I’ve been thinking about this post for quite a while because I have been trying to figure out a way to articulate my relationship with kimchi. So let me ask you this, do you have a food that you kinda love but it kind of makes you cringe at the same time? Not a food that you want to love but sort of hate…like let’s say beets, for some (not for me–I love ’em), but a food that you crave, that you scheme ways to incorporate into your diet, but that makes you take baby bites? When I was first introduced to sushi, the pickled ginger that accompanied it possessed this love/cringe element. I thought it tasted like dishwasher detergent yet I would ask for “extra ginger on the side, please.” And today, this is my obsession with kimchi.
For the uninitiated, kimchi is Korea’s national dish and while there are hundreds of versions, it is generally made by fermenting a vegetable, such as Napa cabbage, radish, scallion or cucumber, along with a variety of seasonings. These days you can find it in the refrigerated section of any Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and even most supermarkets.
I recently read that kimchi is a new “It Food” for 2013. You know, just like wedge sneakers on the Spring runways. It makes sense, as kimchi is a vegetable and vegetables are totally hot. Kimchi is from Korea and Korean food/restaurants are currently pushing aside Chinese take-out, just as Vietnamese and Thai have done before. And finally, kimchi is fermented and it seems as though we Americans are just learning what our Babylonian brethren knew way back in 3000 BC–fermentation is good for our health. Fermented foods improve digestion, are rich in enzymes and are a source of good bacteria. Conditions such as, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, constipation, yeast infections, allergies, and asthma have all been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.
But what struck a chord in my search for the illusive kimchi descriptor, was when I heard it characterized as “sour” (which is “the new salty,” by the way). That’s it! It’s so basic, one of the four taste sensations (not including umami, but I feel a whole other blog post on this subject…), and I didn’t think of it. Kimchi is sour and that is what makes me cringe, or maybe pucker, while savoring the flavor at the same time.
These days, you’ll always find a jar of kimchi in my refrigerator. I will pull it out whenever I serve a stir fry and if my husband is playing hockey and I’m eating alone, I’ll sometimes have just a bowl of brown rice and kimchi for dinner. But hands down, my favorite way to enjoy this fermented wonder is in a dish that I now officially crave…Kimchi Quesadillas. I first saw this recipe, late night on the Food Network or maybe it was the Cooking Channel. Kimchi Quesadillas are the dream child of Chef Roy Choi at his Kogi BBQ Truck in Los Angeles. In my opinion, they are weird, brilliant and highly addictive. I have yet to serve them to anyone other than Gary (husband/guinea pig) but if you have an adventurous friend or two stopping by for happy hour, these will certainly be a conversation starter and I guarantee no wedge will go uneaten. Enjoy!
- 1/2 Tbls unsalted butter
- 1 cup of kimchi
- 2 flour tortillas
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 Tbls toasted sesame seeds
- Go-Chu-Jang* Korean Sweet & Spicy Sauce, for serving (I use Annie Chun's which can be found at Whole Food's)
- Melt butter in a medium size skillet and add kimchi.
- Saute until the kimchi is a bit dried and browned. Set aside.
- Preheat a cast iron skillet (or wipe out pan and preheat that).
- Meanwhile, spread shredded cheese on one tortilla. Top with cilantro leaves and sesame seeds. Spread kimchi across the surface and cover with the second tortilla.
- Place assembled quesadilla on preheated pan and cook until cheese is melting and the tortilla is golden. Flip and cook until second side is golden.
- Transfer to a cutting board. Allow to cool for a minute and then cut into wedges.
- Serve with the Go-Chu-Jang sauce.
- *There are recipes for Go-Chu-Jang, it seems to be a pretty standard Korean Sauce, and I whipped up a close approximation of my own the first time I made these quesadillas. Now that the kimchi quesadilla has become such a weeknight staple, I keep a bottle of Annie Chun's on hand because it's quick, easy and delicious. And as the bottle says, "Goes with Everything" which I have found to be entirely true.