Kimchi, America’s Favorite Side Dish

Kimchi is a spicy, fermented cabbage side dish that I became acquainted with during my time in Korea and has remained a part of my diet ever since. There are a quite a few varieties of Kimchi. The types of kimchi were created as a practical matter in the time before effective refrigeration and food storage and is based partly on the availability of seasonal vegetables and the weather. Kimchi is a popular and traditional side dish in Asia but for those outside of that region it can be, like the rapper who pretends to ride a horse, an acquired taste.

Relax. You don’t have to be a “foodie” to enjoy kimchi. It isn’t some odd, esoteric concoction that you eat only because it is hip, unique or have to endure once or twice because everyone is talking about it. One of the worst things to happen to kimchi was it being “discovered” by yuppies in America during the late 1980s. The costs of the ingredients skyrocketed, quality suffered and making it from scratch became more of a luxury than a must have condiment in our refrigerator. A few years ago crop failures of the main ingredient caused a crisis that required the Korean Government to take action.

Glass jars are best for storage in refrigerator

Like many foods foreign to the American experience there are a lot of unsubstantiated, unscientific claims attributed to eating kimchi. These are mostly cultural in origin, perpetuated today as selling points and continuing traditions. Plenty of  the restaurants not owned by large chains commonly have signs posted declaring the unrealistic and miraculous health benefits of various dishes. Disappointingly, this is endemic among much of the advertising for consumer products also. Online you can find even more information claiming all sorts of woo-woo magical powers attributed to all sorts of foods so don’t get excited. Cabbage and red pepper are not parts of the formula for the ancient Asian mystic secret of good health, virility and long life. It does not “clean the blood”, “revitalize the spirits”, “strengthen the kidneys” or anything else beyond the basic nutritional value of the ingredients which are not insubstantial. As example of the questionable common knowledge attributed to some foods: An ingredient used for more than a century as a flavoring in drinks touted as a natural health miracle with wondrous properties eventually was discovered to be a very  powerful natural carcinogen. The deleterious effects where ignored or unknown for years because of the power of superstition, folk remedies and the criminal carelessness of homeopathy. Only trust peer reviewed science, kids. 

The Wall of Kimchi at a local market. One of them.

There can be a lot of salt found in the recipe for kimchi. If you have special dietary needs make sure you never trust the hip, word-of-mouth promotion or self-serving public relations and hard sell of any food stuffs. Do some research, read up and be informed. While I can’t grant any special health properties to kimchi I’ve eaten it when congested. From anecdotal experience, the spiciness make me feel better, drains and opens up the sinuses. But so will chomping on a jalapeno,  gnawing on a lozenge or rubbing Mentholatum grease on my chest. Nothing magic there, just the body’s normal and natural responses.

If you have wanted to try kimchi or Korean food then as a start I suggest visiting the Korean restaurants in your city. The All-You-Can-Eat BBQ is enjoying increasingly popularity but that may be over-whelming for the uninitiated. You can cook Korean meals yourself but if unfamiliar with the style rather than going through a trial and error stage find out what the authentic dish tastes like first. As a way of easing into a world of foreign cuisine try the lunch menus during the day at Korean restaurants. They are simpler, priced reasonably and you won’t have to deal with the crowds, wait time and hassle of the evening dinner rush and cooking the meal yourself at the table, though that can be a fun experience.

Most places serve a large spread of side dishes with even the smallest lunch menu item so don’t be surprised by the amounts you receive. If you don’t like wasting food get a to-go tray when done (if the establishment supports that, some don’t because of people that take a yard when given an inch). One of those side dishes will usually contain at least one variety of kimchi. Keep in mind that a lot of these dishes are not created from frozen, processed food that is microwaved and slapped on a plate following some corporate franchise photo-template of what a perfect and homogenized dish will look like. Quality of supplies change daily as expected with fresh items so don’t be discouraged if something isn’t up to your expectations or doesn’t look like you think it should from your experiences in the freezer aisle of the local market. Asian meals have a lot of vegetables in them but eating an authentically prepared dish will very much remind you that meat is made from animals.

