You can’t have a Korean meal without kimchi. Although the term can refer to various different fermented veggies, it’s the cabbage—spicy, tangy, and bright red—that’s trending. Long a staple in Korean home kitchens and restaurants, kimchi has recently gained popularity for its probiotic power and funky flavor. It’s great with grilled meats like kalbi (short ribs) or over a simple bowl of rice with a fried egg on top (trust us— try it), but its versatility goes way beyond that.
No one knows this better than Maangchi, the Korean home-cooking guru who has more than 5 million YouTube subscribers and two popular cookbooks. Kimchi is an essential part of her life: She used to make 20 pounds at a time when her adult children were younger. But Maangchi, who was born and raised in Korea and now calls New York City home, understands that you might want to test the waters with store-bought before getting elbow-deep in red pepper paste. No judgment!
When you’re shopping for kimchi, start by looking at it. “If the entire jar doesn’t look bright red or have a slight pink hue, don’t buy it,” she says. “Any brown or layers of different colors means it may be oxidized.” When you get it home, open the jar over the sink. The best kimchi will fizz (a sign that it’s well fermented) as soon as you twist the lid.
Once you open the jar, you have two options: Eat the kimchi right away or let it sit at room temperature for a few days to ferment further. As a side dish, Maangchi prefers fresh kimchi sprinkled with sesame seeds served with plain white rice. If you’re using it for a stew (like kimchi-jjigae) or dumpling soup, it’s better to start with an aged kimchi. Either way, once you’re done using it, make sure the remaining cabbage is submerged in brine to prevent oxidation.
And about that brine…don’t toss it! The liquid in the jar, which Maangchi calls “kimchi juice,” is great for adding tang to fried rice, soups, and kimchijeon (savory pancakes). Get a taste of Korean kimchi cooking with these four easy recipes from Maangchi. “Once you start cooking with kimchi, you won’t want to stop,” she says. “And maybe, soon enough, you’ll be making kimchi of your own!”
Kimchi-Jjigae (Kimchi Stew)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Kimchi-Jjigae (Kimchi Stew)
Kimchi-Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Kimchi-Bokkeumbap (Kimchi Fried Rice)
Kimchijeon (Kimchi Pancake)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Kimchijeon (Kimchi Pancake)
Kimchi-Guksu (Noodle Soup)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Kimchi-Guksu (Noodle Soup)
Myeolchi-Dasima-Gukmul (Kelp Stock)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Myeolchi-Dasima-Gukmul (Kelp Stock)
Yachae-Gukmul (Vegetable Stock)
Recipe: Try Maangchi's Yachae-Gukmul (Vegetable Stock)
This article originally appeared in our Winter/Spring 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.