AUSTIN, Texas — Abigail Lunde, whose mother is from South Korea, didn’t really like kimchi growing up.
“My mom would put a little bowl of water next to my plate and wash it off for me,” says Abigail Lunde, now 28, of the fermented side dish that almost every Korean (well, 95 percent, according to a recent survey) eats at least once a day.
“My mom wanted me to be Americanized,” Lunde says. “We would go back (to South Korea) every few years to visit, but I didn’t understand the culture. I don’t speak much Korean. The first Korean I learned to speak was ‘I don’t want any more, I’m full.’” Any time she’d cook with her grandmother, either her mom would have to translate or they’d communicate by pointing and repeating words that neither totally understood.
It wasn’t until Lunde was in college and bartending and working at sushi restaurants in Springfield, Mo., most of which are owned by Korean families, that she really started to appreciate the culture.
Lunde started asking her mom to teach her how to make the kimchi that she’d started to crave.
When she met her husband, Duane, a Dallasite of Native American descent who dislikes all things sour and fermented, he hated kimchi, too, but after trying freshly made kimchi from his wife’s family recipe on ramen noodles and rice, he was hooked.
Little did they know that within a few years, their world would revolve around two things: a baby girl named Ellie and a kimchi company that she inspired.
Fermented foods define cultures, but they also help connect them.
In Japan, they ferment rice and soybeans; in America, it’s hops, wheat, grapes or dairy. The smell of a cheese that is beloved in France might be enough to make someone from a neighboring country lose their lunch.
But pause before calling kimchi the Korean sauerkraut.
“It’s a good segue for us, but they are not the same thing,” says Duane Lunde. “Kimchi isn’t supposed to be like sauerkraut.” It’s not just the red pepper, garlic and ginger that set kimchi apart from sauerkraut. For one, historians think that people in China were first preserving cabbage in wine and that Genghis Khan probably brought the concept to Europeans about 1,000 years ago.
Unlike traditional sauerkraut, you don’t have to let kimchi ferment very long for the flavors to start to come together, and some people prefer it freshly made.
But the biggest difference might just be that kimchi can be made with just about any vegetable, including leafy greens, such as kale; root vegetables including turnips; and vegetables that are actually fruits, such as cucumbers and jalapenos.
“You make it with what you have,” Abigail Lunde says, which reflects the time periods in Korean history, including many years that her grandmother lived through, of not having enough.
Every family has its own technique and recipe. Some still bury the kimchi in pots to let it ferment, while others simply keep it in a refrigerator specifically designed for storing kimchi at the optimum temperature.
Abigail Lunde says she’d grown so used to the way her family made kimchi that the commercially made kind with MSG, which is just about all you can find in Austin, wasn’t going to cut it.
She was making her own kimchi at home, but the idea to start a kimchi business didn’t come until after they’d been working at area farmers markets with Johnson’s Backyard Garden, a large organic farm east of Austin. After Ellie was born in 2013, they launched Oh Kimchi and rapidly grew the business to 10 farmers markets in three months.
Educating people about the versatility and variety of kimchi is one of the Lundes’ top priorities.
“People think it has to be super smelly to be kimchi, but it doesn’t have to be stinky or spicy,” Duane Lunde says. There’s even a whole category of white (or “mool” or “mul”) kimchis that don’t have any red paste, which the Lundes recently started making. “It’s kimchi for people who hate kimchi,” he says.
But one thing that almost all kimchis have in common is a high level of good-for-you probiotics, which boost your immune system and aid digestion. Some super fresh kimchi with a lot of lactic acid will even bubble as if it were carbonated when you first open the jar, and Duane Lunde says you don’t have to let the kimchi ferment for long to get those healthy bacteria growing.
BASIC HOMEMADE KIMCHI
1 small head napa cabbage, about 1 pound
1 daikon radish
1 bunch green onions (or garlic chives if you can find them)
4 to 6 tablespoons pickling or Kosher salt
4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 cup ground red pepper flakes (either the traditional gochugaru or chiles de arbol)
Cut the cabbage in half cross-wise to separate the leafiest tops from the bottom. Cut the base from the cabbage bottom and separate all the leaves. Rinse everything in cool water and set in a colander to drain.
Peel the daikon and carrots and cut into julienne pieces, about 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch and 2 to 3 inches long. Cut the onions into 1-inch lengths In a large bowl, toss the carrots and daikon with about a tablespoon of salt, or enough to coat them well.
Cut the stem-ends of the cabbage leaves into 1-inch-wide slices. Toss them with 2-3 tablespoons of salt, or enough to coat them well, and put them on top of the carrots.
Toss the leafy tops and the green onions with another tablespoon or so of salt until coated and lay them on top.
Weigh everything down with a plate and leave it on the counter for 4-6 hours.
Stir the vegetables well, and then start packing the mixture into a very large glass jar (or multiple smaller jars). As you place the vegetables in the jar, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of ground red pepper (or less if you want it less spicy) and minced garlic and ginger over each layer.
Repeat this layering, and as you go, use a wooden spoon to pack down the mixture. Once it’s all in, sprinkle another tablespoon or so of salt all over the top and put the lid on tight.
Leave it on the counter for 24 hours, giving it a shake whenever you walk by. After 24 hours it will have shrunk considerably and there will be almost enough liquid in the jar to cover the vegetables. Use your wooden spoon again to press the vegetables down into the liquid. Store in the refrigerator, and it will keep for several months. KIMCHI FRITTATA
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped napa kimchi, divided
6 eggs, whisked
1/2 teaspoon salt (or salt-brine shrimp)
Nori flakes and toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour sesame oil in a pie pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Place half the kimchi on top of the oil and pour the whisked eggs on top. Top with remaining kimchi.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the center of the frittata has set. Top with nori flakes and sesame seeds. Serves two to three. KIMCHI FRIED RICE
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
Pinch of coarse salt
2 cups sour kimchi, coarsely chopped, plus 1/4 cup kimchi juice
4 cups day-old cooked rice, at room temperature
Heat the sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and salt. Cook, stirring now and then, until beginning to soften and brown, about 3 minutes. Add the kimchi and cook for 1 minute to combine nicely with the onion. Add the rice and stir thoroughly to combine. Cook until the rice is warmed through and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4. QUICK CUCUMBER AND CHIVE KIMCHI
8 Kirby, 10 Persian or 2 large Japanese or English cucumbers, unpeeled
2 tablespoons kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal)
2 tablespoons Korean chili pepper flakes (gochugaru)
2 teaspoons anchovy sauce (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup Korean or regular chives, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons thinly sliced onion
Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, then cut them into 1/8-inch thin diagonal slices. In a medium bowl, mix the cucumbers with the salt until well combined. Set aside for 5 to 7 minutes until cucumbers sweat and glisten. They will lose some firmness but should still have a little crunch, as you don’t want them to be too soft.
Place the cucumbers in a colander and rinse, then pat them dry. In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers with the chili pepper flakes, anchovy sauce, and sugar and allow to combine for 10 minutes. Add the chives and onion and toss to combine. Eat immediately, or refrigerate and consume within 2 to 3 days. Makes 5 cups.Source: From Hilah Johnson of Hilah Cooking (hilahcooking.com/how-to-make-kimchi) Source: Adapted from a recipe by Abigail Lunde Source: “The Kimchi Chronicles: Korean Cooking for an American Kitchen” (Rodale, $32.50) by Marja Vongerichten Source: “The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi” (Ten Speed Press, $19.99) by Lauryn Chun and Olga Massov