I held two Kimchi Workshops in Istanbul in January and February. It was fun making kimchi with many people and I was proud to share my know-hows and clarify some of the myths surrounding the most essential Korean food. I was also very surprised by the enthusiasm of the participants, who seemed more obsessed with kimchi than me!
I would like to thank those who joined the event and also, Istanbul Cooking School for opening their space for us. I was so glad to find such a perfect place, central and well-equipped, and the chef, Oğuz, was genuinely helpful as he was very much into fermentation himself.
The session got booked out fast despite it being right before the new year’s eve. They were delighted at the exotic Korean kitchen gloves I’d brought along with salt, chilli powder, fish sauce, etc.
During the second workshop, we had lots of laughs, especially when Nicolas did the ‘Salt Bae’ to the chopped cabbage.
We ate some dishes made with Kimchi and talked about the science and history behind fermenting vegetables, and the difference between pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi, etc.
Kimchi has been all the rage in the past couple of years in the west but there are some misunderstandings about the use of fish sauce or how it’s always salty and spicy. Also, I was very proud to have shared the secret recipes I’d learned from my mum, who’d run a restaurant all her life. Though she’s now retired, she still gets asked to make and deliver Kimchi annually on demand.
So everyone made Kimchi to their taste, low-sodium, non-spicy or super spicy, and vegetarian, etc.
One of the Kimchi samples I got them to taste was this one with wild radish leaves, which doesn’t contain fish sauce, nor does it have chilli powder. The chilli pepper is there just to ward off evil bacteria that might cause spoilage so it’s like the ‘evil eye(nazar)’ in Korean culture.
The wild radish leaves (turp otu in Turkish), which are normally eaten in salad, raw or blanched, can be preserved and enjoyed for an extended period. In that way, you don’t have to rush to eat them all or throw away the leftover as you usually get them in bulk at weekly markets. You can also use the whole pink radishes.
Another benefit of making kimchi is that it adds different flavours after fermentation, sweet and tangy, and goes well with any dishes nutrition-wise as well as flavour-wise, and THAT is more about Kimchi than just being one spicy cabbage salad. And the kimchi juice goes a long long way in the realm of cooking.
Due to its popularity, there might be another workshop depending on whether I can get hold of Chinese cabbages. So please follow my Facebook page or Istanbul Cooking School for upcoming events.
Now let’s talk about another fermented goodie, Soybean paste aka. Miso. It’s salty, smelly and can be off-putting on its own but the dishes made with it taste delicious. Korean soybean paste is saltier and more pungent than Japanese miso due to a difference fermentation process, the former with natural bacteria culture and the latter with a cultivated fungus. Everyone knows how healthy fermented soybean paste is but recipes that incorporate it into western food have been around for a long time. Miso mayo, anyone?
Funny how your cooking style changes as you travel and add more food items to your pantry. Now I tend to use tahini wherever possible, even when it’s deemed impossible. The truth is you can’t go wrong with tahini and it’s a god-send, and it meets its perfect partner in soybean paste.
It not only reduces the pungency and saltiness but also enhances nutrition and flavour. While the west throws wild green edibles into salad, Koreans throw them into miso soup. I won’t go into the gory details of how soybean paste balances the nutrients in wild greens. It just tastes so good and comforting especially on a cold winter day.
So good that my in-laws asked for it at a breakfast table during their stay in Korea! I like making soybean paste soup or a bibimbap bowl with all kinds of wild edibles I find at the weekly market. Spinach, kale, chard, nettles, and this thistle-like plants called şevketi bostan.
People in the Aegean cities still eat this ancient wild plants, especially in a lamb stew. This thistle is apparently very good for arthritis and high blood pressure. Koreans are famous for eating mountain plants and I get excited when I see them around in Turkey.
For this soup, I mixed miso only with tahini but for the other soup, I added zaatar (sold as breakfast zahter in Turkey and yummy for dipping in olive oil) to the mix. Both worked well. Bitter radish becomes sweet when cooked and tastes great with sesame. It’s one of my favourite side dishes. You can add spinach, kale or broccoli for colour if you like, and even though I added some prawns, which is a southern recipe, you can add meat or leave all out.
Koreans subconsciously refer to the mental book of ‘foodpairing’ when cooking because we are obsessed with it. You would probably know it if you’ve watched the famous Korean dramas, Daejanggeum and Hur Jun.
For me, I always ask my mum if not sure. “Mum, does radish go with spinach?” “Does radish go with prawns?”
“Radish is good with seafood and sesame seeds but not good with carrots and cucumber.”
“Haha, I will add a big spoonful of sesame paste!”
She is my reference book and 24 hour hotline thanks to online messengers.
This one doesn’t have much broth and it was deliberate but you can make it more soupy. I can eat this healthy heavenly bowl of rice the whole week until Mr.O gets home but my curious minds keep me busy with experimenting and cooking every day with new ingredients and new inspirations. Who eats them all? Well, I need to solve the issue….
Radish Spinach Miso Tahini Rice Bowl
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 long Chinese radish or 2 normal radishes, julienned
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup blanched spinach or kale (optional)
shrimps or prawns, cut if large (or use 1 tsp fish sauce or piece of kelp)
2 tsp Korean soybean paste
1 Tbsp tahini
2 tsp zaatar (optional)
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame oil or vegetable oil
1. In a pan, sautee the radish and garlic with oil and 1 cup of water, covered, until soft.
2. Mix the sauce ingredients into paste and add it to the pan and mix well.
3. Add prawns, spinach and scallion and simmer for a few minutes, adding more water if required.
4. Serve with rice, drizzled with sesame oil
*If you use spinach or the thistle, blanch it and squeeze out the liquid first before adding to the soup.