Mint and Basil Hottoek?!

Korean Sweet Pancake (Hotteok/Hodduck) with mint-www.kimchimari.com
Pink Vine Rose in my back yard www.kimchimari.com
Pink Vine Rose in my back yard
Kale growing in JJ's garden www.kimchimari.com
Kale growing in JJ’s garden

Really?? You may think that’s the strangest thing you ever heard…well, just follow my story a little bit…

Warm and sunny spring days are now in full force in our lovely California and I can even feel the summer around the corner. And unlike the last two years, when I dreaded the coming of the hot muggy (OMG, I get hot just thinking about it!) summer in Korea, I am very much looking forward to summer this year. Why? Because summer sun means my vegetables and fruits will be growing by leaps and bounds in my garden! Growing and picking your own fruits and vegetables makes me sooo happy. If only we had enough water in California…

Anyway, I was looking around my garden the last week and saw all my beautiful herbs in addition to my veggies and thought…what if I used these amazing herbs in making hotteok!!?? Why not??

I started to experiment and believe it or not they all actually work!! Some better than others because herbs with robust flavors needed to be used sparingly. But Oh MY… I was SO HAPPY that it worked and equally happy that I could take these pretty photos of Korean hotteok/hoddeok/ hottok with these beautiful fresh herbs.

So first, what herbs come from my garden?  I’m sure you probably don’t need help with identifying these most common herbs that can be easily grown in your garden: rosemary, basil, mint, sage and lavender. But I bought this slate board and chalk recently….and I always wanted to do something like this :) – so here it is! Whether you need it or not – haha.

Chart of common garden herbs: rosemary, basil, lavender, mint, sage www.kimchimari.com
Chart of common garden herbs: rosemary, basil, lavender, mint, sage

In order to make my herb Hotteok/Hoddeok/Hottok (Korean sweet dessert pancake) all you need to do is chop rosemary, slice mint, basil and sage very thinly. For lavender, take off the tiny flower blossoms and buds from the lavender flower. Add each of these herbs with the sugar filling.

Mint sugar filled hotteok/hodduk (Korean sweet dessert pancake)
Adding Mint to sugar filled hotteok/hodduk (Korean sweet dessert pancake)

When cooking hotteok in the pan, put herb to the uncooked side before turning it over. And you will have a very pretty and colorful hotteok with delicate flavors.

Korean Sweet Pancake (Hotteok/Hodduck) with mint-www.kimchimari.com
Korean Sweet Pancake (Hotteok/Hodduck) with mint

 

Rosemary Hotteok (Korean Sweet Pancake) www.kimchimari.com
Rosemary Hotteok (Korean Sweet Pancake)
Lavender Hotteok (Korean sweet dessert pancake with fresh lavender blossoms) www.kimchimari.com
Lavender Hotteok (Korean sweet dessert pancake with fresh lavender blossoms)
Sage Hotteok/Hoddeok/Hottok www.kimchimari.com
Sage Hotteok/Hoddeok/Hottok
Basil Hotteok/Hoddeok (Korean sweet dessert pancake) www.kimchimari.com
Basil Hotteok/Hoddeok/Hottok (Korean sweet dessert pancake)

Now you ask – what’s my favorite? I would say it’s the basil. I ate the basil hotteok with some extra fresh basil on top and it was really amazing!! Well, I hope make these with your loved ones this weekend (or next) and like them as much as I did :)

Enjoy!

JinJoo

Three color vegetables (Samsaek Namul)- Brown Gosari

Korean Three color vegetable (samsaek namul)
Korean Bracken Fiddlehead (Gosari) Namul
Korean Bracken Fiddlehead (Gosari) Namul

Brown Gosari (고사리)/Kosari or Bracken Fiddleheads namul is the last of the Korean three color vegetables (samsaek namul 삼색나물) dish that I have been blogging about.

Bracken belongs to a genus of large, coarse ferns in the family Dennstaedtiaceae. As ferns, brackens do not have seeds or fruits, but the immature fronds, known as fiddlehead greens, are eaten in different cultures. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records over 55 million years old having been found. In Korea, Gosari(고사리) comes usually in dried form and is eaten as a side dish or added to bibimbap, yukyejang or bindaetteok.