Babimbap and side dishes

If you want kimchi regularly at home there are a lot of good cook books available and even recipes for it online. You can eat it as is out of the jar or use it in cooking. Heck, make up your own ideas. Browse a market that carries a variety and decide what size and type of kimchi you want. Many Asian and American markets sell kimchi but it is a Korean specialty so try Korean markets first. I prefer the cabbage that is pre-cut in the jar because it is more convenient to use and less messy. I also enjoy the large radish kimchi. The type you get is based on what you are going to use it for. FYI, when cooked kimchi often gets spicier, via reduction.

Most modern American grocery stores keep a brand or two of small jars of kimchi in the cold aisle, usually by the tofu. These brands are okay but not what I prefer. I personally find the most typical brand found in a regular grocery store to be pale, watery, lacking in heat and tasting strongly of salt and vinegar. A trip to a Korean or Asian market is your best bet for quality kimchi. Just compare the rich colors of the kimchi made for a knowledgeable and particular customer base and the kind you find in a American chain grocery. You can easily see the difference. Unlike many food products in this instance the color is an indicator of manufacture and quality. I also appreciate kimchi in a glass jar over plastic for storage purposes.

 


Kimchi prep at home:
You’ve bought a jar of kimchi, now what do you do? Like most people you are probably just going to put in the refrigerator to keep it cold. Sure, you want to do that, eventually. But first you might want to prepare your kimchi by letting it ferment a while before putting it away. Don’t worry, it’s easy to do though this will be a process that should take overnight. You can eat the kimchi right away after you buy it but letting the contents ferment a bit will improve even the taste of the grocery store brands. I recommend tasting some for a before and after comparison.

Leaving food out overnight is something you have to decide for yourself if you want to do. My wife is a native Korean and we have both prepped kimchi this way for nearly 25 years without ill effects. Some of the ingredients are stored for months without turning. This is how she learned to prepare it growing up in Korea. She is from a generation that still makes almost everything from scratch. Again, up to you.

  1. Before retiring for the day place your kimchi jar in a plastic bag and place it in a sink. If your sink is the type that stains then you will want to ensure any liquids (a brine which will be red in color) go directly into the drain.  
  2. Loosen lid. Loosely tie up bag. Kimchi is very aromatic so be prepared for that to permeate the area.
  3. Leave in sink overnight.
  4. In the morning you may notice bubbles in the jar and swelling of the contents. Some juice will probably have overflowed. This is from the contents fermenting. Tip a bit of the juice out.
  5. Tighten lid firmly.
  6. Rinse exterior of jar thoroughly and dry off.  
  7. Put in refrigerator (I suggest on a paper towel or plate to catch any future drips).

If you sampled the kimchi yesterday when you got home do it again today. You should definitely notice a difference in taste and texture. Kimchi has a very strong presence but keeping the lid tight and exterior of the jar clean should prevent any odors being absorbed by the other contents of the refrigerator.

If you don’t want the kimchi to ferment in the manner I described then make sure you drain some of the liquid from the jar before you put it away. Even kept cold right from the store the contents will ferment a bit over time and the fluid may leak out into the refrigerator

The uses for kimchi in cooking is varied. Other than the many Asian recipes it is traditionally used for I put it on almost anything. Burgers, grilled cheese, hot dogs, burritos, pizza (after I remove the pie from the oven, some like it baked into the pizza) and anything I can think of to spice up the meal. There is a place in San Diego that makes a butt-kicking bulgogi with kimchi burrito and some serious kimchi fries.

Read more about Korea’s side dish online here: Kimchi at Wikipedia.

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The venison of vegetables

Baby carrots are the venison of the vegetable world. This is because they are not grown into such a convenient shape and size like baby corn is. Rather, a regular carrot is chopped, shaved and whittled down to a fun sized snack. A similar process is used in making veal, which is the tasty result of a calf being ripped from the beating womb of a cow. Such waste.

