Hi, friends. I have a chili recipe for you today* — and then I’m off to San Francisco. Andrew is attending the biggest earth science conference and I’m tagging along with my own list of to do’s. I hope to come back with a full report of new, awesome things I’ve discovered. And I’m taking not one but two cameras with me.
The chili today is slightly different: it’s kimchi chili. Some of you might have gasped in horror, and some of you might have gotten really excited. Chili purists will probably give me a wag of the finger. I’m not sorry.
You might have heard on the interwebs or Twitters or Facebooks that a book that I co-authored came out last Tuesday. It’s funny to have to tell people about a book you wrote that’s on a subject that still requires plenty of explanation.
“You wrote a book on what?? Kim-what??”
“Oh, what is that?”
“Well, it’s a Korean way of fermenting produce to preserve it.”
“Is it spicy?”
“It can be but it doesn’t have to be. It’s very flavorful.”
“Well, I’m probably not going to like it then. I don’t like anything spicy. Or anything that smells funny.”
Yes, folks, those are actual conversations I’ve had (as in many conversations). And it always delights me when, on a rare chance, I hear, “I looooove kimchi. I’ve been playing around with making it at home.”
Honestly, just having to not explain what kimchi is, is a joy in and of itself.
Esoteric as it may be, it’s a book I am enormously proud of. Lauryn and I worked our butts off – we tested and retested (and then retested some more) each and every recipe. We pored over every line. And we wanted to, as much as possible, take the intimidation out of making kimchi at home. We wanted everyone who picks up the book to feel that they can make delicious kimchi at home without much fuss. I’d like to think we’ve succeeded.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Pickle Festival where I sampled kimchi from every vendor who was selling it – in total I sampled about ten different kinds. And Lauryn’s (and I am not saying this because we wrote a book together) was the tastiest by far. Which is why I think that the book is fantastic – because her kimchi recipes are incredible and full of lively and complex fermentation notes. Lauryn refers to kimchi as “the champagne of pickles” and once I tried her kimchi, I realized why.
So today, in this post, I was going to tell you more about the book: How hard we worked on it; how this recipe, actually, didn’t make it into the book, making it kind of a bonus recipe for you all. A preview of what is inside the book, if you will. But then I got sucker punched by reality right before Thanksgiving and my mind went elsewhere.
Right before we left for Maryland to spend the holiday with my brother-in-law’s family and my in-laws, I was asked by my accountant to calculate my earnings this year and send him an excel file. And like a dutiful student, I started to plug my invoices into the spreadsheet. When I got to the final number, I stared at it in disbelief. It was so abysmally low, that I instantly burst into tears. And friends, when I say low, I mean below-the-poverty-line-low.
The calculation and the resulting number felt like a slap in the face. This year was the year I had worked harder than ever before. I endured months without a single day off, I postponed my honeymoon because I had a book manuscript due (a honeymoon we have yet to plan and take), I felt like I was doing everything right, but the bottom line seemed to suggest otherwise. Slowly, I was eating through my savings (which I’m lucky to have), but nothing was galvanizing. In a moment of panic, I felt as if this life I have chosen, this dream of mine, writing about food and developing and testing recipes—just wasn’t sustainable. I felt as if my only choice was to return to finance—at least it was predictable. At least, I wasn’t worried about making rent. I felt like my great, daring experiment was an utter failure.
We live in a society where no one really talks about money. It’s bad form. Poverty is discussed as an abstract or a news story. Something that happens to someone we heard about on the news. But to admit your own financial woes, to talk about your own financial anxieties and frustrations – is considered a gigantic no-no.
You know how to really quiet a room?? Tell them about the time you burst into tears after you got your surgery bill because you realized, at that point, that maybe you didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon. Or a pair of jeans. Or that you were petrified that you had failed so utterly that now you felt you were stuck: you think yourself un-hireable in your latter role because almost two years have passed since your former career and no one would want to hire you in your current role because you don’t have “adequate” training.
