 days at room temperature. The cabbage will expand as it ferments, so be sure to place the jar on a plate or in a bowl to catch the overflow. Refrigerate and consume within 6 months. 

To make a vegan version, omit the anchovy sauce and salted shrimp, and instead add 3 tablespoons of mushroom broth.