Annually millions of pounds of carrot shavings are then discarded into the streets creating traffic jams or toasted and made into non-caffeinated coffee substitute. Furthermore, a bag of baby carrots can cost the consumer $7.99 or more while a few bunches of carrots that the buyer would have to wash and cut themselves costs less than $5.

It is in Maryland that sales of baby carrots are the most brisk. This immoral act of environmental crime is ameliorated by the fact that for the most part anything sharp enough to cut carrots in the state of Maryland is typically used for preparing meth or stabbing neighbors, or both, usually in the same evening. Baby carrots are most appealing to children and it would be wrong to use blood-stained, meth-permeated knives to cut up carrots and then feed them to kids.

So already prepared carrot pieces manufactured in a smarter region and imported are preferable to warping another generation of Maryland spawn by getting them hooked too early on drugs and the taste of blood. It is better to delay the inevitable until they can be securely housed in a Super-Max prison jail instead of the rotating doors of Juvenile Hall. Somebody has to think of the children.

Health and Safety

TJ Slice (2003)


Anthropomorphic mascot promotes better health through improved nutrition and sports but not, apparently, physical safety and common sense as J. Slice’ shattered skull and exposed brain can attest.

From the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s J. Slice saves the Planet from Professor Junkfood (2003). I remember 2003. It was all about our precious snowflakes wearing protective equipment and preventing traumatic injury. How did this get approved?

To find out, click here for the The Senses-Shattering Secret Origin of J. Slice!

Guess who didn’t get a tip?

waste

That’s right. I held back my green because the restaurant didn’t hold theirs. I asked the server not to include any garnish or parsley with our meals. They included it anyways. Look at that horrible waste. It isn’t like the parsley was taking up space on the plate that could have been occupied by real food as it was completely buried under my french fries and my wife’s salad. Yes, the house salad included a garnish that was found under the lettuce.

Somewhere, a family of gun-toting Marylanders who always have plenty of money for bullets and beer but not soap or meals are staring at their empty food stamps envelope wishing they had something to nibble on. This parsley, added to other sprigs collected from all over the nation could have made a horrible if nutritious yet possibly health-threatening soup. Somewhere, a pasta sauce is denied little bits of green floating in it that might be basil or not. Or gnats, depending on if the kitchen window was open during food preparation.

Save the planet and Hold the Green!

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Orange Nut Roll R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

“In his house at R’lyeh the Orange Nut Roll waits dreaming.” From H.P. Lovecraft, The Cult of C-Rat.

Where ever armies have marched and where ever crazed survivalist rednecks have squatted there remains behind scenes of devastation and horror. One of those horrors is the Orange Nut Roll.

A variety of nut rolls have long been a part of the soldier’s meal while on the march. Historically they were a tasty treat to consume after eating the giant can of beef stew offered in C-Rations. The nut rolls were favored enough that they largely made a successful transition from the larger canned military rations to the lighter and more compact MRE or Meal, Ready-To-Eat of modern field supplies.

Anywhere a group of soldiers have gathered the evidence of their meals is left behind and used by the local population. The MRE was designed to be 100% useful in the field. The boxes, filled with sand or dirt, are packed tightly in a case and can slide into a sleeve. The packaging is water-resistant and filled with sand can be used to make bunkers, furniture and in some places in the world entire living quarters. The plastic pouches are used for storage and shingles on a roof. The cans are used for cooking or beaten down into knives or other useful items.

The exception being the Orange Nut Roll. The ONG is dry and has the consistency of a shoe. The taste resembles not so much an orange, but the wooden crate the oranges may have originally been shipped in. Fire that melts an 81mm mortar leaves the Orange Nut Roll unharmed. Insects, vultures and other opportunistic scavengers ignore and treat a found Orange Nut Roll as they would a piece of slate or length of bark they came across while wandering the forest. In places where the local population eagerly, desperately receives the leftovers of a soldier’s meal either in food to feed their families or the useful packaging to build shelters the Orange Nut Roll is thrown away or refused. Entire rebellions have arisen in native populations because all they are given to win their hearts and minds are Orange Nut Roll packages from visiting soldiers. Give an Orange Nut Roll to a starving homeless person in any metropolitan city and they will sneer and possibly assault you.

