Kimchi – It’s What Brings Us Together (aka how to make Kimchi with a white girl)

I was warned many times before I moved here that I would have a hard time making Swiss friends. The Swiss, I was told, are a very hard bunch to assimilate with and don’t let outsiders in very often. Putting our children in public school was one avenue we hoped would serve as an “in” into the community. Through our children’s friends we thought that we might slowly become friends with the parents. However, the language barrier  has made friend making slow for my kids and as a result, we haven’t had any play dates yet. It never occurred to me that teachers could be a source for the friendship that I was looking for as well.

I met Yangok in March when Lincoln started Kindergarten. She was one of the two teachers in charge of Hort – the Swiss word for after school care. As I’ve mentioned before, there is not a ton of diversity in Switzerland, especially in the small lakeside farm town that we live in. I was excited and surprised to find someone Asian working at the school and in all my excitement, put my foot in my mouth and asked her if she spoke Chinese. DOH, I of all people should have known better.

For those of you that don’t know me (or my husband) we are the Asian version of Rachel Dolezal (too soon?). Jon had a ton of asian friends in high school, his AOL screen name was WhiteRice and he speaks Mandarin. I joined an Asian Interest Sorority in college (aKDPHI) and was very active in the organization well past college graduation, I even had an AsianAvenue account to boot.

Let's play spot the white chick. Can you find me?

Let’s play spot the white chick. Can you find me? Hint, I’m on the far left and you can only see half my face.

Me with my pledge class in 1997.

Yangok, of course, as my blog title would imply was Korean. I was going to use my “Asianness” to my advantage in anyway to try and be her friend and to infiltrate the closed-off Swiss. Okay clearly she wasn’t truely “Swiss” but she was “in” and I was going to take what I could get. Plus I was hoping she would know all the secret Asian grocery stores and best Asian restaurants in town!

Yangok met her husband 30+ years ago in Korea when he was working for the Swiss embassy there. They fell in love and she moved with him to Switzerland 30 years ago. She has two grown children who are both lawyers and she works part time in the school.

Every Tuesday and Friday we would talk when I picked Lincoln up from Hort, she would tell me about her trips to the US and I would show her photos of me in Asian bridal parties and say inappropriate phrases to her in my limited Korean. As our weekly greetings went from handshakes to the three-cheek-Swiss-kiss, I realized we were becoming friends.

Luckily for me, Yangok also turned out to be an incredible cook. She would bring me kimchi or marinated Bulgogi and I would cook it for my family and receive high praises. But the summer was here and our meetings came to an end. Then one day a few weeks ago, out of the blue, I received a call from her. Would I like to come over to her house the next day and learn how to make Kimchi? Hell, yeah I would.

It turns out Yangok lives just down the street from me, which is a quite lovely surprise since we have promised to meet every few weeks on her day off for coffee. Kimchi was a staple in our fridge in the U.S., and I had never dreamed of making it as it was readily available at H- Mart. The lack of available Kimchi here made the prospect of having the homemade kind really exciting, especially when I would be the one doing the making.

It took us about two hours more or less to complete the process which was occasionally interrupted by story telling and wasp shooing (they were complete assholes this summer). Here is the recipe below which my Korean friends looked at and were like WHHAAAT? But then they tried the kimchi and were like Wassup!

4 heads of Napa Cabbage cut in quarters
2 Heads of Garlic Peeled
10-12 Long Red Peppers
1 Leek Sliced into Thin Strips
2 Medium Sized Potatoes boiled in just enough water to cover in a small pan – reserve about 1/2 of the water
1/2 Cup Red Pepper Powder
1/3 Cup Korean Powdered Beef Stock Bouillon
1/2 cup Oyster Sauce
1/3 cup Sesame Seeds
1/4 Cup Raw Sugar
1 Red Bell Pepper
Pair of latex gloves – unless you like your hands to be on fire for 2-3 days

Directions:

12-24 hours before Kimchi preparation cut each cabbage into quarters and soak in cool salt water. I don’t know the exact amount of salt, but Yangok had me taste the water so I knew how salty it needed to be. It was pretty salty. She also said the longer it soaks the more it preserves the Kimchi which will result in you being able to keep it in the fridge longer.

Soak the Kimchi in a large bowl of salty water

Soak the Kimchi in a large bowl of salty water

In a blender put the garlic, peppers, oyster sauce, Bell Pepper and potatoes (with the potato water) and blend until smooth.

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Dump all of the sauce into a large bowl and add the leeks, sesame seeds, sugar, beef bouillon, and red pepper powder. The sauce should be very flavorful and can be adjusted to your liking. She also likes to sometimes add other vegetables like carrots but we didn’t this time.

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Take the cabbage and dump out the salt water. Each piece will need to be rinsed to ensure that all the salt water is off and it should be put into a colander to make sure that all the water has properly drained from the cabbage. We let it drain while we were preparing the sauce.

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Once the sauce is flavored to your liking and fully mixed, take one section of cabbage and a time and gently pull back the leaves one at a time to ensure that each one is completely covered in the sauce.

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As you complete each section of cabbage, fold it in half and squeeze out the extra liquid and place it in a plastic or glass resealable container. Make sure it has a tight seal because kimchi, if you don’t already know, really stinks!

Here Yangok demonstrates here kimchi mastery

Here Yangok demonstrates here kimchi mastery

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Categories: Cooking, Switzerland | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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