Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish of salted, fermented vegetables. I don’t want to culturally appropriate it by posting it here. I enjoy Korean cuisine, but I don’t profess to be an expert. I always have a jar of kimchi in my fridge, and eat it out of its traditional context as a crunchy, juicy, spicy, pickle that is the perfect friend to many staples in my diet – eggs, rice bowls, salads. A cheese and kimchi toastie has got to be one of my favourite sandwiches of all time.
There are countless varieties of kimchi. The recipe I use is a simplified version from Dearbhla Reynolds’ book The Cultured Club, which is a great resource full of tasty recipes and approachable explanations on fermentation.
1 head of Napa cabbage
4 tbsp fine sea salt
1 Daikon radish
1 bunch spring onions
3 large carrots
3 tbsp fish sauce
6 garlic cloves, peeled
thumb sized piece fresh ginger
1 -5 tbsp gochugaru (Korean Chili powder) – depending on how spicy you like it
1-3 litre capacity jar
Chop the cabbage into bitesized pieces. Set one or two of the whole outer leaves aside, you will use these when packing into the jar at the end. Place in a large bowl with the salt and cover with cold, filtered water. Leave to rest for about an hour. Drain, reserving some of the soaking water that you might need later.
While the cabbage is soaking peel and chop the carrot and daikon radish. Chop them and the spring onions into match sized pieces, place in a large bowl with the drained cabbage.
Make the paste. Peel the garlic and ginger, roughly chop and combine with the fish sauce and gochugaru in a blender. If necessary add a splash of cabbage soaking water to help bind into a paste. Tip : start with a small amount of chili powder, mix with the vegetables and taste. Adjust accordingly if you want to go hotter. You can always make it more spicy, but not less. Because it is spicy I recommend not mixing with your bare hands. Wear a pair of rubber gloves, or if you don’t have any you can mix using tongs or salad spoons.
Pack the kimchi into the jar, squeezing and pressing as you go, extracting as much juice as possible. Make sure there is a level of liquid covering the kimchi once it is in the jar. Anything exposed to air will go mouldy. You should be able to extract enough juice from the vegetables to achieve this, but if not top up with some of the reserved cabbage water. Cover with the cabbage leaves and place a weight on top to keep it submerged. It doesn’t need to be very heavy – a mug on top of a small plate will suffice. If you have forgotten to reserve cabbage leaves, you can substitute parchment paper.
Label the jar with the date you made it and set aside somewhere cool and dark, the back of a kitchen cupboard is ideal. Taste after five days to see if you like it. If you do, put it in the fridge, if not put it back and taste regularly until you are happy with the flavour.
The warmer the the environment, the faster your kimchi will ferment. I live in Ireland where it’s pretty cold, and am usually happy with mine after about 6 weeks. If you are uncertain about when it’s “done” read this.
Store in the fridge to stop fermentation, where it will keep indefinitely.