This Squash-Vine Kimchi Recipe Is a Love Letter to Two Cultures

published Sep 15, 2022
Squash Vine Kimchi Recipe

In this Mexican-inspired take on the classic Korean dish, squash blossoms, vines, and leaves are fermented with a seasoning paste that gets its flavor from a trio of Mexican chiles.

Makes2 (32-ounce) jars

Prep1 hour 30 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 45 minutes

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Kimchi de guias de calabaza plated and in jars on surface.
Credit: Photo: Yudi Ela Echevarria; Food Stylist: Ashley Nevarez; Prop Stylist: Nidia Cueva

My dad often tells me stories of how he and other relatives would go foraging for mushrooms during the rainy season in their native Charapan, Michoacán, Mexico, preparing the most amazing stews and tamales. How his grandma would stuff their bellies full of quelites that she foraged around her troje, a traditional P’urhépecha wooden living space.

When starting my journey to re-establish my relationship with Mexican food and Mexican American culture after having gone plant-based more than 10 years ago, I was convinced that I had to re-learn how to cook and figure out what to eat, because it seemed as if animal products took priority above all else.

On the contrary, it was then that I realized that the generational knowledge and ingredients necessary to lead a satisfying plant-based lifestyle had always been at my disposal: herbs, mushrooms, nopales, grains, legumes, seeds, and quelites (an umbrella term used in Mexico to describe edible greens from both native and non-native plants alike). This is how we’ve always eaten.

Shifting my focus to cultivating and foraging quelites in my own environment and reconnecting with these ingredients over the years has developed into an ongoing love letter to my family and the traditions passed on to me. 

This recipe — kimchi made with quelites — combines the culture I grew up with, and a culture that I’ve developed a love for. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was never a shortage of East and Southeast Asian restaurants, with one of my favorites (and a favorite amongst many Latinx families) being Ocha Classic. It’s a popular Thai restaurant chain that my family would find any excuse to eat at and will forever hold a special place in my heart, with the countless memories made gathered around their red vinyl booths.

Even after cutting out meat I was still drawn to East and Southeast Asian restaurants because there were always a number of dishes that de-centered animal products. Little by little I familiarized myself with what was suitable (or could easily be made suitable) for me to eat, and ever since, Asian restaurants have become a safe haven whenever going out. 

Credit: Photo: Yudi Ela Echevarria; Food Stylist: Ashley Nevarez; Prop Stylist: Nidia Cueva

HakJin, an old family friend from Seoul, first introduced me to kimchi when I was a kid, but being a picky eater then, the idea of spicy fermented cabbage wasn’t something I was eager to try. Fast forward to a few years later, when scouring the internet for new recipes, I came across Maangchi’s YouTube channel. Maangchi, a Korean YouTuber who makes recipe videos that focus on traditional Korean dishes, became my new obsession. Maangchi’s enthusiasm, kind motherly demeanor, and obvious passion for her country’s cuisine fed my curiosity — even to the point that made me fully regret ever missing out on anything that HakJin offered me. I wanted to learn and experience more. 

Traditionally, many versions of kimchi aren’t at all suitable for vegans because they’re usually made with fish sauce, salted shrimp, or other non-vegan-friendly ingredients. But I was set on exploring my curiosities, so the search for an alternative version of kimchi continued. I pieced together different recipes over time, and making kimchi at home —something I never thought I’d be doing — became somewhat of an annual tradition for me. It all came together with a hefty amount of Napa cabbage and an old upcycled plastic barrel that once housed cueritos my mom had lying around. 

Making kimchi can sound intimidating — the thought conjuring up images of expert kimchi-making mothers and grandmothers churning out impressive amounts of the Korean staple — but I’ve found it can be a pretty straightforward process. It lends itself effortlessly in this application with squash vines and blossoms, drawing inspiration from other traditional kimchi recipes that use quelites, such as mustard greens and dandelion greens, as their base instead of Napa cabbage. 

Better known as the superstars in sopa de guías — an ultra-comforting traditional Oaxacan soup made with tender squash and young corn delicately flavored with a quelite called chepiche — squash vines (guías de calabaza in Spanish) are the edible green shoots, leaves, tendrils, and blossoms from the squash plant.

In this kimchi recipe, I use squash vines for their varying textures and ability to hold up when preserved, offering a light-but-firm bite when fermented. I combine the squash vines with three different chiles (guajillo, puya, and árbol), creating the perfect stand-in for Korean red pepper powder. The mix of chiles adds subtle fruity, sweet notes, a beautiful vibrant color, and buildable heat to the kimchi.

Squash Vine Kimchi Recipe

In this Mexican-inspired take on the classic Korean dish, squash blossoms, vines, and leaves are fermented with a seasoning paste that gets its flavor from a trio of Mexican chiles.

Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Makes 2 (32-ounce) jars

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the brine and vines:

  • 1 pound

    squash blossoms, stalks, and leaves

  • 1 tablespoon

    distilled white vinegar

  • 2 quarts

    water, preferably distilled, plus more for washing the vines

  • 1/4 cup

    kosher salt

For the seasoning paste:

  • 1 quart

    water, preferably distilled

  • 1 (4x6-inch) piece

    dried kombu

  • 4

    whole dried shiitake mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons

    glutinous or sweet rice flour

  • 4

    dried árbol chiles

  • 4

    dried puya chiles

  • 4

    dried guajillo chiles

  • 1/2

    medium white onion

  • 1 (1-inch) piece

    ginger

  • 1/2

    medium Pink Lady apple

  • 4 large cloves

    garlic

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 1/4 cup

    soy sauce

  • 1/2

    medium jicama (about 10 ounces)

  • 1

    large carrot (3 ounces)

  • 1 small bunch

    garlic chives (10 to 12 chives)

Instructions

Brine the squash vines:

  1. Place 1 pound summer squash blossoms, stalks, and leaves in an extra-large bowl. Add enough cool water to cover, then add 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar. Give them a good toss, then drain. Rinse the vines with more cool water and drain through a colander.

  2. If the stalks have thorns on them, remove them with one of two options: Gently run a knife up and down the area, or pinch the outer layer of the bottom end of the stalk and gently pull away to remove the thorns and stringy bits. Cut the vines crosswise into 3 to 4-inch pieces.

  3. Place 2 quarts water and 1/4 cup kosher salt in a large bowl and stir until the salt is fully dissolved. Add the squash blossoms, leaves, and vines. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, giving them a toss every 30 minutes. Don’t worry if the vines aren’t fully submerged in the brine mixture. As time passes, they will begin to wilt. Meanwhile, make the seasoning paste.

Make the seasoning paste:

  1. Place 1 quart water, 1 (4x6-inch) piece dried kombu, and 4 whole dried shiitake mushrooms in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.

  2. Remove and discard the kombu and the mushrooms. Add 2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour to the liquid and whisk until dissolved. Return the saucepan to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken, turns glossy, and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool to room temperature, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

  3. Meanwhile, heat a griddle or large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Remove the stems from 4 dried árbol chiles, 4 dried puya chiles, and 2 dried guajillo chiles; remove the seeds if you’d like. Place in a single layer in the pan and cook, flipping occasionally, until toasted and darkened in color, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes.

  4. Transfer to a blender and let cool, about 10 minutes. Blend into a coarse powder, 1 to 1 /2 minutes. Leave in the blender.

  5. Prepare the following, adding each to the blender as it is completed: Coarsely chop 1/2 medium white onion. Peel and coarsely chop 1 (1-inch) piece ginger. Core and coarsely chop 1/2 medium Pink Lady apple (no need to peel).

  6. Add 4 large peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 soy sauce to the blender. Blend until a fine paste is formed, scraping down the sides of the blender if needed, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.

Assemble the kimchi:

  1. When the rice flour mixture is cooled, add to the blended chili paste and stir to combine.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each to the bowl of seasoning paste as it is completed: Peel 1/2 medium jicama. Cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick planks, then stack the planks and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick matchsticks (about 1 1/2 cups). Peel and cut 1 large carrot into matchsticks about the same size (about 2 cups). Cut 1 small bunch garlic chives crosswise into 3 to 4-inch pieces (about 1 cup).

  3. When the squash vines are ready, drain. Squeeze out more liquid with your hands a handful at a time and return to the bowl. Add enough cool water to cover, then drain. Repeat adding water and draining 3 more times.

  4. Squeeze the excess liquid out of the vines a handful at a time and return to the bowl. Add the vegetables and seasoning paste and stir until everything is evenly coated and combined. Firmly pack the mixture into 1 (64-ounce) or 2 (32-ounce) jars or airtight containers, leaving 2 inches of headspace at the top.

  5. Seal the jar(s) and place in a cool, dark area away from any direct light or heat source. Let ferment for 3 to 5 days, depending on the temperature of your space (the warmer it is, the faster it ferments). You should generally see signs of fermentation (gas bubbles forming) after the first day or two. The kimchi usually tastes best when fermented at lower temperatures for longer periods.

  6. I typically prefer the taste of kimchi around the 3 to 4-day mark, this is when you can start eating it fresh. After it is ready, refrigerate to slow the fermentation process down (it will continue to ferment, gradually becoming more acidic as it ages). Use this kimchi as you would any regular kimchi: As a side dish or to prepare kimchi stews, kimchi fried rice, or other dishes. Eat within 6 months.

Recipe Notes

Tips for selecting squash vines:

Stems, leaves, flowers, tendrils, young shoots are completely edible on both winter and summer squash varieties. As a rule of thumb, strive to harvest the most tender (youngest) parts of the plant, as these will give you the best flavor and texture.

Flowers: you can use the young buds that haven’t yet bloomed as well as flowers that are in full bloom.

Leaves: the ideal size of the leaves should be around the size of the palm of your hand while avoiding anything wider than your entire hand, as well as any yellowing leaves or leaves with powdery mildew.

Shoots: Harvest no more than 12 inches of the newest shoots from the plant’s vines.

Stems/stalks: Avoid any yellowing or white parts.