Oxtail Soup – Kkorigomtang



If there is a dish that defined the start of my passion for cooking as a young child, Kkorigomtang is the dish.  Oxtail soup was and still is one of my favorite comfort foods of all time.  And the secret to making a beautiful pot of this soup is the care involved in correctly preparing the oxtails for the soup.  I like to joke about how my mother was a terrible cook when I was growing up, and well…even she will admit that cooking is not one of her strong suits, but like all Korean mothers, she would take the time to cook some of my favorite dishes for me when I was sick, or if I had done well in school, or when I would come back to Chicago after spending the summer months in Toronto with my aunt and cousins.  Now here’s the catch…she would usually make me Kkorigomtang as a welcome home dinner, but after spending weeks eating my aunt’s version of the very same soup I realized something was up.  These were not the same soups!

My aunt was notorious for being the best cook in our family.  Everything she cooked was delicious, whether it was a simple bowl of rice with egg and seaweed or a fancy korean banquet for family gatherings.   When she would whip up a pot of oxtail soup, the broth would be a rich creamy white, the meat sweet and tender and literally falling off the bones and she would serve it with a bowl of spicy and crisp home made kkakdugi (radish kimchi).  My mother’s version was generally a murky yellowish broth and the meat, while tender, would have a slight metallic taste.  So what was up? My young mind needed to know how two people could cook the same soup and have such different end results.   From then on my visits to Toronto was always filled with days in the kitchen peppering my aunt with questions. Watching how she could transform simple ingredients into beautiful dishes full of fragrance and flavor.  She cooked with all her love and generosity and you could taste it on the plate.   I miss and think about her every time I’m in the kitchen and suspect that she would have been tickled pink to see me making kimchi and cooking up some of her best recipes. So here’s how she taught me to make oxtail soup.  If you want my mom’s childhood version- buy the oxtails, throw them into a pot with some water and let it boil away…..I hope you’ll follow the directions below! (Even my mother has amended her errant ways and now cooks Kkorigomtang the “proper” way 😉 )

side note:  My picture above really does no justice to this dish.  What can I say, I am no photographer…I also am not a good patient blogger who takes photos in between the steps.  Sorry folks!  One of these days I will get my act together. 😉  But hopefully the recipe will suffice and inspire you to make what I consider one of the greatest, simplest and most delicious dishes of all time!  

Kkorigomtang – Korean Oxtail Soup

firstly, let me start and say that exact measurements have never been my strong point, but this is a very forgiving soup so as long as you follow the basic instructions, you’ll be fine!


5-6 good sized oxtails*

1 onion, quartered

3-4 garlic cloves, sliced

toasted sesame seeds & minced green onions for garnish

salt & pepper

*make sure you get fresh oxtails from a younger or at least youngish animal.  If the fat and collagen around the meat looks very yellow and the meat has a bluish, purply tint rather than bright red…back away from the counter…these are not the oxtails you are looking for, I repeat, back away from the counter!  Believe me, after having been a little blasé about buying some oxtails that came from.. ahem..the geriatric cow set, because, why not…it’s just going into a soup.  I mean soup chickens are old birds too.  Just don’t do it.   Get the freshest, reddest, least fattiest set of oxtails you can find.

Now you’ve got your oxtails, so to make a foolproof broth, we need to prep those puppies accordingly.  First, trim away any excess fat.  I find the oxtails I get in the US have considerable less fat on them than the ones I find in Berlin. Now before anyone makes any jokes about US cows getting liposuction,  I am fairly certain the Korean butchers in the US take the time to butcher away all the fat and gristle because they know their customers….Angry korean ahjumas complaining about fatty oxtails is not something you want to willingly subject yourself to!  (And oxtails in general are not something you will find in the normal American grocery store.  Now at a hipster gourmet store…oxtails will abound- at about 3 times the cost at the Korean market!)  In Berlin, I usually only find oxtails with any regularity at Turkish butchers and they are usually covered with a healthy coating of fat, but I find most cuts of meat here are more fatty in general- well, at least less trimmed away than the American equivalents.  I could get into theoretical discussions about the whys and wherefores…but that will have to be for another discussion.

So oxtails!   Let your gorgeous oxtails soak in a bowl of cold water for at least 1 hour to draw out some of the blood.  If you’re in a hurry, 1 soak will do.  If you’re hardcore, give it another soak for another hour to draw out even more blood and change the water a few times during each soaking period.  The key to the creamy white broth is getting out all the blood from the meat and bones.

