Enter kimchi. A smell that will drive you away, like sauerkraut only spicier and more complex, and more nose crinkling. Dad ate kimchi, but he did it alone while we all wondered why.
As I got older I figured one day I would probably like it, but I was in no rush, and it seemed more fun to tease than to be daring. One day Dad finished the last bits of cabbage in his kimchi jar after dinner and left it on the table while Melissa and I were cleaning up. I was in a silly mood (Melissa and I always have fun in the kitchen together), and I began acting out something ridiculous with an altered voice and dancing around the kitchen shaking the kimchi jar. Only when I realized Melissa couldn't possibly think I was that funny did I notice that the lid of the jar had been screwed on crookedly...and that I was covered in garlic rich, deep orange kimchi sauce. Melissa and Mom were merciful (and didn't want to smell me) and let me skip out on dishes to go shower.
Last year was a big turning point in my relationship with kimchi. My friend Young Wha and I began cooking together once a week; she would teach me to make Korean food and I would help her fine tune her English. Our times together were always amazing and delicious. I am sure there are phrases she would still like to learn, but it seems as though we talked about all of life without any hindrance. Still, cooking words not being on the top of the ESL list, we had a lot of moments that made both of us laugh.
"Sarah! What am I doing with the noodles?"
"You are tossing them."
She could probably have a cooking show now.
Kimchi and anchovies were ingredients I was skirmish of at first, but she convinced me.
Despite kimchi being the most ubiquitous thing in Korean kitchens, not everyone makes their own. Young Wha's mother made a big batch every so often and sent it to her daughter (and perhaps other family members). But, curious as I am, I thought I would attempt it. The recipe I chose is from the Momofuku cookbook. Momofuku is a noodle bar owned by the Korean-American chef David Chang. He shared this recipe on NBS's The Today Show, but in case of dropped links I have copied it here. (Orange notes are my own.)
Momofuku Napa Cabbage Kimchi (aka Paechu kimchi)
Yields Makes 1 to 1½ quarts
1 small to medium head Napa cabbage, discolored or loose outer leaves discarded
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
20 garlic cloves, minced
20 slices peeled fresh ginger, minced
1/2 cup kochukaru (Korean chile powder)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 teaspoons jarred salted shrimp
1/2 cup 1-inch pieces scallions (greens and whites)
1/2 cup julienned carrots
Cut the cabbage lengthwise in half, then cut the halves crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces.
Toss the cabbage with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Other recipes recommended placing the cabbage in a large colander to prevent it from sitting in the water that drains out of the leaves. I didn't have one big enough, so I placed a cereal bowl upside down in my big mixing bowl to lift the cabbage off the bottom.
The next day, prepare the sauce.
One of my favorite cookbooks taught me the easiest way to peel ginger. Believe it or not, the edge of a spoon peels off the skin, but very little extra. Try it. It's magical.
After peeling it is best to slice ginger into rounds and then smash the rounds with a mortar and pestle, or with your garlic press.
Combine the garlic, ginger, kochukaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and remaining ½ cup sugar in a large bowl. If it is very thick, add water 1/3 cup at a time until the brine is just thicker than a creamy salad dressing but no longer a sludge. You can see that kochukaru (Korean chile powder) is not the same as other varieties found in the United States. I found mine at a Korean food market. The owner told me to let her know how the kimchi turned out. Despite having a lot of kochukaru, the resulting kimchi is only medium spicy, and not especially hot.
Stir in the scallions and carrots.
Drain the cabbage and add it to the brine. Cover and refrigerate. Though the kimchi will be tasty after 24 hours, it will be better in a week and at its prime in 2 weeks. It will still be good for another couple weeks after that, though it will grow stronger and funkier. Some people leave their kimchi at room temperature for 24-48 hours before refrigerating in order to encourage fermentation. This recipe does not call for it, but it is really up to you.