Before Andrew noticed my shock, I stole away into our bedroom where I quietly sobbed until Andrew found me there crying into my knees. Andrew is a sensitive guy. In fact, I’d say that if we’re watching a sad movie, he’s likelier to tear up than me. He’s got the emotional thing figured out (unlike some, ahem, more closed-off people, not to point any fingers). But as Andrew stood there watching me cry, as my whole body heaved from sobbing, he seemed utterly lost. All I could breathe out through my tears, as he held me was, “I worked so hard. I worked so hard.”
Melissa calls it my “transition year” – the year when I finished one book, wrote another one (the second book consuming every single waking minute of the first nine months of the year) and made little money because I’m just starting out. She told me, point blank, not to give up. It gets better, she said, just wait and see. And the thing is – I don’t want to. I don’t want to walk away from this and will do my best to make this life sustainable.
But the next few months will be telling – will I land a new book to co-author or will there be a steady job writing or editing or testing recipes out there? In trying to figure out how I can make this lifestyle of mine sustainable, how I can make it work, and if I can make it work, I will have to get creative about my options, answer some difficult questions, and keep an open mind.
I’m enormously grateful to all of you for coming here to this corner of the interwebs and sharing it with me. It’s nice to have you all here indulging me in my periodic emotional woes. I thank you for listening and hope you give this chili a try. It packs a serious punch, and the acidity gives the chili the kind of complexity I haven’t tasted before. Authentic by Texas standards it might not be, but it’s every bit delicious and I hope you love it as much as we do here in our kitchen.
*You must forgive me for not having a picture of the actual kimchi here, but let’s be honest, chili looks like chili. When we tested the recipes for the book I didn’t expect the recipe to be cut – because it was one of my favorites. But when it didn’t make it into the final manuscript, I decided to share it with all of you here, and I had every intention of retesting it. Sadly, the last few weeks have somewhat taken the wind out of my sail and I have been a little short on time. So, I’m hoping to distract you with pictures of Forrest and other ephemera. Look, isn’t my niece super cute?
There are as many chili recipe disputes as there are chili recipes, if not more. I’m adding to the chili controversy with this recipe by not just using kimchi, but including two kinds: Napa cabbage kimchi and daikon radish kimchi. The heat in this chili is subtle and warm, and the kimchi add their own tanginess rounding out the flavors. Who knew kimchi would lend itself so well to this American classic?
1 pound dry pinto beans
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 pound Italian sweet sausage, casing removed
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder (or a blend of chili peppers you normally use)
1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean chili pepper)
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage kimchi (xref p000), chopped and divided
1 1/2 cups daikon kimchi (Kkattuggi xref p000)
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
Sour cream, for serving
Chopped scallions, for serving
1. Place the beans in a large bowl, cover with enough water so that there is 2 inches of water above the beans and let soak overnight. In the morning, drain the beans and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add half the beef, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook until the beef browns, about 5 minutes. If you find that you need to break the beef into 3 batches, go ahead. Better to you’re your time and getting your meat properly browned than steaming it. Steamed meat doesn’t taste very good. Season with salt and black pepper, remove from the pan, and set aside. Repeat with the remaining beef.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sausage meat to the Dutch oven. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat and cook until the sausage is browned, about 4 minutes.
4. Add the remaining olive oil. Add the onion and pepper to the sausage, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the chili powder and gochugaru, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Return the beef to the pot, and add the 2 1/2 cups of kimchi (both kinds, if using two kinds – up to you how you divide the proportions), tomatoes, 2 1/2 cups of water, beans, and bay leaves. Stir to combine, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer about until the beans are soft 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lid, taste and adjust seasonings, and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, until thickened. Add remaining 1/2 cup kimchi during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Ladle into bowls (the chili will resemble a thick soup) and top with generous dollops of sour cream. Garnish with chopped scallions and serve.
Serves: 4 to 6