Korean cuisine is regarded as an especially healthy one given it uses a lot of vegetables, seafood, small amounts of meat – offered more as an accompaniment rather than the mainstay – and often the food is either grilled, stewed or barbecued.
Seldom is the food deep fried, with rice being a mainstay, and very often soup is served – therefore satisfying the appetite without loading up on lots of calories.
Dessert is seldom eaten – more often fresh fruit finishes the meal and of course the star performer, in fact the national dish known as kimchi, is present at every meal.
There are as many variations of this dish as there are cooks in Korea and as there seems to be a stronger call out these days for vegan options – well I thought I’d seek out a vegan version for you to try on your tribe!
Kimchi is adored for its sour, tangy, crunchy-ness and whilst I guess it’s fair to say it is an ‘acquired’ taste, it is truly very good for you as being a fermented food has all the good things going in it to introduce a healthy intestinal environment – and by golly we seem to read almost daily about good tummy health! Commonly made from cabbage as the ‘main ingredient’ together will perhaps cucumber, ginger, garlic, spring onions, chilli – there are endless regional varieties. Kimchi is so versatile, and it is virtually served at every meal as a side dish – added into soups, rice dishes – it will be on offer at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
In much the same way as the Europeans, especially the Italians, set aside a day to make the year’s supply of salami, or tomato sugo (passata), with all members of the family and wider circle of friends rolling up their sleeves, heads down, and amongst the laughter and chatter creating a virtual production line, so that by day’s end everyone has lovingly contributed to making produce to enjoy throughout the year. Korean families and neighbours might all gather round on the appointed day and work their way through 200 cabbages with much chopping, salting, and pressing of vegetables and spices into the special lidded earthenware pots called onggi. In some areas it was necessary to bury the jars well underground over winter to avoid the contents freezing. I know our spring mornings have been brisk of late, but you shouldn’t need to bury your kimchi!
Another interesting snippet I learned from Charmaine Solomon’s Asian cookbook was that in Korean cuisine,
spoons and chopsticks used historically were made of silver – as the metal discolours if the food was spoiled or
poisoned. Similarly, expensive silverware soup bowls were part of a bride’s dowry.
Nowadays stainless steel equivalents are more common – much less time spent polishing up all that silverware!
Many kimchi recipes call for kosher salt, an abbreviation of the process of koshering meats – the process of drawing out the
moisture in the meat. Chefs like using it as it adheres to the food, gives a bit of a crunch to the dish – but it can easily be substituted by using sea salt flakes. Confusingly kosher salt is not actually ‘kosher’. But I’ll leave it at that.
Back to the kimchi – many recipes rely on using an anchovy or shrimp pastes for flavour. This recipe will fit the bill for those following a vegan diet. Kimchi can be added to omelettes, rice dishes, vegetable stir fries – giving that extra zing to all of these and its great added to clear brothsoups. You can tone down the spiciness by reducing the amount of chilli flakes to suit your palate, and use a coarse cooking salt or inexpensive salt flakes – not the top shelf flakes which are better used as a superior garnish on your food.