Weeknight Vegetarian: Spicing up mac and cheese with kimchi

Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - Mac and Kimcheese With Mushrooms.

I’m not the first to use kimchi in non-Korean ways. Far from it. Way back in 2008, Los Angeles chef Roy Choi incorporated it into offerings from his Kogi truck, and the Korean taco trend exploded. Since then, I’ve worked it into deviled eggs, dip and a Grilled Kimcheese sandwich and have even tossed it with cubed avocado for an appetizer I call Guaca-Chi.

Do you sense a pattern? I like the fermented cabbage best alongside rich ingredients because its funk and spice simultaneously bring a little roundness and depth, plus a sharp zing that cuts through those fatty flavors. It’s just how kimchi is used in more traditional (read: meaty) applications, but my go-to partner ingredients are now eggs and cheese rather than bulgogi and pork belly.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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My attachment to kimchi has not gone unnoticed. Colleague Tim Carman teased me about it in our Super Bowl pizza smackdown, writing that my strategy for winning would surely involve topping a pie with it. (I resisted it that time, but kimchi pizza topped with a fried egg does happen to be a favorite of mine.)

It was only a matter of time before I came up with a way to work kimchi into one of the great American comfort foods, macaroni and cheese. It makes a lot of sense. Besides that funk and spice, kimchi offers a crunchy counterpoint to the soft pasta and sauce. Once the kimchi was in there, though, I wanted more: something to turn this homey side into the star of the weeknight dinner table.

Sidekicks were in order. Roasted red pepper brings a welcome splash of color against the beige pasta, but the real supporting players are the shiitakes and their extra dose of umami.

Mac and Kimcheese With Mushrooms is now complete. What’s next?

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