Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kickstarter: The Kimcheelicious Agenda


Hello NY foodistas, eat and meet with Kimcheelicious this Saturday afternoon at Kickstarter’s 5th Anniversary block party. Fermentation, demonstration, rumination, food, music and more—for more details about the Kimcheelicious Agenda and directions to Kickstarter’s fancy new HQ, click on the link below.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Meatballs Ssambap

Here’s a good reason to keep a jar of ssamjang, that kick-ass Korean dipping sauce, handy in the fridge: Meatballs Ssambap! Ssambap is a Korean style of eating in which you wrap your meal—meat, rice, radish, kimchee—in lettuce leaves that are slathered with a sweet-spicy sauce called ssamjang. “Sssam” means wrap; “jang” means mix. Ssambap always includes rice (bap). Bossam on the other hand is a Korean wrap that includes slices of seasoned pork belly and new kimchee. Both are served with a variety of side dishes, or panchan. I love the variety of flavor between each bite. Ssambap is of my favorite casual summer meals; it takes the edge off those hot summer’s evenings.

These are my home-made meatballs left over from last night; my friend Elaine’s Calabrian mother, Lena Cardella, shared her recipe with me—I vowed not to disclose her Italian secrets. I brought these cold meatballs back to life by tossing them in ssamjang, wrapping them in a Romaine lettuce leaf with a schmeer of ssamjang, julienned jalpeños, some egg noodles (instead of rice) and toasted sesame seeds. There you have it—a quick meal that’s satisfying, refreshing and delicious. Some of my Korean classmates would take hotdog ssamjang to school or to picnics, neatly wrapped in lettuce, bun and all. Give it a shot. Click here for my ssamjang recipe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meet Kimcheelicious at the Kickstarter Block Party!

Come out and celebrate Kickstarter’s 5th Anniversary on Saturday, May 3! Kimcheelicious is proud to have been selected as one of their favorite crowd-funded projects. This block party is open to the public and goes from noon until 6PM, rain or shine. Join me and other selected Kickstarter project creators for an afternoon of food, games, art, demos, live music and more! There will be a tour of their new head quarters at 58 Kent St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Let’s meet! Stop by the Kimcheelicious kiosk for food demonstrations from my ePUB cookbook and kimchee tasting. You can even buy a jar or two; I’ll have vegan Napa cabbage kimchee, fermented Korean radish and Korean chili paste. I’ll also be demonstrating how to make kimchee and miso and raffling-off the demonstration jars to a few lucky winners.

For more information and direction to this special event go to:

RSVP to let us know you’re coming. Go to the Kickstarters’s Facebook event page:

Tony Limuaco
Chief Fermenting Officer

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recipe: Chickpea Ssamjang for Lunch!

Chickpeas tossed in ssamjang! I wrapped them in a lettuce leaf with some rice, it’s light and refreshing. This is perfect for lunch on those hot Brooklyn summer days and Farmer’s Almanac predicts a long, hot summer for us this year. Ssam means wrap; jang means paste. It’s used as a spread to put on lettuce leaves to wrap little packets, or just used as a dipping sauce. Ssamjang is made with Korean chili paste, fermented soy bean (doenjang), honey and a few things balance the flavor. I actually used very, very old red miso, so I guess that makes it a semi-ssamjang.

This flavor combination and textures work so well together—sweet, savory and mildly spiced; velvet soft chickpeas; the fresh crunch of Romaine lettuce. You wouldn’t believe that it’s vegan. Here’s a quick recipe for making enough of this kick-ass Korean dipping sauce for the table.

You’ll need:
  • 4 tbsp doenjang, or substitute with old red miso with 1 tsp lemon
  • 4 tbsp Korean chili paste
  • 1 tbsp sugar, or honey for non-vegans
  • 1 tsp roasted sesame oil
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • minced scallions (optional)
If you have the more rustic doenjang or red miso with whole beans, mash it on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife until to you get a smooth texture. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients together until you have a smooth, thick paste; store refrigerated in a closed container and serve cold. Add water if you need before serving.

