Given how much I love making and eating sauerkraut (this is the recipe I use), it should come as no great shock that I also love its spicy, but also fermented cabbage-y, cousin kimchi. I do a hybrid of a couple recipes, and honestly I don’t always measure out each ingredient, but I’ll put down a rough estimate of what I usually use for you to use as a guide. I’ve also put bean sprouts in a couple times, although I’ve been told it’s even better without them by the folks I’ve shared it with (I happen to like it both ways). I’ve been meaning to write down what I put in mine for a while after a few requests, so here you go! I know the post is a bit long and rambling, but I promise the process is as simple as chopping and grating some things, tossing them with tasty flavorings, and letting them sit there a while. The purpose of all the words and steps isn’t to scare anyone off, it’s to try to clarify the process as much as possible so you won’t be intimidated by making this incredibly simple and heathy food. And the reward is jar upon jar of delicious kimchi!
First, the ingredients…
-1 large head napa cabbage
-fermented chili paste (learn more about it here: available at Asian groceries)*
-about 2-3 tbsp fish sauce (also available in Asian grocery stores. This has an image of the brand I use. Just make sure to *not* give the thicker, opaque sauce)**
-chopped garlic scapes (or green garlic; it looks like scallions)–I use one bunch, which usually has about a dozen of the little guys in it.
-1 daikon radish, grated
-1 ginger root, grated
*I use about 1/4 cup in mine, which is spicy but doesn’t punch you in the face too much. You can obviously adjust it to your tastes. The same peppers are available in powder form, which is what is traditionally used, but until recently I had trouble finding it so I’ve always just used the paste).
**Fish sauce won’t make your kimchi taste like fish–instead, it gives it a savory flavor that is delicious. You’ll find the amount that’s right for you, but I tend to stick with a few generous splashes from my bottle when making a batch.
Next, the preparation…
My technique is a combination of the sauerkraut recipe I mentioned before, and this very helpful kimchi primer. I use Tigress’ primer to feel out the proportions of ingredients I want to use, what size pieces to cut the cabbage into, how long to soak everything, etc. I use the Headspace kraut-in-a-jar method for the actual fermentation, because it keeps the lid on tightly enough to help calm my paranoia about bugs getting in my food (I am in Florida, after all), and because it keeps the house from smelling like fermented cabbage (which my upstairs neighbor probably appreciates). Just like with the kraut, make sure to loosen the ring on your lid ever-so-slightly every few days, or when you press on the top of the jar and it doesn’t give it all. If you don’t release a bit of pressure once in a while, you risk getting a face full of brine when you do open the jar to check on your food. Incidentally, you can use the same in-jar method for my new favorite hot sauce, which I made a *ton* of this year.
OK, that was kind of a long, rambling rant. Ready to make some kimchi? Good. Here’s how:
1. Wash all your veggies, grate the radish and ginger, chop the garlic scapes, and core and chop your cabbage.
2. Combine all your veggies and roots (everything but the salt, pepper paste, and fish sauce). I usually use two large mixing bowls for each batch, so when I make a lot of kimchi I end up using every bowl and pot I have. Press down, and make sure to leave some space at the top, since you’re adding liquid to it.*
3. Pour brine (or salt water) over the veggies to cover them. For my brine (and all my salt needs), I only use fine sea salt, which is available in my natural food co-op in bulk and which has a flavor and texture I prefer over other salts. Tigress calls for 1/4 c sea salt to quart of water, which is roughly the ratio I use as well.
4. The next day, drain your veggies with a fine mesh strainer (but preserve the brine!) and toss them with the fish sauce and the hot pepper paste until everything is nice and thoroughly coated (I wear latex gloves for this).
5. Put the mixture into jars, filling most (but not all) of the way (I follow Tigress here too and go with 3/4 full). Pour the reserved brine over the top of each jar until the mixture is covered, then put on the lids and set aside to ferment (I choose a place away from direct sunlight or heat, such as the corner of my counter top).
*I’ve also made a quick kimchi without the overnight soaking before, and it turned out pretty well (although the soaked version was a tad better). If you’re in a rush, you can skip the overnight soaking (steps 2-3). Just make sure you are still combining all your veggies before you mix them with peppers and jar them up so you get some of each in all your jars.
And finally…you have kimchi!
Once your kimchi is all jarred up, it’s just a matter of waiting for it to ferment as long as you’d like. The speed of fermentation varies dramatically depending on all sorts of environmental factors, so I check any ferment I’m doing every day. I open the jars and smell the kimchi, and I’ll pluck a piece out to taste. If it’s not done, you’ll know (really), and once it gets to a level of softness and ferment-y flavor that you like, go ahead and put it in the fridge (which is cool enough to keep the probiotic critters from continuing to ferment it). Kimchi keeps for a long time (Tigress says a year, I’ve never kept it around much longer than a month before I’ve eaten through it or given it away as gifts), and goes with just about everything.
Do you have other ways of preparing kimchi? Other ingredients you prefer? Let me know in the comments!