Vegetarian Times — April/May 2012
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Healing Foods
Matthew Kadey


What’s so hot about Korea’s signature pickled dish


If you’ve ever tried Korean food, you probably know kimchi. The pungent pickled vegetable dish—often served at mealtime with a steaming bowl of rice—has an age-old reputation in Korea for boosting longevity. Developed as a way to preserve perishables over the harsh winter months, kimchi was traditionally stored in earthenware jars and buried underground. Nowadays, most of the fermentation occurs under refrigerated conditions, but the health benefits endure. Studies show that aged kimchi helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol; it also has disease-fighting antioxidants and digestion- aiding probiotic bacteria similar to those in yogurt.

Although a number of veggies, including radish, bok choy, cucumber, and turnip, can be used to make kimchi, napa cabbage is usually the star of the show. “Napa cabbage leaves soak up flavors particularly well,” says Debbie Lee, chef and author of Seoultown Kitchen: Korean Pub Grub to Share with Family and Friends. A good kimchi tastes equal parts sweet, salty, sour, and spicy, she notes: “The longer the vegetables ferment, the more pronounced the flavor.”


Korea boasts hundreds of varieties of kimchi, which can be eaten alone or used in recipes. “Kimchi that has only fermented for a few days is best enjoyed raw, whereas stronger-flavored, aged kimchi is the type blended into cooked dishes,” explains Lee. While kimchi is a popular addition to stir-fries and bibimbap—a Korean rice-and-veggie specialty—it can gussy up Western dishes too. Lee suggests using it in aïolis, salsas, slaws, and citrus vinaigrettes. Also try it in grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas, or as a topping for veggie burgers and tacos. For a quick hors d’oeuvre, place a spoonful of kimchi at the root end of a large cabbage leaf; roll to the end, slice in half, and top with toasted sesame seeds.

Note: kimchi is often cured with fish sauce, ground dried shrimp, or oysters. Look for veg-friendly varieties (such as Mother In Law’s Vegan Napa Cabbage Kimchi) or make your own using the following recipe.


Makes 4 cups

This mildly spiced kimchi can be made hotter by adding more ground chiles. It will get more sour with time; if it becomes too sour to enjoy on its own, use it to make the Kimchi Stew recipe on

1/2 cup kosher or coarse sea salt
1 small head napa cabbage (11/2 lb.), halved and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices
9 chiles de arbol or Thai bird chiles 1 medium daikon radish, julienned (4 oz.)
6 green onions, cut into 1/2 -inch lengths
2 Tbs. unseasoned rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sugar

1 | Stir salt into 21/2 cups water in large nonreactive bowl. Add cabbage, and stir to coat leaves well. Let stand 5 hours, or overnight, stirring occasionally. Drain.

2 | Grind chiles in coffee grinder until powdered (it’s OK if there are some larger bits).

3 | Transfer cabbage to clean bowl, and add 11/2 Tbs. ground chiles, radish, green onions, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and sugar. Toss with hands (wearing rubber gloves) to coat. Transfer to clean 1-quart canning jar, packing cabbage tightly. Seal with lid. Let stand 2 to 3 days at room temperature, turning upside down occasionally to coat cabbage with pickling liquid. Store in fridge up to 2 weeks.

PER 1/4 -CUP SERVING 19 cal; 1 g prot; <1 g total fat (0 g sat fat); 3 g carb; 0 mg chol; 217 mg sod; <1 g fiber; 1 g sugars

Matthew Kadey, RD, is a Canada-based dietitian and food writer whose love for kimchi will never sour.