SALTY, SPICY, GARLICKY, HEALTHY—Kimchi has arrived in the Hudson Valley. Insook Cheon, of Insook’s Kimchee & Produce in Plattekill, and Heewon Marshall, of Newburgh’s newest hot spot, Seoul Kitchen, are ready to meet the region’s growing taste for this Korean snack.
The blend of spicy, fermented vegetables (traditionally Napa cabbage, onion and garlic) is high in vitamins A and C and loaded with healthy probiotics. Its pungent, funky smell makes it an acquired taste, but once acquired, it can be addictive.
More than a condiment but less than a stand-alone dish, kimchi is a staple of the Korean diet. Most Koreans eat kimchi at least twice a day, providing the same (arguably better) health benefits than dairy. “Kimchi is a part of our daily lives. It’s a very traditional dish,” Marshall says. “Each table in every family has a unique kimchi.”
There are endless variations of kimchi, from traditional Napa cabbage, Korean daikon radish, even white kimchi made without the traditional chili pepper-based sauce.
Both Cheon and Marshall admit that making kimchi involves time-consuming preparation, patience and science. “It depends on the weather,” Marshall confides. “In the wintertime when I make kimchi, it takes about three to five days of non-refrigerated fermentation before you can smell something starting to happen. During the summer, it only takes one day without refrigeration for the fermentation to begin.” Cheon adds that temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees are optimal for making kimchi.
After the laborious process of salting, washing, grinding, squeezing, straining, layering and fermenting up to 15 ingredients for a batch of kimchi, it must ferment before it can be enjoyed. Cheon lets her kimchi ferment for about four days; Marshall’s sits for three to five days. Both prefer long-fermented kimchi, some which may ferment up to a year.
If kimchi becomes dried out or “old,” it can be incorporated into other traditional Korean dishes like kimchee stew, a widely known and loved Korean dish. Cheon offers her customers a few recipes, from a simple sautée with onions and garlic over rice, to dumplings, or rolling it into kimbap, a Korean-style cooked sushi roll.
Cheon and Marshall are happy to see the popularity and interest in kimchi and Korean food sprouting in the Hudson Valley. “Usually, diners that come from the city already know about kimchi, but I have found that local people don’t know or have never had it,” Marshall says. “From my experience, though, people are wowed when they try it.”
At Seoul Kitchen, Marshall serves kimchi with many dishes, including bibimbap, a rice-based dish with various vegetables, pork, fermented chili sauce and a fried egg; kimchi is served on the side. Cheon, who makes kimchi weekly to keep up with the demand in her store, also takes custom kimchi orders. Currently, she sells six types of kimchi seasonally at $6 for 16 ounces or $10 for 32 ounces.
Main photo: Insook Kimchi and Produce. Body Photos: Seoul Kitchen.