Temple Foods of Korea | Sweet Potato Vine Kimchi at Choamsa Temple in Yeongju

Sweet Potato Vine Kimchi at Choamsa Temple in Yeongju

Lee Kyong-ae | Director of Bukchon Museum of Life History

 

When the rain pours down as it did this summer, many crops sustain damage. Young summer radish and cabbage rot in the torrential rain, and greens to put on the table are scarce, despite it being summer. Among summer greens, sweet potato vines are very hardy and grow much thicker in the heavy rain, covering ridges in just a few days.
Thus, picking sweet potato vines was a major communal task in olden times, in both the monastic and secular worlds.
Once every three days the vines needed to be picked because the leaves grow too fast, preventing nutrition from getting to the tuberous roots. When basketfuls of sweet potato vines were placed on the floor, everyone in the house pitched in to peel them. Sweet potatoes were an alternative food source when other foods were scarce or unavailable, and the vines could be used as a seasonal side dish. For example, tender
vines could be steamed with the leaves on and seasoned as a side dish. Vines with the tough outer skin peeled could be made into a unique seasonal kimchi after soaking them in brine (Gyeongsang-do Province style), or after blanching them in boiling water (Jeolla-do Province style). Medium-sized leaves are really versatile as they can be used as a wrap after fermenting in a soybean paste broth; tough stems can be boiled, dried and stored for later use. The outer skins and tough leaves are used to feed cattle. As illustrated, sweet potato vines are one of the most versatile garden greens during the rainy season in Korea when other greens are scarce. During difficult times people’s fingertips would be blackened under the nails from peeling sweet potato vines all summer long.

The rainy season makes it hard to find greens to cook. But sweet potato vines grow unaffected even between downpours, Picking them was a major communal task this time of year Whether you live in the monastic or secular world.

This summer as the torrential rain poured down every other day, I visited Ven. Beopjin at Choamsa Temple, and she was super delighted to be asked to make sweet potato vine kimchi for this edition. She loves making unique seasonal dishes appropriate for the long rainy season. With its sweet and sour taste and crispy texture, this kimchi is well loved by many, even in this era of prosperity. Because peeling the
vines requires lots of patience and time, and because dirty fingernails are not stylish, this kimchi is not very popular these days. A small serving of it doesn’t require much work, but to make kimchi you should peel at least a big basketful. Thus, sweet potato vine kimchi has been nearly forgotten, both in monastic and secular communities. All the ingredients were now ready: a basket of sweet potato vines picked from the garden by a devotee living down the mountain, a handful of red chili peppers, a couple of regular potatoes, ginger, and a handful of glutinous rice. A few women who remember the sweet and sour taste of this kimchi they ate all summer long to the point of fatigue in childhood, and the young woman in charge of the temple kitchen who has never heard of it, helped with making the kimchi. Preparation took almost half a
day, although we only made a small batch because it was meditation retreat season and there were few residents in the temple. While making the kimchi, Ven. Beopjin cracked a few jokes to alleviate the tedious work and showed us a few tips on how to peel the vines quickly and efficiently.
The basic skills behind peeling them is that you have to hold the vine vertically with the leaves facing up, and then twist the end of the stem and peel it downward. I tried and found the skins peeled easily without breaking in the middle. Ven. Beopjin told us how she used to collect the vines when she was a young girl by carrying a huge basket bigger than her tiny body. She said her sleeves and pants were completely soaked by the wet leaves while picking them.

 

Sweet Potato Vine Kimchi

Ingredients
Sweet potato vines, glutinous rice, regular potatoes, fresh red chili peppers, ginger, salt, sesame seeds, temple-made dark soy sauce.
Directions (Gyeongsang-do style)
1. Peel the vines, wash them under running water, and sprinkle with salt. When
softened, rinse a few times and drain.
2. Soak the glutinous rice in water, and then boil until it becomes a thick porridge.
3. Trim fresh red chili peppers and ginger. Cut them into thick pieces. (leave one or
two fresh red chili peppers and cut them diagonally)
4. Peel the regular potatoes, boil and mash them.
5. Blend ginger, chili peppers, and glutinous rice porridge in a blender. Then put all
ingredients into a big bowl and mix well.
6. Add sesame seeds, salt, and soy sauce to the above mixture. Add more salt or
soy sauce to taste. You may eat this as fresh kimchi or ferment for a day at room
temperature and refrigerate.
Supplementary Tips
1. Jeolla-do style kimchi uses the same recipe except that the vines are blanched in
brine. This brings out the tender texture of the vines, which makes it perfect for
fresh kimchi.
2. Try not to use sugar or factory-produced dark soy sauce because it will make the
vines taste mushy. If you don’t have homemade dark soy sauce, try using soup soy sauce.
3. Adding a spoonful of raw perilla seed powder when you make the glutinous rice
porridge will make it more savory.
4. Non-monastics can add slices of onion to give it a sweeter taste.

 

But real patience was needed in peeling the vines and required teamwork in the kitchen. Every summer, all family members helped peeling them. To overcome the boredom of peeling, she used to craft bracelets
and necklaces with the vines while sharing laughter with her siblings when unwatched by adults. After she joined the monastic community, she had to prepare sweet potato vines just as she did when she was younger, but now she did it with her fellow monastics.
It was fun sharing memories of childhood, and we even made a few bracelets just like we did as children. After the peeling was done, Ven. Beopjin began making a small amount of porridge from the glutinous rice that had been soaking in water for a few hours. She then mashed some regular potatoes after boiling them quickly. To add some natural flavors, she made a paste with crushed red chili peppers and minced
ginger. Now, finally everything was set. Our sweet potato vines were ready, half of them soaked in salt water and drained and the other half blanched in salt water and rinsed. Each batch was mixed with prepared seasonings; one was Gyeongsang-do style and the other Jeolla-do style.
What a feeling of nostalgia! The experience reminded us, both monastic and laity, to recall our childhood as we tasted it together. After our long collaborative effort, the taste of the food was quite rewarding. The flavor was incredibly light and delightful because we used no salted fish, scallions, or garlic. It was both aromatic and earthy.
In particular, the texture of the vines was quite tender, maybe because of the glutinous rice porridge. I couldn’t get over how refreshing the taste was, and the earthy aroma from the seasoned mashed potatoes was one of a kind. I can’t wait to taste it again once it is thoroughly fermented, which ours wasn’t. How scrumptious it would be to make bibimbap with sweet potato vine kimchi!

Choamsa Temple
#525 Baejeom-ri, Sunheung-myeon, Yeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do

 

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