Bomdong: early spring cabbage

It goes without saying that the Napa cabbage (baechu) is perhaps Korea’s most well-known and beloved vegetable. But baechu has a funny-looking cousin that makes its debut in late winter and early spring. Back in the day, when it came time to harvest baechu for the annual winter kimchi making, there would inevitably be some cabbages that hadn’t fully developed in time. Rather than picking them, farmers would leave these cabbages in the fields to slowly but surely ripen over the course of winter.

By the time spring rolled around, these baechu had become bomdong, a sweet variety with tougher leaves and a higher water content. Though winter cabbages hold their leaves tightly together like someone keeping a secret, bomdong lets it all hang out. By the time bomdong is picked, the outer leaves have fallen to the sides, resulting in a flat, bowl-like shape with a bright yellow interior. No secrets here.

Photo by Jun Michael Park (mikaphoto.net)
Photo by Jun Michael Park

These days, baechu is planted with the express purpose of making bomdong, starting in September, and is picked between January and March. Koreans think of this salad as one of the dishes that you must eat in early springtime, believing it will bring your appetite back from the long, tiring winter. 70% of the bomdong grown in Korea comes from South Jeolla province, near Haenam and Jindo, where the winters are a little milder. They’re hugely popular in Seoul markets and grocery stores, which lends a strange sense of satisfaction, that these funny, squished-looking cabbages are actually the hottest thing this season.

 

Chef’s notes

Bomdong is excellent for making fresh green salad. Its yellow inside parts are quite sweet and nutty but it also gives bright vivid colors to your salads. According to Korean traditional beliefs, it has the properties to make your body cool down, so if you have a lot of heat in your body and are a sweaty person, then it would helpful to take this funny looking vegetable (though eating just once might not results in immediate effects!). It also contains a high percentage of fiber, so it would be a good idea to make friends with this vegetable if you have constipation. 🙂

how to eat: Koreans usually make dressings with ganjang or aekjeot (fish sauce), gochugaru, vinegar and some sweeteners like sugar or maeshil extract for a freshly-dressed kimchi-like salad.

recipe: bomdong geotjeori (봄동 겉절이, spring cabbage quick kimchi)

how to select: Buy bomdong that’s not overly large, with more uniformly-sized leaves, and yellow parts inside, as it is sweeter and nuttier. Use the outer leaves for making soup because they’re tougher, and the more tender insides for salad.

how to store: If you have leftover bomdong, wrap them with newspaper and keep in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep for about a week.

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photo by Jun Michael Park
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