While the oxtails are finishing up soaking, grab your biggest stock pot and fill it midway with water and bring it to a boil.  Rinse off the oxtails and drop carefully into the boiling water.  Boil for 20-25 minutes to blanch away any residual blood and impurities that are still in the meat, then carefully drain the oxtails and rinse under cold water to remove any last bits of gristle.    Wash out the stock pot, put in the oxtails and refill to the top with fresh COLD water. (I know cooks like to use hot water from the tap to save time for boiling, but I usually am adverse to this because hot water has higher levels of lead that leaches from the pipes, so keep it cold folks).

Now you just need to let the soup come to a boil, then cover with a lid, lower the heat and keep it on an even simmer for the next 4-6 hours.  Occasionally skim off any brown scum that rises to the surface.  After about 3 hours of simmering put the onion and garlic into the pot.  Eventually the broth will reduce in half, and the meat will literally start to fall off the bones.  This is when the soup is done.   (If you find the broth is reducing too quickly, add more water and reduce the heat even more.)   If you’re hungry, you can ladle yourself a bowl of soup and an oxtail and start slurping away.  If you are a purist, put the stockpot into the fridge.  Let the broth cool until all the fat has formed a thin disc on top.  Scrape away the fat, then reheat and serve.  I don’t know why, but Korean soups usually have no fat, just pure broth.  Some of my German students in my cooking classes found this strange because they equated fat with flavor.  While fat is flavor, I guess in Korea, we eat our fats in different forms and animal fat is not a huge component in the daily diet.  Also, the different soups are usually so pure and flavorful you don’t really miss the fat!

Serve the oxtails in a large bowl with a generous amount of broth.  Salt and pepper to taste.*  Seasoning is something that is left to each individual, which is why most Korean soups are cooked without any salt and you will find bowls of sea salt on the dining table.   Garnish each bowl with some toasted sesame and chopped spring onions and serve with a bowl of rice and some kimchi!   This soup is great for nursing a hangover, or when you’re feeling blue, hungry, tired, cold…and like my other bone broth recipe, this is bone broth at it’s best!

*I would suggest you season the soup per serving.  This recipe will make quite a large amount of soup and if you season the entire pot it will get saltier as you reheat it.  This soup also stores extremely well.  You can freeze individual servings and enjoy for later.  





Bone Broth for the Seoul

When I first started this “blog” back in 2010 it was really just a way for me to keep in touch with family and friends while I traveled throughout Korea and regale with my culinary adventures of pig guts and penis fish.  It’s amazing how much has happened since then, and I would never in my wildest dreams have thought it possible to turn what was originally a bit of a tongue in cheek “performance piece” of feeding “kimchi für das volk” into a flourishing business of cooking up whatever crazy ideas come out of my head, with some heavy inspirations from my culinary idols.  Life is strangely beautiful!

feeding kimchi to the people

One of my original intentions of this blog was to write regular stories about culinary inspirations and have loads of photos and recipes and reviews of my favorite places to eat in Berlin and beyond and then….I got busy actually cooking which was not something I had foreseen coming and the blog writing fell to the wayside.  Still, my head is always bursting with ideas and stories and well, things I just need to get out there, despite my excuses of…my photos aren’t professional, my recipes aren’t full proof yet, my blog/website layout is a travesty…I can come up with a lot of excuses 😉 but, dammit some recent experiences have made me realize, life is short, time is fleeting and there are some things I just need to share, flaws, mistakes and all.

I’ve been in Los Angeles the past few weeks and it’s brought up a lot of good memories of my idyllic time here as a film student and the time after.  In what feels like a past life, when the beaches of Santa Monica were my daily playground, I was also studying holistic medicine, yoga, shiatsu and chi massage and life was very good.  I had a busy massage practice and my weekly routine involved hiking through the Santa Monica mountains, yoga, juicing, tai chi, shopping at the farmer’s market where I personally knew several of the local farmers, diy yogurt and kombucha brewing, monthly camping trips to joshua tree or the mojave desert and well, lots of free time, sunshine and self improvement schemes.  A lot of my Berlin friends asked me why I would have ever left what seemed like paradise to endure the culture and language clashes, a huge downturn in financial stability (well let’s be honest, abject poverty compared to my monthly earnings in LA! ;), grey skies, grumpy locals, and social isolation before I had built up networks of friends and acquaintances in Berlin.  The answer to the question was that, sometimes even in paradise your soul just yearns for something more in order to grow, after all Adam and Eve did bite that apple.


