I don’t know if Koreans have a national dish, but if we do, it must be kimchi. Dating back several thousand years, the salted and spiced cabbage (or, in other variations, cucumber or radish) originated as a way to stretch out the shelf life of perishable ingredients usually grown in one's own yard. In lieu of refrigeration technology, it would be buried in vessels underground and naturally fermented in its brine, resulting in the pungent, sour, and piquant dish so ubiquitous on Korean tables.
In my family, we ate kimchi every single evening with dinner, and a favorite daytime snack was simply kimchi stacked between two pieces of white bread with the crusts cut off. I’ve since stretched beyond kimchi sandwiches and lately have been experimenting with it in a variety of ways.
1. Kimchi burger. In this version I mixed ground pork with chopped kimchi and a little bit of soy sauce to make the patties. On top are sliced red onion and some wilted spinach flavored with sesame oil and garlic.
2. Pepperoni and kimchi pizza. It was one of those lazy nights when I just took a frozen store-bought pie, slapped some kimchi on top, and stuck it in the oven.
3. Black bean, pork, and kimchi tacos. This was inspired by Kogi and some leftovers I had in the fridge.
4. Roast pork tenderloin stuffed with kale and kimchi. Today’s LA Times Food section has a feature on using kitchen string to tie roasts and such. I’ll do it when it’s essential, like with a roulade, but I usually don’t have the patience or, let’s face it, the gastronomic integrity for it. For this tenderloin I just made an incision lengthwise through the middle with my carving knife.
5. Kimchi-stuffed pork roast. This is similar to number 4, but with a center-cut loin instead of tenderloin and just kimchi. I’ve actually been practicing variations on this for a while; this one turned out pretty well in terms of kimchi-to-meat proportions.
6. Steak and kimchi quesadillas. I used leftovers from the Korean BBQ–marinated sirloin steak I'd made the night before.
7. Shepherd’s pie. Here's another great vehicle for leftovers. I made this with the remnants from number 5, including the wasabi mashed potatoes that went with it.
8. Roast chicken stuffed with kimchi. For this I inserted kimchi just beneath the skin but I really couldn’t taste it much; next time I’ll use more.