Kimchi “guksu” (noodles in Korean). It’s what’s for dinner.
Kimchi guksu was a regular rotation at my childhood dinner table. Pieces of kimchi cabbage pieces rinsed off with water to remove the spicy sting of gochugaru red pepper mixed together with spaghetti noodles, sugar and sesame oil. I’m pretty sure it’s the result of lazy cooking. “What do we have in the fridge?” Response – “Kimchi.” “What do we have in the pantry?” Response – “Spaghetti.” Voila.
Kimchi, fermented spiced cabbage, is indispensable in a Korean household. Most Koreans have an extra refrigerator in their garage just to contain the kimchi products and smell. One of my childhood chores was to retrieve 1 of the 5 varieties of kimchi from the “outside” refrigerator before dinner.
1st Generation Asian American Diet
I didn’t have a varied diet growing up. Neither of my parents were home cook extraordinaires nor had much interest in cooking. The electric rice cooker was fired up every night. Always rice. Everything with rice. Seaweed and Japanese radish were on the side along with the daily kimchi. We’d have some sort of beef, shrimp or tofu dish weekly. Lots of Entenmann boxes, Girl Scout cookies, and Wonder bread filled out the counter space. This was my food culture.
I don’t know if it was the emergence of Emeril, Ming Tsai or traveling, but sometime in my 20s food became more than sustenance. It became an interest. I was trying everything from gamey boar, duck, oysters, pig’s feet, fish eyes, chicken hearts, curries, hot pots. I took cooking courses all over the world to familiarize myself with ingredients, techniques, and history. My sticky rice palate evolved into an intercultural tasting tour of all things East Asian, Southeast Asian, Indian, French, Spanish, American-Southern and more.
A Mixed-Up Kitchen
My current kitchen staples are diverse and relatively healthy. We’re first generation intercultural cooks – mixing up what’s familiar with something new. Japanese mirin and soy sauce, Korean gochujang, French gray sea salt, Spanish pimento, Italian balsamic vinegar, Indian curry seeds and powder. Our weekly menu may consist of butternut squash broccoli rabe soup with white beans, cauliflower aloo gobi with lentils, dashi rice with maitake mushrooms, chicken bulgogi, fava bean salad with Iberico ham, chocolate chip pancakes and leftover fried rice with dumplings. Blue Apron fills out some of the lazy days. There’s always a hidden stash of Thin Mints or chocolates in the freezer and popcorn for dessert.
I try to introduce new flavors and cuisines to my daughter. She doesn’t like everything but there’s a greater chance of completion if she sees umma and daddy eating with over zealous exaggerated enthusiasm. “Mmmm, soooooo yummy, SJ! You will love it.”
I haven’t made kimchi spaghetti for her yet, but it’s on the menu.
Kimchi Spaghetti (written down by my Dad on the back of scrap paper when I left for college, modified by me to make sense)
- 2 cups cabbage kimchi – rinsed in cold water to remove hot pepper, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1 package spaghetti – cook according to box directions and drain
- 3-5 Tbs sesame oil – depending on taste
- 2-3 Tbs granulated fine sugar – depending on taste
- Sesame seeds – just a pinch as garnish
Rinse off kimchi to remove the bulk of red pepper and chop into small bite size pieces. Set aside. Cook spaghetti according to directions and drain. Place in large bowl. Add the sesame oil and sugar to a bowl. Taste to adjust the amount. Mix well. Toss in the kimchi pieces. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
*Over the years I’ve doctored this up a bit and added in some vegetables. A handful of julienned carrots, radish and/or cucumber and spring onions are nice complements.