Korean

Cubed Korean Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기)

Cubed Korean radish kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기) in a white square dish, with a pair of silver chopsticks.

Cubed Korean radish kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기)

Cubed Korean radish kimchi, known as kkakdugi 깍두기 in Korean, is a popular type of kimchi made with Korean radish, which is a variety of radish native to Korea known as “mu” 무or “joseonmu” 조선무 in Korean. Korean radish is often mistakenly referred to as daikon radish which is native to Japan (hence the Japanese name “daikon” 大根). Korean radish and daikon radish are both white color, however, Korean radish is shorter and rounder whereas daikon is distinctively long and cylindrical. Additionally, the upper portion of a Korean radish tends to have an unmistakable pale green tint whereas a daikon radish tends to be white all over. Korean radishes have a stronger taste and denser texture compared to daikon. While daikon radish can be used in place of Korean radish to make kkakdugi, for the more authentic outcome, stick to Korean radish.

There are no fixed recipes for kkakdugi; different families in Korea have different family recipes passed down from generation to generation and hence the taste of kkakdugi varies from family to family. Some families include fresh fruits such as apples and pears (instead of sugar), some add in fresh julienned red chilies, some add in sweet rice flour while some leave it out.

Good quality coarse sea salt (known as “gulg-eun sogeum” 굵은 소금) and good quality Korean red pepper flakes (known as “gochugaru” 고추가루 in Korean) are critical for a good quality radish kimchi. The brining process takes longer using coarse sea salt compared to fine particle salt and this results in a crunchier and more flavorful radish kimchi. Iodized table salt or salt with additives such as anti-caking agents are not recommended as the additives may interfere with the fermentation process. Korean red pepper flakes are milder than regular red pepper flakes. Adjust the quantity of chili flakes according to personal taste.

Since ancient times, the gochugaru along with other seasoning ingredients would be finely crushed in a Korean pestle and mortar known as “hakdok” 학독. For over two centuries, this organic, kitchen utensil has been used by the ancient Koreans to make their kimchi seasoning pastes. Nowadays, modern cooks turn to a food processor, however the traditional method of crushing the ingredients in a “hakdok” yields better results taste-wise and nutrition-wise, as the sheer speed of the food processor blades destroys the nutrients and flavor of the ingredients.

Traditionally, Koreans would make radish kimchi during the fall (October to November) since Koreans consider radishes harvested during this time as the most flavorful.

Large quantities of radish kimchi would be prepared in the fall and stored in traditional breathable earthen pottery known as “ong-gi” 옹기 which were then buried underground, thus maintaining the ong-gi and the contents inside it at a temperature that was higher than the freezing winter temperatures that prevailed during the winter months. This provided the optimal temperature for the fermentation and preservation of the radish kimchi thus providing a reliable supply of food during winter. Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration systems, this was the method Koreans depended on for food preservation.

It is accepted among Koreans that kimchi fermented according to this ancient and traditional method is the most flavoful and wholesome. Modern day recipes may accelerate the kimchi fermentation process by placing the kimchi at room temperature for a few days before transferring it to the fridge. However, a slower fermentation at the optimum temperature of around 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C, as was practised in the olden days would yield a tastier and healthier kimchi. A minimum of 20 days would be needed for the kimchi to fully ferment and the longer it ferments in this constant temperature the more flavorful it becomes.

Nowadays, households have switched from these traditional vessels to modern-day kitchen containers made with materials such as ceramic, glass and plastic. While these containers are functionally adequate, it is generally accepted that kimchi produced in an ong-gi is superior taste-wise and health-wise than those produced in such modern containers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb Korean radish
  • 1 tablespoon sun dried coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 of a medium-sized Asian pear – skin peeled, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 inch piece ginger
  • 4 stalks scallions (aka green onions) – chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup or as desired Korean hot pepper flakes

Method:

Wash the radish with water thoroughly and pat dry. Peel the radish if desired, however some Koreans leave the skin intact for its texture and nutrients.

Slice Korean radish into 3/4 inch discs.

Then cut the slices into 1/2 – 3/4 cubes. Be wary of cutting the cubes too small as the radish cubes shrink as they ferment.

Place the radish cubes into a glass bowl.

Sprinkle coarse sea salt and mix well using hands or wooden spoon.

Set aside for about 2-3 hours. Every 30 minutes or so, toss the radish cubes to ensure they are evenly salted.

After an hour, the radish will be sitting in a puddle of its own juice. Taste the radish, it should taste slightly saltier than acceptable. As the radish ferments, the saltiness will decrease while the sourness increases.

Drain this juice into a cup or small bowl.

Into a Korean pestle (“hakdok” 학독), finely crush ginger and garlic.

Add fish sauce and mix well.