I spent a considerable amount of time in my LA years dreaming about a european experience.  So once Berlin beckoned, I followed her siren call.  And what a song it was!  Living in Berlin has challenged me, reduced me to tears more than once, broke and rebuilt my self confidence time after time, rehashed old unpleasant memories of racism experienced as a child lived through again with adult eyes, and it’s also matured me, strengthened my resolve,  showed me incredible kindness and generosity through gestures of friends, acquaintances and strangers, allowed me amazing travels to countries I would never have imagined as a heartsick kid longing to escape life from the Chicago suburbs,  led me to my dark side where I’ve sometimes stayed for much longer that I’d like (grey skies don’t help!), showed me the value of perseverance and determination and given me a chance to prove myself TO myself that indeed all things are possible with a bit of hard work, vision and love.  It’s also led me full circle, in the way that life does, to once again embrace my former life of yogic resolve that I had let go of considerably while living in Berlin.  I mean, cigarettes, coffee, beers, Club Mate, what?

So now I’m in LA to spend time with my family and more importantly to try and teach some nutritional tools to a family member who is going through chemotherapy and I guess I did learn something all those nights listening to lectures of my teachers at the Shiatsu School in traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy, pain and orthopedic evaluation among others.  I’m realizing that what I take for granted as common knowledge with meal planning and eating for health is not really common knowledge after all.  We, as a culture are just not taught the fundamentals of health and leading a vibrant life and our current culture of convenience, pre-packaged and instant gratification is creating a lot of diseased people.  I feel cautious offering up any advice, since, I myself am one of many extremes.  I may drink green smoothies, but I also love to indulge in fried chicken, cheeseburgers and kimchi bacon fried rice once in a while…what?  But I have learned through the years that dogmatic following of any lifestyle has not led me to any more happiness or enlightenment, especially when it leads to guilty deprivations.  In fact, I may never have experienced as high a state of bliss as when I drank my first soul satisfying cappuccino with whole milk those first months in Berlin after years of coffee deprivation in LA.  But all things in moderation!  There are some basic principals that every human being could/should follow to increase their health and vibrancy and support them through disease and recovery, and even when I do indulge at times in less than healthy meals or am feeling particularly unwell I follow some simple rules to restore my health and digestion,  so here we go…..

BONE BROTH and why you need it!

I love bone broth.  It’s one of the things that most cultures used to eat traditionally before we were led down this diet of processed foods and “premium” cuts of meat (see, the thing about meat is that the filet may taste good and be more “fancy”, but the oxtails, the shanks, chicken feet, any bone in tougher cut of meat that requires a long braise or cook time is full of more connective tissue and collagen which is the stuff you want to eat to keep your own joints, ligaments and tendons lubricated and happy).

Bone broth is full of more nutrition and minerals than any supplement and we’d all be a lot better off environmental and health wise if we ate more bone broth based soups with some simple rice or grains rather than plates piled high with meat.  It’s also an invaluable food if you are recovering from infection or disease as the minerals, amino acids, gelatin, collagen, and other nutrients are necessary to fight inflammation, promote good digestion, boost immune function, repair cellular damage, heal and seal your guts, etc.  The list of benefits go on, and any quick google search will lead you to multiple articles fromhealth professionals to paleo fans to wellness mamas all pointing towards the same conclusion- bone broth = good for you!   And it’s essential for healing digestive dysfunction. And if you are prone to any bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, burping, farting, etc., you are experiencing some level of digestive dysfunction!

Now I’m not saying that a bowl of bone broth is going to cure you of all your woes, I mean the bloating and burping maybe also be a symptom of bad food combinations, and let’s face it, downing a bacon cheese burger with fries and a coke, then polishing off some cheesecake is just not good food combining, so no amount of bone broth is gonna help you with that digestive nightmare (and let’s be honest…i’ve done it. more than once…*blush),  but even eating a grilled chicken breast sandwich with smoked gouda on wholegrain bread while drinking an apple juice and then having a fruit salad with yogurt is also not great food combining, but more on that later!  At any rate drinking a daily cupful of bone broth will do an immense amount of good to restoring health in your digestive tract so why not do it.

