Kimchi 김치 (Spicy Fermented Cabbage)

With some advice from my mom and prancing around different food websites, I finally made my first official batch of kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage) with some success. My version came out much better than expected, with the final result being a mild, garlicky, fresh taste with a surprising crunch to each bite. The only thing that might have made it better would be the addition of more gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), which I will definitely add more next time. Anyways, there is so much information on kimchi that it would take at least several posts to write about it, but I will keep it brief as possible. First of all, kimchi is synonymous with Korean cooking because it’s been around thousands of years. Its production was the result of the country’s geography and weather—long, harsh winters resulted in the annual ritual of kimjang (making kimchi in bulk) a necessity for survival, as Koreans store these in huge earthenware pots called onggi. And surprisingly, this tradition still remains in many families today (not for survival purposes obviously) as kimchi is used in so many others dishes including the likes of stir fries, soups and stews, and condiments. Another positive appeal of kimchi  these days is its many health benefits. It’s loaded with vitamins A, B, C, and carotene, but its biggest benefit may be its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacillus, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This “good bacteria” helps with digestion, lowers cholesterol, and there were “supposed” instances of kimchi preventing cancer growth and the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003.  Furthermore, I was even surprised (shocked more like it) to hear that it made Health magazine’s list of top five “World’s Healthiest Foods” and was favorably mentioned on Dr. Oz’s show for its health benefits. It’s nice to see kimchi getting the positive attention that it finally deserves. 

 

Prep time: 30 minutes

Soak time: 6-12 hours

Fermentation time: 2 days 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 Napa cabbages
  • 4 cups gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes)
  • 4 cups coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp saewujeot (salted shrimp)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups radish (1/2 Korean radish), cut into matchstick pieces
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 3 tbsp sweet rice flour (simmered with 3 cups water)

Directions:

1. Remove discolored, bruised outer leaves of cabbage and rinse well under cold water. Cut cabbage head into desired pieces; smaller 2-inch pieces is recommended for easier access later.  In 3 separate large bowls, prepare one cup sea salt and water mixture for each bowl. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of sea salt onto the leaves of the cabbages before soaking them in the salt water. Cabbages should be partially submerged in the salt water. Let sit for a minimum 6 hours but 12 hours is preferred.

2. Once finished soaking, rinse the cabbage leaves thoroughly under cold water several times. Remove water from the cabbage by giving them a squeeze (they should have a rubbery texture by now) to remove excess water. Set in a colander or basket for at least 2 hours so the water will drain out thoroughly. Meanwhile, prepare the red pepper mixture to be mixed with cabbage leaves.

3. Prepare 3 tbsp of the sweet rice flour with 3 cups of water into a small pot. Bring to a boil and whisk until the mixture turns into a glue-like consistency. Let cool and set aside.

4. In a food processor, puree onion, garlic, ginger and some water until smooth. Pour gochugaru (chili flakes) in a large mixing bowl, add the garlic mixture puree, cooled rice glue, fish sauce, salted shrimp, sugar, and sesame seeds. Mix well and add the sliced radish and green onions.

5. Lather each cabbage piece with red pepper mixture by rubbing them well (rubber gloves highly recommended). Continue until all the cabbage leaves are covered in the red pepper mixture. Pack them inside air-tight glass jars/containers.  Set out at room temperature for 2 days for fermentation to take place. After that, place in the refrigerator and serve as needed. The kimchi may keep for 2 or 3 months in the refrigerator.

 

*Making kimchi is not easy, but if done right, the rewards are endless. If you do succeed on your first try, you’ll not only enjoy kimchi as a banchan (side dish) but you can utilize it to make other main dishes like kimchi jjigae (stews/soups), kimchi bokkeumbab (fried rice), and even kimchi jeon (pancake). Or if you want to take the easy way out, just head to the nearest Korean grocery store and even possibly the Asian foods section of your local grocery.
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