Now, just toss your cooked chickpeas in some ssamjang and serve with rice and Romaine lettuce leaves. Lunch is served.

Monday, April 21, 2014

To B12, or Not to B12, That Is the Vegan Question

Cellphone action shot, vigorously mixing Korean chili paste—this will rest for a few hours to allow the flavor to bloom.

Now this is a thing of beauty—a healthy, fresh tub of vegan Korean chili paste (gochuchang) with aspects of the land and sea. Gochuchang is the building block of all Korean food matter. Instead of fish sauce I use a combination of kelp, seaweed and mushrooms to pack this umami bomb; my house-made chickpea miso ignites the fuse. Traditional kimchee by nature is NOT a vegan food, some varieties use marrow or beef stock as dictated by the food philosophy of yin and yang. Organic miso is the yang in my gochuchang; it’s rich in glutamic acid, which gives it a flavor profile that’s comparable to sun dried tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or cured meats.

I’m fortunate to know nutritionists and pathologists (all with varying opinions) who have called the importance of vitamin B12 to my attention. I’m not a vegan, but my kimchee is—all due to an allergy I’ve developed to shellfish. Traditional kimchee (kimchi, gim chi, 김치) is a good source of vitamin B12 solely by the fact that it’s made with fish-based sauces. Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) is synthesized from bacteria and made available through animal food sources (fish, eggs, meat) but this is only made possible by an animal consuming food with the active bacteria. Plant-based foods by nature have none unless they are grown with animal-based fertilizers or fortified. 

My organic miso is a key ingredient in my vegan Korean chili paste and kimchee mostly for it’s unique flavor but also to include trace amounts of essential minerals. Whether it is a reliable source of B12 is debatable. I wouldn’t consider kimchee to be a complete food but it’s rich in probiotics and nutrients; it is a good source of vitamin K, which allows for calcium absorption from vegetables. None the less, traditionally made soy foods along with other preserved foods have sustained Asians through the leanest and most desperate of times, in part it is in the way the soy crops are naturally fertilized and grown. Our modern food culture continually removes us from the way food was grown. Most commercial vegetable crops are chemically grown and engineered to increase production. Isn’t that borrowing from Peter to feed Paul?

My grandfather would get chicken manure from the poultry farm to fertilize his garden. That was one bumpy, scary ride in an open pickup truck but we always had great produce—tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, purple yam. I also recall that in my mother’s village that when rice farmers flood the paddies, they also raised tilapia and fed them with chicken manure. This is the ingenuity of the waste-not-want-not culture... but to this day I still have a problem eating tilapia knowing what I do.

Here’s some food for thought. Bodily requirements of B12 are very low; as adults we need twice the daily (2.8 ng) amount than we did in our teenage years (1.4 ng). This water soluble substance is essential to maintaining our brain functions, nervous system, blood production and generation of new cells. A deficiency will eventually lead to anemia and neurological deterioration; symptoms of overdose are are only due to taking too many supplements, but you have to try real hard to do that. I have since re-encountered some of the most radical New York macrobiotic vegans that I knew from the early ‘80s. All of them no longer engage in this food philosophy; some are vegetarians and some just don’t include red meat in their diet. Notably all of them look better now than when they were in their early 20s. I’m not a food scientist, but I feel it’s important to consider nutritional wisdom when choosing a vegan lifestyle. Here’s more in-depth information about vitamin B12 from the US Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional– National Institute of Health.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Making Miso 101

My home-made chickpea miso is the key ingredient to making flavorful vegan kimchee.

Koji is key to miso fermentation.
By now I’m sure most everyone has had miso soup; it’s made with a thick savory paste that is as ubiquitous to the Japanese table as ketchup and mustard are to ours; miso adds umami to soup stocks, vegetables, fish, chicken and pork. The most common type of miso is kome, which ranges from off-white (shiro) to dark red (aka) depending on how long it has been aged; it’s made by fermenting a paste of soybeans, salt and koji—rice treated with a cultured fungus called Aspergillus Oryza. Other varieties use cultured grains such as barley, buckwheat, hemp and rye. One variety, mame miso, is made with steamed soybeans and no grain. It’s similar to Korean doenjang.