I love the earthy flavor and the chewy texture of Gosari but my husband refuses to eat it, so I never got to cook Gosari as often as I would have liked. Why does he not eat it? Not because he doesn’t like the taste, not because he is allergic to it, not because of the carcinogen (I talk about this at the end of the post)…but because he, like many other Korean men, believe in the myth that it reduces their stamina..lol..

I always wondered if there was any truth to that but never got around to researching about it. But you know.. yukyejang and bibimbap are just not the same without gosari but since he won’t eat them, I often ended up cooking without Gosari. So I was so happy that I chose to make gosari for this post because it was so yummy.. I forgot how good it was.

In case you are wondering where the myth came from – I researched a little bit on why one would say Gosari (Bracken Fiddlehead) is not good for men and there was nothing to support that.  The closest explanation I could find why was that uncooked bracken contains the enzyme thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine (vitamin b1). Which means eating excessive quantities of bracken can cause beriberi – a disease that can make one very weak. But in any case, this is not at all a concern if you are going to cook the bracken because the enzyme gets destroyed when you cook it. So don’t worry, be happy and eat!

Servings: 4              Prep Time: 1 day  Cooking time: 20 min   Difficulty: easy

Ingredients

  • 1.4 oz (40 g)Dried Bracken Fiddlehead (고사리 Gosari)
  • 1 Tbs soup soy sauce (guk kanjang/kuk ganjang/gook kanjang) or 1 tsp more
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 T chopped green onion
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 T water
  • 1 tsp sweet rice flour
  1. Soak dried gosari in water for 24 hrs.
    Dried Bracken Fiddlehead Gosari
    Dried Bracken Fiddlehead Gosari
    Rehydrating Gosari (Dried Bracken) in water
    Rehydrating Gosari (Dried Bracken) in water

    Gosari has gotten nice and plump after soaking in water for a day.

    Re-hydrated Gosari after soaking overnight in water
    Re-hydrated Gosari after soaking overnight in water
  2. Mix 1 Tbs of water and 1 tsp of sweet rice flour and set aside.
  3. Drain gosari.
  4. Bring water to boil in a pot and blanch gosari in boiling water for couple minutes or until it is soft enough to your liking.
  5. Cool cooked gosari in cold water and drain.

    rehydrated and boild bracken fiddleheads (gosari고사리)
    rehydrated and boild bracken fiddleheads (gosari고사리)
  6. This step is quite tedious but necessary to enjoy soft Gosari: sort through gosari stems and break off any bottom stem parts that are too fibrous and hard. The way to tell if it’s too hard is to try breaking if off. If it doesn’t easily break off then it’s probably too stringy to chew. It is similar to cutting off thick woody stems off of asparagus.
  7. Line up gosari (fiddleheads) and cut into 3 in (7.5 cm) lengths. In my case, it was cutting the length into thirds.

    Cutting gosari for gosari namul
    Cutting gosari for gosari namul
  8. Put gosari in a bowl and season with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, green onions and sesame seeds. Mix it well with your hands so it is seasoned evenly.
  9. Heat a frying pan on medium heat, add 1 Tbs of vegetable oil and saute seasoned fiddleheads for 2 min.

    Cooked bracken fiddleheads (gosari namul)
    Cooked bracken fiddleheads (gosari namul)
  10. Pour 1/2 cup of water, cover and steam on medium heat for 5 min or until most of the water has evaporated. Uncover.
  11. Add sweet rice flour water to pan with fiddleheads. Saute for another 1-2 min until well mixed.

Now it’s done!

Koreans have been eating Gosari for centuries but as I was researching about this fern, I found out that Gosari (Bracken fiddlehead) is a very controversial vegetable. On the one hand, Bracken/Gosari has many health benefits because it is high in protein, vitamin b2 and fiber. According to traditional Korean medical books, it says that Gosari can be used to treat fever, insomnia and also can clear the mind. But on the other hand, there are studies that show it increased bladder cancers in farm animals who ingested Bracken fern raw. There is also a study that say Bracken caused stomach cancer in laboratory mice due to a carcinogen in the Gosari. And there were even articles that mentioned there may be a link between the very high rate of stomach cancer in Koreans and Japanese and the Gosari being a popular vegetable in both Korean and Japanese diet.