my favorite bone soup of all time – Seolleongtang

Aside from the health benefits, bone broth is just damn tasty.  Most of my favorite Korean soups are based on recipes using ox bones, pig bones, and chicken bones to create hearty and rich soups with a velvety mouth feel you just can’t get from a jar of brühe or box of pre-made stock.   My favorite bone soup is Seolleongtang, a Korean soup made out of ox bones and brisket.  It is cooked for hours and served with a bowl of crisp kkakdugi (radish kimchi).  Amazingly simple to make, all it takes is a bit of initial preparation and then you can leave it on the stove to do its magic while you go off and…I don’t know, use that time to make some fresh kimchi? ; )   The best part is that once your done you have food for the rest of the week!  My mom always made a huge pot of this and we would eat from it all week long.  I crave this whenever I’m feeling tired or run down, I crave this whenever I want a simple yet delicious meal, I crave this all the time because no one in Berlin actually makes this soup!  (And don’t get me started on all the faux Pho going on in Berlin with their weak, flavorless broths!  Pho is supposed to be a lush boney broth! Unfortunately what we get is a weak, watery chicken stock that tastes like slightly seasoned dishwater. There, I said it.

So here’s my recipe for Seolleongtang.  The best part about this soup is that once the pot is eaten up, just keep the bones in it, refill it with fresh water,  simmer away and you have a second pot of soup.  Now that’s recycling in action!


1 large stock pot (16 quarts/ 15 liters)

3 lb/1.5 kg ox/beef bones*

1 lb/500 g beef brisket

1/2 white radish, cut into 3-4 pieces

1 large onion, cut into 4 pieces

*it’s best to use sections cut from the larger hip bones rather than just the smaller marrow bones, or a mixture of the two

Soak the bones and beef in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes then rinse in cold water and rinse off any blood and grit from the bones and meat.

Fill the pot half way with hot water and bring to a boil. Place the bones and meat into the pot and cook for about 7-10 minutes then remove from heat.  Pour all the water out from the pot and rinse the bones and meat well under cold water to remove any last bits of fat, gristle and blood.

Wash the pot and refill with water. (yes it’s a lot of little steps, but it’s all worth it! skipping on the steps above will give you a browny yellow broth rather than the milky white creaminess of a well done Seolleongtang! Believe me, you want that creamy white broth!)

Place the clean bones, beef, onion and radish, turn the heat on high and bring to a boil.  Scoop out any brown scum that may release from the bones/beef, then reduce the heat to low/medium, cover with a lid and let it simmer away!  For the last hour or so I take off the lid and let it reduce more.  If it reduces too much, just add more water and cover with a lid.  If you find that it hasn’t reduced at all, then take the lid off completely.  I like to fill the pot to the top with water and it will eventually reduce almost in half when it’s done.

There’s no hard and fast rule for how long you simmer the broth.  It’s done when it’s done.  The famous Seolleongtang restaurants have huge vats of broth simmering away days on end, and oh man…a bowl of that soup will heal all the troubles in the world!  I’m salivating right now just thinking about it.  At home, you will need to simmer until the broth has a lovely milky white color,  all the marrow has released from inside the bones  and the broth has a viscous feel to it that is more velvety than just a regular soup broth (this is because the marrow and gelatin from the bones have thickened the broth. Once the soup has cooled, it will have a jello like consistency).  At home, my mother would sometimes start the soup in the evening and leave it to simmer overnight on a low heat.  Now I don’t recommend you do this because you might just burn the house down! (something that did almost happen to my cousins’ house back in the day, oi vey!)  It’s best to start the soup in the morning and let it simmer away during the day and you will have dinner ready to go in the evening.

crisp and spicy kkadugi- radish kimchi traditionally eaten with Seolleongtang

Now it takes does take hours to prepare a proper bowl of Seolleongtang so I suggest you take the largest stock pot you have so that you get plenty of soup for the days ahead.  You can easily divide these into individual portions and freeze them as well to be used for later.  To serve, remove the onions and radish (my family sliced it up and ate it as well because my mom has this thing about not wasting food, but usually it gets thrown away) and thinly slice the beef.  Ladle the broth into a large bowl, top with a few slices of meat and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and minced green onion and salt and pepper to your own taste.  Interesting note- we don’t season Seolleongtang while cooking.  This is something that is always left up to the diner so you will always find a huge bowl of korean sea salt as well as a bowl of green onions at most Seolleongtang restaurants.  You can eat this with a bowl of rice and kimchi for an über traditional Korean meal, or just enjoy it however you like for breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, hangover cure.  Or if you don’t feel like eating it as a meal, drink a mugful during the day.  It’s not only good food, it’s healing for your body!

bowls of salt and green onions at a Seolleongtang restaurant for seasoning your soup

And if you aren’t up for a Korean bone broth, there are plenty of other great recipes out there.  My chicken soup for the Seoul recipe will be coming up soon! So hop to the broth!



kimchi für das Volk!

