#SpringPantryPurge: Kale Kimchi

When Phoebe Lapine of blog Feed Me Phoebe emailed to say that she was running a #SpringPantryPurge, I really had no where to run and no where to hide. As many of my family and friends know, I am a chronic pantry hoarder. My pantry is my own personal hall-of-shame, packed with non-perishables that I have acquired for rainy days, for war and famine, for that two-for-one special, and, sometimes, for no reason at all. Besides, tins upon tins of beans and sweetened condensed milk never go out of date, right?

Many of my pantry-hoarding crimes are committed at the Asian supermarket. This is when all reason goes out the window and my collecting skills take centre stage. Last Summer, I decided I was going to make kimchi. Clearly I envisioned I would make a LOT of kimchi because, aided by my dear Korean friend Nina, I ventured to Flushing in Queens and bought the biggest bag of Korean chilli flakes I could find. I may have then gone back to Flushing a few weeks later to buy more of these Korean chilli flakes – I told you, I was planning to make a lot of kimchi.

Some nine months later, the Korean chilli flakes still sit, unopened at the very top of my pantry, in a cupboard that I reserve solely for my Asian supermarket misdemeanors. So when Phoebe came up with the genius idea of a #SpringPantryPurge, I knew my kimchi time had come. This chilli needed to be used and this kimchi needed to be made. Lots and lots of kimchi.

To say I’m excited about making my first kimchi paste is a dramatic understatement. Last Summer, in anticipation of my mass-kimchi-making, I attended a Kimchi 101 evening at Court Tree Collective, with NYC private chef Kala Sung. The class opened my eyes to a whole new world of kimchi, where vegetables and leaves were quickly doused in kimchi paste, and even more swiftly eaten up, right there and then. Kala didn’t use traditional napa cabbage. She used fresh purslane leaves from the greenmarket, radish, okra, enoki mushrooms and scallions. Kala explained that every family in Korea has their own kimchi recipe, as is common with cultural dishes. As we tasted the heavily spiced vegetables, my mind was already churning with ideas on how to use this flavor-packed chilli paste to dress vegetables and salads.

My kimchi recipe is loosely based on Kala’s ‘Hot Magic Paste’ recipe, with a few adjustments here and there. This dish is a complete pantry-purge dish for me – I rummaged through my fridge drawers and found a bunch of lacinato kale leaves, which is what I used with the kimchi. I would recommend using almost any leaf – watercress, spinach, collard, arugula – along with vegetables like radish, cabbage, carrots, celery, zucchini, cauliflower, cucumber and mushrooms. My fun with kimchi has only just begun. What is your favorite vegetable to add to kimchi?

Note: In the US, Korean red pepper paste is available from here and in Australia, they are available from here.

Lastly, head over to Feed Me Phoebe to check out the pantry purging recipes of some of our favorite food bloggers. Even better, for every comment on her blog, Phoebe is donating $1 to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks and the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity. In fact, to support Phoebe's charity drive, I will do the same - comment below here and I will also donate $1 to Feeding America. Be generous with your comments, as we are with our food!

Quick Kale Kimchi

Use any variety of kale or similar type leaves for this recipe. The method for other vegetables is the same – simply massage the vegetable in sea salt to draw out the moisture and then rinse quickly. I used a fine sea salt I picked up from the Asian supermarket, but ordinary sea salt or kosher salt would be fine.

Traditional kimchi relies heavily on a rich umami flavor, usually achieved with fish sauce. I substitute with a mushroom broth, made by soaking shiitake mushrooms in boiling water and then adding a bit of stock powder or salt. Kala’s recipe very ingeniously uses an apple for sweetness, in place sugar. You can eat this kimchi straight away, or store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Makes 1 cup of kale kimchi.

Gluten free and vegan

  • 3-4 cups of kale leaves, torn
  • 1 tbsp fine salt

Kimchi paste (makes 1 ½ cups)

  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 30 minutes in 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tsp sea salt or vegetable stock powder
  • 1/2 cup coarse Korean red pepper powder (Gochugaru)
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • ½ inch (5-7g) knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • ½ brown onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 apple, peeled and roughly chopped

After soaking for 30 minutes, squeeze out the mushrooms into the soaking water. Discard the mushrooms. Add 1 tbsp salt or vegetable stock powder to the mushroom water and stir to combine.

In a food processor or blender, add the red pepper powder, garlic, ginger, onion, apple and mushroom broth and whizz into a paste.

In a large bowl, add the kale leaves and sprinkle over the salt. Massage the salt into the kale leaves until they have started to wilt. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. When ready, rinse the kale briefly under running water (to remove some but not all of the salt) and then squeeze out brine.

Add about 2 tablespoons of the kimchi paste to the wilted kale and stir through. Eat immediately or spoon into a jar and store in the fridge.