But here are my conclusions:

  1. RAW vs COOKED – the carcinogen is water soluble and so if you cook it well in water and drain, lot of it will get washed out. The dried Gosari namul which is the kind that most Koreans eat, is first boiled and dried. And then you will see that Gosari is kind of cook to death (haha) as it goes thru several steps of rehydration, blanching, etc. So the chances of any of the carcinogen being left is very very small.
  2. Link to stomach cancer – the latest studies show the most likely cause of Korean’s stomach cancer is due to bacterial infection (h pylori) and also due to the high salt diet.
  3. If anything, Koreans eat much less Gosari than 15 years ago and the number of stomach cancer has remained steady (between 1999 to 2009) while the number of colon cancer has almost doubled along with breast cancer which they attribute largely to a more westernized diet (which also can imply Koreans eat Gosari less often).

So don’t worry, just cook these three vegetables and enjoy them as a side dish or as part of bibimbap!

three_namul_c

Bulgogi on Expo Worldrecipe homepage!

Kimchimari bulgogi recipe on Expo Milano 2015 Worldrecipes home page

For once, I posted too soon.. :)

I just got word from Expo Milano 2015 Worldrecipes that they have decided to feature my Bulgogi post on their homepage!!!! How cool is that?!!!!!

Kimchimari bulgogi recipe on Expo Milano 2015 Worldrecipes home page
Kimchimari bulgogi recipe on Expo Milano 2015 Worldrecipes home page

If you go to Expo Milano 2015 Worldrecipes homepage, look under Chosen For You section to see it. Now, I know you have already seen the recipe on my blog but there is good reason to visit because all recipes submitted on the site is enhanced with nutritional facts and environmental footprint analysis, consistently linked with Expo Milano 2015’s theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

If you would like to see any of my recipes with nutritional facts, please let me know and I would be happy to post it there!

A visit with a Tteoksal (떡살) Artisan

Korean Rice Cake mold design - tteoksal stamp
Korean Tteoksal (떡살) - Rice Cake Mold design
Kimchimari logo – Korean Tteoksal (떡살) Rice Cake Mold design

One item on my “Must Do” list while in Korea was to make a trip down to Damyang (담양) to visit Moksan Gongyakwan (목산공예관).

Moksan Rice Cake Mold Museum at Damyang (담양)
Moksan Rice Cake Mold Museum at Damyang (담양)

FYI – The doggie is a Korean breed called 삽살개 (sapsalgae) – very cute isn’t he?

Mr. Kim Gyuseok who is a renowned Rice Cake Mold(떡살 Tteoksal) Artisan has been collecting and restoring 1000 traditional Tteoksal designs for over 30 years and in 2013, he was awarded the title of Korean Living National Treasure in the area of wood sculpture.

Korean Rice Cake mold design - tteoksal stamp
Sample Korean Rice Cake mold design – tteoksal stamp
Korean tteoksal (rice cake) mold
Korean tteoksal (rice cake) mold – round shape

I got interested in these beautiful rice cake molds while I was trying to design my logo for my Studio Mari/Kimchimari blog. Among many traditional Korean rice cake mold designs, the triple pomegranate design really caught my eye.

The 3 pomegranate designs are one of the three special fruit (pomegranate, peach, buddha’s hand) designs used for weddings. They symbolize good fortune, prosperity and fertility. I have been wanting to visit Mr. Kim and his workshop in person to see his creations and also possibly buy a mold with my logo in it. After almost a year, as I was getting to leave Korea, I was finally able to make the trip with my husband.

It turns out Mr. Kim has not only collected and restored the traditional rice cake mold designs but had co-authored a Korean cookbook after doing years of research about rice cake molds and the meaning of them. The book is called Sensible Korean Food and the recipes are based on yin=cold and yang=hot energies of food. It was because during his search, he uncovered many traditional recipes handed down for generations that otherwise would have gotten lost through the ages.

During our conversation, he also talked about how unfortunate it was that today’s Korean food has forgotten these basic concepts shaped by Korean ancestors for thousands of years. He was disappointed that the latest trend in Korean food was based food combinations mostly coming from a traditional medical book called Dongyi Bogaam(동의보감). And until he pointed this out, I never gave it much thought…But he was right in that the medical book is a book to help sick patients, NOT healthy people. He said, sick people’s yin and yang balance is drastically out of balance and therefore more extreme foods are advised to bring the balance back to normal. However, for healthy people, such extreme foods are not necessary nor advised. What most healthy people should know is how to eat a well balanced meal of both cold (yin) and hot (yang) foods and not leaning too much to any one side. Mr Kim old me that it was the same thing as saying medication should only be given to sick people and not to someone who is healthy.

