Substitutes seem to get a bad rep––they’re replacements perceived not-as-good, but I’m here to say, “Not so fast, there’s more to it than that.”
If I can’t get to that big Korean supermarket in Manhattan’s (VERY) little Koreatown, I have to do some recalculating to get my ingredients for a dish. Of course, not everything can be substituted, but I’ve been doing okay sourcing some substitutions at my local C-Town supermarket.
My attention has been turned to the “International” food section where a hodge-podge of Mexican and Asian ingredients share shelf space. The Mexican dried chili selection at C-Town is good for my kimchi-making focus, you can find poblanos, guajillos, anchos and all that’s in between. Just knowing they’re all there gives me a sense of kimchi well being.
For my kimchi, I like to make a chili paste rather than the Korean red chili powder and have found using dried Mexican chilis to be just the thing. I combine medium spicy and very spicy chilis to give me a range of heat and flavors and suggest a combo of guajillo and japones to make a paste which will be the base of your kimchi fermentation marinade (see post Just make it yourself: Kimchi).
Press a few buttons on your blender and voilà, your reconstituted chilis become hot nectar of the gods!
The subbing of ingredients may seem pretty obvious to most of you cooks out there, but it took me just a bit of time to decide that it was okay for me to do so when making Korean food. Is it, you ask, because I am too much of a purist sometimes? Yes. However, I wouldn’t make a fuss if I had to grate Romano because I ran out of Parmesan over my spaghetti aglio e olio. And once I used walnuts when I didn’t have pignoli to make a pesto. But you have to start somewhere, right?
So now that you know how conservative I am when it comes to Korean food, can I mention that I recently found a recipe for japchae in a cookbook that called for “transparent noodles” without specifying that you really need to use sweet potato noodle (당면)? Arrgh!
You’d think I’d be more understanding about subbing one transparent noodle for another having seen the light on Mexican chile peppers, but I have my limits!