So last Sunday, I decided to don my dirndl in search of a social experiment.

Just how far can a Fräulein go with a winning smile and bowl of fresh kimchi?

Apparently pretty far.  Being a Sunday in Germany, I couldn’t pop over to a shop in search of daikon-rettich or chinakohl, but I did have a freshly purchased, 100% organic kohlrabi.  What the heck, kohl is kohl, and this Fräulein is all about the fusion.  So I chopped and mixed my way to a bowl of instant kimchi and fed the masses.

The recipe for my deutsche Kohlrabi-Kimchi  was simple:

Peel and slice a kohlrabi into thin slices and then quarter. In a bowl mix together 1-2 TBS Korean Chili Powder (now you should know how I feel about bad chili powder…for heaven’s sake whatever you do don’t buy a Korean chili powder that’s been made in China! And yes…it is worth it to shell out for the more expensive stuff.  Look for the label that’s the Korean equivalent for “organic” co-op farming), 2-3 TBS rice vinegar, a dash of fish and soy sauce, 1-2 tsp sugar.  Mix together madly, add a few toasted sesame seeds and minced green onion, and voila…instant “kimchi.” (this isn’t the kind that ferments so eat up while its fresh)

My friend Max joined me on this venture to document the experiment, and here are some of the results.  If anyone wants to be my photo/videographer to hit up yet another one of Berlin’s finest Flohmarkts…drop me an email.

kimchi on the run

you'll like it, promise

sehr scharf!

schmeckt das?


the lovely stand where i bought my kohlrabi

you know you want it!

the amused bystander

she looked skeptical but she liked it anyway

now everybody wants the kimchi

"that would taste good with beer!"

open wiiiiiiiide!


“How I learned to be a proper Korean wife” or….Kimchi 101

It all started with a craving.  Living in Germany for once in my life I was not without easily accessible quantities of kimchi.  This in and of itself was a serious hardship, but more alarming was that without kimchi, I couldn’t make – kimchi chigae.  Comfort food is a strange thing.  To some it’s mac & cheese or mashed potatoes.  The taste of home comes in a variety of packages.  For my German roommate it was spaghetti with butter and ketchup.  Comfort for me came wrapped up in the biggest clash of culinary sensibilities: a steaming, deliciously pungent bowl of kimchi chigae  and a Big Mac.

Food associations are strong and unshakable, as the brilliant marketers for good old McDonalds can attest.  As any one of my friends back in L.A. would confirm, I am not someone who has willingly eaten from the golden arches in years.  My organic, home-made, farmer’s market loving nature had some serious issues with the kind of processed garbage that Ronald McDonald thankfully was no longer super sizing, but thousands of miles from “home,” lost in a bewildering foreign land without strong social networks or close friends and having seriously OD’d on the notion of Abendbrot (I could not eat any more slices of schwarzbrot, cheese & wurst with the prerequisite cut up cucumber!), Ronald became a reminder of pleasant childhood memories.  Happy meals eaten during school field trips, deep fried apple pies and caramel sundaes, packages of the Hamburglar cookies…remember those?  Big Macs were a special treat not often allowed by my notoriously health conscious mother and they are still imbedded in some far recess of my brain to trigger inexplicable feelings of warmth and security desperately needed that first long winter spent alone in Deutschland.

It’s the same way I feel about kimchi chigae.  Call it my identity split.  My American side sometimes just needs a dose of that “special sauce” in the same way the Korean gal in me needs her kimchi chigae.  But although those cravings for Big Macs eventually dissipated as I acclimated to my new life situation, the desire for kimchi chigae refused to die.  It was always my favorite meal growing up.  So odoriferous my mother cooked it in the garage, the pungent fumes drifting out towards the sidewalk would make my American friends curl their noses in dismay…was that a dead animal in our garage?  I’d pretend I didn’t hear them and for once be back home right on time for dinner.

