I met Jennifer Jun about a year and a half ago. We were co-workers who shared a cubicle wall with each other. This was a blessing for many reasons: It allowed for us to have full conversations without having to stand up, it served as a quick delivery system for any number of items, and finally it allowed me to get to know someone who is now one of my favorite people. Since I left my job last December, Jen and I have stayed in touch and she has become one of my dearest friends. She is often doing amazing things, totally without fanfare, while also being completely humble and approachable. It was months after we became friends that I found out why Jennifer had moved to Chicago. Jennifer and her family are originally from South Korea, but she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. She traveled and lived all over the world, and had been living and working in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of 2015. Her mother and grandmother, Yoonsook and Oakja, were still living in Chicago and had decided to open up a laundromat together in a neighborhood on the Southwest side. Jen, knowing her family needed her, immediately found a job in Chicago and moved back to be closer to them and also to help them out with their new business.
When I asked Jen if she had a family recipe to share, she told me that her mother and grandmother, who work morning, noon, and night, developed a quick and easy recipe for kimchi, a Korean side dish that is present at almost every meal. She also told me that since her family’s laundromat is in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in the city, they use ingredients they can find at the local grocery store, even if they are not traditionally used in the dish. For example, Jen told me that napa cabbage, which is most often used in kimchi, is not as easy to find in that area, so their recipe uses standard green cabbage instead.
Being possibly the least adventurous eater as a child myself, it would have been hard to imagine that I would ever be writing about kimchi. But after having this versatile food in everything from bulgogi to tacos to fried rice, I have to say, it has really grown on me.
Simple, Make-Anywhere Kimchi
Makes one full mason jar
1 1/2 head of cabbage
Several cloves of garlic
1 or 2 green onions
2-3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp salt (table or kosher), or as needed
Optional: to make red kimchi, 1 red pepper
Chop the cabbage into big square pieces.
Chop onion, green onion, and garlic into desired pieces.
In a small bowl, mix fish sauce and salt (taste to make sure it’s salty but not too salty).
Optional: Mix a pepper in a blender. I like a little spice, so I used a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. Jen told me that her mother can’t have spicy foods, so she doesn’t include a pepper at all.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients together, making sure the cabbage is well covered with the fish sauce and salt mixture.
Place in a large mason jar and press cabbage down firmly with a spoon. Let it sit overnight at room temperature.
After about 24 hours, when the cabbage has visibly deflated, refrigerate.
If you’re looking for a serving suggestion, we made hoisin-glazed pork tacos with spicy aioli, kimchi, green onions, and purple cabbage. The salty, slightly tangy kimchi complemented the tacos perfectly. Next, I’ve got my eye on some kimchi bowls, filled with meat, rice, kimchi and all sorts of veggies!
What I love most about this recipe is its evolution. Though this might not be the most “authentic” Korean kimchi, it demonstrates the beauty of how recipes change over time. In this case, a traditional dish was tweaked, slightly, by circumstances and the need to use readily available ingredients. It shows that even though it’s wonderful to have a tried-and-true recipe, there is always room for experimentation and improvement.
I’ll admit that I was pretty apprehensive about making kimchi, but it was so easy that it might just start making a more frequent appearance on my dinner table. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe, Jen, Yoonsook, and Oakja!