Thursday, March 24, 2011

cooking lessons

I think March is the worst month for eating produce. We've eaten nearly all of last season's berries from the freezer, and last fall's tomato sauce and applesauce are long gone. There aren't any local vegetables available; even the storage root vegetables like carrots and strange knobby things like burdock and celeriac are gone from the coop's shelves, and everything has to be trucked in from California and the southern continents. About a month from now the farmers' markets will open with spring greens and mushrooms and loads of garden plants that promise all the fresh goodies to come, but right now it's cold and dreary and nothing is ready to grow in the ground yet. It's wholly uninspiring.

Since the family is starting to get tired of the same old meals every week, tasty as they might be, I figure now is as good a time as any to branch out my cooking repertoire. I checked out some Jacques P├ępin DVDs from the library, along with a Korean cookbook. I'm itching to try out some recipes from a traditional Kentucky Bluegrass cookbook my mom gave me for Christmas (I'm hoping there's a good grits recipe in there. How I love grits!) I have a couple ethnic Indian cookbooks I haven't looked at in a while. When it comes to my gourmet aspirations (note that I don't go so far as to say "gourmet successes"!), I'm nothing if not diverse.

But for all the books and videos I may own or borrow, there's nothing like learning from someone in person. Yesterday I had a lesson on how to make kimchi, and boy was it fun. It was also extremely messy, which is why I have no pictures of the actual process, since I was elbow-deep in salty water and/or red chili paste much of the time.

I certainly can't claim to be any kind of expert on Korean cuisine, but I have adored the few things I've tried in restaurants and in people's homes, things like bibimbab and seaweed rolls and red bean cake (it's a dessert). And of course, kimchi, which is, as far as I can tell, quintessentially Korean. Traditionally, it's made in huge batches and stored in pits underground, where the cool temperatures are perfect for long-term preservation, though now most Korean households have a separate kimchi refrigerator.

You start by quartering and salting large bunches of bok choy. Then you chop radishes and green onion into thin slices and salt them, too. Yesterday, we did this on my friend's kitchen floor while Anya watched, rapt. She stirred the large bowl of salt water and helped pile the sliced radishes in another large bowl. You let all the salted vegetables sit for six hours or so, and then the fun part begins. My friend poured about two cups (!) of red chili flakes into a bowl and mixed that with more salt, then chopped ginger and garlic, and plenty of fish sauce and some kind of weird salty shrimp paste. To avoid burning our skin, we donned plastic gloves - the kind I remember lunch ladies wearing in the cafeteria of my elementary school - and massaged the chili paste into the sliced radish mixture until it was, as she said, "the right color." This was smeared into layers of bok choy, which were then stuffed into gallon jars (we filled three) and left to sit overnight at room temperature to ferment. I kept snitching the spicy radish slices, it was so good.

The end result is a thing of beauty, wouldn't you agree?



Now I need to learn how to cook some good Korean food to eat this with!

5 comments:

Mrs. Allroro said...

What an awesome experience for Anya.

My dad was stationed in Korea as a young adult. Growing up, we had kimchi in our fridge. We never made our own, though. (Pretty sure I never tried it.)

I love bean paste deserts.

Most everybody I know who loves Korean food loves bulgogi. Do you?

Anonymous said...

My best friend from high school spent a year or so in Korea--military husband--and fixed pulgogi for me after she came home. It was delicious!!
Mrs. G.

Anonymous said...

But I've never tasted kimchee. Maybe Susan will share some
Mrs. G.

Steph said...

I love making kimchi too! Eric and I have bibimbap a lot, although he has been really sodium-conscious lately (he's on a sodium project at work) and flipped out when he saw the sodium content of the red chile paste he was ladelling onto his rice.

Pam said...

There is a little Korean convenience shop near where I work that sells Korean sushi, which is called Kim Bap. It's delicious! :-) Your cooking adventure sounds like it was super fun! I would love a cooking lesson!