13 December 2006

Benito vs. the Produce Section: Napa Cabbage

When you choose to focus on the weirdest parts of your local grocery store, you sometimes wonder how long certain products have been lingering beneath your unknowing gaze. For instance, the vegetable for this installment is Napa Cabbage, yet another ingredient that goes by many names. And hey, it's been cultivated for 6,000 years!

I was lucky enough to encounter this interesting vegetable at the same time as my desire to try traditional Korean kimchi. It's sold in glass jars at some grocery stores, yet I've never got around to purchasing any.

I love sauerkraut and spicy food, so I'm bound to like kimchi. A conversation with a Korean friend of mine over Thanksgiving inspired me to make my own. So I looked up many recipes, and found many wildly divergent methods. I ended up picking Bobby Flay's recipe. I had all of the ingredients on hand, and it looked like fun.

For this particular recipe, the ingredients mixed in the blender smelled and tasted like a really incredible salad dressing. Sadly, Napa cabbage doesn't taste all that great raw. (I always try these odd ingredients raw and cooked/prepared.) It's sort of like bitter regular cabbage, even though the bunch looks like a slightly more bulbous version of romaine lettuce. (I did remove the hard core at the center.)

Here's what the jar looked like on day one, right after combining the ingredients. I really had to pack all of the cabbage in the jar, but after only a few minutes wilting had begun and I was able to stir the mixture with ease.

Over several days it condensed down to a third of its original volume, and developed a lovely aroma. Granted, my roommate wasn't thrilled by the smell, but after I tightened the lid it didn't permeate the entire kitchen... er, house. (Kimchi-scented ice cubes turned out to be a unique addition to a glass of water over the past week, but I wouldn't recommend it on a regular basis.)

So what to eat with it? I considered making bulgogi or kalbi tang, but compromised and made some braised beef short ribs (with a little honey, soy sauce, and pepper flakes added). This dinner is just Korean-inspired, and does not aim to be authentic.

The beef was braised in, and the dinner served with the Schlafly Coffee Stout from St. Louis, Missouri (scroll down to the October seasonal beers). Why not wine? Granted a sparkling wine or Riesling might have matched well, but I find a cold one tends to be a better match for certain dishes. The beer does in fact smell and taste like really good coffee, yet has the mouth feel of a creamy dark beer. Imagine Guinness with a coffee flavor and you've got a good idea. The coffee flavor is provided by Kaldi's Coffee using Fair Trade beans. It made an incredible broth for the beef and was a good pair with the meal. For future use, I'd suggest it as an after-dinner beer served in small cups.

As for the kimchi? Mind-bogglingly delicious. A perfect balance of sour, tart, sweet, spicy, with a pleasant crunch to it. Mine isn't as red as some kimchi--I skipped the paprika or powdered red pepper, but it tastes great. It has a flavor somewhere between a vinegar-based slaw and sauerkraut with lots of heat (keep in mind this recipe used a full quarter cup of red pepper flakes like you see at pizza joints). I'll also point out that it worked well with the meal, even if it wasn't exactly Korean. The bright, tangy nature of the kimchi balanced against the buttery rich short ribs and the starchy rice.

Verdict: Kimchi rocks. I'm anxious to try some more traditional preparations.

1 comment:

fredric koeppel said...

We braised short ribs last weekend in dark beer and juniper, falling-off-the-bone tender and flavorful. I'll admit that I'm not so big on kimchi or really anything that has to do with pickles or pickling. My loss, I know.