Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Homemade Kimchi Part 1 - Soaking the Cabbage

Kimchi - made by me!

While I was in Seoul I took a short cooking class where we made kimchi and bulgogi. The instructor, Ellie, had lived in Australia for a few years so we had a great time chatting about that and about my experiences in Japan. She had the cutest Australian Italian accent, picked up while waitressing at an Italian restaurant in Perth. When they found out I spoke some Japanese, the instructor who takes the Japanese classes came over to chat too and some very fun and confusing bilingual conversations ensued - 3 people, three languages, but not one in common for all of us.

As with tsukemono in Japan, more and more time-poor Koreans are picking up their kimchi at the market, even if they do take it home to a special kimchi fridge. Yet although it requires a little advance planning, making kimchi isn't a particularly labor intensive process. The cabbage and the red sauce we used in the class had been pre-soaked by the last students, and we prepared both of them for the next group. The actual preparation time for all the soaking and putting together the kimchi was less than an hour, but with soaking time and aging you need to allow at least 5 days from start to plate*.

Putting together a recipe from my class notes and the rough translation of the Korean recipe Ellie gave me is proving quite a process, so I'll give it to you in three parts: brining the cabbage, preparing the red sauce, and combining them and storing your finished kimchi.

Recipe: Simple Kimchi Part 1 - Soaking the Cabbage

You will need

1kg Chinese cabbage (aka hakusai, looks like this)
300 grams salt
6 cups water

  • Discard any brown or wilted outer leaves and cut the cabbages into quarters.
  • Sprinkle salt between the leaves, adding plenty towards the root end.
  • Make a brine from 6 cups of water and 1 cup of salt and soak the cabbage sections in the brine. (You may need to place a weight on top of the cabbages to make sure they remain submerged).
  • Let it stand for around 6 hours (in summer) or overnight (in winter), turning the cabbages over several times for even salting.
  • When the cabbages are well-salted and a bit limp, rinse thoroughly in cold water and drain on a rack for 2 hours.
From what I can gather, the longer brining time for winter kimchi is designed to give it a longer shelf life over the months when fresh food is scarce. It may also have something to do with the temperature and quality of the vegetables at different times of year. However, if you're just making one batch to store in the fridge I think you can safely go with the snap rule. The root end of a fresh cabbage leaf will snap quite easily if you fold it over but after soaking the cabbage will become more rubbery, and you should be able to fold it over most of the way without breaking it. Give it a go and if your leaves are still brittle soak for a little longer.

Next Time - Making the Red Sauce

Friday, 22 June 2007

Eating in Discomfort

I've done something strange to my back and haven't been able to sit down for very long at a time but I'm working on a few things in short bursts, so check back later this weekend for gyudon and kimchi recipes and other assorted ramblings. Hope you're all having a good Friday.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Gyūdon - 牛丼


Gyūdon, literally 'beef bowl', is fast food Japanese-style. Salty and cheap, a fresh bowl of rice topped with saucy beef and onions will set you back 299yen (399yen for the large size) on a counter stool at one of the many chain eateries to be found near any train station. It's not quite as bad for you as a Mega Mac, but just like its friends at McDonalds you can make a much healthier version at home by using better quality meat, swapping white for wholegrain, cutting back on the oil and adding some vegetables.

I've tried a few different recipes over the years, some with added ginger, sugar, sake or white wine, but this bare bones recipe is what I usually use. If you want to add vegetables stir fry them at the beginning, remove, cook the beef and then add the veggies again right at the end to warm through. They get a bit dark and salty otherwise. Mushrooms or capsicums are really nice with this, as is a side salad with sesame dressing.

Recipe: Gyūdon - 牛丼
Serves 2

100grams super thin sliced beef strips
1 medium onion, cut into half moon slices
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup water
dash of sesame oil
rice to serve
pickled ginger (optional)
  • Saute the onions in the sesame oil over medium heat.

  • Add the beef, stir it around and add the soy sauce, mirin and water.

  • Cover with a drop lid or piece of silver foil, then go and do something else for 10 minutes.

  • Spoon the beef and onions over a bowl of warm rice with a little of the juice, adding some pickled ginger on the side if you like it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Supermarket Discoveries

Somen-style Tofu

Check this out - somen noodle style tofu! How did I miss this last summer? Just drain, sprinkle with mentsuyu (noodle sauce) and chopped spring onions and you've got a tasty, healthy, high protein snack that's cool and refreshing.

