Kimchee Pride and Prejudice

Today on I read that kimchee was considered among the world’s healthiest food. Having grown up with it and dealing with comments such as “what smells like doo-doo diapers?” or “what died in there?,” I admit I am a little self-conscious about the fact that I and my family eat kimchee. But it all makes sense—the probiotics that are responsible for fermentation, the fiber from the cabbage and other vegetable products, and garlic and ginger, which are all good for the GI tract.

But I was appalled to read a well-respected cookbook writer, Mark Bittman, submit a recipe for kimchee and beef stew, in which he listed among the ingredients—soy sauce!

OK, kimchee already has a lot of salt (it’s required to help preserve it), but soy sauce is overkill. I love Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, but he broke my heart with this kimchee recipe, which according to “won our test kitchen’s top rating.” Americans with their love of salt! 😉

Let’s give him some credit. He does indicate that soy sauce can be omitted for those watching their sodium intake. But, it’s one of my big pet peeves when people add more salt without even trying the dish first to see if it needs it.

The secret to making good kimchee chigae (stew) is 1) using good kimchee, which has aged thoroughly (fresh/young kimchee is not so good); 2) sautéing the kimchee with sesame oil, butter, or margarine (which intensifies the flavors), for a while before adding adding beef, pork, or Spam (yes, Spam!); 3) adding soup stock (I usually add my homemade chicken broth) and simmering for a while, and then add tofu. Although it can be eaten on the day it’s prepared, it usually tastes even better on Day 2.

Purists would be appalled to see “Spam” or “butter” as ingredients listed, but hey! Lots of Korean families include them. In fact, I only started eating Spam because of my Korean born and bred husband. But, wait! Isn’t Spam worse than soy sauce, when it comes to sodium and fat?

I’ll be sure to include my chicken soup recipe on a later post.


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