It might not be love at first bite for most, when it comes to kimchi. But, as you crunch a juicy, sour napa cabbage leaf, you might find your tastebuds wanting more. Kimchi is a staple Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, well-seasoned with gochugaru — powdered Korean chili pepper.
"Not everyone likes it, it's an acquired taste," I remember my editor telling me last year. She had introduced me to South Korean dramas on Netflix, which made me an instant fan of Korean cuisine. I cannot explain in words, the excitement I felt when I tasted the orange-red kimchi in my Bibimbap (mixed rice with beef, sautéed vegetables and a fried egg), at a small store selling Korean food in Dubai's Global Village. I kept returning for some extra kimchi, and thankfully, the chef humoured me.
Kimchi, traditionally is made with vegetables such as napa cabbage and Korean radish fermented with a widely varying selection of seasonings including gochugaru, spring onions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood). Like pickled vegetables, it is eaten with various Korean dishes including soups. Not sure if it was the popularity of South Korean dramas, but in September 2020, the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), announced that South Korea had seen a massive boom in its food exports even through the COVID-19 pandemic, with kimchi and ramen leading the charge.
In Dubai, you can find kimchi at various supermarkets and Korean stores. But, Dubai-based Filipina expatriate Nelia Relox Smith makes it at home. She learnt the technique of making Korean-style kimchi 17 years ago. Nelia told the Food by Gulf News team: "I started making kimchi when I was 22, when I was working in a Korean restaurant in Manila, the capital of the Philippines."
While not changing the basic recipe of kimchi, Nelia gave it her own twist. She left the Korean restaurant and Manila to move to UAE, but she brought her special kimchi recipe along, and her family loves it. She said: "My family grew to love my special twist on kimchi. My sister even travels from Abu Dhabi to Dubai every time she craves kimchi. Sometimes, she calls me and demands that I make her a batch, and I am happy to do it."
The 39-year-old homemaker added: "I used to make it whenever I had guests but it has grown in popularity among my neighbours, and I am getting more requests. Maybe I should go into business. One of my family members in the Philippines is using my recipe and selling kimchi throughout the neighbourhood."
Guide to making kimchi
Cooking Time: 5 mins
Preparation Time: 15 mins
- 2 Napa cabbages
- 3-4 tbsp Korean chilli powder
- 3/4 cup salted shrimps
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup glutinous rice
- Coarse sea salt to soak the cabbage
- 3 medium sized carrots
- 2 medium sized onions
- 1 radish
- 5 spring onions
- 1 cup rice porridge
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1.5 inch ginger (optional)
- 9 pods of garlic (optional)
1. Wash the cabbage and cut it length-wise. Soak the washed cabbage in coarse sea salt water for two hours and keep it aside.
2. Julienne the carrots and the radish.
3. Cut the spring onions about two inches long, use both the white and green parts.
4. For the porridge, mix one cup glutinous rice with two cups of water in a saucepan.
5. Add a cup of brown sugar and bring to a boil.
6. Add the fish sauce and cook for about five minutes to make a smooth paste. Keep aside to cool. (If you use warm water, the cooking time is less by around 2 to 3 minutes).
7. Wash the soaked cabbages under running water, to get rid of extra salt. According to Nelia, the leaves soak up the salt so make sure you wash them really well.
8. Now it's time to make the Kimchi paste. Transfer the porridge into a large bowl. Add two cups of Korean chili powder, salted shrimp and mix to combine well.
9. Transfer the paste into a large tub. Add the chopped radish, carrots and spring onions, and wearing gloves mix them into the paste.
10. In the end, add the cabbages to this paste and smother every leaf coating completely with the seasoning.
11. Cover the tub and let it ferment for 24 hours in room temperature.
To store, put the kimchi in a jar and place it in the refrigerator. It can last for up to two weeks.
Serve kimchi with a warm bowl of noodle soup or over a plate of steaming rice and enjoy.