Banchan is the fabulous Korean tradition of small side dishes, of which perhaps no other culture is so famous for. Served alongside rice for thousands of years, the number of dishes served at a meal was a metric for social status and prosperity.
The Korean love of kimchi, or pickles and fermented foods, really shines through in the endless array of varieties, of which there are hundreds, and those are just the officially famous ones. The concept of kimchi is limited only by imagination, and the number of ingredients both domestic and foreign that Korean chefs can get their hands on. Fermenting foods may have been a necessity to survive the long, cold Korean winters in ages past, but it’s also incredibly delicious.
I suppose I could have gone full royal court and made 12 sides, but I thought that just a humble 6 would be a good start, and decent tribute to the long history of kimchi in Korea.
So today. . . or over 4-5 days more accurately. . . we’ll be transforming this…
and then we can make this!
a delicious bibimbap, or Korean Rice Bowl. But first we have a lot of pickling and fermenting to do. So let’s get started. (Feel free to scale these recipes up or down)
CLASSIC KOREAN KIMCHI
1 Napa (Chinese) Cabbage
1/2 cup Salt
1 small Ginger root, peeled and rough chopped
5 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup Gochujang (Korean fermented Chili Paste)
3 tbsp Sesame Seeds
2 bunches Scallions (greens and whites), sliced
This is what most people think of as kimchi today, by far the most well known and common version. Fermented chilis give it quite a bite of spiciness, which for me gives this dish its addictive quality.
Cut up the cabbage into whatever desired size, keeping in mind that they will shrink significantly during the fermenting process. You can leave entire whole leaves, or do a large dice like I did here.
Sprinkle over all the salt and mix thoroughly by hand, then loosely cover and let ferment at room temperature at least 5 hours. I like to do it overnight.
This is sort of a pre-ferment before we assemble everything else. After the long resting period, strain and squeeze the wilted cabbage, making sure to save the water.
In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, and 3 cups of the reserved kimchi water. Blend until smooth.
Strain and squeeze the cabbage one more time, then combine in a bowl with ginger garlic paste and all other ingredients. Put in authentic Korean fermentation pottery (or, you know, a jar), and cover. Let ferment for 2-3 days at room temperature, and then another 5+ in the fridge. The longer you go, the deeper the flavor.
Once I make a jar of this stuff, I can’t stop eating it. The spicy, tangy flavor is just so delicious.
But as much as I love this most famous version of kimchi, it’s only the beginning. . .
MILD BOK CHOY KIMCHI
4-5 baby Bok Choy (or cut up one large one)
6 tbsp. Salt
5 Red Radish, sliced and julienned
1/3 cup Fish Sauce
2 tbsp. soy sauce
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small Ginger root, peeled and rough chopped
1 bunch scallions (whites and greens), sliced
Koreans made kimchi out of cabbage long before explorers brought back chili peppers from the Americas. This version made with Asian bok choy is a tribute to kimchi pre-Columbus, leaning more on the seafood tradition that is often incorporated into kimchi recipes.
Follow the exact same recipe as the classic kimchi, salting, fermenting, and straining the cabbage while reservng the water. This time, add soy and fish sauce to the ginger and garlic paste to help kick off the fermentation process. Also, add some other fun vegetables like radish.
Of course I prefer the spicy version, but with this darker looking kimchi, I could appreciate the pure fermented flavor more as opposed to just chilis. It was more like sauerkraut with a hint of Asian flavor (in other words, really tasty!)
PICKLED CARROT AND DAIKON
1 large Carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1/2 large Daikon Radish, peeled and cut into thin sticks
2 cups Rice Vinegar
1/2 cup Sugar
3 tbsp. salt
This one’s super easy. While you prepare the veggies, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a sauce pot and bring to a boil, stirring in the sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool to warm but not too hot.
Pour over the veggies to cover. If it doesn’t cover, add more vinegar or a splash of water. Make sure everything is submerged, and let stand to pickled for 4 hours at room temperature, or for longer in the fridge.
SESAME GREEN BEANS
1 pint Green Beans, end trimmed and halved
2 cups Water
1.5 tbsp kosher Salt
1/4 cup Fish sauce
1/4 cup Soy sauce
3 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. Sesame Seeds
1/2 cup Rice vinegar
Dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine. Prepare the green beans and blanch them in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes. You don’t want to completely cook them. They should still have crunch.
Rinse the beans in cold water to cool them down, and then completely submerge them in the brine. Cover and let ferment at room temperature for 3 days. The green beans have been “cooked” by the fermentation process. They will look like this:
The rest is easy. Drain and rinse the beans, then combine with all the other ingredients. Ready to eat immediately but better if marinated a couple hours.
DANMUJI (Yellow Pickled Radish and Onion)
1/2 large Daikon Radish, medium diced
1/2 yellow onion, sliced,
2 whole Fresh Turmeric roots, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp. Turmeric Powder
1/2 tsp. Black Peppercorns
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup water
2 cups rice vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
A pretty standard pickle, but with some turmeric to make it fun! Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices, and bring to a boil. Stir and turn off the heat.
Pour immediately over the radish and onions. Let stand at room temperature for 3 hours or more.
SPICY BEAN SPROUTS
1 pint Mung or soy Bean Sprouts
2 Whole fresh Korean Chilis, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1 tsp. Sesame seeds
3 tbsp. Chinese Black Vinegar
1 tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
One Simple cold-pickled kimchi to finish the list. Combine all ingredients, and let pickled in the fridge for at least 4 days, mixing once or twice throughout the process. That’s it! Spicy and crunchy, almost fresh tasting (for a pickle)
There. With one day of work, and a few days more of waiting, we’ve the beginnings of a halfway decent Korean banchan. We can certainly make a bibimbap! A foreign sounding word that’s really just a simple rice bowl with a variety of pickles, often with an egg or other protein.
Bibimbaps were originally conceived as something of a poor man’s food, a dish designed to use up leftovers and make something new out of them.
I highly recommend the egg actually. The creaminess of a runny yolk is a beautiful contrast with the acidity of all the many pickles. It balances the dish into something perfect.