Kimchee, the spicy pickled cabbage that is the signature dish of Korean cuisine, is one of my husband’s all-time favorite foods. (Must be to compensate for all the bland French Canadian fare he was subjected to as a child.)
So of course “Kimchee on the Seder Plate,” Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s beautiful essay about growing up Korean and Jewish, grabbed my attention.
While a symbol of Rabbi Buchdahl’s dual cultural allegiances and anxieties about not growing up in a “normal” Jewish family, kimchee actually did appear on her household’s seder plate one year, in place of horseradish — which I think is an excellent innovation:
My Korean mother thought it was a reasonable substitution since both kimchee and horseradish elicit a similar sting in the mouth, the same clearing of the nostrils. She also liked kimchee on gefilte fish and matzah. "Kimchee just like maror, but better," she said.
I love how her Korean American mom felt comfortable enough with Judaism to introduce her own culinary interpretation of the seder menu. After all, there’s nothing sacred about horseradish, or even gefilte fish, just because Ashkenazi Jews equate them with Passover. The commandment vis a vis horseradish is simply to eat something bitter; many Sephardic Jews use Romaine lettuce for this purpose. And cabbage, like lettuce, is certainly kosher for Passover — although most recipes for kimchee I’ve seen also call for rice vinegar, a Passover no-no for those observing the more stringent Ashkenazi traditions.
On a similar theme, I stumbled across this recipe for kimchee matzah ball soup. Sounds intriguing enough to make a matzah-ball-soup eater out of my husband, who dislikes Ashkenazi food almost as much as he loves his Ashkenazi wife…