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One Jar of Kimchi, 5 Dinners

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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples every which way.

Today: It might seem counterintuitive, but fermented cabbage can add a burst of freshness to your autumn cooking. Linda Xiao from The Tart Tart has five ideas for incorporating kimchi into your weeknight dinners.  

Now that the weather is cooling down, I find myself gravitating towards the soft and stew-y, the comforting and homey. And for me that means one thing: kimchi.

This sour Korean side dish is most famous in its cabbage form, which you can easily find in any Korean grocery store. They sell it in quantities of up to several pounds, which is the increment I buy it in. You can also make it at home, which I do every now and then when I’m up for wrestling a huge head of napa cabbage.

More: Need another idea for tackling that bulky napa? Make it into a wedge salad.

Whether you’re making kimchi yourself or buying it at the store, it's super-healthy (like many fermented foods) and can be incorporated into your cooking in a million and one ways. I personally like the way it offsets cold-weather fare, adding a tangy zing to everything from soups to fried rice to grilled cheese sandwiches.

Here are five ways I use kimchi in weeknight dinners:

Bibimbap is pretty much a rice bowl, except it's topped with a sunny side up egg and doused with gochujang. While it’s desirable to have a lots of different toppings, two or three will work just fine. Besides the kimchi, my favorite additions are raw grated carrots, blanched spinach tossed with sesame oil and salt, and mushrooms sautéed with soy sauce. For protein, I'll sauté firm tofu, but meat prepared Korean-style, like bulgogi or galbi, are also great.

Before digging in, top the bowl with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds and green onion. Then spoon in the gochujang and stir everything up.

Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
You know how grilled cheese sandwiches pair so well with tomato soup? It's because they can be quite rich on their own -- they need something to cut through the pure taste of oozy melted cheese. My answer is, of course, kimchi. It's a surprisingly addictive and appropriate filling.

Make the sandwich the way you would normally, but double up on the cheese slices. Roughly chop the kimchi and stick it between the cheese before allowing the slices to melt. I normally use fontina, but any melty cheese should do.

More: Get perfect grilled cheese, everytime. No recipe required. 

Noodles with Kimchi
When other kids were learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches, my sister and I mastered the art of the simple noodle bowl. The formula? Broth (usually just noodle cooking water with soy sauce and hot sauce), noodles, some kind of vegetable, and an egg. In retrospect, I guess there wasn't that much to master.

I still turn to the same bowl of noodles on lazy cooking days. The broth: kimchi (with its juices), noodle cooking water, and soy sauce, heated on low for a few minutes. The noodles: regular wheat noodles, although udon is just as swell. The vegetable: bok choy (or broccoli, or Napa cabbage). And the egg: soft-boiled (but I also like it poached). Easy peasy.

More: Can't get enough kimchi? Here are five more ways to eat it

Kimchi Fried Rice
Fried rice is pretty much the epitome of resourcefulness. Because after a week of making fresh rice, you've probably got a bunch of the old stuff on hand. And kimchi fried rice is fried rice deluxe. The kimchi imparts a delicious tartness -- and a vibrant hue -- to the dish, and makes it beloved by young and old eaters alike.

This is how I like to make it: I sauté the vegetables and meat (mushrooms and Spam, for instance) in a hot, oiled pan and then I add roughly-chopped kimchi. Once everything is good and hot, I add rice, followed by soy sauce to taste. Then I crack an egg into the rice for extra fluffiness, scrambling it directly into the rice mixture with my spatula. To serve, I garnish each bowl with green onions and sesame seeds or shichimi togarashi.

You could also put a fried egg on it. There's always that.

Kimchi Tofu Soup
This is the raddest soup ever. It's a little like the Korean soup soondubu because I add a ton of soft tofu to it. The tofu soaks up the broth and becomes fragile little flavor bombs that slowly disintegrate and thicken the soup. I'll be honest -- I pick the tofu pieces out of my husband's bowl. They really are that good.

Fantastic additions include bok choy and other greens, mushrooms, and vermicelli. I add ground pork, but you can certainly make it vegetarian, in which case you might omit the rice vinegar and even the ginger.

Serves 4

tablespoon neutral oil
pound ground pork
cloves garlic, minced
tablespoon ginger, minced
cups kimchi
cups stock or water
Soy sauce, to taste
ounces soft tofu, chopped into cubes
Green onion, to serve

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Linda Xiao

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Tags: Soup, Tofu, Dinner, Weeknight Cooking, Everyday Cooking, Halfway To Dinner