Ginger

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.

 

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Chinese Red Date Tea / Jujube Tea 红枣茶 “Hóngzǎo Chá”

Chinese red dates or jujube (known as hóngzǎo 红枣 in Mandarin) have been used for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, often prescribed to increase a person’s “qi” 气 or “life energy”. The concept of “qi” in Chinese culture is similar to India’s “prana” प्राण ; both focus on the vital life energy that flows through the human body.

Dried red dates are boiled with water to make a basic red date tea (known as hóngzǎo chá 红枣茶. “Hóngzǎo”   红枣 means “red dates” and “chá” 茶 means “tea” in Mandarin). Variations of this basic tea would feature the addition of other ingredients depending on various factors such as the weather, state of health etc. For instance, ginger would be added during winter, as ginger is believed to be warming, thus helping to provide warmth and immunity during the cold winter months. Goji berries 枸杞 “gǒuqǐ” (also known as wolfberries 杞子 “qǐ zi” ) and dried longan 龙眼 “lóngyǎn” are commonly paired when making the tea for new mothers during the month-long confinement period (zuò yuè zi 坐月子) to help restore and replenish strength and immunity.

The tea can be drunk hot or cold, depending on circumstance; during cold months, and for new mothers, it is often drunk hot. During sweltering, summer months, the tea finds favor chilled.

The tea is sometimes sweetened with honey or rock sugar, however, this is not necessary as the dates are naturally quite sweet.

Version 1 (Basic red date tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 2-3 cups water (Adjust quantity of water to your preference. For a stronger tea, reduce the quantity, for a lighter tea, increase the quantity)
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine water and dates in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 2 (Red dates, longan and wolfberry tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1/2 cup longan
  • 1/2 tbsp goji berries
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates, longan and goji berries.

Combine the red dates, longan, goji berries and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 3 (Red dates and ginger tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1 inch piece ginger – sliced
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine the red dates, ginger and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

Masala Chai मसालेदार चाय

A glass of masala chai with a spoon and jaggery cubes on a serving dish, placed on a table with a deep red tablecloth and greenery in the background.

Masala chai मसालेदार चाय served with jaggery cubes.

“Chai” चाय means “tea” in Hindi and “masala chai” मसालेदार चाय means “spiced tea”.

The type of tea used is a critical determinant of the chai’s end result. Typically, when making chai with black tea, a specific type of Assam black tea called “mamri” is used. Mamri tea (known in the industry as CTC i.e., “crush, tear, curl”) is granular (as opposed to “leaf tea”) and is a strong bodied variety of tea that has the strength and depth to hold its flavor against the spices and sweeteners.

Traditionally, fresh buffalo milk (milk taken from the buffalo the same day the chai is made) and jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar known as “gur” गुड़ in Hindi) was used to make chai. Buffalo milk offers an unparalleled richness (buffalo milk is richer than cow’s milk) and the jaggery contributes a distinct flavor which results in a chai that tastes considerably different from the modern day chais made with half-and-half/reconstituted milk/UHT milk/skimmed milk and refined sugar/artificial sweeteners. It is also noteworthy that the buffalo milk traditionally used was whole buffalo milk – that is milk, cream and all.

There are no fixed recipes for masala chai and the combination of spices traditionally used varies by region and climactic conditions. For instance, ginger is considered to generate “warmth” and so it is sometimes left out on hot days but is favored on cold and wintery days or when the chai drinker is down with a common cold. Chais made in northern India are likely to contain fennel (known as “saunf” सौंफ़ in Hindi) and no peppercorns while chais from the south often have peppercorns and no fennel.

Use only the freshest spices as spices lose their flavor and aroma with age. Ideally, crush or grind the spices just before making the chai.

Adjust the quantity of jaggery to your taste. Some Indians use no sweeteners at all for their chais while chaiwallahs usually add a generous amount. The milk may curdle when boiled together with jaggery. If curdled milk is not your cup of tea, then crush the jaggery into a powder and add to the chai just before serving. Alternatively, serve the masala chai with jaggery cubes.

This recipe tries to stay true to the authentic and traditional method of making masala chai, from using jaggery as a sweetener (instead of sugar) and fresh whole spices which are ground in a pestle and mortar.

 

Version 1:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • ½ cup spring water
  • Jaggery as desired
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp peppercorns
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tiny clove
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

 

Method:

Place the spices (peppercorns, cardamoms, cinnamon and clove) in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Combine all ingredients except jaggery in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring every once in a while.

Optional: as you make the chai, using a ladle, scoop some chai and pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai. This helps to combine the ingredients and is common practice among some chaiwallahs in India.

As the mixture comes to a boil and bubbles appear on the sides of the pan, stir more frequently, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pan to prevent the milk from scalding.

As the mixture boils, it will change to a rich and deeper hue and foam will begin to rise. Be careful it could spill over. Take off the heat and give a good, thorough stir.

Put back on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil again.

Stop the heat and stir well.

Allow to steep for a few minutes.

Strain and add crushed jaggery as desired or serve accompanied with cubes of jaggery.

 

Version 2:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup spring water
  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • 1 clove
  • 1-2 green cardamom pods
  • ½ inch stick cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (optional)
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • Jaggery as desired

 

Method:

Place the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Pour the water to a cast iron or stainless steel saucepan along with the crushed spices and grated ginger.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low boil. The longer the mixture boils the more robust the spice flavor.

Once boiled to your liking, add tea leaves.

Bring to a boil. The longer the mixture boils the stronger the flavors of tea and spices don’t over boil as doing so could make the tea taste bitter.

Add the milk and bring a boil. Stir every now and then. Using a ladle, scoop some chai and then pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai.

Stop flame.

Allow the chai to steep a few minutes.

Strain to a cup.

Stir in crushed jaggery as desired and serve.