Kimchi: 10 recipes and 200 variations

by Amie Watson

Did you know kimchi started out as turnips fermented in soybean paste or brine? The fiery condiment we know today came along later. “In 1827 there were 92 types of kimchi,” writes Joe McPherson in his ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal. “Today there are over 200.” Along the way, variations on the good-for-your-health side dish included every type of Korean root vegetable as well as eggplant, cucumbers, wild leeks, mustard greens, bamboo shoots and even fermented fish. Finally, there came Chinese cabbage — what most people think of as the main ingredient of kimchi today — and only somewhere between 1592 and 1700 did chili peppers wander into the mix.

Here are some other fun kimchi facts:

Kimchi History 101

According to McPherson, kimchi stems from the practice of eating salted vegetables with barley and millet to aid the grains’ digestion after early Koreans moved to an agricultural lifestyle. Like many a modern-day pickler, Koreans became addicted to the fine art of preserving, and began fermenting rice wine, soybeans and fish. More than an act of culinary whimsy, though, they needed as much food as possible to last through the long, cold winter.

Kimchi Bonus

According to Sandor Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation, most kimchi in Korea is still made at home and many employers still give their workers an annual “kimchi bonus” in autumn to purchase ingredients for their annual supply.

Good for Your Gut

Unprocessed kimchi provides energy for lactobacteria and bifidobacteria in your stomach— “good” bacteria that aid digestion. Cabbages and other members of the brassica family have lots of lactobacillus, especially on their outer leaves, which makes them great for ferments. To help fermentation along, add multiple sources of this good bacteria including broccoli leaves and, more traditionally, radish greens (which is kimchi gold, as I found out when a Korean man ran to the compost bin of my community garden to stop another gardener from throwing hers away).

Make it at home: our favourite kimchi recipe“Kimchi

Pasteurization

Pasteurization means cooking the kimchi or processing the jars after stuffing them, which kills the lactobacillus and does nothing for your digestion. Look for unpasteurized kimchi in the refrigerator aisle. If you find it on a store shelf, it’s pasteurized, even if it’s organic, artisanal, local, non-GMO, etc.

What do You Do With All That Kimchi??

It’s traditionally served as a “banchan” side dish with Korean meals, along with a smorgasbord of other small dishes like seaweed salad, pickled burdock root, spicy soybean sprouts, turnip cake and spicy tofu. It’s also great with mushrooms and rice. Since it’s traditionally buried in a crock underground in the winter and slowly ferments throughout the season, it gets pretty funky by spring. At that point, it’s traditionally tossed in a tofu stew called Kimchi Jjigae or stuffed into Korean mandu dumplings or Kimchijeon pancakes. Feel as sniffle coming on? Add a little to a noodle soup – just don’t boil it once you add the kimchi!

Here are 10 recipes to diversify your kimchi creations. If you don’t like spicy foods, cut back on the chili peppers (especially now that you know that kimchi was originally made without them!). If a recipe calls for fish sauce, you can use this vegan fish sauce made with shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, tomato paste and miso.

Get even more kimchi in your life:

Vegan kimchi with napa cabbage and apple
Eggplant kimchi
Pontyail (Radish) Kimchi
Broccoli and Cucumber Kimchi with Orange and Lemon
Burdock Root and Carrot Kimchi
Samphire (Sea Asparagus) Okra, Fern and Bamboo Shoot Kimchi
Radish Cube Kimchi
Wild Leeks Kimchi
Fruit and Nut Kimchi
Rhubarb Kimchi

Amie Watson
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Amie Watson

Amie is a heavyweight food writer and a lightweight television personality but a featherweight foodie. She loves writing recipes and restaurant reviews for her blog, Multiculturiosity and freelancing with enRoute, Menu International, Fine Dining Lovers, MAtv and Ricardo Media. She loves all things local, organic, gluten-free and dairy-free, but only if they’re delicious. Celery root? Well, it's growing on her.

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