Kimchi: a creation story.
Kimchi is a Korean spicy pickled cabbage that is super delicious and has awesome health benefits, too. It is packed with vitamins A, B, and C, immune system boosting phytochemicals, and lactobacilli (healthy bacteria) that help with digestion. And it is surprisingly easy to make once you get the hang of it.
I looked through a bunch of kimchi recipes before I decided how I was going to make mine. The basic concept of kimchi is soaking napa cabbage and other assorted vegetables in a brine (salt water), adding some spiciness and spices, and allowing it to ferment a bit. Some recipes suggest using some kind of sweetener (traditionally either sweet rice flour or asian pears, though some recipes suggest apples or white sugar as a substitute), in order to balance out the strong flavor.
You can basically use this basic concept with any vegetables that you like. The one thing I decided to be very traditionalist about was the chile. As a New Mexican, I know that an enchilada with anything but New Mexico red or green chile is NOT an enchilada, and I can respect that the same is true for Koreans and kimchi. So I bought Korean Dried Red Pepper Powder (also called Gochugaru) at Talin, our local asian market. Make sure you get the course pepper, not the fine powdered kind.
Some of the more traditional recipes suggested using fish sauce, which I did, but many of the more American-adapted recipes left it out. Here is the recipe I ended up with.
SPICY DELICIOUS KIMCHI (MADE EASY)
- sea salt
- 1 head napa cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 sm. cucumber, cut into 1 in. matchsticks
- 1 lg. grated carrot
- 1 cup of bean sprouts
- 2 small radishes, sliced
- 4 green onions (white & green parts), cut into 1 in. pieces
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 in. ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 asian pear
- 1 cup korean dried red pepper powder, course (gochugaru - can be found at asian supermarkets)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- Mix a brine of 3-4 cups water and 1/2 cup salt (enough to cover the vegetables).
- Slice vegetables and soak in brine for 2-4 hours, or overnight.
- Cut asian pear into chunks and puree in a food processor with 1/2 cup water.
- Prepare the spices: Chop the ginger, garlic and onion. Add spices and red pepper powder to pears and blend until combined well. Add more red pepper to taste if you like it on the spicier side (I used about 1 1/2 cups).
- Drain brine off vegetables, reserving liquid. Taste vegetables for saltiness - you want them to taste decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are too salty, rinse them. If you cannot taste salt, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of salt and mix.
- Mix the vegetables with the spice paste. It works best to use your hands, but make sure you cover them with gloves or a plastic bag. Stuff kimchi into a clean quart jar and pack it tightly, pressing down until brine rises. If necessary, add a little of the reserved vegetable-soaking brine to submerge the vegetables. Be sure to allow at least 2 inches of space at the top for fermentation, and cover the jar to keep out dust and flies. I did end up with an exploded mason jar the 2nd day (yes! it’s aliiive!!), so I would recommend loosening the lids for the first few days at least while the kimchi does its thing.
- Ferment in your kitchen or other warm place. Taste the kimchi every day. After about a week of fermentation, when it tastes ripe, move it to the refrigerator.