Mr. Kim also shared his worries regarding rice cake mold designs – each mold design all have specific meanings and were meant to be used for different occasions but now almost all of that has been lost. Out of the 1000 mold designs, I would say there are probably less than 10 designs that are commonly used today. Through Mr. Kim’s words, I was getting a glimpse of the real old traditional ways of Korea – how in the old days, there was time to put meaning into everything and appreciate the beauty of them, even in something as simple and small as the design of a rice cake.

Showcase of Korean Rice Cake Stamps (Tteoksal 떡살)
Showcase of Korean Rice Cake Stamps (Tteoksal 떡살)

As for my pomegranate design, Mr. Kim had an idea to make me a custom mold using all the 3 symbols. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough time for me to get it before I left Korea but he told me he would work through the Korean Lunar New Year holiday to make it happen. And so here it is! I was able to get it 2 days before I left Korea. Below is a photo of my very own Tteoksal!!!

Korean Rice Cake mold - pomegranate pattern
Korean Rice Cake mold – pomegranate pattern

Each side features a fruit pattern using one ore more of the 3 fruits (peach, pomegranate, buddha’s hand) for weddings.

I can’t wait to make my own jjeolpyun (절편) with these stamps! Here is a sample picture of some of the more common tteoksal mold stamped on jjeolpyun.

Jeolpyun made with tteoksal stamps
Korean Rice Cake Jeolpyun made with tteoksal stamps

My visit has truly inspired me to research more into the traditions and the yin and yang theory of foods – so stay tuned for that!

Sweet and Savory Beef Rib Stew (갈비찜 Galbijjim/Kalbijjim)

Galbijjim/Kalbijjim
Kalbijjim_finished
Kalbijjim_finished

This is Korean food at its best. Kalbijjim/Galbijjim(갈비찜) was certainly one of my favorites as a kid and is still very much at the top of my list to this day. As a kid, I loved to eat just Kalbijjim, rice and Kimchi. It was a perfect balance of flavors for me. The combination of sweet yet savory, juicy yet melt in your mouth tender beef ribs with a great depth of flavor and the crunchy, spicy cabbage Kimchi to break up that little hint of fat was simply just too delicious for my figure. haha.. Even when all the ribs were gone, I savored every last drop of the remaining Kalbijjim sauce by mixing rice and the sauce together.

Koreans traditionally make this dish for great holiday occasions such as New Year’s and also for their most honored guests. So if you have visited many different relatives homes during the New Year’s, you do kind of get sick of it towards the end. Sadly, very few Korean restaurants (both abroad and in Korea) serve this dish anymore so you may not have been able to taste this at all.  If you like Korean BBQs like bulgogi or kalbi, then you must try making this dish.

Kalbijjim is also a great party dish because you can make ahead of time. You just reheat when guests arrive. Kalbijjim, rice, kimchi, lettuce salad and any kind of jeon makes a fabulous party menu anytime.

Among the various beef cuts, Korean beef ribs are perhaps the most expensive cut and is certainly not something average Koreans eat or make often. When I went shopping to buy beef ribs (갈비 Kalbi) from our neighborhood market, I was told that it’s not a beef cut they normally carry because it’s so expensive. The butcher told me to come back during New Year’s or Chuseok holiday.

** Cool Kalbijjim overnight for best results.

 

Servings 6       Time: Prep 15 min + Cook 2 hrs       Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs (1.8kg) beef short ribs (갈비)
  • 5~6 large dried or fresh shitake mushrooms
  • 10 oz (300 g) Korean radish (daikon also works) – about 1 1/2 C cut up
  • 2 carrots
  • 12 chestnuts, peeled (canned chestnuts is ok)

Ingredients for Kalbijjim sauce

  • 3/4 C + 3 T (add later after tasting) dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C mirin or sake
  • 2 T honey (+ 1 tsp as a finish)
  • 2 T sesame oil + 2 T (add right before finish)
  • 1/2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 2 ~ 3 T chopped garlic
  • 2 T chopped green onion + 1/2 stalk for broth

Directions

  1. Soak dried shitake mushrooms in warm water. Fully immerse mushrooms in water by adding weight on top. This will help reconstitute mushrooms quicker.

    soaking shitake
    soaking shitake
  2. Peel and cut radish and carrots into roughly into 1.5 inch pieces.

