Think of kimchi as a verb – The Denver Post

By Eric Kim, The New York Times

In 1904, Japanese military authorities arrested American novelist Jack London. Three times. He was covering the Russo-Japanese War for the San Francisco Examiner as a war correspondent in Korea and drew from his time overseas in a 1915 novel, “The Star Rover.”

“I know kimchi,” London writes, speaking through his characters. “Kimchi is a sort of sauerkraut made in a country that used to be called Cho-Sen. The women of Wosan make the best kimchi, and when kimchi is spoiled it stinks to heaven.”

This is one of America’s earliest written encounters with kimchi. London was right in the first regard: Kimchi is “a sort of sauerkraut,” a fermented dish that most often starts off with cabbage and salt.

As for the last comment, kimchi almost never spoils. Prepared correctly and with enough salt, it can ripen for months, even years, until it becomes mukeunji — kimchi that’s so concentrated in flavor that it burns the tongue and tastes wonderful when stewed.

Outside Korea, it took at least 100 more years for kimchi to go from so-called spoiled stink to it-girl pantry staple and poster child for gut health. Today, some would say that it’s not just a cornerstone of Korean cuisine; it is Korea itself.

Most people think of the red-hot, fermented cabbage dish as a singular noun. But I think of kimchi as a verb. And, as one of the few Korean food words to make its way into English dictionaries (along with gochujang, bulgogi and soju — “a pint of which would kill a weakling and make a strong man mad and merry,” as London writes), kimchi is an umbrella term for a much larger world of dishes you can find on any given Korean table.

Here’s the thing: You can kimchi just about anything. Napa cabbage is most traditional, but radishes, scallions and cucumbers are also popular. Nutty, grassy perilla leaves (part of the mint family) make for great kimchi, as do ramps, apples and even raw squid.

And here’s the other thing: When you want the flavors of kimchi but don’t want to wait for it to ferment, you could try a quicker alternative.

There are many ways to do this, but I like to combine vegetables with vinegar to achieve kimchilike results, which I think of as “quick kimchi.” Technically these are not kimchis but muchims, which can refer to any number of “seasoned” or “dressed” salads or other preparations.

Since these quick versions bypass fermentation, they use a master sauce that is all purpose and absolutely versatile, borrowing from pantry stalwarts like gochugaru (a Korean red-pepper powder that’s sweeter and fruitier than it is spicy); funky, savory fish sauce (you can swap this out for soy sauce if you’re vegetarian); and toasted sesame oil (for gosoham, which roughly means “nuttiness” in Korean — although there is no perfect translation).