Making a quick batch of kimchi from seasonal vegetables is a daily task in the kitchens of Urban Belly, bellyQ and Belly Shack, chef-owner Bill Kim’s trio of Asian-inspired eateries in Chicago.
But it’s not his mother’s pungent, long-fermented Korean-style kimchi, Kim points out, as much as he enjoyed eating it growing up. “Although I liked the fermented taste of kimchi as a kid, as I got older, I wanted more flavor,” says Kim. “So now I treat kimchi kind of like salsa. I want fresh layers of flavor.”
In contrast to traditional kimchi, which may ferment for months, Kim’s method takes a couple of hours. The produce is cut into small pieces, salted to draw out moisture, washed and marinated with flavorings such as garlic, ginger, sesame oil, chilies and fish sauce.
Recently, locally grown lemon and Kirby cucumbers were in the kimchi in addition to the usual napa cabbage. At times, fennel, rutabaga, turnip, eggplant, daikon and broccoli rabe may be used. “Sometimes we add fruit, such as Asian pear, to vegetarian kimchi because it brings a lot of brightness,” says Kim.
In addition to serving kimchi as a side dish, Kim uses it as a topping for a rice flour pancake that resembles a pizza and as a flavoring for soups. What’s more, dehydrated and ground kimchi is a zesty seasoning for potato chips, popcorn and various proteins. “It is fermented, so it creates that umami flavor that you look for,” says Kim.
Menu Sampler: Bill Kim’s Restaurants, Chicago
- Urban Belly: Rice noodle, hominy, kimchi and spicy pork broth; $12
- Belly Shack: Organic brown rice with Chinese broccoli, mushrooms and kimchi; $9
- bellyQ: Kimchi Tofu Hot Pot with double smoked bacon; $11