I'm trying to use up some bottled sauce but if you had some extra time on your hands, you could try making Maki's mentsuyu recipe.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Easy Okonomiyaki - お好み焼き


The American exchange student at my school went home this week. For his farewell party he wanted okonomiyaki, but we arrived at the chosen restaurant only to discover it had gone out of business mere weeks earlier. We had a great tempura meal instead, but I felt bad that he'd been cheated out of that one last taste. As he was somewhere in the skies between Tokyo and New York last night, I made a basic Osaka style okonomiyaki for dinner and wished him luck. (It was delicious Dillon. Sorry!)

Recipe: Okonomiyaki - お好み焼き
Makes 2 meal-sized pancakes.

1 cup flour*
1 egg
3/4 cup dashi
1/4 cabbage
1 carrot
1 bunch spring onions
sakura ebi (tiny dried shrimp)
any other vegetables or meat you like
(I used some mushrooms and chikuwa I had lying around)

For the topping:
okonomiyaki sauce (buy or make it)
bonito flakes (katsuo)
nori flakes (aonori)

  • In a bowl beat the egg well, then add the flour and dashi. Mix together until you have a thin batter.

  • Finely shred the cabbage, avoiding the hard white stem, and grate the carrot. Finely chop the spring onions.

  • Mix into the batter along with a small handful of sakura ebi.

  • Add any other fillings, chopped finely **, and stir.

  • Heat a splash of oil in a non-stick or well seasoned pan, then add half the mixture, flattening and shaping into a pancake.


  • Cook until underside is brown, then carefully flip and continue to cook until the other side is done and the edges are no longer runny.

  • Serve slathered with okonomiyaki sauce, drizzled with a little mayo and sprinkled with bonito and nori flakes.


Popular additions to okomiyaki include pork, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, kimchi, mochi, prawns, squid, octopus, natto, corn, beef, clams, balls of tempura batter, pickled ginger, ham and potatoes.

* If you're up for it, swap out some of the flour for grated yam. It gives the pancake a great sticky, starchy texture.

** If you add raw meat it can be tricky to make sure chunks inside the pancake have cooked through. One way around this is to give the meat a head start on the grill, then pour the rest of the batter on top of it. Otherwise, use very thin pieces and check carefully.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Kimchi - Serious Business

"Did you know Korean people are rarely constipated?"

Japanese people may talk about how essential rice is to their daily happiness, but they've got NOTHING on the Korean love of kimchi. I couldn't venture outside the hostel without some well meaning person letting me know about its health benefits, such as the high concentration of lacto bacillic acid that keeps your digestive tracts clean and clear (see above). I even heard it credited with helping Korea avoid the SARS epidemic, though I'm reserving my judgement on that one.

One thing is certain - Koreans are more devoted to this one food item than I could ever be to one of my edible loves, even ice cream. I learnt that most Korean people eat kimchi at breakfast, lunch and dinner and most Korean households have a special kimchi fridge, perfect for keeping kimchi at its optimum temperature without spoiling other foods.

Kimchi is served as a side dish with almost every restaurant meal, and there are kimchi burgers, kimchi pizzas, kimchi hotdogs and all sorts of other fusion versions.

Of course, it makes sense that Seoul would have its own Kimchi Museum.

Kimchi Feild Museum
B2, COEX Mall, 159 Sameong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Adults 3,000won Students 2,000won

Hidden in the basement of a bustling mall that looks exactly like its Australian counterparts, the kimchi museum includes models of 80 different kinds of kimchi...

Kimchi Museum

...cute cartoons depicting the fermentation process...
Kimchi Museum

"Lactobacilli in kimchi create vitamin Bs during the fermentation of kimchi"

Kimchi Museum

"Kimchi has four times as much lactobacilli as other lactic acid drink yogurt"

... a tasting room, interactive video demonstrations of the cooking process, a microscope to examine the kimchi bacteria and a whole lot more that you never knew (or perhaps wanted to know) about kimchi.

I love these sorts of random, quirky museums and exhibitions, so I also popped into the Tteok Museum. As Sue had reported it wasn't up to much, but the cafe downstairs was lovely. Sunny, cool and calm, with display cases full of exquisite tteok rice cakes to choose from. I now wish I'd tried the ones that looked like a slice of regular cake, but I went for this delicate little apple blossom confection...

Apple Blossom tteok

Since I was just passing by on the way to my cooking class, I didn't mind too much that the museum didn't have a lot going on. The models showing special occasion foods and the evolution of certain dishes from past to present was interesting, and I dug these English translations of 15 Korean proverbs concerning rice cakes such as:

"Worshipping one's forefather with other's tteok" (Robbing Peter to pay Paul?) and

"By getting a little piece of tteok from one person after another you can gather a large a unexpected amount" (Many pennies make a pound?)

What proverbs and sayings do we have about cake in English? We all know that "you can't have your cake and eat it too" and something that's easy is a "cake walk" or "easy as pie", but there has to be more than that. Comment if you can think of one!