Monthly Archives: August 2009

KCCEB’s kimchi making class/series: kimchi, de-mystified.

montage of kimchi-making class

(pictures from our kimchi making class, from left to right…top row: quartered napa cabbage, and brined, quartered napa cabbage ready for pogi kimchi assembly…red hot pepper…shrimp and anchovy sauce for kimchi.  middle row: brined quartered napa cabbage…pogi kimchi filling…pogi kimchi filling.  bottom row: pogi kimchi assembly…pogi kimchi assembly line….bottled pogi kimchi ready to ferment!)

My mom would, upon sitting down at a Korean restaurant, immediately gravitate towards the kimchi. “You can tell if they cook well by how their kimchi tastes,” meaning that if their kimchi sucked, their food wasn’t going to be good. Inevitably, that was true.

Despite the fact that my mom makes miserable Western food (e.g., raw celery in barely simmered tomatoes making for what she unveiled as “spaghetti sauce”), she is a terrific Korean cook. Even when I look up a Korean recipe in a cookbook, I will adapt the recipe inevitably, to match the tastes of my mom’s cooking.  Her food is my gold standard for Korean food.

You’ll hear “my mom’s kimchi is the best” echoed all around the community: people get really picky/emotional about their favorite kimchi (we Koreans have deep emotional ties to our favorite kimchi–a certain balance of tang, heat, salt, and sweet can feel like a mother’s embrace in childhood, and if your mother has long passed on, that very taste can bring her back to you even for that one split second), and I’ve found that there is never one exact standard recipe for kimchi…only guidelines. These guidelines exist because the size of the ingredients (cabbage, radish, cucumber, what have you) are inexact, and because people hold on very dearly to their family’s secret kimchi recipes.

There are “secret ingredients” ranging from salted shrimp to a rice flour paste to anchovies to oysters…but they exist. Yes, kimchi often contains shellfish: my orthodox rabbi once reassured me, “kimchi is kosher.” Whoops. At the time, I didn’t realize kimchi contained shellfish. Whoops.

So anyway, this is all to say that despite my knowing how to cook various Korean dishes, and despite all my years of cooking…I don’t know how to make a decent kimchi.  And until I can make a good kimchi, I’ll never consider myself a good Korean cook.  Because I believe my mom’s measure of a Korean cook.

So when a friend of mine forwarded me an email about the Korean Community Center of the East Bay’s kimchi making class, asking me if I was interested…I immediately said yes. (well to be exact: YES!)

It’s a grassroots organized class, held in a private home, taught by a volunteer. You pay $50 for a 3 hour class.  But in return you get to learn how to make kimchi, get some hands on experience with kimchi making, you get a free lunch…annnnd you get to take home a small container of kimchi made in that very class.

You don’t have to speak Korean to take the class, because it is conducted in English, but you may want some familiarity with Korean food ingredients because ingredient names are thrown about very casually: the class today was comprised of all Korean American women, all of us who, for one reason or another, never learned to make kimchi, but had grown up eating the stuff and oftentimes watching our moms make the stuff.

Even if you don’t have that intrinsic experience, you’ll still be okay.

It was tremendous fun to be shown how to make kimchi (today we made “pogi kimchi,” a kimchi that involves pickling entire quartered portions of napa cabbage, one of the more challenging kimchi to make…but it wasn’t overly challenging at all). It was a tremendous relief to have kimchi de-mystified.

The next KCCEB Kimchi-Making Class will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2009…from 11am-2pm.  Cost is again $50, and the venue TBD.   Cost includes ingredients for kimchi and…lunch (this is a very good deal).  If you’re interested, you can leave a comment here…or contact annrmenzie AT kcceb DOT org  (remember the “r” in ann r menzie’s email address).  The class FILLS UP FAST (within a day or two–and this class was announced earlier this week), so don’t delay, if you’re interested.

The next class will tackle a different kind of kimchi, and I’m probably going to attend (every kimchi is different).  I look forward to seeing you there!