by Mike Sula
I should have known better. Each year around this time my mother in law bequeaths me a year's supply of her homemade, straight-from-the-garden stuff (which invariably asphyxiates whatever unsuspecting TSA drone has the misfortune of inspecting the suspicious-looking amorphous mass in my bag on the day I fly home). The baekchu kimchi she makes in huge quantities requires a multiday process, usually involving her pals, and I'm never around to witness it or otherwise take part. Besides, "Not even Korean man make kimchi," she'll joke.
But this year, because it's considerably easier to make, she let me get my hands in the kkakdugi, Korean white radish kimchi made from the giant, slightly spicy greenish white roots known as mu (무). She has about a half ton of these sprouting up in her backyard, but they're readily available at Joong Boo and Hmart.
All you do is cut off the leaves at the top (good for soup) and any stray roots danging on the ends. Dice them into one=inch cubes and mix in a couple handfuls of sea salt (she scoffs at precise measurements). Let the cut radish sit in a colander for an hour while the salt draws out water.
Then rinse them and let them drain for another hour or so, while you pulse a bunch of garlic, fresh ginger, and baby salted preserved shrimp* in a food processor. Combine this paste in a large bowl with the radish, along with a handful or two of sliced green onions and gochugaru (Korean red chile powder),* depending on how spicy you want it. You're supposed to add a couple teaspoons of sugar, but my jaw hit the floor when Umma threw in two packets of Sweet 'N Low instead, claiming sugar would make the radish soggy. I think I'll just skip that step altogether next time.
Mix it all up and transfer the kkakdugi to a closed container—but don't waste the red pasty residue left on the bowl. Swirl around a couple cups of water and use it to make soup.
You can eat the kkakdugi right away, but leave it at room temperature for a few days to kick-start the fermentation. After that, refrigerate, and enjoy it until it's gone. Kkakdugi goes great with seolleongtang, the milky beef soup you get at Han Bat. But you can eat it with anything. I like to throw a couple chunks into Bloody Marys or wrap them in bacon, rumaki-style.
*This is found at your nearby Korean grocery.