Sunday, September 13, 2015

In a Pickle: Making Kimchi

The early years of life are full of firsts. The first step, the first word, the first feel of sand and waves on the toes. Every day is new and exciting. The novel experiences tend to taper off as the decades roll by. This past week my routine and quite predictable life got a jolt with two new experiences- running my first 5K race and taking my first ballet class. Actually, make that three experiences- a friend taught me to make kimchi- the fermented Korean pickle.

The 5K was the culmination of 10 weeks of training. Our race was a fundraiser for a therapy program for kids with special needs. At 7:30 AM on a thankfully not-blazing-hot race day, we were at the registration counter, picking up our bibs and feeling like legitimate runners as we pinned them to our shirts. We stretched as a group, wished each other well and joined the throng at the start line. At that point, I realized that the race course was a series of rolling hills- not a flat patch in sight- and my heart sank to the soles of my running shoes. Running is bad enough and hills really kill me. No turning back now.

The start was called and the elite runners took off like a shot. Calm down, guys. It's not a race, you know? ;) The rest of us started trotting after them. Running is a very mental thing. It is hard and I want to stop right away. I have to keep talking to myself non-stop and coaxing myself to take one step and then another and another. During the race, I distracted myself by looking at everyone around me. It was marvelous to see that runners (and walkers, and run walkers) come in all shapes and sizes and all ages. Everyone's out there doing their best and cheering each other on.

The race course went through a nice neighborhood. We ran to the halfway point, then ran back. I can't tell you how relieved I was to see runners coming back on the opposite side of the road. It meant that the halfway point must be somewhere within reach. The organizers had placed signs at each mile (5K= 3.1 miles.) The first mile seemed ridiculously long as I huffed up the hills. The second mile went by faster as I passed a water station, saw several of my running buddies returning from the halfway point and gave them high-fives, then passed the halfway point myself.

The third mile was pure misery; I was very tired and cross, asking myself over and over why I was doing this stupid thing anyway. I wanted to sit by the side of the road and cry. Meanwhile, elementary school-aged kids were passing me. Seniors were passing me. Somehow I stumbled to the end of mile 3 and a course minder said the magic words, "You're almost there". Then my running coach spotted me and urged me up the last hill. One last dash to the finish line- V was standing there with Lila and that cheered me right up and I made it to the end with a smile on my face.

My goal was to run the 5K in under 36 minutes- my time ended up being 35:46 minutes so I made it with 14 whole seconds to spare. I did technically run the whole way; I say technically because much of it was laborious jogging as if through molasses. I am SO GLAD I did this. The sweat and tears are totally worth it. I got inspired by people at the race. I saw myself in a new light.

Someone asked me later if the race was fun. Well, it was fun before the race and really fun after (several of us went out for brunch, sweat-soaked, wearing race bibs and all) but the actually running is definitely not what I would describe as fun. It may get easier if I keep at it. I'm not in the running program any more but plan to run on my own 2 or 3 times a week and sign up for another 5K in November.

* * *
Speaking of novel experiences, cooking as a hobby lends itself to many firsts- there are always new things to try in the kitchen. Today, my dear friend generously invited a small group to her kitchen and we made kimchi. Kimchi is a fermented Korean pickle, often spicy and garlicky, made with cabbage or radish and such. It is a recipe that she learned from her Korean-American college roommate.

Five of us gathered in my friend's kitchen. We were each instructed to bring a bowl with the vegetable that we wanted to pickle. Two of us brought napa cabbage. One got cubed diakon (white) radish and carrots and the last person got shredded turnips and red radishes.

The method for kimchi making is easy enough, in 3 steps:
1. Salt the vegetable to draw out the water.
2. Add the seasoning- ginger, garlic, red chili powder (you can buy a special Korean variety) and green onions.
3. Pack it into a jar and let it ferment naturally for a few days.

For a delicate vegetable like napa cabbage, in step 2, instead of adding seasoning directly to the salted vegetable, my friend had us make a paste of the seasoning (with some water and flour) and then apply it.

Kimchi!

1. Chop 1 head of napa cabbage.
2. Add kosher salt- about 3/4 to 1 tbsp. salt per pound of vegetables.
3. Stir the cabbage and salt together and let the salt do its thing and draw out water from the cabbage. The cabbage will shrink dramatically in volume.


4. Meanwhile, heat 1 cup water and 1 tbsp. flour (rice or all-purpose flour) and bring to a simmer.
5. Stir in 1 tsp. brown sugar. Turn off the heat and cool to room temperature.
6. To this flour-water mixture, add 1 tbsp. minced ginger, 1 tbsp. minced garlic and 2-3 green onions, chopped, and the all-important Korean chili powder, about 2-3 tbsp.





7. After an hour or two of the cabbage marinating in salt, drain away the salt water and rinse the cabbage. Return it to a bowl.
8. Stir in the spice paste and mix well.
9. Pack into very clean glass jars, pressing the kimchi down with a spoon to get all the air bubbles out and make sure the vegetables are submerged in the spicy brine. This recipe with 1 head of cabbage gave me 2 full jars.
10. Set the jars on a plate at room temperature for 3 days or so to let it ferment. Then refrigerate. Eat after a week.