So, what was a girl to do?  The question of a Big Mac was easily solved.   Globalization makes it possible to find a McDonalds anytime you’re jonesing for the crap they offer, (I will concede that sometimes a fresh batch of their fries with ketchup is just…dare I say, deelish?) The kimchi chigae though, now that posed a big problem.  The few Korean establishments I’d found in Berlin rarely offered it, and when they did, it was a watered down, tasteless version lacking any of the penetrating zing of a proper chigae.  This was seriously unacceptable.  There was only one thing to do…make my own.

Since the only way to make a proper kimchi chigae is to first have suitably fermented kimchi, it meant that I needed to start from the very beginning, a very good place to start.  This fräulein needed to make herself some kimchi!  Now that was something I’d never needed to make before.  Why bother when a huge bottle could be had 24-7 at several large Korean markets in L.A. or a homemade version could be pinched off of my aunt or mother. Once I had an available amount, I’d just whip myself a batch of chigae once the cabbage had gotten a little too salacious for normal ingestion.  The precise timing in which to make the perfect chigae from fermented kimchi could be an art in and of itself.  A fresh batch of kimchi just doesn’t have the right toe curling power, but wait until it’s gone too far and even a blowhard has a hard time digesting the sour, spicy mass. It’s reached proper maturation when you open a jar and the ensuing odor makes your eyes smart just a tiny leeetle bit and you’re not sure if it’s the  kimchi or  if you just passed gas.

Missing Korean food was not something I had accounted for when moving to Berlin.  Sure it was something I ate back in L.A., but to be honest, I took it for granted.  I could eat it whenever I wanted, so why bother eating it all the time?  Those first endlessly grey months in Germany,  I would rue the day I ever casually drove past a BCD Tofu House.  My yearly visits back home now are filled with days of Korean bbq; accelerating inhalations of suhlung tang, daenjang chigae, kimbap, yookgejang, soon dubu, tansooyeuk, until my pants get uncomfortably snug and I consider slowing down consumption, only to think about the months and months of deprivation ahead and say- fuck it! and undo the button imprinting itself onto my increasing belly.   Ahhh mah-shee-da!

So there was only one thing to do.  I gave my mother a heart attack by asking her to teach me how to make kimchi my first visit back to the States.  “Have you met a good Korean man?” were the first words out of her mouth.  Apparently, the only thing that could possibly motivate me to want to make kimchi was in preparation of being a good Korean wife…*eye roll*… I had to set the record straight. (do you KNOW what its like dating in Germany where the notion of flirting is asking you how you made the gravy after waiting 3 months before even thinking about asking you on a date?!?! )  She tried to hide her disappointment, but chirked up with the idea that by teaching me kimchi, perhaps…perhaps…it would improve my chances of finding the perfect Korean doctor, lawyer or supremely successful business man, or if need be and under extreme duress (since I wasn’t getting any younger ; )) settling for the notion of a non-Korean, albeit only a non-Korean doctor, lawyer, or even more supremely successful business man, and as long as they were only white non-Korean men, preferably American because Europeans always have mistresses according to her friend who lived in Paris….Chinese was acceptable too, but under no circumstances Japanese!

Since getting into my color blind international dating choices would have given her a serious ulcer if not a real heart attack, we just moved onto the kimchi tutorial.  Now there are as many varieties of kimchi as there are types of bread in Germany, whether you crave mouth burning fierceness or just a touch of the piquant, to cool summertime refreshing.  Everyone will probably tell you their mother’s version is the best, and who am I to argue…it probably is.  Something that gets served with pretty much every meal, every Korean child has eaten kimchi from the moment they can handle solid food.  My mother would wash a piece off in a glass of water and cut it up into our rice porridge.  I think by the time I was 5 I stopped “washing” my kimchi and just ate it straight up from the jar.  The mouth of fire has had a long time to germinate!

This is my version of a basic nappa cabbage kimchi, tweaked after years of living in Berlin and also dealing with busy people and busy schedules that may not have the energy or time to do something 100% “traditional.”  I think cooking is a fluid representation of where and when you live and being in Germany has obviously presented some obstacles.  Ingredients are not always easily come by and sometimes impossible to find, so Fräulein Kimchi’s approach is to find what works in the environment you’re living in.  There are no rules!

Fräulein Kimchi’s Kimchi recipe, to be used liberally as you please.