    carrots_radish
    carrots and radish for Kalbijjim
  3. Rinse ribs in cold water to get rid of any bone fragments. (I bought these short ribs from emart. They are imported from Canada.)

    canadian beef short ribs for Kalbijjim
    canadian beef short ribs for Kalbijjim
  4. Trim any excess fat and score center of the ribs so that the meat will cook faster and also absorb the sauce more readily.

    cleaned and cut short ribs
    cleaned and cut short ribs
  5. Add cleaned and trimmed ribs to a large enough pot and fill with cold water. Bring water with ribs to a quick boil and flash cook the ribs for 3~5 min. This is to get rid of any gamey taste that beef ribs can sometimes have. This step is optional.

    ribs cooking in water
    ribs cooking in water
  6. Turn off heat.  Drain and discard all liquid.

    flash cooked ribs for Kalbijjim
    flash cooked ribs
  7. Make the sauce by mixing all sauce ingredients listed above EXCEPT for 3 T soy sauce, 1 tsp honey, 2 T sesame oil. You will be adding the additional soy sauce, honey and sesame oil to taste later on.

    Sauce for Kalbijjim
    Sauce for Kalbijjim
  8. Add sauce to pot. Turn heat to med-high and cook ribs in sauce for 5 min.

    kalbijjim with sauce
    kalbijjim with sauce
  9. Add 5 C water and bring back to boil.
  10. Add radish and additional green onion for extra flavor. Simmer for 30 min.

    Kalbijjim beginning
    Kalbijjim beginning
  11. Mushrooms should be fully soaked by now. Rinse and quarter shitake mushrooms like so.

    shitake mushrooms
    shitake mushrooms
  12. If using canned chestnut, just drain. If not, you will have to peel your own.. :( Nice thing about Korea, many markets peel raw chestnuts for you for free when you buy a bag. Here’s how they look –

    peeled raw chestnuts
    peeled raw chestnuts
  13. After simmering for 30 min., add carrots and mushrooms. Continue to simmer.
  14. After 20 min or so, add chestnuts. Optionally add dried jujube dates.
  15. Simmer for another 1 hr or so (total 1:50 min~ 2 hrs) until the meat is fully tender. Best way to check the tenderness is to tear a little piece off and taste.
    Testing Tenderness of Kalbijjim meat
    Testing Tenderness of Kalbijjim meat

    I am holding up this piece of Kalbi with tongs after simmering for 90 min. You can see that it’s not falling off which means it still has another 20~30 more mins to go.

  16. When it’s almost done, taste the meat to see how you like it. Add more soy sauce (up to 2 T) and touch of honey (1 tsp) to taste.
  17. Kalbijjim produces a LOT of fat and you need to skim the fat before you serve. My tip for trimming off fat is to cool the stew in the fridge for several hours or in colder climates, leave it outside.
    Kalbijjim cooled with fat
    Cold Kalbijjim with fat solids

    See how much fat has solidified overnight in Korean winter!

    kalbijjim solid fat thickness
    kalbijjim solid fat thickness

    Now just break off fat pieces and discard them. You can easily remove fat from Kalbijjim or any other stew using this method without a lot of fuss.

    Fat solids removed from Kalbijjim
    Fat solids removed from Kalbijjim

    Yup – that’s quite a lot of fat…good thing we removed it all. :)

  18. After removing the fat solids, add 2 T sesame oil and reheat Kalbijjim before serving.

 

So here is the final closeup of my yummy Kalbijjim –

Galbijjim/Kalbijjim (갈비찜)
Galbijjim/Kalbijjim (갈비찜)

In my opinion.. 

  • Most Korean recipes will tell you to soak the beef in cold water and let it bleed out. Recipes say that the meat will smell bad otherwise. But in my opinion, you don’t need to do it unless the beef is especially gamey tasting. I think this was the case in the old days because many beef in Korea was from cows that worked the field which means they had a lot of muscle and was grass fed. I never really followed the advice for the last 20 years in the US and never had a problem. And the same here in Korea so I think I can say it’s safe to ignore it.
  • Some Kalbijjim recipes add gingko nuts. Personally I don’t like the taste of it but you are welcome to try. It’s supposed to be good for your brains!

Storage

  • Freeze leftovers for later. It will reheat nicely. Vegetables will be a bit mushy though.

