Kimchi seems to be one of those things you either really like, or really don’t. Frankly it’s an odd food. Essentially vegetables left out to spoil “just enough” to let the magic happen. And by magic I mean fermentation of course. One of my favorite confluences of science and cookery…from the process that brought you such treasures as BEER, bread, sauerkraut, and did I mention beer yet?!

Some of the many ingredients that can be used to make Kimchi.

Anyway, because there is a certain amount of alchemy involved, people don’t even think about making their own Kimchi at home. This is a shame because it is extremely simple to make. A bit time consuming I’ll grant you, but simple. Another intimidation factor is that there are a million different types of Kimchi. However, the great thing about making it at home is that you can customize it to your tastes. Do you like Nappa Cabbage? Throw it in there, Turnips? Sure. Baby Bok Choy? Why not? Asian Pears? Absolutely!

A definition is in order. What is Kimchi after-all? According to Merriam Webster it is “a vegetable pickle seasoned with garlic, red pepper, and ginger that is the national dish of Korea”…and they should know right? Well, sort of. They are mostly correct though, Kimchi IS the national dish of Korea, but as I said before there are an incredible array of different types & styles of Kimchi, many based on which region of Korea you are in, and/or the season of the year.

The type I enjoy making centers around Nappa Cabbage. This is the type most Americans think of when they think of Kimchi. Not that many Americans spend much time thinking about Kimchi, but they should ( I know I do). I usually make a huge batch of it and end up eating it exclusively for several weeks on end. Kimchi is very versatile in that it can be used as a side dish, a main course, or a component of something else (Kimchi Jjigae comes to mind, a spicy stew made with Kimchi, tofu, and usually pork).

And speaking of healthy eating, what could be more healthy than raw, fermented vegetables? Low calories, high nutrient value (including lactobacilli the all important “beneficial bacteria”),  and delicious…it’s the perfect diet food. No wonder Koreans eat about 40 pounds of it each year.

OK enough about Kimchi. Let’s talk about actually making it! Here is the ingredient list for the Kimchi that I make. You can substitute / add / subtract to your hearts content. It’s the process that is important. As for what goes into it….totally up to you. For example, many Korean recipes add raw oysters, I don’t feel the need to be THAT authentic. As for the shopping, just head to your local Asian food market, it’s all there!

Kimchi Recipe

Ingregients:

Nappa Cabbage: I usually use two medium sized heads or just one if they are huge.
Baby Bok Choy: This gives the final product a nice dark green component.
Daikon Radish: Nice and crunchy with a great peppery flavor.
Asian Pear: Adds some nice sweetness, and crunch.
Carrots
Scallions
Garlic, and lots of it!
Ginger, and lots of it!
Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar
Seasame oil
Garlic Chili Peper Sauce
Seasame seeds
Korean hot pepper flakes (the package will say “red pepper powder”, or “course ground red pepper”)
Sweet Rice Flour
Anchovies

Prep:

Nappa Cabbage:

1. Remove any bruised outside leaves from the head, then cut it in half lengthwise. Cut out the hard core at the bottom, then cut the two halves in half lengthwise. Next, cut each of the quarters in half again.

2. Now cut across your lengths of cabbage so that you mostly have rough 2” x 2” square bite sized pieces. It won’t be uniform but that’s OK. Alternatively, cut it however you would think it’s most fun to eat…

Baby Bok Choy:

1. Cut off the thick stem at the bottom.

2. Separate the leaves. No cutting necessary. These are already in perfectly sized pieces!

Asian Pear:

1. Keep the skin on, core it, then slice it fairly thick.

Daikon:

1. I like to quarter the radish lengthwise, then slice it fairly thick. This creates pretty large “pie wedge” pieces.

Carrot:

I thinly slice the carrot on the bias so you get long, thin pieces. Shredded would also work well. This will give you an excuse to the mandoline out of the closet…if you can find it.

Garlic & Ginger:

Minced…and don’t be shy with either.

Anchovies:

This is optional of course, but it adds a nice salty underlying note that rounds out all the other flavors. For a large batch you might use (1) 2 oz tin. For smaller amounts just use half a tin.

Kimchi cabbage soaking

Method:

1. Fill your kitchen sink (or a very large plastic tub) with water. Liberally salt the water, then throw in all the cut cabbage. Mix it around to shake any dirt loose, then let it soak for 30 minutes or so.

2. Remove the cabbage from the sink and put it in a clean kitchen trash bag, or a plastic grocery bag if it’s large enough.

3. Put a lot of salt in the bag and mix it up! What’s a lot? Depends on how much cabbage you have. Let’s say a cup of salt, less for smaller amounts. Basically enough to lightly coat all of the leaves.

4. Close the bag, pierce it all over with a knife, then put the whole bag back into the sink and put something heavy on top of it. As the salt penetrates, the cabbage will begin weeping liquid. This is what we want. Keep the cabbage weighted for 2 or 3 hours, mixing it up every once in a while.

5. When the time is up (or you are getting bored), rinse the cabbage in cold water, then dry it as best you can (salad spinner works well!).

6. Next, we get the paste ready! In a small sauce pan, boil 1 or 2 cup of water. To the boiling water wisk in about ½ cup of sweet rice flour and a few teaspoons of sugar. Cook it for a few minutes stirring constantly. This will become a loose paste. If it’s too thick, just add more water. You’re looking for the consistency of oatmeal. Let this cool a bit then add in as much of the Korean pepper flakes as you dare to. More than you would think possible in fact. Perhaps 2 cups of pepper flakes to 1 cup of paste.

7. In as large a work bowl as you have, bring all of the vegetables (and fruit) together and mix around a bit. I usually need to use several bowls for this.

8. To the vegetables (and fruit) add the paste we made from step 6. Also add the garlic, ginger, anchovies, sesame seeds (to taste. I add a lot). Mix thoroughly, and remember you are dealing with hot peppers so latex gloves are a good idea.

9. Once those items are mixed well add the sesame oil, ginger-garlic chili sauce, and rice wine vinegar to taste. One suggestion…you really only need a few tablespoons of vinegar (up to ½ cup), and a little sesame oil goes a long way. As for the chili sauce, the more the better; Keep in mind it’s pretty spicy though. Mix everything together again.

10. Finally, add some salt & black pepper. Now taste it! Adjust the seasonings to your liking. In my case this usually means more garlic, more ginger, and more hot chili sauce.

11. Once you have it seasoned to your liking, pack it as tightly as you can into one or two large glass jars. Not surprisingly, used ½ gallon store bought Kimchi jars work really well for this! Push down as hard as you can to pack it in as tightly as it will go.

12. Now the fun part. Leave it on your counter for days and days until it begins fermenting! Do not put the lid on the containers (otherwise the jar may explode), simply cover the jars with plastic wrap and let it sit. Once they start to ferment I usually leave them out for 1-2 more days to “sour them up”, then into the fridge they go. Total time on the counter around 5 days, but this will vary.

Homemade Kimchi Ready to eat!

It’s finally ready to eat. You’ve worked hard for this…eat & enjoy! It will keep in the fridge for several weeks. One last tip, it is simply wrong to eat Kimchi with anything other than chopsticks.

So that’s it! It’s basically one evening of work, then several days of waiting…but it is well worth the effort!

ENJOY!