1 Nappa Cabbage (Chinakohl),

chinakohl at a street market
chinakohl sold on the streets

cut into small pieces (I usually cut it into about 2”x 2” slices, but whatever size you want is fine)

2 carrots julienned

2 bunches of green onions, cut into about 2” strips

1 or 2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced (*optional- I like to add apples which adds a nice crisp contrast to the cabbage, but this is not a really “traditional” ingredient so be prepared to face the ire of some die hard Koreans who may eat your kimchi. Just send them to Fräulein Kimchi if they give you any cheek)

1/2 daikon radish, peeled and sliced into thin rounds and then quartered (I prefer to use the Korean radish, which is called “mu”and has a spicier taste than daikon, but it’s not available in Germany…yet)

freshly minced garlic

Garlic, 6-7 cloves, peeled and crushed

Ginger, 1 tablespoon finely minced

Sea salt, 2-5 tablespoons per cabbage (my aunt swears that the type of salt you use influences the taste of the kimchi.  Don’t use the super high end gourmet sea salt though since you will need a lot of salt.  Large bags of sea salt can usually be found fairly cheaply at most asian markets)

Korean chili powder “Kochugaru”  (while it’s best to use Korean chili powder, if it’s not available in your area, you “can” use a different kind of chili powder.

kochugaru at it's finest
kochugaru at it’s finest

Be sure to experiment with amounts though, as Korean chili powder has a more mellow heat to it that necessitates using quite a bit when making kimchi.  Other chili powders may pack more heat so take caution! Also, its best if you use Korean chili powder that has been produced in Korea and not China.  Look for a package that has a bright red color to it, which signifies freshness.  If it’s made in China and is neon bright though, it’s probably been dyed synthetically! Avoid!  To maintain freshness of the chili powder, keep it in your freezer).

Fish sauce, about 2-3 tablespoons (For the best flavor I suggest you don’t buy the Thai anchovy fish sauces, but a Korean version.  It’s called Sand Lance Sauce.  This is also something you should add to your taste.  More fish sauce will give it a stronger flavor so see what you prefer.  To be super hardcore traditional, use the tiny salted shrimps that come in a jar.  So far its been impossible for me to find in Germany, but easily found in Korean supermarkets in America)

Pair of plastic gloves

directions: In a large bowl heavily salt the cabbage pieces. For a large cabbage it will take about 4-5 tablespoons, for a smaller one 3-4.  Let it sit for a minimum of an hour and up to anywhere from 2-3 hours.  The longer it stays in the salt, the more the cabbage breaks down and releases its water.  It also absorbs more salt and gets saltier, so experiment and see which texture and seasoning you prefer.  If you use a whole cabbage without cutting it up  then it needs to salt overnight. (This is the traditional way of making kimchi, but also requires much larger jars which aren’t easily come by in Berlin.  Its also more of a mess to cut up and serve once its fermented)

Wash off the salt from the cabbage and squeeze it dry.  Taste a piece; it should be slightly salty.  Place the cabbage in a large bowl and add the garlic, ginger, carrots, apples and radish.   Add the kochugaru a bit at a time. This is to your taste, the more kochugaru you use, the spicier it will be.  Add the fish sauce and green onions and mix thoroughly with your hands (make sure to wear the plastic gloves if you don’t want your hands reeking of garlic and fish for days!)  The final mixture shouldn’t be too dry, the chili powder should start to expand slightly from the moisture.  If it seems too dry once you’ve added all the ingredients, then you can add a tiny bit of water to loosen it up.

Gather some clean empty jars and start to bottle.  As you spoon in the fresh kimchi make sure you press it down firmly into the bottom of the jar.  There should be no space or air between the layers and a little bit of liquid at the top of the jar just covering the cabbage.  Leave some space on top as the kimchi will expand and create more liquid as it starts to ferment (packing the kimchi too tightly to the top of the lid can create a juicy, smelly explosion when you first try to open it).

Leave a jar out on the counter so that you can eat it within a day or two.  The rest of the jars will last for weeks if not months if properly stored in the fridge.  After a few weeks have gone by and the kimchi has gone sour…it’s time to make some chigae!

Some pictures of the finished product as I found them in Korea…enjoy!

traditional ceramic urns where kimchi would be stored for months
the richer you were, the larger the urns..these humongoids were found next to the house of a rich yangban