I took an intensive workshop with chef Natsuko Yamawaki where I first learned the traditional method of fermenting kome miso. Natsuko is an accomplished chef who focuses on innovative macrobiotic Japanese cuisine. Since her workshop I’ve experimented with other beans—the flavor and texture of my chickpea miso outperform any of the commercial brands, some which use wheat fillers, MSG, alginate, corn syrup and preservatives. All these additives flatten and deliver a compromised flavor. Others are pureed and fermented at higher temperatures to hasten fermentation.

Authentic, traditional miso is rich in probiotics, micro nutrients and antioxidants; it has all the essential amino acids which form a complete protein. Miso is said to lower LDL cholesterol and protect against radiation and heavy metal poisoning. That being said, I just love the way it tastes; it’s high in glutamic acid which gives it a complex salty, nutty and sweet umami flavor. So get your beans ready and let’s make a small batch of white miso. You can purchase koji online or at most Japanese grocery stores—the brand that I use is Cold Mountain but there are a few other North American brands you can purchase online.

You’ll need:
  • 12 oz dried soybeans
  • 10 oz dried koji
  • 4 oz fine sea salt (not iodized salt)
  • 1.5 oz coarse or fine sea salt (for salt cap)
  • water for soaking and cooking
  • stock pot with lid or pressure cooker
  • glass jar and small tub for mashing beans
  • silicon spatula
  • colander
  • wire mesh skimmer or small strainer
  • vodka or grain alcohol and a paper towel for cleaning
  • plastic wrap
  • large clean mason jar (1/2 gallon)
Sort and discard any impurities and discolored soybeans. Soak them overnight in the refrigerator (12 to 18 hours) using twice the volume of water than beans; for a small batch you can use a pitcher. The soybeans will have expanded into plump ovals. After soaking drain and rinse beans well in cold water by rubbing them with your hands.

In a stock pot: Place the beans in a stock pot and fill to twice the volume of beans with water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for an hour stirring every 15 minutes; remove the foamy film and any loose skins that float to the top with a small strainer or wire mesh skimmer. Cover and simmer for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the beans are very soft. You should be able to crush them with your fingers. Drain the beans in a colander and reserve the cooking liquid.

In a pressure cooker: I have an old-fashioned stove top pressure cooker... the one with the nozzle on top. Although I’ve never had a mishap with mine I’m terrified of it so I follow the instructions and cooking chart for soaked beans carefully. Cooking time will vary with different models. Repeat the instructions for simmering and skimming as for the stock pot, then attach the lid securely.

My Presto Pressure Cooker instructions call for cooking at high heat for 12 minutes; the nozzle starts dancing and hissing, the pressure lock pops up and then I leave the room with my my cellphone set to 911 on speed dial as I try to block out the childhood memory of an exploding pressure cooker in our kitchen... after that I turn off the range and allow the pressure cooker to rest for 40 more minutes. Heat and pressure are directly proportional, this fact shortens cooking time. A pressure cooker can reach a steam temperature of 250 °F, depending on altitude. When the pressure lock returns to the safety position, I remove the lid and then drain the beans in a colander reserving the cooking liquid for later.

When compared with slow-simmering in a stock pot, my Presto pressure cooker cuts cooking time in half.

Koji and fine sea salt
Allow beans to cool to around 88-92°F; higher temperatures will kill the active aspergillus oryza fungus in koji. You can use a thermometer or just check the temperature with your finger.

Work with clean hand before handling koji! Wash well with warm water and soap and dry with a clean towel. This will ensure that there is no contamination. NEVER use anti-microbial solution to clean your hands or work surfaces and tools, this will destroy koji and any beneficial microbes. Return any unused portion of koji and refrigerate. You can use the original product container or a clean plastic bag.

