Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Carla is a Kimchi Queen

I have hardly written a thing in any medium at all since August, which I'm sure is my driest stint in at least a decade. There's lots to write about, but for some reason I have had no compulsion to actually sit down and write. It's strange. And hopefully short-lived.

I did, however, recently have a compulsion to make homemade kimchi. Kimchi, for those of you who are not plugged into the erudite world of international food, is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented cabbage and chili. Basically, it's red sauerkraut. My first roommate at school got me hooked on the stuff.

Since making exotic food is always done best when it's done with friends, I called up one of mine and suggested we make kimchi together, even though she had never tasted any before in her life. "It just so happens that I've been on a homemade fermented foods kick lately," she said, which was convenient. "Let's do it!"

So, since she has three small kids we didn't want to pack up and haul all over the city, we agreed that I would pick up the ingredients ahead of time. I convinced my cousin, who lives with us, to join me in the hunt. "Hey," I said, "Do you want to come with me all the way downtown tonight to check out a Korean grocery store?"

He shrugged. "I have nothing better to do."

Not only did he come, he drove me in his own car and was the one who found most of the ingredients. We got salted shrimp (which just about made me gag to look at it), the smallest possible package of gochugaru spice (in an aisle that sold mostly extra-large-flour-bag-size sacks of the stuff), and roasted seaweed to complement the kimchi. We also found the last remaining napa cabbage and daikon radish at Sobey's. The radish looked like it had been freshly pulled out of the garden and haphazardly chucked into the produce aisle without so much as a label. We weren't even quite sure that it was a daikon until the cashier confirmed our suspicions. It looked more like a rhinoceros tusk.

Here's my friend wielding the daikon in an appropriate pose:
The next day, my friend and I convened. First we cut up the cabbage and had her little guys get down and dirty helping us. They rubbed salt into that cabbage until their hands were too sore to do it anymore. Then we put them to bed. The elder of the two little guys had red pajamas, so we pretended he was turning into kimchi while he put them on. He took great delight in this and proceeded to not only turn me into kimchi, but to eat me, also.

Here's the smaller of the little guys getting the fermentation process started:
After the little people were in bed, we let the cabbage ferment for a couple of hours while we hung out and played with her pet leopard gecko. Then, after washing our hands, we prepared and mixed together the rest of the ingredients.

My friend first started getting really excited about our endeavour when she saw the jar full of dead shrimp. "I think I might have to eat one plain," she said, staring back at them. "This is so cool!" A few minutes later, she said, "I'm not so sure about this anymore." I said, "Oh, I'm not letting you back out now."

Unfortunately for her, the tiny aqua-baby-sized shrimp she ate, while whole, was actually like, nine-tenths straight salt. Her face showed it. We discovered that she had probably just consumed her entire recommended daily dosage of sodium. Oops.

I myself forwent eating an intact shrimp, because whatever else I may dare to eat, seafood terrifies me. I made my friend blend the shrimp into a pulp, since the shape of food does actually make the difference between whether I like something or throw up. Even blended, however, little poppy-seed sized shrimp eyeballs continued to stare me down through the fleshy gelatinous goop. We quickly mixed in the chili flakes so I couldn't see the pink pudding anymore, and then things were fine again.

Using some plastic gloves from my friend's garage, I squelched the red paste into the cabbage. At first I was concerned that it was dry, and not red enough. Something had gone wrong. But just as I began to express my fears, the cabbage seems to relax and all of a sudden, is was swimming in its own brine. A beautiful, red brine. Then I got excited. At any rate, whatever we made looks like kimchi, except when it's in jars. In that case, it looks like pasta sauce, but you sure wouldn't want to confuse the two.

It turns out that food shrivels up a lot when it ferments (who knew?), so we finished with less kimchi than I had expected, given the size of the napa cabbage we started with. Nevertheless, we came out of the experiment with one jar each of authentic Korean kimchi that's actually Canadian.
Although my cooking cohort has still never really eaten kimchi (we have to let it ferment for a few days before we eat it), she recited to me all the health benefits she could foresee it giving. I suspect she will grow to like it whether she actually enjoys it or not. As for me, tonight, I opened up the jar and inhaled deeply. So far, it smells like kimchi - pungent, mouth-watering kimchi. Complete with dismembered shrimp paste. I made my cousin smell it, too.

"Isn't it so good?" I exclaimed.

My cousin made a non-commital humming sound.

"It's better than this particularly weird Christmas song we're currently listening to," I said.

"Definitely that, yes," he agreed.

Just a little longer to wait!

Speaking of my cousin, I've begun collecting quotes from him: "It was on purpose, but not intentional." ---on being asked how he had burned his finger


Brianna said...

Ahh the kids are so old!! Sounds fun. Enjoy your kimchi. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Jordan actually said, "I've got nothing better to do." I think I heard him reluctantly mumble, "I...could..." after Dad and I insensitively declined the invitation to join you. You're lucky he had a package to pick up from Canada Post. :)

Mom said...

That was from your mom. You know, the anonymous Sandra Heinrichs. :)

Rachel said...

I got weird looks from my roommate as I read this on her bed and giggled my way through it :)

Art said...

And I never even got to try any of it. Was it good?

Carolynn said...

Looks like you had fun... and that little person in the picture is utterly adorable.

Can't say you convinced me to try your kimchi, though.