There are beaches in Subic Bay covered in slowly rusting cans of discarded Orange Nut Rolls. Oddly shaped, orange hued rocks cover the sand and ocean floor in the region as Orange Nut Rolls tumble free from cans that disintegrate against the forces of nature. But the eternal majesty of the sea and wind are unable to breakdown the Orange Nut Roll. Like lava builds new land off the shores of Hawaiian islands so do Orange Nut Rolls serve as the foundation for reefs and future land bridges across the water. So imagine what one of those things, either in the old rounded or newer yet still inedible flat toaster pastry forms will do to the insides of a human.

Future archeologists will undoubtedly use as provenance of ancient battlefields the layers of uneaten Orange Nut Rolls that like ancient honey found in Egyptian tombs, will show no signs of rot or decomposition. Unlike 5000 year old honey though, the Orange Nut Roll is largely inedible as it comes fresh off the production line.

Hold It

Hold The Green.” That’s the slogan for a new campaign against wasting food.

Take a look at this tasty seafood platter from a local restaurant. Notice anything missing?

That’s right. The garnish isn’t there. The reason the parsley is missing is because I requested the server not put any on the plate. Why? Because it is wasted. Hardly anyone eats the sprig of parsley, not even the curly Italian kind. It usually ends up in the trash or in the case of really cheap restaurant managers, re-used for another guest if it can pass a visual test for freshness.

According to the U.S. Parsley Council some 59,000 pounds of parsley is used yearly as garnish and in cooking. As a garnish parsley offers little except to take up platter space that could be filled with precious bacon and to add a hint of color on a plate consisting primarily of brown and gray hues. This is ridiculous and wasteful. Studies have proven that of the parsley-as-garnish that is eaten, 95% is consumed only by misbehaved children in restaurants who jump up and down on the chairs, scream, throw their fun-menu crayons in the iced tea of the people in the next booth. Parents, obliviously allow their children to eat the parsley even though there are health risks associated with extreme consumption of the herb. The remaining 5% who clean their plates are just cheap bastards who squeeze a nickle until it screams for mercy. Outside of the restaurant venue parsley is consumed in bunches by the stupid and those who believe in magic. They tout the homeopathic benefits of parsley but science says a diet high in parsley is pretty darn silly and is useless if not actually detrimental to a person’s health.

PARSLEY MAKES IT CLASSY!
It is guesstimated that annually some 50,000 pounds of garnish-related parsley is wasted by being uneaten. That amount of green vegetable matter could feed 7,000 dairy cows for a year or a Maryland family of three for two months as a supplement to their food stamps. If there existed sin then such waste would be indeed sinful.

So be an Earth Warrior and do your part with very little effort at all. When dining out tell your server to “Hold The Green” and if they do not let them know you will be “Holding The Green” yourself, in the form of their tip, which they will not receive. If enough people decline parsley as a garnish then eventually restaurants all over America will stop ordering it and all that wasted food will be diverted to where it really should go, as the main ingredient in limited edition bobble-head statues based on the San Diego Padres or converted to cheap bio-fuel to run our cars. At the very least the parsley market will collapse and Italy will starve and then die before falling into the ocean.

As a side note savvy consumers also fight against the wasteful parsley scourge by frequenting those establishments that serve not the useless Petroselinum plant as a garnish but instead a crisp leaf of lettuce with a single cherry tomato placed onto it. Some people treat this lettuce and tomato combination similar to parsley and it goes uneaten. However the wise diner views this type of garnish not as future trash but as a potential bonus mini-salad. Most restaurants will freely and without question supply a customer with dressing of their choice on the side if they request some. Frugality for the win in this instance because making a tiny Caesar salad out of the spare and space-hogging veggies the customer gets more for their dollar by eating the typically unwanted garnish.

For more information click the Hold the Green search label.