With all due respect to Martin Luther King, Jr., the best thing about this long weekend was that I finally had time to sit down and make some kimchi. I can’t tell you how it turned out, as I need to wait a few days for it to ripen, but I’m not very hopeful. Right now, it tastes sort of raw and angry, not too spicy, but perhaps a bit too much ginger. Maybe its flavors will mellow and blend as time goes by. But it was my fault, I didn’t follow any one recipe, sort of picking and choosing among two different recipes and then ignoring instructions when I felt like it.
I started with a big daikon radish, about 3.5 lbs., that I peeled and cut into large chunks, feeling gratitude towards my friend Diane who gave me a giant cleaver for my 30th birthday. Then I tossed it all with two tablespoons of salt and let it sit for 20 minutes, draining it at the end.
In the meantime, I minced 1 teaspoon each of garlic and ginger and 6 stalks of green onions. I measured out the Korean fish sauce that’s used specifically for kimchi making and 6 big tablespoons of ground Korean red pepper. I ignored the instructions to add shrimp because I didn’t have any, and I didn’t know what kind to buy.
It was fun, if a little scary, to rub all the ground red pepper into the radish cubes. Then everything else got tossed in, I packed it all into a big Tupperware I’d bought just for this purpose and set it on the windowsill. According to my cookbook, I would have to let it sit for 24 hours in room temperature to begin the fermentation process.
So after 24 hours, what can I tell you? It’s started, but I don’t know yet how it’ll taste 2 or 5 days from now. To a certain extent, kimchi will just keep changing and there’s a certain joy in eating new kimchi and a different joy in eating riper kimchi. But there are kimchis where there is no joy at all. In a way, this kind of cooking is particularly good for the anxious soul—you have to learn to let go and just see what happens, and then be willing to try again.
Korean food isn’t hard to make. Fermentation, or pickling, just happens if you put the right things together. The hard part is figuring out which combinations make for best balance of flavors. My little Korean lunch, a spicy soft tofu stew, was the same way, not bad but not great.
I miss my mother more than ever.