Place koji into a clean bowl and with mix with 4 oz of fine sea salt until all contents are evenly distributed. Set this dry mix aside. Place the warm soybeans into a small tub and crush them with the bottom of a glass jar or a bean masher. The goal here is to create a texture with verisimilitude, not to make peanut butter. This paste should have some broken beans, but no whole beans. As you mash with a dragging motion, scrape down the edges of the tub with a spatula and add a some of the cooking liquid a half-cup at a time until you achieve the thickness and texture of lumpy mashed potatoes. You’ll notice the tiny threads of protein that form by crushing and mashing.

The reserved cooking liquid is used to add moisture to the cooked soy beans as you mash.

I’ve used a food processor for milling soybeans and found that the texture was consistent but had a light sandy texture. After that batch of miso was fully fermented I found that it lacked depth and was not as flavorful as when I had mashed it by hand, but it did cut down on fermentation time.

Add half the amount of koji to the soybean paste and mix well with a spatula, then add the remaining portion of koji and mix until all contents are evenly incorporated. Add more of the cooking liquid if your paste is too thick. In the end your paste should be as firm as dough. Roll balls that are about 2" in diameter and throw them into a clean mason jar. When the jar is one-third full pack with a spatula to remove an air pockets. Repeat until there is at least an inch of space from the mouth of the jar.

Koji and salt are incorporated into the mashed soy beans to make a thick paste.
Clean and sterilize the mouth and mason jar with a little vodka and a clean paper towel. Remove any residue on the threads; it will make removing the lid almost impossible over time. Cut a square of plastic wrap that is about an inch wider than the jar and place in the jar on top of the miso. Make a “salt cap” by pouring 1.5 oz of fine sea salt over the plastic and place lid on tightly. Be sure to label it by date. Ferment at room temperature out of direct light; a kitchen cabinet of food pantry work perfectly. Check your miso for any contamination every two weeks and clean the outside of the jar as needed. After four months, use a small spoon to taste your progress; taste it once a month to ensure quality and wipe the lip and threads of the jar before putting on the lid. Kome miso will ferment from six months to a year, depending on the flavor and texture you prefer, after which you will store it in the refrigerator to halt fermentation. You can transfer it to smaller containers.

Now wait a minute, I have six months to a year until I have miso? Yep, and azuki bean miso made with cultured barley is preferably aged for three years. White miso takes the least amount of time, but it does build more character and complex flavor with age. When it takes on an amber tone, it’s considered ready. After a year when it turns walnut brown it takes on wonderful salty, tart quality. Using more koji than soybeans (5:4 ratio) hastens the process; some say it’s ready in four weeks. Using more koji makes a light colored miso that’s sweeter with less nuance. Hastening the process may also shorten the shelf life of this living food.

You may want to use other beans, or combinations of different beans. My red lentil miso was ready in five weeks, but it’s not as good as miso made with soybeans. I added a little pureed garlic and carrots to give it more character. Over time the orange color disappeared and gave way to the usual amber tones. I use it for soups, marinades and making other fermented foods, but I’d never serve it at the table. Chickpeas are slightly grainy in texture but will also ferment in a shorter amount of time, around four to five months. I have yet to try black beans, green lentils or raw peanuts. For your first white miso it’s worth the wait for at least six months to get the full umami experience, and if you’re going to wait that long make a larger batch to make it worth your while.

ETA six months to a year until this shiro miso umami bomb will be detonated, but some types of miso only take six week.

Brooklyn Spring

Spring is here, despite the recent dip in temperature. This is when Brooklyn shed’s her winter coat and dons her colorful apparel. Behind the urban facades, Brooklyn harbors so many secret garden’s. For the past years I have had the privilege of shaping and maintaining my friend Judy’s backyard hide-away. The jewel in this crown are two fill-size 25' tall plums trees that I pruned into a diminutive shape that is worthy of the Unicorn Tapestries.

Freezing weather will not stop these plum trees from baring it all and showing off their floral finery.

I took the crepe myrtle down in size so that it wouldn't upstage these two plum-perfect beauties.

