The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Kimchi Makes Kale Salads Exciting Again

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Dec 9, 2014 8:30PM

Photo by Melissa McEwen

Are you bored with kale salads yet? We aren't, because while they happen to be everywhere, it’s not just because kale is trendy. It’s because kale, particularly the curly type, is perfect for grabbing a lot of flavor from whatever you put on it. Especially when subjected to the searing heat of a cast iron pan, which crisps it perfectly. Top with kimchi and you have a perfect melding of sour, sweet, spicy, salty and crispy.

You can make this salad with store-bought kimchi (and Chicago has many great resources for locally-made kimchi), but making kimchi isn’t as hard as many people think. The hot pepper flakes and the short fermentation make it a relatively quick project and pretty unlikely you’ll encounter the mold that sometimes bedevils homemade sauerkraut.

It’s also very flexible. People have made pickles with what they had on hand for thousands of years. But there are always reasons behind some of the traditions. It’s just a truth that napa cabbage makes much better in kimchi than other types. It ferments faster and absorbs the heat of the chilis perfectly. It’s also true that you aren’t going to get the well-rounded rich flavor you love at your favorite Korean restaurant if you shy away from adding seafood, though other fermented things like soy sauce can make a passable substitute. But this version of kimchi does divert from tradition by not including bone broth, which while it adds great flavor and is great for you, also adds a lot of time. Instead it opts for soy sauce/tamari for adding more umami. If you are interested in a more traditional recipe that includes it, I suggest checking out The Kimchi Cookbook.

Also the rich flour porridge isn’t just there to make you have to take a special trip to your nearest specialty grocery store, it is the secret to great texture and chili distribution across your vegetables. Sweet mochi flour is also just great to have around for thickening soups and stews and making into delicious desserts.

But beyond cabbage being the main ingredient, the rest of the vegetables can easily be tweaked. Leeks make a great alternative to onions and garlic because they happen to be in season right now, they don’t make anyone cry and are a convenient stick shape for quick chopping.


Kale Salad

1 bunch of kale
Olive oil
Sesame seeds
Soy sauce
Kimchi to taste

Put the cast iron pan in the oven. Heat the oven to 425 F. Wash the kale and tear into pieces, discarding the thick stems (or set aside to juice if you are a hippy). Massage the kale with the olive oil and kosher salt. When the oven is to 425, let heat for 10 minutes, then take the pan out of the oven and spread the kale in it. Put in the oven for 10 minutes. Take out and quickly toss in the sesame seeds, which should get lightly toasted in the heat of the pan. Place in a serving bowl and toss with kimchi.

Leek Kimchi

Adapted from Mother in Law’s Signature Kimchi from The Kimchi Cookbook

1 medium head Napa cabbage
1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Cut the cabbage into quarters, then cut each quarter in half lengthwise and cut out the core. Then cut the quarters into small pieces around 1 inch wide and 6 inches long. Toss the cabbage with the salt and set aside to brine for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Use a bowl of cold water to rinse off the salt and then drain in a colander for 20 minutes.

Rice Porridge:
¼ cup hot water
1.5 teaspoons sweet rice flour
1 Tablespoon cold water

Stir the flour into the the cold water and then add the hot water and stir 15-30 seconds until the mixture thickens. Set aside to cool.

Kimchi Paste
1 Tablespoon fish sauce (sub soy sauce or tamari to make it vegan)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
3-4 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
1 Tablespoon peeled finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
The rice porridge
1/4 cup Korean chile pepper flakes

Puree everything except the flakes in a food processor and then mix in the flakes.

Kimchi Paste
¼ cup Korean chile pepper flakes (yes more, because they are delicious)
1 leek, white part only, sliced into ¼ inch thick round slices, which should be cut in half and broken apart

Toss the cabbage and leeks together, add the chile pepper flakes and the Kimchi paste. Pack tightly into a clean jar and set aside on top of a saucer (to catch any fermentation spillage) in a room temperature dark place for 2-3 days. Do not open to check on it or you’ll mess up the fermentation. Then put in the fridge, where fermentation will slow, but it will not totally stop, so it will get more mild and acidic over time.