I'll update this post to show you what the kimchi looks like as it ferments, and to report on the taste!

While salting out our veggies, we snacked on kimbap, Korean seaweed and rice rolls. So delicious. Positively addictive.


Roasted seaweed sheets
Seasoned sushi rice
Pickled diakon radish
Shredded carrots
Sautéed spinach

Roll, cut, eat.

Cooking with friends has got to be the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Tell me what's new and exciting in your life!

39 comments:

  1. congrats on completing 5K. !!!!
    no comment on kimchi as I am no fan of east asian dishes :-(

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tell us more about your first ballet class! - neha

    ReplyDelete
  3. Congrats Nupur!! Yay! You did it! You go girl!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congrats for completing the marathon!! Loved reading about your experience. Kimchi making sounds fun especially with a group of friends. I made my first pickle this summer with fresh turmeric root and ambe-halad root. I fell in love with the combination as it is so fragrant and so flavorful. I absolutely love the tender raw mango and ginger flavor of the the ambe halad. I have finally mastered the art of bhakri making :-) and that makes me incredibly happy! We feasted on ragi/nachni bhakris over the weekend and I did a happy dance when every single bhakri puffed up.

    I am enjoying my zumba classes and plan to spend some more time at the gym doing strength training. I would love to read about your ballet class. Also, its been so long since there's been an update on Lila and Duncan. :-) Hope they had a wonderful summer.

    - Priti

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Priti- NOT a marathon, a mere 5K (I think it is about 1/8 the distance of a marathon). I will run a marathon the week after I climb Mt. Everest which is to say never :)

      Congrats on the bhakris- those are not easy to make!!

      Delete
  5. There's a quote I love from author Dorothy Parker that I consider very applicable to most difficult things in life, "I hate writing, i love having written". I chuckled and thought of that quote when I read about your "during the 5K" experience. The middle of any task worth accomplishing is always slightly messy so it's the results or the anticipation that usually take us back to trying it out once again.

    Congrats on the 5K Nupur!

    -Nisha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nisha- You hit the nail on the head, girl! That's exactly how I feel about it.

      Delete
  6. You are on a roll Nupur. Hearty Congratulations on completing the 5K. Ballet class, tell us more about that :-). I love Kimchi and Thanks for sharing the recipe. Bookmarked to try soon.

    Siri

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Siri! The kimchi was so easy to make, I can't wait to taste it.

      Delete
  7. Congratulations Nupur!! You did it!
    Tell us more about the ballet class.

    Your batch of kimchi looks so delicious. Looking forward to reading how it turned out.

    Nothing majorly new and exciting going on. Happy that the weather is starting to cool down a teensy bit here in Texas.

    - Anu

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anu- Thanks! The weather cooled down very dramatically here this week. I had to scramble to find a jacket this morning. Of course, I think we'll have a couple more heat waves before Fall really sets in.

      Delete
  8. Congratulations Nupur! I love how refreshingly honest you are about your experience :). For many years we lived near the finish line of the New York City marathon, and it was so inspiring to watch people of all shapes, sizes and ages run/walk/stagger/limp the final steps. I would feel a brief surge of motivation to try it out myself, but unlike you, I did nothing about it!

    Three decades ago, when we were graduate students in Ithaca, we had Korean neighbors who made kimchi every winter. They filled a huge earthern pot with the cabbage and spices, dug a hole into the ground and buried the pot for the duration of the (bitterly cold) winter. With great fanfare they unearthed the pots towards the beginning of the summer and shared the mouth-puckeringly delicious, slow-fermented bounty with us. This was the first time I'd ever heard of or tasted kimchi! No other kimchi I tasted since came close to that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kamini- Hi! I lived a block away from the marathon route too, and yes, it was so crazy and festive. We loved standing and cheering the runners.

      The traditional kimchi you tasted sounds amazing! I can imagine what would happen if I buried kimchi in my backyard. Duncan would dig it up and have garlic breath the rest of his life :)

      Delete
  9. great going on your 5k!
    Frankly, I absolutely hated my first 5k experience. I think I was in the worst state mentally. My hubby and our son was supposed to come to cheer me on, but our son woke up late, and hubby had to stay with him at home. So I ended up going alone. The friend I was supposed to run with had also canceled due to flu! So I was in the whole "no one loves me, no one is here to support me" mindframe. lol! This led to no motivation to run, me exceeding my goal time and taking several walking breaks! Ah well, I signed up for a second one after that, an had a much much much better experience!
    I am on an running/exercising break due to our move back to india and lots of traveling, but I do plan to get back to it once we settle down. I have tried kimchi once at a korean restaurant but it didnt blow my mind. Maybe I should give it a try again, yours look amazing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neha- Your first 5K sounds awful! But good for you for signing up for another. My coach likes to say, "There are good runs and bad runs but even a bad run is better than no run". I hope you find great exercise opportunities in India!

