Cooking with Kimchi

Crunchy, spicy, tangy, refreshing, velvety, mild—there’s a kimchi for every taste.

| October/November 2004

  • This spicy kimchi has carrot, ginger and cayenne pepper.
    Dawna Edwards

  • A typical Korean meal features many small side dishes, called banchan, which may include three or four kinds of kimchi, plus other vegetable dishes.
    Leah Zeldes
  • Yoo Jung Hee, with daughter Marie-Kim, serves a traditional Korean lunch in her Seoul home.
    Leah Zeldes
  • Chong-Il Lim demonstrates kimchi preparation at the Yoo family home in Seoul.
    Leah Zeldes

Seoul is a gardener’s paradise. Gardens bloom everywhere, from the elaborate formal affairs on the grounds of the gorgeous, historic palaces, to dooryard plots outside family homes, to tiny container gardens along the thoroughfares of the shopping districts. The vegetable-loving Koreans make use of every space possible.

A cornucopia of vegetables is featured at nearly every Korean meal. A typical dinner consists of a main dish, soup, rice and many small side dishes, called banchan. The banchan usually include cooked vegetables, salads and fish, and always feature the ubiquitous Korean pickled vegetables called kimchi — often three or four kinds.

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is more than a food in Korea — it’s practically a national symbol. A survey of Koreans found that about 60 percent eat kimchi at every meal.

Kimchi’s nutritional properties form an enormous source of national pride. You’d be hard pressed to find any Korean reference to kimchi that doesn’t proclaim it as a health-giving food, full of vitamins and high in fiber and nutrients.

This dish doesn’t have to be limited to Korean dinner tables. You can experience the fabulous flavor and health benefits in your own kitchen. If you’ve tasted kimchi, chances are it was spicy tongbaechu kimchi, the best-known type, made from cabbage. The next most familiar variety, pungent kkakdugi, begins with cubed white radish. Both of these zesty, brilliant red-orange pickles burn with red-pepper fire.

However, the Korean Food Academy has categorized more than 100 different types of kimchi — probably at least that many more remain unrecorded — and not all of them are spicy. Though pickling in Korea has been documented as far back as the Three Kingdoms period (57 b.c. to a.d. 668), hot peppers weren’t introduced there until the 17th century.

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