Tip

  • Save every bit of leftover Kalbijjim liquid and make Kimchi Jjigae with it. You will end up with a very hearty Kimchi Jjigae~

 

Enjoy!

Nov. 24th is Kimjang Day!

Yes.. I know.. Nov. 24th is Thanksgiving weekend but in Korea I will be making kimchi all day at my in-laws for Kimjang/Gimang. Kimjang is a longtime Korean tradition where families get together and make enough kimchi to last them through the freezing winter. It used to take 2- 3 days but now it’s usually done in one day (Read my No Crazy Kimchi post for more). I hope to take pictures and learn as much as I can from my mother-in-law and will be posting soon! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Spring time is for…

Snap Pea pod and flower
sugar snap peas
sugar snap peas from my garden

Fresh sugar snap peas! Right from my vegetable garden. Last winter, I planted strawberries, sugar snap peas, spinach and romaine lettuces. None of them died but except for the sugar snap peas, all the other vegetables didn’t really grow…I didn’t consider the change of sun exposure in the winter and they are just not getting enough sun. The lettuce is now finally growing with the weather getting warmer…

But I am certainly enjoying a bountiful harvest of snap peas. I have stir fried them with some beef, added to my fried rice and just ate them raw with some sour cream dip. So crunchy and sweet!

And… spring time is also for spring cleaning, right? Well, I have been doing that in my house but I have also started some redesigning and reorganizing of my Korean Food at Home blog. I’m sure you noticed my new theme. Do you like?

I will be going through my recipes and adding a Print Recipe feature (some have been asking for it) too. Hope that’s helpful to some of you.

Happy Spring Everyone!

My blog is in Chosun.com (a Korean news site)!

I can’t believe that this has actually happened! I am now a contributor to Chosun.com (a major Korean news site). Thank you for all your support (especially my loyal subscribers) and encouraging comments – they always help me going.

Korean food at home in chosun.com
Korean food at home in chosun.com

Go to http://english.chosun.com and then you will see an image in the home page that links to some of the recipes in my blog.

No Crazy Kimchi (How to ripen Kimchi)

cabbage kimchi (배추김치 baechu kimchi)
cabbage kimchi (배추김치 baechu kimchi)
cabbage kimchi (배추김치 baechu kimchi)- source (http://blog.naver.com/wefhpop/60143368957)

Everyone has a different preference as to when Kimchi(김치) tastes the best – some love eating freshly made, raw kimchi (kind of tastes like a salad); some love eating it when it is just perfectly ripe and then there are those who love sour kimchi (신김치 shin kimchi) which has basically over fermented and obviously tastes quite sour. But one thing is for sure – no one likes the stage when it is in the in-between stages of being raw and ripe. Kimchi really does not taste good at all when it is in the process of getting ripe – I had an aunt who used to call this the time when kimchi has gone CRAZY! And you certainly don’t want to eat the kimchi when it’s crazy! :) So here’s how to avoid CRAZY kimchi.

Since most of us now buy kimchi from the store, let me first write about the best way to eat a store bought kimchi. Too often, I hear people say that the kimchi served at our house tastes great, but when they try the same brand themselves, they think it doesn’t  taste nearly as good. I realized it was because they don’t take the time to ripen it properly and then also forget to serve it cold (right out of the fridge).  I found that most kimchi (even the poorly made ones) will taste quite palatable when they have had time to ripen properly.
Now, the hard part about buying kimchi from a store is that it is hard to tell at what stage of the fermentation process they are in. One clue is the appearance of the vegetables. They will look more shriveled up if they are further along in the fermentation process. The chances are it will also have lost a bit of the juice because the content will start to bubble and balloon up when it ferments which ends up usually overflowing out of the jar. This is actually too bad because kimchi should always be immersed in its own juices for it to taste the best. The best way is to buy the freshest kimchi possible and bring it home and ripen it from the beginning. But this is usually not possible…So far, I have found the best tasting kimchi that you can buy are actually the ones that are directly imported from Korea (종가집Jongajip is my favorite). It is expensive but worth it in my opinion as long as it hasn’t traveled too far or stayed on the shelf too long at your store. Other than that, the next best thing is to try to buy kimchi that is made locally if it’s available (less chance of it over ripening) and when you bring it home, open it, smell it or better yet, taste it. If your store has a fast turnaround, it is probably in the “crazy” stage. If it’s already fully ripe, put it in the fridge in the coldest possible setting. If it’s not yet fully ripened and you can wait, let it ripen in your fridge. This will take about 2 weeks in your fridge. Also note that the juice may overflow so either move the kimchi into a bigger container or take some out (1/5th) and leave some room for the kimchi to expand. If your kimchi is still very fresh, not at all ripe and you need to eat it quickly, you can ferment it at room temperature. In the summer, it will ripen in 12 ~ 18 hrs and in cooler weather it can take about 24 – 48 hrs. Just check every 4-6 hrs. If this is all too much info for you to digest, I have a chart at the bottom of this post that can help you with the process. (Boy, it’s been ages since I drew up a flowchart…brings back memories from my college days of hand drawing the charts using graphic rulers..)