      Delete
  10. What is new and exciting in my life:

    Gardening (a fabulous year, full of vegetables and lessons and bugs!)
    Finding the joy of solitude
    India trip (returned last week)
    A sturdy and beautiful brass mortal-pestle from my mother-in-law's kitchen

    Looking forward to the festivities in the coming months, both Indian and American... :)

    Lakshmi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What fun!! Sounds like a fantastic summer, Lakshmi.

      Delete
  11. That is an awesome time Nupur. A twelve min mile is difficult especially outside. I can barely run one inside on the treadmill, let alone outside. I'm so impressed. Congrats!

    The only thing new in my world are the two books I'm reading. The Novel Habits of Happiness-an Isabel Dalhousie chronicle, and a book about the history of citrus in Italy- Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Arpita! Ironically I can't run a 12 minute mile on the treadmill, if I go beyond 4 mph I start to feel like I'm about to fall off. But yeah this time did not come easy to me, I need a lot more training.

      ooh the books sound interesting!!

      Delete
  12. Congratulations, Nupur! you did it!
    Now, tell u more about the ballet class.
    I've often looked at Kimchi jars in the Korean store, but never bought any. Didn't know what to pair it with ( and I did not google it ~sheepish~.)

    I just finished pickling radish and carrots to make veg. Banh-Mi.

    I've started watching Scandal on Netflix.
    Gave up the series 'Criminal Minds', saglikade serial killers disayla lagle mala!

    Nothing exciting happening here, but the heat level is going down ( 90-95 deg. F , finally) and my son and I are reading 'The Faraway Tree' series. I love those books :)


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Manasi- Kimchi is just koniche lonche, I mean, there's cabbage, salt, ginger, garlic and chili powder, plus tangy taste from fermentation. I just eat with anything (I've seen kimchi fried rice) or all by itself ;)

      The Faraway Tree- what fun!! It must be great to be able to read chapter books together.

      Delete
  13. Hey Nupur! Congratulations on your 5K, well done! And waiting to hear about your ballet too! By the way, inspired by your post a while ago, I changed my diet a bit and guess what! I achieved my own 5!! I lost 5 Kg and feel better for it, just plain sensible eating helped me achieve it, by giving up sugar and carbs. Since spring is here, enjoying all kinds of berries. Look forward to your next post. Warm wishes - Shubha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shubha- That's wonderful- feeling better and lighter, and being happy with your new way of eating- sounds great!

      Delete
  14. Congratulations Nupur!! You are my inspiration. Keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much- that's very kind of you!

      Delete
  15. Congrats Nupur on your 5K completion !!! YAY!!! Appreciate your honest write up. I've never heard of kimchi....
    Though I've done quite a few 5K walk/jogs, I did not train with a personal trainer. I've always had a fast walk and loved walking all my school/college life. So I continued walking even after moving to US and summer months I walked 40 odd miles a week. And then I started to jog slowly and build my endurance to jog longer distances overtime. Thats how I started walking/jog/run for various causes :) I'm sure your experience will motivate you to run/jog again !! It really is addictive...

    New this summer has to be playing corn hole tournament for the first time at my friend's place. It was so much fun and I realized I'm not very good at aim and throw games ;-) It was fun anyways...with plenty of food, fun and friends...

    Take care ..
    Meena.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meena- Very true, it is addictive in a sense and it becomes a bit of a game to compete with yourself. Good for way for making progress one step at a time by yourself! What I had was not a personal trainer but a group running coach and I have to credit her with keeping me going. Good luck with the corn hold tournament- what fun :)

      Delete
  16. I have never run a marathon and neither made kimchi yet. Congratulation to you on both! Kimchi, however, is on my to-do list! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never run a marathon either and doubt I ever will! 5Ks are short and sweet and doable for standard issue humans :)

      Delete
  17. Well done on your 5K! What a great finish time.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Nupur,
    Congratulations!
    What do you do when you don't feel like exercising, what motivates you?

    Angel

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Angel- What seems to be working for me is that I put the exercise session (running/zumba/stretch class) on my calendar. Once something is on my calendar, I just do it without spending any time to think of whether I want to do it or not. Just like I don't need motivation to attend a conference call at work, or drop off library books or whatever (it is my job/ on my to do list), it is a item that just gets done. Just one of the strategies that can be used, but it is working well for me. Thanks, Angel!

      Delete
  19. Congrats Nupur! Your 5k experience inspires me. I like walking and can walk long distances, but I hate running. Now I feel like giving it a try.
    -Deepa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deepa- Walking is terrific exercise, especially if you are able to walk briskly and over long distances! You have much less risk of injury with walking than running. Running does have some benefits over walking, like increased calorie burn, cardiovascular fitness but really, either walking or running (or run-walking) is great.

      Delete
  20. Hey Nupur,

    Congrats on your 5K!!! Your running experince brouhgt a smile to my face. Wanted to share mine, I started running at the age 39 starting with the 8K, did a 16K last year. Don't ask my timing pls, I find your timing impressive :) The best experience for me was, when I trained, I met fellow runners of all ages and sizes and everyone encouraged with a thumps up, a nod of the head, a wink. I will run by annual 8K for the fourth time this year. You go girl!!!

    Cheers

    Priya

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to say hello!