Kimchi (also spelt as kimchee), is a traditional Korean dish of fermented chilli peppers with a variety of vegetables, the most common being made with Chinese cabbage. It’s deeply ingrained into Korean culture and whilst it is mostly served as a side dish, it can also be used as a basis for other meals such as fried rice, broths and stews. Many Koreans, myself included, will only last a few days before the cravings kick in and kimchi must be eaten in some shape or form.
An example of how much we Koreans love kimchi? In 2005 a report was released that heavy consumption of kimchi could not be very good for your health…and as a result, the professor who released this statement received a variety of death threats.
Kimchi is serious business.
My mother’s kimchi is unlike any other that I’ve tasted, and whilst this is probably due to the care she takes with her particular recipe, it is extremely time-consuming (but very very worth it!). So, if you’ve got a spare weekend with absolutely nothing on your hands, try her family recipe for kimchi. By the end, your back will ache, your hands will be pruney and you’ll have salt and chilli flakes everywhere…but you’ll also have a little slice of fermented heaven.
Mmm, spicy goodness!
Now, we usually use about 10 heads of Chinese cabbage (around 20kg of kimchi), but I’ve trimmed the recipe down for just 1 head of Chinese cabbage
1 fresh Chinese cabbage, dark green outer leaves removed
1 1/2 cup cooking salt
1 heaped tbsp glutinous rice starch (sticky rice powder, not regular rice powder)
1 cup Korean chilli powder – aka gochugaru (not flakes, look for it at your local Korean grocery store)
1/2 cup fish sauce
2 tbsp white sugar
6 spring onions, washed and sliced on an angle into slices about 1-2″ long
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 knob of ginger, grated
1/4 nashi pear, cored and peeled
1/4 brown onion, peeled
200g white/chinese radish (long and white as opposed to small, round and pink-tinged)
1. Cut the cabbage in halves or quarters, and cut into the stem to remove most of it.
2. Combine 1L water with 1/2 cup of cooking salt into a large bowl, then plunge one half or quarter of cabbage into the water at a time. Carefully seperate the leaves layer by layer and make sure that you get the salted water right to the base of the leaves.
3. Drain water from the cabbage segments, then sprinkle a light layer of cooking salt over each layer of leaves, making sure to get more towards the thick, white base of the leaf rather than the thinner, green end. This is usually done by coating the lower half of your fingers in salt and using a flicking motion. Don’t feel that you have to use the ENTIRE 1 cup of salt here – just as much as is needed to give the leaves a light sprinkling – its hard to judge how much salt you will need/use as it depends on how big and how ‘ripe’ your cabbage is.
4. Place the cabbage segments into a bowl and leave covered for 5-6 hours, or till cabbage is floppy enough so that the leaves can be bent over, but still make a crisp ‘snapping’ noise when snapped.
20kg of Chinese/Napa cabbage that has been salted and is now ready to be washed and wrung out before the seasoning process begins!
5. After leaving for 5-6 hours, rinse the lettuce twice in clean water, then squeeze as much water out of the lettuce as humanly possible (yes, squishing the cabbage is perfectly alright), and leave on a strainer for another 15-30 mins to drain the last of the water out.
6. The ‘sauce’ can be made whilst you’re waiting for the cabbage to wilt (in step 4). Combine 1 heaped tbsp of glutinous rice powder with 1/2 cup water in a pot, stir vigorously over a low heat till the mixture has turned white, has a very thick consistancy and bubbles whilst being stirred.
7. Let the rice powder glue cool down, and while it’s cooling, blend together the garlic, ginger, nashi pear, onion and Chinese radish into a pulpy liquid. Once the rice powder glue is completely cool, stir in the chilli powder, sugar and fish sauce, then pear mix and spring onion and combine well.
8. Lay out the cabbage and coat the front and back of every leaf with this rice chilli paste, making sure that they’re well coated and you haven’t missed any bits.
9. Once all the cabbage has been coated, press down into an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place for 3 days to aid the fermentation process. Taste it after 3 days, and if the lettuce tastes slightly tangy, soft but with some crunch and spicy, then place in your fridge. This can be stored in your fridge for up to 3 months (if it lasts that long!)
If you’ve never tried eating this before, I’d suggest going to a Korean restaurant to try it first befrore making it, but once you taste this, I guarantee you’ll come back for more!
So, the recipe is time consuming, requires a lot of effort and is very hands on. You have to really be a fan to make it often, but we go through a 10-head batch in about 4-6 weeks, so it’s usually a monthly process for me and mom 🙂
As for how serious we are about our kimchi – I’d like to introduce you to our ‘kimchi refrigerator’. That’s right, a refrigerator dedicated to storing your kimchi and keeping it as tasty as possible. Mr Woofy models next to it to provide a bit of a size comparison.
Have you actually read this entire entry? Good grief – I demand you go pour yourself a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on suffering through the length of this 🙂 Please, anyone who tries this, please let me know how you go as me and mom would love to know of anyone trying this most favourite food of ours!
Others who have tried this recipe: