so food / no good
Trouble Baker by trouble baker
Everybody Rots: Surviving with Scallion Kimchi
A little perspective on the feelings and people breaking down around you.
There is nothing living that is pure.
The phenomenon of all fresh, all the time is relatively new and perpetually a marker of privilege. For thousands of years, people have been figuring out how to tend to what has spoiled and make it usable. This has brought us all that is holy (and holey) and good in the world. Bread, beer and bourbon came from rotting grains, sauerkraut and kimchi from salted, seasoned, and fermented cabbage, cheese and yogurt from molded, fungal, and soured dairy. Even chocolate is the product of letting shit sit out a little longer than it should.
The process of fermentation also isn’t particularly kind or gentle, even if that’s what all the homecrafting and aproned artisanal cheesewine makers want to tell you. The food itself becomes a battleground between microorganisms for resources, the way any ecosystem turns into a competition for resources and survival.
I thought about this the other day when leaving my therapist’s office. She told me that she didn’t think people needed to suffer to grow. This struck me as one of those “mindfully” ignorant, white-people-doing-yoga ideas that elides the origin of most suffering. Few of us make it through many days in this world without something fucking us up really good: poverty, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy. Many of us fuck up other people while we’re at it. We’re damaged and we damage, but in this breakdown, there is an opportunity to create new forms of being with one another.
If you want to make kimchi with heartier veggies such as cabbage, cucumbers, or daikon, you’ll want to chop them, salt them, let them stand for at least an hour, and then rinse them before adding the other seasonings. The salt causes the cellular breakdown that is necessary to get the fermentation going. The green onions undo themselves a little more, especially with an assist from a massage with the seasonings.
- 4 bunches scallions
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 to 6 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes*
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon liquid umami (dark soy sauce, dried mushroom or seaweed powder mixed with water, fish sauce)
1. Rinse the scallions, trim the roots and then chop into half inch pieces.**
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients together together in a ceramic bowl, add the scallions and massage them sweetly until the scallions start to wilt.
3. Cover the bowl with a plate, or move the scallion mixture to a jar you can seal, and let it sit at 70º F (top of the fridge works if your house is cool, in a dark cupboard if your house runs warm).
4. You can eat it immediately, and it will be delicious. You can eat it the next day and it will be even better because the flavors have started to get all up in each other’s business. The mixture will get more unctuous and more potent as time passes. Around day four, you will start to see bubbles, which means the microorganisms are doing the damn thing. It also means that you need to shut that party down before it gets too wild. You can store the mixture in the fridge for up to a month.
- Korean red pepper flakes carry a different kind of flavor and heat than the regular red pepper flakes you get at the store. You can use one tablespoon for mild kimchi, and six tablespoons will melt most people’s faces. I typically use about four tablespoons – it’s just the right amount to warm my tongue and make me just a little uncomfortable. You should be able to find the red pepper flakes (gochugaru), or a fermented red pepper paste (gochujang) that can be subbed for the powder, at an Asian grocer. If not, hit me up and I’ll send you some, because it really only comes in three pound bags and I love kimchi but...
** You can make really pretty kimchi bundles by leaving the scallions whole. To do this, add the salt first, and then let everything sit for about an hour. Gently massage in the seasoning and then gently tie the green ends of three or four scallions into a knot. Place the bundles in a container and let them sit for at least one day.