Six blueberry bushes stand where tall Pampas grass once ruled.

It took three years of branch and roots pruning to turn two tall plum trees into elegant dwarfs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Food Fight: Doenjang vs Miso

Too fresh to eat, mashed chickpeas will transform into sweet and savory miso in about six to eight months.

Soybeans are simmered and cooled.
I started making my own miso after taking an intensive work shop with Brooklyn-based chef Natsuko Yamawaki. She specializes in macrobiotic Japanese cuisine. I learned so much about the process. I made three type of miso this past Sunday: traditional soybean, chickpea and red lentil. By winter 18 pounds will be ready to eat—a long slow fermentation that’s worth the wait. Hand crafted miso adds a deep savory flavor to my vegan kimchee. Korean doenjang and Japanese miso are both rich in nutrients, amino acids and glutamic acid, each going through distinctly different microbial transformations.

Doenjang (which means thick paste) is made by slowly simmering dried soybeans, grinding them into a rough thick paste and then forming blocks (meju). These blocks are covered with dried rice stalks, a source of bacillus subtilis, and are dry-cured for two to three months. The bacterial activity produces a strong, pungent aroma as the nitrogen in soy protein breaks down into ammonia. These fermented blocks are further fermented in an earthen vessel of brine until it separates into liquid and solids which are further refined into Korean soy sauce (ganjang) and a heavily salted paste called donejang. In general I think doenjang has a more intense, rustic quality in flavor and texture than its Japanese counterparts; it’s slightly sour and salty, with a light nutty flavor, with a base flavor that harkens to kimchee.

Miso, on the other hand, is fermented with a cultured mold called koji, instead of bacteria. Koji is made by inoculating cooked rice with aspergillus oryzae. It is the essential ingredient used to make rice wine (saki), a rice sweetener (amazake), soy sauce (shoyu) and of course miso. It can be sold as dried or fresh. As with doenjang, dried soy beans are slowly cooked until they soften. The cooked dried soybeans are pounded into a fine paste then mixed with koji, fine sea salt and the reserved cooking liquid to form a firm paste. Unlike miso, doenjang is fermented purely with soybeans and salt; rice grains or other starches are not used in production.

Dried soy beans are cooked and pounded into warm paste. Koji and salt are mixed in as the beans cool.

Fresh miso paste is rolled into balls then packed tightly into a clay jars and covered in a thick layer of salt. It will cure for six months to a year to develop a complex savory flavor known as umami. Miso will darken as it ages. Color and flavor vary with ingredients; red miso is made with barley koji and red azuki bean instead of soybean. Some types of miso are aged for over three years.

“Why make miso when there are many store bought brands?” I’m often asked. I’m guaranteed a better quality when I make my own and I’m assured of purity. When you read the label you’ll find that some brands use wheat or corn starch as filler. Some brands also add corn syrup, MSG, preservatives, food dye and emulsifiers. Higher quality miso is made with rice, beans and sea salt only. Miso that is mechanically blended is very smooth, which shortens fermentation, but lacks subtlety and depth of flavor. I’ve used a food processor to make miso, but have concluded that I prefer the texture made by mashing the cooked beans; it has depth, verisimilitude and texture that sits well on the tongue. If I want a more refined texture I mash it further with the broad side of my knife. Making miso and doenjang is a time-invested production but worth the toil. Depending on the flavor you are trying to achieve, both can take from several months to years to make.

But one simply can not make everything. I have never made my own doenjang; I buy a good quality pre-made brand to make ssamjang, a seasoned Korean condiment. It’s rather pricey and it does have fillers and corn syrup, but it is very convenient. Making doenjang is not an ideal task for the home environment; the strong aroma it creates as it ferments might evoke Federal activity. Miso on other hand barely emits an odor as it cures, which makes it suitable for production in an urban setting. My miso is heavily salted. It’s not meant for eating but for making my vegan Korean chili paste for kimchee fermentation.

Balls of fresh miso are packed tightly into large jars and sealed with a layer of salt.