I Dream of Kimchi
by Julie Barnard
Oh kimchi, I love you. Because I love it so much I think you should, too, so I shall guide you through the process. Don’t be scared! I promise to be gentle.
Fermented foods are a passion of mine and one of the biggest is the delicious funk of kimchi. Cabbage. Radish. Scallion. Heavy batches in the winter, lighter batches in the summer, eaten directly out of the jar or cooked, it’s the ultimate condiment. Good for the body, good for the soul, not good for a first date. Holy hell though, if you can find someone who wants to make out after grubbing on this pungent treat?!? Grab them and run as fast as you can! That is a rare being, like a sparkly unicorn.
Before I get into the recipe, I must offer a quick PSA so if anyone asks you about the process you can throw down some knowledge to wow and amaze them. Ahem. Basically, airborne bacteria are going to convert your raw vegetables and/or fruits sugars into lactic acid, which lowers the pH - a measure of acidity, which is enough to keep all the tastiness safe to eat for months. And for triva, did you know Koreans make over 200 varieties?!?! Fish, squash, fruit, and on and on and on. I know. It’s almost too exciting for me to handle.
Definitely take a look at the ingredients prior to diving in, as they may not be readily available. The spices are easily ordered online (unless you live in an area that has Asian markets, as that is the perfect hookup). In addition, you'll need a glass jar or two, or eleven, and away you go. Truly you don’t need any special equipment--I live in a teeny tiny apartment in Brooklyn, and I ferment right in the jars.
Ready Player One? Here we go.
2 pounds Napa Cabbage
2 tablespoons Kosher Salt - do not use table salt, ok? You want nice flaky coarse salt.
Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces and toss with the salt. Take the salted cabbage and drop into a colander that is set over a bowl then weigh it down and let drain at room temperature for 24-48 hours. For the weight you can use a big zip-style plastic bag filled with water, a plate with a couple bottles of booze balanced on top, anything that you can wash and clean afterwards. I prefer the bag method as it’s just the easiest.
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic - I really like using my Microplane to finely grate things instead of having to deal with a bunch of chopping
3 teaspoons finely chopped ginger - You can use the Microplane for this as well
3-1/2 tablespoons Korean red chili powder
⅓ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
Make this the day before you want to use it so all the flavours have a chance to come together. I add everything to a small glass jar with a lid and shake it up to mix. Nothing extra to wash when you do it this way.
It’s the next day, so now it’s time to go to work. Using a handful of cabbage at a time, squeeze the now bendable and floppy vegetable to get any remaining liquid out of it. Add to a bowl, dump the marinade in, tosstosstoss, add to your jars and seal up tight. I use wide mouth glass pint jars.
Refrigerate for at least four days before you dig in and don’t unscrew the lids. Let the magic happen, ok? Because it will. I know how exciting it’s going to be but sometimes the best things are the ones you have to wait for and this is definitely worth it. When the four days are up dig the hell in and do your happy kimchi dance. The deliciousness will keep nicely in the fridge for about three weeks.
This recipe will give you about one quart. Definitely you can double up if you want! I just can’t eat more than this amount in a few weeks. I know.. I’m kind of shocked about that, too.
There are many changes that you can make, so many varieties, that hopefully this will get your kimchi-obsessed mind going crazy. Here are a few to get you started:
Combine the Korean chili powder with the paste version called gochujang for a different level of heat, just split the measurements between the two or use more of one than the other.
Add grated Asian Pear or chopped green scallion - do both if you want!
Squirt in a bit of fish sauce
No rice vinegar? Use distilled white!
Add a dash of sesame oil or some soy sauce
Nontraditional (but delicious) things to do with your kimchi:
Chop the kimchi, mix with chili and make kim-chili hot dogs
Add to a quesadilla
Make a kimchi compound butter
Grilled kim-cheese sandwich
Kimchi Bloody Marys!
I think my next batch will not involve any cabbage at all but will be beets or persimmon. Mmmm..
Julie Barnard is a lover of all things edible, fashion and kdramas.
Watch Kimchi Family on DramaFever here!