So.. what is the ultimate best way to ripen or ferment kimchi? The most delicious and fantastic kimchi is made when it is fermented the old fashioned way…In a traditional Korean clay jar, buried in the ground in winter time. Even though the ground freezes in the winter, the jar and the saltiness of the kimchi keep it from freezing completely. This is called 김장김치 (kimjang kimchi). Kimjang kimchi is usually made around the ‘start of winter’ (입동 ipdong) in the lunar calendar which is just about now (Nov 7-8th in Gregorian calendar).

row of kimchi jars in the ground
row of kimchi jars in the ground – source (http://cafe.naver.com/ovenwon/30851)

I remember when I was a kid, we spent days preparing and making kimjang kimchi so that it could last us through the winter and into spring. We first dug big holes in the ground big enough to hold our huge clay jars (so big that a child can fall in). In the meantime, we spent the day washing and brining 100+  napa cabbages and also preparing the ingredients for the stuffing. The next day we took these salted napa cabbages and inserted the stuffing in between each cabbage leaf. It was an enormous amount of work but boy…was it worth it. All winter long, we got to eat these amazingly crunchy and zingy and sometimes even ever so slightly frozen kimchi that came out of these jars in the ground. So why was it so tasty? According to research, when it is buried in the ground, the temperature remains quite constant – at 32 – 35 F all winter long. At this temperature it takes about 20 days for the kimchi to fully ripen but it is definitely worth the wait.

The clay jars are glazed to hold the moisture in but it can still breathe which allows just the right amount of air circulation to take away any heat produced from the fermentation (keeping the temperature stable).   It also keeps the air tight enough for the bacteria to not grow too fast which helps the kimchi maintain its peak flavor for a longer period. The history of kimchi can be dated back almost 2000 years to the Goguryo Dynasty according to some historians, so you can see how long Koreans had time to refine the technique of kimchi making.

Since most Koreans now live in apartments and have no backyards to bury the jars, they have invented what is called a kimchi refrigerator. This fridge is different from the conventional refrigerator because the interior walls of the fridge are cooled instead of the air which helps to keep the interior at a more constant temperature. I own one and I have to say it is the next best thing to having your own kimchi jar in the ground. It even has temperature options for fermenting and then just storing it to prolong its freshness.

How to tell if Kimchi is ripe and ready to eat?

When a kimchi is not fully ripe, you are able to smell and kind of taste the individual ingredients – garlic, cabbage, radish, green onion, fish sauce, etc – as they have yet to fully integrate with each other. When it is fully ripened, the tastes of all the ingredients are well blended together and there is full flavor embedded in each cabbage leaf or vegetable pieces. There is also a slight sour taste with an added zing at the end. You can also no longer smell the raw ingredients individually but rather have a combined, wonderful slightly stinky smell that is unique to kimchi. Below is the chart that I promised earlier –

How To Ripen Kimchi Properly
How To Ripen Kimchi Properly

*** CORRECTION : When slow fermenting your home made kimchi in the fridge, please leave your very freshly made kimchi outside at room temp for 1/2 day to overnight BEFORE putting it in and letting it ripen for 4-7 days.  A reader pointed it out to me – thank you MOMO!

So how long will Kimchi keep?

When stored at the ideal temperature that’s close to the freezing point of 32 F, kimchi will keep for 3 months or more. If the temperature of your fridge is higher (which is normally the case), it will probably keep for at least a month or more. Kimchi will start to taste just too sour when it starts to go bad at which point, the best way to eat them is by cooking them. Kimchi will go bad – it will have this whitish kind of film when it has been really too long and will also smell very pungently sour. You don’t want to eat it at this stage.