Add Korean hot pepper flakes and mix thoroughly.

Add chopped Asian pear. Crush finely.

The mixture would resemble a thick paste. If it is too dry, add just enough of the radish juice drained earlier into this finely ground seasoning ingredients to form a thick, rich paste.

Mix thoroughly.

Add this thick seasoning paste to the radish cubes. Add chopped scallions.

Mix thoroughly preferably with hands (use gloves) or with a wooden spoon. Ensure all radish cubes are well coated with the seasoning, giving the radish cubes a juicy, rich and appetizing appearance.

Transfer the contents into an ong-gi or fermenting jar. Press down as tightly as possible to remove any air pockets between the radish cubes. Cover the lid.

It can be eaten fresh or fermented. To ferment, place the ong-gi in the fridge, ideally at a temperature of 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C. Allow to ferment for at least one week.

Serve cold as a side dish.

Napa Cabbage Kimchi 배추 김치 (“Baechu Kimchi”)

The Korean term “Kimchi” 김치 is a general term for pickled vegetables, however when Koreans mention “kimchi” they usually refer to napa cabbage kimchi since napa cabbage (“baechu ” 배추) is the most common vegetable used to make kimchi.

There are no fixed recipes for kimchi, each family in Korea has their own recipe which may include additional ingredients apart from the primary ingredients i.e., napa cabbage, radish, chili flakes, garlic, ginger, scallions, salt and fish sauce. For instance, some families include green apples while some families leave out carrots.

Ancient Korean kitchens featured a “hakdok” 학독 – Korea’s version of a pestle and mortar in which the kimchi seasoning ingredients were ground into a fine paste. This clay-based, organic kitchen utensil has been used for centuries, however, modern cooks turn to a food processor. While food processors are considerably faster, easier and require less elbow grease, it is generally accepted that the traditional method of producing the kimchi seasoning pastes in a “hakdok” yields better results taste-wise and nutrition-wise, as the sheer speed of the food processor blades upsets the nutritional and flavor profile of the ingredients.

For centuries, Koreans made kimchi in “breathing pottery” known as “ong-gi” 옹기, which is a traditional earthen urn, made with clay and is porous, hence the description “breathing pottery”. Although used for a variety of purposes, ong-gi are primarily used for fermenting and storing bean pastes, pepper pastes, soy sauces and pickled vegetables (such as kimchi).

After the harvest, towards the end of autumn, large quantities of kimchi would be prepared in a communal tradition dating as far back as the 13th century known as “gimjang” 김장 in Korean. The ong-gi would be filled with the freshly-made kimchi and then buried underground, preserving the kimchi throughout the winter months. This process of burying the ong-gi underground maintains the ong-gi (and thus its contents) at a temperature that is higher than outside where temperatures often drop below freezing during winter. This underground temperature (around 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C) proved to be the optimal temperature to ferment kimchi over a long period of time (over a year or two is not uncommon) and thereby providing a reliable supply of food during winter. Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration systems, this was the method Koreans depended on for food preservation.

It is generally accepted among Koreans that kimchi fermented according to this ancient and traditional method is the most flavorful and wholesome. Modern day recipes may accelerate the kimchi fermentation process by placing the kimchi at room temperature for a few days before transferring it to the fridge. However, a slower fermentation at the optimum temperature of around 32 – 35 °F or 0 – 1.5 °C, as was practised in the olden days would yield a tastier and healthier kimchi. A minimum of 20 days would be needed for the kimchi to fully ferment and the longer it ferments in this constant temperature the more flavorful it becomes.

Nowadays, households have switched from these traditional vessels to modern-day kitchen containers made with materials such as ceramic, glass and plastic. While these containers are functionally adequate, it is generally accepted that kimchi produced in an ong-gi is superior taste-wise and health-wise than those produced in such modern containers.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 kilograms (about 6 pounds) napa cabbage
  • 3/4 – 1 cup coarse sun dried sea salt
  • 2 cups Korean radish – julienned
  • 1/4 Asian pear – julienned
  • 7 – 9 scallions (aka green onions) – cut to 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup carrots – julienned (optional)
  • 1 cup water dropwort (optional)

For glutinous rice flour mixture:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)

For kimchi seasoning paste:

  • 24 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoons fermented salted shrimp (saeujeot 새우젓) with the salty brine – roughly  chopped
  • 1 3/4 – 2 cups hot pepper flakes

Method:

First, using a knife, cut a 3-inch slit at the base of the cabbage.

Using your hands, gently break open the cabbage to two halves.

Cut a 2-inch slit at the base of each half.

Repeat with all cabbages.

Immerse the napa cabbage halves in water for a while and then drain the water.

Apply salt onto every leaf of the cabbage, particularly to the portions closer to the root.

