One of my best friends in middle school was Korean, and I remember fondly much of our time spent together after school. We would take the school bus to her house, and there was always perfectly cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker, sheets of seaweed to wrap it in, and delicious homemade kimchi. At the time, I wasn’t even a fan of standard pickles, and kimchi, with its fermented odor and strangely bright red, nearly unrecognizable vegetables, seemed quite intimidating when my friend first offered it to me. But I knew it was rude to refuse, so I tried it. And somehow I was quickly taken in by the bold flavors, a mix of sour, spicy, and even a little sweet that made plain rice into a treat.
I’ve eaten a lot of kimchi since then, and these days, it’s hard for me to resist, whether it’s a side to Korean barbecue, flavoring ramen, or in an omelet. I tried my hand at making my own before, but the flavor wasn’t quite right. Now that I’m in Buenos Aires, where there seems to be a dearth of good Asian food (and certainly a dearth of spicy food), I figured it was worth another shot. I compared several recipes and techniques and tried to keep things simple but authentic with my take. The only specialty ingredients here are the Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) (which I actually carted along with me from the U.S.) and fish sauce; both shouldn’t be hard to find in an Asian market (and the gochugaru can be replaced, if necessary). As I was chopping the cabbage (feeling pleasantly surprised at having been able to find Napa cabbage at my neighborhood verduleria), I started to worry that this would make too much kimchi. And even after it reduced dramatically from the initial salting, I was still concerned. But as I packed the ready-to-ferment kimchi into its large jar, I tasted a piece, and suddenly I wondered if maybe I hadn’t made enough. The fermentation only adds more complexity and the characteristic tang to the kimchi (oh, and some great health benefits, too), and I can easily say now that I’m quite happy with this recipe. I’ve been snacking on it plain, drizzled with a little sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and loving it.