Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Old World Ways

Deep inside me lives a grandmother from the Old Country. She comes out when I’m cooking. She doesn’t let me waste anything — a chicken carcass, gizzards, tops of leeks, wilted celery and carrot peels become rich stock. She reminds me when people had less, nothing could afford to be thrown out. So I mix in a tablespoon of rendered chicken fat from the stock with mashed potatoes and discover it produces the most flavorful potatoes ever! She also insists homemade is much better than store bought.

This week my inner grandmother is from Korea. She emerged when we received a surprise bounty from Persephone Farm: a burlap sack of potatoes along with more sacks of red onions, yellow onions and garlic — and several heads of cabbage, some leeks, a loaf of sweet bread, farm-fresh eggs and winter braising greens. I saw the lovely wrinkled leaves of the Napa cabbage and knew kimchi was in my immediate future.

I can vividly picture what this inner grandmother is like. Mrs. Kim carries a navy blue umbrella with lilac flowers printed on it. She’s tiny, but fierce. And refuses to eat the commercially prepared kimchi her sons’ wives try to serve her. She only eats her own kimchi that comes from a giant crock that once belonged to her grandmother. She once had the recipe on transparent, faded paper that since has disintegrated, but by now she knows the recipe by heart.

So at the urging of Mrs. Kim, I’m making kimchi — a salty, spicy, fermented condiment made from cabbage — for the first time. (With the rest of the cabbage, another inner grandmother from Italy will take over to make a cabbage, leek and sausage pasta dish — she looks a lot like Lidia Bastianich.)

I’m following the recipe from Canning for a New Generation. I hunted down Korean chile powder and daikon at Fubonn, a giant Asian grocery store nearby. After soaking the cabbage and daikon in brine overnight, I followed the directions and mixed up the anchovies, garlic, ginger and chile powder. Then I tossed it in with the drained cabbage. I now have two jars of kimchi-in-the-making sitting on my counter. After a week, it’ll be ready to eat. I’m already planning on making pork-and-kimchi dumpling, also from Canning for a New Generation. I think my inner Korean grandmother will approve.