A local take on a spicy Korean staple
by Elizabeth Folwell
Making sauerkraut can be tricky. I’ve spent hours playing the mandoline—the slicing kind, that is—shredding cabbage. Then I’ve added salt, stirred with a wooden spoon and set the stuff aside to ferment in a cool, dark place. Sometimes the result is a delicious, translucent condiment and other times it’s a stinking mess.
Kimchi is Korea’s answer to preserving cabbage long after the harvest is over, and Adirondack chefs and gardeners are using their own produce to create North Country versions. Making this pickle is less daunting than preparing sauerkraut, in part because you can adapt ingredients and seasonings to your own tastes. You can accomplish much of the fermentation in the refrigerator too.
Napa or Chinese cabbage is the backbone of the dish. It’s a good fall crop for us, maturing after cabbage loopers are gone. Daikon radish is another part of the whole, and varieties from High Mowings Organic Seeds, in Vermont, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, in Maine, are suited to Zone 4, making crisp, sweet foot-long roots in about 50 cool days. Scallions or fresh onions, popular with home gardeners, are important to flavor. Garlic, which flourishes here, is another kimchi essential.
I’ve seen recipes that substitute old-school red ball radishes for the daikon or add an apple or pear for sweetness. Some use round white or red cabbage. Many traditional versions require ﬁsh sauce, dried shrimp or rice powder. For a really clean, fresh taste you can skip all of those.
David Hunt, chef at Generations in Lake Placid, likes to take regional vegetables and fruits in new directions. Last fall he was featured chef at a farm- to-table dinner in Essex.
“The kimchi at Essex was created from all local ingredients … so it’s not traditional kimchi but Adirondack kimchi,” he explains. “I usually add some kind of spin to a classic dish. My recipe included bok choy from Fledging Crow, radishes and daikon from Juniper Hill, and wild ginseng. I added kosher salt and some white pepper and put it all in a ﬁve-gallon bucket closed tightly for about a week. We opened it daily and tasted along the way. Once we reached the fermented stage that tasted right, we refrigerated and served it chilled. It’s really refreshing after a day in the ﬁelds or kitchen.”
I’ve timidly tinkered with quick, less pungent kimchi that worked its magic in the icebox, and a friend from Chestertown shared his time-tested recipe with me. He adapted his from a friend in Stony Creek, so what follows has crisscrossed the park from many kitchens to yours.
Yield: 2–3 quarts
Mix ½ cup pickling or kosher salt with 1 gallon springwater.
5 pounds Napa cabbage, heads quartered and chopped into 1- to 2-inch rectangles
1 pound daikon, grated or slivered
4–5 whole scallions, chopped
Soak 12 hours or overnight in a large crock at room temperature.
Drain and add:
¾ cup grated ginger (or less)
¼ cup diced garlic (or less)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 or less tablespoons hot red pepper powder
Mix well, then pack in quart Ball jars. Cover loosely, making sure liquid is above vegetables. Put in a dark place at room temperature for a week or so; the liquid will bubble as fermentation proceeds. Tighten lids and refrigerate. This will keep several months at 38º.