Introduction: Cajun Kimchi
Kimchi is the national dish of South Korea. Spicy, sour, and fizzy, it's typically made from fermented Napa cabbage covered in a spicy red pepper sauce. While it's definitely an acquired taste for the uninitiated, Koreans eat this food at pretty much every meal. It also serves as the base for other common dishes such as kimchi stew. There are literally hundreds of different kimchi recipes out there, but kimchis also commonly include carrots, daikon radish, and dried anchovies or shrimp. (I've been told that the best kimchi is co-fermented with a K-pop superstar fresh after plastic surgery.) I totally hated kimchi the first time I tried it, but now I can't get enough of it -- my mouth waters just at the smell of it.
A couple of months ago, while eating kimchi with my lunch at the Big Table in the Instructables office, the phrase "Cajun kimchi" somehow evolved out of the lunchtime conversation, and I got to thinking about Cajun-Korean fusion. I'm from a small Southern city that's loosely in the orbit of Cajun country, and I grew up eating Cajun classics such as gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and even went to the occasional crawfish boil. While Cajun and Korean cuisine are in many ways incredibly different, they both share an emphasis on seafood and an intense spiciness that I thought might make them go really well together.
I recently teamed up with my friend Cindy from New Orleans to make Cajun kimchi a reality! We followed along this kimchi recipe and added in our own seasonings and vegetables. And it turned out delicious :D A big thanks to Cindy for helping out!
From start to finish, this took us about 3-4 hours to do.
Step 1: Ingredients
(Onions, bell peppers, and celery are known as the "holy trinity" of vegetables in Cajun cooking -- they're used very frequently together.)
Korean red pepper flakes (gojugaro)
Tony Cachere's Creole Seasoning (aka Tony's)
Fish sauce (not shown)
Salt (not shown)
Rice flour (not shown)
Sugar (not shown)
Sealable, air-tight container(s)
Step 2: Prepare the Cabbage
The cabbage needs to be, in this order, chopped, soaked, and salted. Cut the cabbage into four quarters, cutting along the length of the cabbage rather than across. Cut the quarters into bite-sized pieces, cutting across the cabbage this time. Place all the cabbage into a bowl and then briefly soak it. Drain the water and then pour salt over the chopped cabbage. Mix well with your hands to ensure that all the cabbage has salt on it. Let the cabbage salt for 1.5 hours total -- every 30 minutes, give the cabbage a stir with your hands to again make sure that everything is being salted. Water should be accumulating at the bottom of the pot as the salt draws the water out of the cabbage.
While the cabbage is salting, it's time to prepare the other ingredients!
Step 3: Chop the Vegetables
The basic rule of thumb here is that you're going to want to everything to be in bite-sized pieces. Cut the onions into strips. Julienne (i.e., cut into thin strands -- thinner than what's in the photos ;) ) the carrots and daikon radish. Chop the jalapenos, bell peppers, celery, scallions, and ginger into small pieces in a way that makes geometric sense to you. Mince the garlic.
Step 4: Make the Sauce: Porridge
To make the sauce, we'll first want to make a porridge to act as a flavor carrier fluid. We'll then add the spices and the garlic into the porridge.
I'm going to use numbers here, but only to give you an idea of the ratio we used -- don't take them literally. You'll want to scale accordingly. Add 1/3 cup of rice flour into a pot, and then add 2 cups of water. Heat the mixture until the porridge gets thick and starts to boil. Add ~1/6 cup of sugar and keep stirring until the color of the porridge clarifies. (The change in color will not be dramatic.) Turn off the heat and then allow the porridge to cool to a warm to lukewarm temperature.
Step 5: Make the Sauce: Mix Together the Spices and Porridge
The spices used are definitely the most interesting part of the whole dish. I'll use numbers again to give a sense of the ratio. This part is best done with a food processor or a blender. Add the cooled-down porridge into the food processor, and then throw in the garlic, about 1/6 cup of fish sauce, 1/3 cup of Tony's, 1/6 cup of red pepper flakes, and a whole bottle of tabasco sauce. (We used a 2 fl. oz./60 mL bottle, not the big one shown in the photo.) Blend it until the mixture is smooth. Taste-test the mixture to see if you like it so that you can adjust it before you move on.
Step 6: Mix the Vegetables and Sauce Together
Put all of the vegetables you chopped into a big bowl, and then add the dried shrimp. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and then stir until all the vegetables are coated in the sauce.
Step 7: Wash the Cabbage
If you're quick, only 1.5 hours has passed! The cabbage should now be done salting and should have lost a significant amount of water. Wash it in cold water to get the excess salt off the surface of the cabbage.
Step 8: Mixing the Vegetables/sauce With the Cabbage
In a big bowl, mix everything together until the cabbage, vegetables, and sauce are all evenly distributed.
Step 9: Bottle and Ferment
Place your fresh Cajun kimchi into a container and seal it tightly. You can either leave it out at room temperature or refrigerate it immediately -- it depends on how sour you want the kimchi to be. If you decide to ferment at room temperature, allow the kimchi to ferment for up to 1-5 days -- the longer you let it ferment, the more sour it will become. Once you've let it ferment to your taste, put it in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation and keep it fresh for longer.
Step 10: Serve!
If all goes well, you should now have delicious Cajun kimchi! Enjoy! Comments on the recipe are much appreciated :-)