Pachinko, for those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t until I read Min Jin Lee’s novel of the same name), is a Japanese game of chance, a combination of pinball and a slot machine. Like the game it’s named for, Lee spins an epic tale that goes up and down, away and back again, all as the Korean family we follow move to Japan and either suffer or thrive there. The novel starts with the parents of our strong central female character Sunja and spans over seventy years and several generations.
I liked Pachinko, but despite being well-written, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. Lee really put her characters through the ringer, and the suffering they experienced left me feeling very defeated. It was an interesting perspective on an immigration story – one we aren’t often exposed to here in the United States but one that didn’t leave me with much hope either.
It was a book we chose for our August book club, and I’ll admit I put it on the list because I already owned it (checking off that TBR!) and because I wanted to make and eat sushi. It turned out that while sushi did show up a couple of times in the novel, kimchi is what really made an impression. Sunja and her sister-in-law used their skills in the kitchen to make kimchi when times were tough, supporting their family the only way they could.
Kimchi, which is made of fermented vegetables – usually cabbage, requires about a minimum of a week to make. So, it was about two weeks ago that I set to work. I found a recipe that didn’t seem too intimidating and stopped by the trusty 168 Asian Mart (you may remember from my dumpling-making adventures) to gather all of the Korean-specific ingredients, such as salted shrimp and red pepper powder.
I chopped my cabbage into roughly 2-inch pieces, put them in a large bowl and sprinkled them with a generous amount of salt (half a cup), tossing the leaves to make sure they were well-coated. Then, I covered the cabbage with water – I ended up using about 15 cups – and covered the entire bowl with plastic wrap. I let it sit for about a day.
Then, I placed the cabbage in a colander, rinsed it and squeezed it out. While that sat, I combined all of the other ingredients in a large bowl – radish cut into matchsticks, scallions cut into 1-inch pieces, what seemed like a ton of Korean red pepper powder, fish sauce, minced ginger and garlic, Korean salted shrimp and a little bit of sugar.
Once it was well-combined, I added the cabbage and tossed it until it was well-coated and pretty red too. Then, I stuffed everything into my large glass jar and sealed it. I snapped a quick picture before I left it in the dark, cool basement for another full day.
Then, I opened the lid and allowed the gases to escape – the product of our fermentation process was quite pungent. I’d recommend doing this with the windows open, or in a very well-ventilated room. After about a half an hour, I sealed it back up and placed it in the fridge. The jar hung out in the fridge for about 10 days, until yesterday, when I opened it up to attempt to make kimchi fried rice.
You can use kimchi for a lot of different things, but the one I thought I might enjoy the most was kimchi fried rice. (Disclaimer: I’m not a huge kimchi fan to begin with.) Luckily, I was already familiar with fried rice from my Boston Girl blog entry earlier this year.
I ended up tweaking the recipe I found a little bit, but I loved the idea of serving it with an egg on top, so I had Scott fry some up while I put the finishing touches on the rice. The whole meal turned out really well – the kimchi added a little bit of an extra kick to the fried rice, and I liked it much more than I expected to! Now, we just have to figure out how to use the rest of the kimchi 🙂 Any suggestions, fellow foodies?
Basic Napa Cabbage Kimchi
- 1 (2-pound) napa cabbage
- ½ cup kosher salt
- about 12 cups cold water, plus more as needed
- 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
- 4 medium scallions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (use all parts)
- ⅓ cup Korean red pepper powder
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ¼ cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons Korean salted shrimp, minced
- 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2-inch pieces, discarding the root end. Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss with your hands until the cabbage is coated. Add enough cold water to just cover (about 12 cups), making sure the cabbage is submerged (it’s OK if a few leaves break the surface). Cover with plastic wrap or a baking sheet and let sit at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Place a colander in the sink, drain the cabbage, and rinse with cold water. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the cabbage and toss with your hands until evenly combined and the cabbage is thoroughly coated with the mixture.
- Pack the mixture tightly into a clean 2-quart or 2-liter glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and seal the jar. Let sit in a cool, dark place for 24 hours (the mixture may bubble). Open the jar to let the gases escape, then reseal and refrigerate at least 48 hours before eating. (Kimchi is best after fermenting about 1 week). Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
I used the kimchi to make Kimchi Fried Rice (from Rasa Malaysia), though it can be served as a side or in a variety of dishes.
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