I have a refrigerator problem. It's similar to my freezer problem, which is very much like my pantry problem.
The problem is that it's too full, too disorganized. So many condiments, jams, pickles and other long-lasting items are in there, leaving little room for fresh food and leftovers. That means perfectly good food gets pushed behind other perfectly good food, and soon enough, too little of it is perfectly good anymore.
In an ongoing effort to declutter and reorganize, I'm trying to take on one refrigerator shelf or drawer at a time. (That's what I did with my pantry, tackling the shelves devoted to grains, flours, beans, dried fruit and nuts over a period of weeks.) I started with one shelf crammed with all those long-lasting jars, including one filled with a favorite: kimchi.
Kimchi seems to live forever. It doesn't go "bad," but it does change: It gets stronger and funkier with time, meaning that, if you're like me, it just gets better. I love to cook with it - in mac and kimcheese, in grilled kimcheese, in fried rice, in a dip, as a simple side dish and more. But sometimes my attention turns to other shiny new ingredients, and I go without my fix for months, forgetting about it until I find a jar.
I needed another easy way to eat it, ideally something that would help me use up other pantry items, too. I went with a classic kimchi pancake recipe I found in the fun new book "Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes": just all-purpose flour, rice flour, salt and scallions, plus the kimchi. You whisk together the batter from the liquid you squeeze out of the kimchi, plus a little water and the flours. You fold in chopped kimchi and scallions, and fry it into two big pancakes, which get crisp on the edges and a little chewy inside. Cut into wedges (and served with a dipping sauce), it's an appetizer; combined with eggs and a salad, it's a meal.
There was just one problem. I had rice flour in my pantry, but it was white-rice flour, the kind you find in natural-foods stores as a gluten-free substitute. What I needed was glutinous (or sweet) rice flour, sold in Asian markets, which has a much higher starch content. That's what's traditional in this recipe, and that's what gives the pancake its unique texture.
I borrowed some from a colleague, who was trying to clean out her own pantry. Actually, "borrowed" is the wrong word, because of course she doesn't want it back. Where does that leave me? In need of more kimchi, so I can make more pancakes - and right back where I started.
4 servings (makes 2 dinner-plate-size pancakes)
For this recipe, you need Asian rice flour, made from glutinous rice (not the flour sold for gluten-free cooking at natural foods stores); it makes the pancake light and crisp.
Adapted from "Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes," by Peter Meehan (Clarkson Potter, 2015).
For the pancakes
• 2 cups kimchi
• Cold water, as needed
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup rice flour (see headnote)
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 large scallions, trimmed and chopped (1/2 cup), plus more for garnish, as needed
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• Thinly sliced chives, for garnish
For the optional dipping sauce
• 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
• 1 tablespoon water
• 1/8 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
• Sesame seeds
For the pancakes: Squeeze the kimchi over a bowl to release as much of its juice as possible. Top up this liquid with juice from the kimchi container to measure about 1 cup. If you don't have enough juice, add the cold water. Coarsely chop the kimchi, and keep it separate from the liquid.
Add the all-purpose flour, rice flour and salt to the bowl with the kimchi liquid, whisking until incorporated. If needed, let it stand for a minute or two, until slightly thickened. Fold in the kimchi and 1/2 cup of scallions; let it stand a few more minutes, if needed, until the batter is cohesive.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the batter to the pan, using a spatula to quickly spread it into an even, thin round. Cook until the bottom is brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pancake, then cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the other side is brown and crisp and the pancake's interior is set. Transfer to a cutting board; repeat with the second pancake (including adding the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil).
For the optional dipping sauce: Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, water and toasted sesame oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Cut the pancakes into wedges, and garnish with chives or scallions. Serve warm with the dipping sauce, if using.
Nutrition | Per serving: 220 calories, 5 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 440 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar