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Vegetarian Kim Chi

Koreans eat Kim Chi on a daily basis, and they're renowned for living to a ripe old age. Kim Chi, also spelled Kimchi, Kim-Chi, Kim Chee etc, is a spicy dish of fermented cabbage.

There are many different recipes and methods for Kim Chi, and no doubt the very best recipes are close-held family secrets. It's more of a project than a recipe - you certainly won't be able to prepare it in time for your evening meal tonight, I'm afraid.

As I'm a typical lazy Westerner, my version's relatively quick and easy, although this IS a dish you have to prepare ahead of time - preferably a week before you eat it - as you need to give the cabbage and other vegetables time to soften, absorb the brine and begin to ferment. Therein lies the key to Kim Chi's legendary health benefits - see link to right.

The other advantage is that it's predominant ingredients are low fat AND low carb. I can't be sure that the fermentation process doesn't affect the carb levels as I don't have a laboratory handy and cannot find any prepared Kim Chi that lists carb counts. Considering that nearly all the ingredients are among the very lowest on the scale when they start out though, I think you can safely assume it's OK for a low carb diet.

As a vegetarian, be wary if you buy prepared Kim Chi, as often shrimp or fish paste is included. If it doesn't list the ingredients, you can usually smell if it contains shrimp or fish paste - or just ask your friendly local Asian grocer.

Firstly, you'll need at least one of the following:

Cabbage, roughly chopped into chunks (any Asian or Western variety will do)

Radishes, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks or slices (preferably Daikon but any sort is fine, even little red ones if you can be bothered peeling them)

Turnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks or slices.

You're also going to need (amounts to taste):

Salt, preferably Sea Salt

Garlic, raw, minced

Scallions, chopped (also called Shallots or Spring Onions in some countries - leafy green type of onion)

Ginger, fresh, minced (or the jar variety's OK)

Dried Chili, preferably the big flakes, but powder's OK

The first stage is to salt the chopped, peeled vegetables. I do this by tossing them in a plastic bag with a few tablespoons of salt, then tying up the bag and leaving it to sit. Alternatively, you can use a bowl and stir it through with your hands, if you have a bowl big enough. Usually it takes about four hours or so to start breaking down the vegetables. The cabbage should feel a bit limp, although still quite crunchy.

While the vegetables are softening, make a paste with the dried chili and water. This also needs to be left for a few hours for the color of the chili to seep out into the water. I suggest using a glass dish, as chili can stain plastic and ceramic dishes.

It's a good idea to semi-sterilize the jars or crock you intend to use. If you have a dishwasher, put them though a cycle just before you need them and that should kill the germs. If you haven't got a dishwasher, put them in a large saucepan with water to cover. Gradually bring to the boil then simmer gently for a few minutes - that should be long enough to get rid of any nasties. Remember that a rapid change of temperature will break glass, so be careful. Let them cool in the water before lifting them out.

When the vegetables have softened, rinse them well and place in a very large bowl or saucepan. Mix all of the other ingredients with the watery chili mixture, then tip this mixture over the vegetables. Rub it into the vegetables by hand - be careful to avoid stinging your eyes later from the chili on your hands, as it doesn't wash off skin easily.

Once the vegetables are well coated, pack them firmly into the jars or crock. Top up with water to almost cover vegetables. Recently-boiled water is best, to prevent contamination. If you can put a weight on top to press the vegetables, all the better. Put it in the fridge to ferment for at least a few days. It will last up to a few weeks, and the flavour will grow stronger with age.

Serve chilled as a condiment, toss it in Miso stock for a tasty instant soup, or fry it with tofu to serve as a hot dish with rice.

Note: To speed up the fermentation process if you're in a hurry, you can add a little lemon juice or vinegar.

For some other great Korean recipes, have a look at this great article 'Seoul Food' from Vegetarian Times:

vegetariantimes.com/magazine/view.asp?article=546

 

LINKS

Kim Chi's health benefits:
treelight.com/health/KimchiHealthy.html

Kimchi in Korea
lifeinkorea.com/culture/kimchi/kimchi.cfm

Kimchi in Korea again!
korea.net/koreanculture/kimchi/kimchi.html

retrokat.com - quite nice sites
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