When I’ve written previously about Korean cuisine, I’ve mentioned kimchi, a spicy fermented pickle usually made with cabbage, quite a lot. Kkakdugi (pronounce it like there’s only one ‘k’ at the start) is arguably the second most popular kind of kimchi, after baechu kimchi made with cabbage. It’s made from Korean varieties of daikon (or mooli) radishes which are squat and round rather than carrot-shaped and have a pale green colour near the top. Korean muwoo and daikon are generally interchangeable with each other (smaller ones tend to be sweeter), but the pink and peppery European radishes are too strongly flavoured for this dish. It’s hot, salty and sour with a strong smell, an intense topping to plain rice. Some say it’s an acquired taste that soon becomes an addiction and I have to agree.
Kkakdugi is prepared by cutting the large radishes into bite-sized cubes, marinating in salt and sugar before coating with a paste of garlic, ginger, dried chilli and spring onions (plus additional ingredients such as carrot and nashi pear) and leaving to ferment. It’s the additional flavours beyond salt and sugar that separate Korean kimchi and kkakdugi from the other pickles and preserved vegetables eaten in the rest of Asia, such as the preserved radish found in pad thai.
I’ve made cabbage kimchi a few times before (much to the disdain of anyone that has had to share a fridge with me – out of date baking powder helps to absorb the smell) but until now, I’ve not had access to gochugaru, the sun-dried, mild Korean chilli flakes, and Korean anchovy sauce that are the hallmarks of traditional kimchi – instead, I’ve relied on more generic chilli powders that are typically hotter and with less character and Thai fish sauce. Unfortunately, I’ve had to use mooli from an Indian grocer instead of Korean radish, but the depth of flavour from the other more authentic ingredients means I’m much happier with it than I might otherwise be. Many Koreans would argue however, that like sourdough bread starters will give a unique taste depending on their provenance, authentic kimchi can only be made in Korea because the airborne microbes that initiate the fermentation process will differ from place to place.
Crunchier and juicier than traditional cabbage kimchi, kkakdugi is the perfect accompaniment to softer, braised Asian dishes that are common in Korean cooking, but it also won’t feel too alien next to a Thai curry, as relish on a burger or even sparingly scooped up with a poppadum. I’m not going to give a recipe, since there are lots of good ones already out there for all kinds of vegetables (such as here, here, here, here and here). And if you want to try it without the trouble of making it, most East Asian supermarkets will stock kimchi in their refrigerated sections (or failing that, kimchi flavoured instant noodles will be available!).