It's like clockwork: With fall, come apples. But most of us don't think about using that oh-so-American fruit in a salad, much less one with fermented Korean flavor. That's just one of the ways chef David Chang of New York's Momofuku fame has us beat. His Apple Kimchi Salad – made with kimchi, peppery arugula, pig jowl, and maple labneh, a Middle-Eastern yogurt – balances the sweetness and acidity of apples with the pickled goodness of Korean-style cabbage and that smoke we associate with bacon.
Chang came up with the salad out of necessity. "We had to find a way to use all of the apples we bought at the greenmarket," he says. You can use just about any variety of apple for this dish, but Chang prefers the sweeter, crisper varieties to offset the pureed kimchi, and he uses Fujis if he can find them. (Don't worry, your honeycrisp and pink lady apples will work fine.)
To keep the apples on the crisper side, Chang tosses them in the kimchi puree just before serving. "If you like more of the funkiness of the kimchi, you can coat the apples up to six hours beforehand, and then toss again just before serving," he adds.
Chang's been serving this dish at his Momofuku Ssäm Bar over the past five years, and it's still on the menu. He recommends starting your dinner with it – it gets the taste buds popping – and likes to pair it with a junmai sake made from a highly polished rice. Something, after all, must match the brilliance of this season's apple crop, and we'd all do well to follow the Chang gospel on this light, wonderfully funked-up combo before the weather gets too cold, and we're stuck in line trying to slurp – or buy ingredients to replicate – his kick-ass soups.
Fuji Apple Salad – Kimchi, Smoked Jowl, and Maple Labne
• 4 fuji apples, peeled
• 1/2 cup napa cabbage kimchi, pureed
• 1/2 cup labne, or more to taste
• 1/4 cup maple syrup, or more to taste
• 1 pound thick-cut smoky bacon
• 1 cup loosely packed arugula
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the apples into wedges or very large cubes. If they are too thin, they'll be limp and won't assert their appleness; if they're too big, they won't take on enough kimchi flavor.
Toss the apples in the kimchi puree. You can do this just before making the salad or up to 6 hours in advance.
Combine the labne and maple syrup in a small bowl and whisk together until smooth.
Heat the oven to 350º F.
Arrange the bacon on a rimmed baking sheet and pop it in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until brown and crisped. Transfer the meat to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Just before serving, toss the arugula with the olive oil, a large pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper.
To serve, plop a dollop – 1 to 2 tablespoons – of the sweetened labne in the middle of each plate and top with one-quarter of the kimchi apples. Stack 3 or 4 pieces of bacon over the apples and drop a handful of the dressed arugula over the bacon. Hit each plate with a couple of turns of black pepper and serve at once.