Madeleine # 3: Kim Chee UN Stylie

(Post first published in 2006 – updated a decade later)

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Hot, humid weather. Tropical rainstorms at 8 pm on the dot every
evening. Burning feeling on the tongue. Breath to kill a rhino from 100 m. Cleared
sinuses. Sunshine. Surprise treat… Yep, it’s definitely my mum’s infamous Kim Chee UN Stylie!

I doubt any Koreans (North or South of the 38th parallel) would call this stuff Kim Chee. That much they could probably agree on.

The real one is prepared in a variety of ways, one of which I tried a few weeks ago, for the first time and which I have described here . And it’s always fermented.

But I’m digressing. The challenge of this first Madeleine* was that – although I cook alot – I had actually never prepared KCUNS. It looks easy enough when my mum prepares it (as does most cooking), but would it be as easy to replicate? There’s not even any heating involved, so I’m not sure it can actually be called cooking. Logically enough, I start by a phone call to the Recipe-Owner, to know what I need to buy on my way home from the office. Tonight is KCUNS night!
Then, standing in front of my beloved Magimix food processor, I stack all the
ingredients, in the quantities I think they should be in.

Phone / Reality check to mum. Nope, MUCH less of that and HEAPS more of that. And that one, just at the end, to taste. And the last one you can leave out. Sometimes. That’s about as precise as it gets.

Kim Chee UN Stylie

Kim Chee UN Stylie
Kim Chee UN Stylie

Ingredients:

2 medium carrots, peeled

Equivalent weight of raw white cabbage (or other crunchy, non-coloured cabbage)

1 medium green pepper, deseeded

Juice from 1/2 lemon

3 garlic cloves, peeled

3 anchovy filets (tinned)

1.5 tbsp tomato puree

Harissa or other chilli paste

Dark soy sauce (to taste)

Mild oil (sunflower or peanut)

Bread, thinly sliced, toasted crisp

Put all the ingredients down to (but not including) soy sauce in a food processor and WHIIIZZZZ! You can’t whizz it too much, so take a few more WHIZZZES for the road. Taste. It needs to be so hot you think it’s too hot, but it actually isn’t (bearing in mind you’ll have to eat it just like that, on bread). If it’s not there yet, add some more chilli. Then pour in some soy sauce while it’s whizzing. You are aiming for the consistency of tapenade (olive dip), so if it’s too coarse, add some oil.

At this point, taste again. Which I did. And it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Re-dial Mama(n). Try to describe the taste by phone. Hear my dad in the background saying to leave the ingredients to settle for a while. This from a man who hardly knows where the kitchen is! But, as with Caesar, I must credit him with the final touch.

Pour into a nice bowl, and serve with the toasted bread. To people you know REALLY well. Who have no dinner plans for the next week or so. Or need to be around other people. In the foreseable future.

I know you can keep it in an air-tight container in the fridge, but I don’t know how long. We’ve never managed to have it around for more than 2 days, tempting us every time we open the fridge.

When I spread it onto the toasted bread 15 minutes later, it’s all coming back to me. After-school treats (I have never liked sweet things, not even as a kid), then summer holidays as an adult, at my parents’ home in Auvergne (shameless plug for family business). Seeing my mum appearing with a tray, a stack of toasts, some knives and cold white wine or beer. And a cheeky grin.

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Between the ages of 10 and 12, I lived with my parents in Burundi . My dad worked for the UN (hence the UN-Stylie name). We were fortunate enough to be there during one of this beautiful country’s peaceful periods. There had been ethnic genocide in the past, and there would be again**. So this particular childhood memory does not lead to international politics. I can’t promise that it will always be so. But that, as they say, is another blog entirely.

One of our neighbours was an Egyptian lady, Samira, whose husband also worked for the UN. This is as far back as we can go, recipe-wise. We don’t know where she got it from. But she passed it on to my Danish-French mum and her best friend, the American ambassador’s wife, who was Vietnamese. My mum’s memories of KCUNS is of eating it with her friend Tuy Camh, after playing tennis. As if being physically active in 40C and 80% humidity was not enough to make you sweatty and hot, they had to add chilli and garlic! Together, I suspect they made a version of their own, which is the one passed on to yours truly. I have a feeling that they thought that fermenting raw vegetables in that climate was probably unwise.

My own memories of Tuy Camh are of a glorious week where I stayed at the Ambassador’s Residence, our last week in Burundi. Her and her husband had 2 daughters, who were my friends. We all thought it would be cool if I had a week-long sleep-over there before leaving. Cool is the word: Americans in hot climates have 24 hour air conditioning, which I never had anywhere. I was freezing! But we had so much fun with a pool, VHS video tapes on tap (and wall to wall carpet everywhere, gosh!). Stealing the fruit in the dehydrater when it was only half-dried. And the best bit: Vietnamese food. Every. Single. Night. Oh yum! I can track my predilection for that cuisine back to those days. My mouth is watering at the thought of the hot pot with tons of coriander and lemongrass. Schlurp!

Thinking of Burundi, I dig out my photo album (lovingly compiled by my parents for my last Big 0 birthday) and show it to Miss C, my almost 9 year old daughter. I had forgotten how misty it often was (this is very close to ‘Gorillas in the Mist‘ territory, just on the other side of Lake Tanganyika, as seen from our house. Yes, in the distance it’s the hills of Rwanda and former Zaire. At night we spotted bush fires over there)

View of Lake Tanganyika from our house
View of Lake Tanganyika from our house

I remember picnics in the tea plantations (here with our neighbours. Their 3 children were my quasi siblings for 2 years), after long sinuous drives up into the mountains, past tiny markets with the freshest produce, often kept cool under waterfalls pouring down on the side of the road.

Picnic in Tea Plantation
Picnic in Tea Plantation
Fresh veg by the side of the road
Fresh veg by the side of the road
And.. PUSH!
And.. PUSH!

 

Getting stuck in the mud is a frequent aspect of any trip in a tropical country, I imagine. Just one of those things.

Most enduring memory: this semi-natural pool in the middle of the wilderness. It was a natural pool of thermal water, which must have contained something different as it always made our skin really soft. At some point, someone must have vaguely ‘shored up’ this natural receptacle, for the pleasure of everyone who stumbled upon it from then on. I kept dreaming about this place, imagining that the pebbles at the bottom were precious gem stones. Years later I would read Wilbur Smith novels and think that his tales of finding natural riches in Africa were not that far fetched.

Dream Pool
Dream Pool

I can’t guarantee tropical showers and exotic memories, but I would still suggest that you give KCUNS a try anyway. Bon appétit!

* This was my first Madeleine on my first blog, in May 2006

** How sad to be right: it’s happening right now, as I type this

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