Friday, August 10, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Let no one say they weren't warned. I said that I'd wax extensive about gardening and, dear Breatharian, it's gardening season. Lots of stuff flowing in and I'm weighing, charting, and journaling what is doing what in order to plan for next year. So far the Celebrity plants are out-performing the heirlooms. I'd planned on saving the heirloom seeds until I realized just how busy the bees have been in the garden. Doubtless the heirlooms have been cross-pollinated with the hybrids. Oh, well. Scratch that idea. I'm enjoying the fruits of this year's labor nonetheless.

Even though it doesn't outweigh the cucumbers or tomatoes, one of the most satisfying crops that I'm harvesting this year is the daikon radish. I've tried unsuccessfully for three years with seeds whose "get up and go" got up and went. Lots of green stuff but absolutely no root. I used a different company for this year's daikon and the results have been highly gratifying. As I pull in these saber-sized roots, I remember a couple of summers ago when a friend of mine graciously tutored me in the art of making kimchi. Looking back, I can't think of a better way to spend a crisp, sunny autumn day with the kids playing outside than to be inside making kimchi.

We started out with HUGE mixing bowls that looked like they could hold five gallons. I had no idea that they came in that size! My friend had jump-started our project by quartering napa cabbage and soaking it overnight. She'd soaked about a dozen heads in about 3-6 pounds of rock salt dissolved in one of these monster bowls. She told me that when the leaf is limp enough to bend without snapping, the consistency is right. Then rinse the cabbage two to three times before continuing.

Off to the side, she had pureed up about 3 heads of garlic, a finger of ginger, and coarsely chopped scallions, about 10 bunches. Then we took about 5 pounds or so of daikon radishes and shredded them on a mandolin style shredder. After shredding these (and these days I use a carpenter glove), we dumped in the ginger, garlic, and onions with approximately 1/2 cup of brine shrimp and 1 cup of very mild pepper. I tasted the pepper and it had a very slight bite to it that took a while for even that to kick in.

After mixing all of these together--wearing rubber gloves the whole time--she then picked up one of the quarters of napa, grabbed up a handful of the spicy "stuffing" and rubbed the napa all over until it was covered in red juices. Then from the bottom of the quarter, she started folding back the layers of cabbage and spreading small amounts of the spiced and shredded radish between the leaves. Spread radish, fold down leaves, spread radish, fold down leaves, until the entire quarter was "stuffed. She then folded the quarter in half and crammed it in the bottom of a 1/2 gallon glass jar....ironically with a commercial kimchi label. Lather, rinse, repeat until the jars are full and all of the product is gone.

All of this filled up 7 or 8 jars. She said that she puts half in the refrigerator immediately and half out on the porch for two days. The porch batch then comes in and they start eating that batch, which lasts them approximately a month. When that kimchi is gone, then they start on the half that lived in the refrigerator.

Re-creating the recipe for a smaller kimchi appetite was a bit challenging. I had to catalog approximate measurements, as she doesn't measure anything and does all of this intuitively. With a little trial and error, I came up with a kimchi for my size appetite and my heat tolerance. I prefer a larger ratio of radish to cabbage and this recipe reflects it. I've made radish kimchi, but it lacks something, as well as possessing a certain--what's the word Tool Guy used?--I'll call it "pungent" instead. Yeah, radish kimchi is more pungent. So I throw in radishes to cabbage in a 2:1 ratio. There's even a hint that radish was the original vegetable in kimchi.

Kimchi is one of those dishes that the Western palate considers to consider with relish, but there are a lot of good reasons for learning to love it. According to the World Clock, digestive diseases are the #4 leading killer among non-communicable diseases and takes a bare second to AIDS in number of lives lost.

Recently, with SARS and Bird Flu making such a sensation in the headlines, kimchi has enjoyed renewed popularity. It seems that a concentrate of kimchi actually cured Bird Flu among birds that were positive for the illness. Of course, officials were very cautious about any claims and were very low-key about the study results, but at the time, kimchi was a sell-out item on Korean restaurant menus. The story even caused an upswing in sauerkraut sales on US shelves. Unfortunately, I suspect that the beneficial variable in kimchi and possibly sauerkraut is the live probiotic value that is cooked out in the canning process. The study didn't go far enough to pin down the variables, but it's nice to know that we can protect ourselves from something without the help of big government or big pharmaceuticals. Imagine. Flu vaccine. In your own kitchen.

Downsized Kimchi

3-6 T salt in a gallon of water for soaking
1 head napa cabbage, quartered
4 lbs. daikon radishes
5 green onions
1-2 T or to taste of Korean/Chungok red pepper
1 clove crushed garlic
1 small piece of ginger or 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1-2 T of Real Salt
gallon sized glass jar

Soak cabbage in salt water overnight or until the leaf bends without snapping. Chop onions, garlic, and shred radishes. Wearing gloves, mix the spices, onion, and garlic with the shredded radish. Since I use more radish than cabbage, I line the bottom of the jar with cabbage leaves and pile in hefty layers of radish, interchanged with cabbage leaves until all of the product is used up. Let sit overnight or 2-3 days and move to refrigerator.

And before you say anything, yes, I know my kimchi looks....pale. In my defense, I'm trying to svengali the Hobbits into eating this probiotic powerhouse. Bug is inhaling the garden pickles, but I'm trying to use the Asian panache to lure in Dog, who loves stir-fry. I even had him shred up some of the radishes with me. Cross your fingers!

While my mentor and we students were busy shredding, chopping, and prepping, it was enjoyable to discuss the process and learn things that aren't in recipe books. Nothing can substitute for one generation of hands teaching another. As we sat on the floor and were finishing the project, she looked around at all of these jars and laughingly said, "When I see all of this kimchi around me, I feel rich!"


pinkpeppercorns said...

What a great post.

Kimchi is one of the very few things my two-year-old grandson devours with gusto. It's so funny to watch him eat it. He'll get red circles around his eyes and look pained almost, but as soon as one bite it half chewed, he'll be saying "MO'!" So mo' it is.

I see there aren't a whole lot of posts in your archives. I'll have to go at them slowly. I really enjoy your writing.

Loztnausten said...

LOL! What a delicious picture! I wish I had been making kimchi when the Hobbits were younger...they might have more of an appetite for it. It's probably no coincidence that the youngest, Princess, enjoys it more than her older brothers.

Thanks for visiting and thanks for your kind words!

domestic deconstructor said...

Thanks for sharing (via NT discussion board). I love it! I will definately bookmark.

--Becky in PDX