Set aside the cabbage leaves. The timing of this brining process varies depending on factors such as the temperature of the air and the size of the salt crystals; the colder the air, the longer the time required. Coarse salt crystals requires more time than fine salt crystals. The time could vary from as little as 6 hours to over 12 hours. The key is to check the cabbage leaves every now and then – if the leaves have wilted and can be bent backwards without snapping, the brining process is complete.

Every half an hour, turn the cabbages to allow a thorough and even salting.

In the meantime prepare the porridge. Combine the water and glutinous rice flour in a heavy bottom pot. Cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble and forms a thin paste, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.

Stop heat and set aside to cool completely.

In a hakdok, finely crush the ginger, garlic and onion.

Add fermented salted shrimp. Mash it well.

Add fish sauce. Mix well.

Add hot pepper flakes and mix thoroughly with the pestle.

Pour the cooled sweet rice porridge. Mash and mix thoroughly into a fine, well homogenized paste.

Add the radish, Asian pear, green onions, carrots, and dropwort (if using). Combine well and set this mixture aside to allow the flavors to develop.

Check the cabbage leaves – they will have shrunk and turned limp. Bend one of the leaves backwards and if it doesn’t snap and is very pliable, the cabbage is ready. If it does snap or is not very pliable, let it sit for several hours more.

When the cabbage leaves are ready, wash the cabbage leaves thoroughly under cold running water. Tear off a piece from the cabbage leaf and taste it. It should taste saltier than what one would normally find acceptable. Similar to sauerkraut, as the kimchi ferments, this saltiness tends to decrease.

Tear apart the halves into quarters making use of the 2-inch slit cut at the base of cabbage.

Apply the paste into each and every cabbage leaf, this is best done with hands (use gloves to prevent hands from stinging from the salt and chili).

Fold the cabbage quarters to form individual pieces.

Place the folded cabbage leaves into the ong-gi that has been cleaned and dried. It is critical to ensure there is not a drop of water in the ong-gi.

Press down the kimchi to ensure the cabbage leaves are submerged in the liquid.

The kimchi can be eaten right away but tastes better if fermented slowly in a cool environment like the ancient Koreans did. Place it in the fridge and let it ferment slowly. Similar to the ancient Koreans’ underground fermentation method, once in the fridge the kimchi could last for months (about 6 months), but will get more sour (and more flavorful) the longer it sits.

 

Roasted Barley Tea (Damaicha 大麦茶 / Boricha 보리차 / Mugicha 麦茶)

Roasted barley tea is a refreshing beverage enjoyed in China, Korea and Japan. In China it is known as “damaicha” 大麦茶, in Korea “boricha” 보리차 and in Japan “mugicha” 麦茶. In all three languages, the word “cha” means “tea”.

Made from roasted un-hulled barley grains, the drink has slightly bitter undertones and thus may be an acquired taste, more so considering the drink is usually consumed unsweetened. Roasted barley tea is appreciated in these countries for its cooling properties with some claiming the drink to be more refreshing than water. In Japan, it is often drunk chilled as a summer drink. Its historic popularity as a summer drink may stem from the fact that barley grains are harvested in the summer season, the freshness of which makes a more flavorful beverage.

Mugicha may be one of Japan’s oldest beverages; according to Japanese history, roasted barley tea was consumed by the aristocrats of the Heian period (794-1185) during which time it was known as “mugiyu” 麦湯 .

Japanese believe barley tea helps to cleanse the body and the beverage is also consumed to promote digestion after a greasy meal. A very popular drink in Korea, barley tea is appreciated for its health benefits and is drunk on a daily basis by most (if not all) Koreans. Koreans consume the drink chilled during hot summers and warm during cold winters. The drink is not as popular in China but its popularity is increasing. Chinese generally drink barley tea hot.

While ready-made barley teas and tea bags are available, the traditional method of making the tea produces a better tasting tea. Ideally, roast the un-hulled barley just prior to making a barley tea since roasted un-hulled barley turns rancid quite quickly.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup un-hulled barley
  • 6-8 cups spring water

 

Method:

In a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat, toast the un-hulled barley, for about 10-15 minutes until the barley turns a deep, dark brown hue and is fragrant. Use a spatula to continuously stir the barley to ensure even browning.

Turn out the roasted grains to a paper towel and let cool.

In a saucepan, pour the water.

Over medium heat, bring the water to a rolling boil.

Once boiling, add in the roasted barley grains.

Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 10-20 minutes. The liquid will turn a rich brown hue; the longer the tea simmers the darker the color and the more robust the flavor.

Stop heat and let the barley steep a few minutes.

If drinking chilled, let the tea cool. Once cooled, strain the mixture into a pitcher and chill.

If drinking warm or hot, strain the barley tea and serve.