Kimchi: Make it your way

Over the weekend I was thrilled to be a part of the first ever Wachusett Farm Fresh Fest. It was a beautiful weekend and it was a lot of fun to spread the Edible love to thousands of Fest-goers.  

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was demonstrating how to make kimchi, a fermented Korean cabbage-based condiment. Kimchi is one of many in the family of fermented foods eaten around the world. It can be found in supermarkets pretty easily these days, but I wanted to show how simple is it to customize it to your own palate. 

Kimchi Your Way

gochucaru

This recipe  makes about two quarts, depending on the vegetables you use. The recipe scales up infinitely. I like to make a new batch every other month or so.

  • 2-2.5 pounds Napa cabbage (or another vegetable(s), see note below)
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more for brine bag (Don't use iodized salt. Also don't use any fancy salt here; save the high-end pink salt for something else)
  • Additional vegetables, if desired (for the demo, I added 1 large carrot and 1 bunch scallions, julienned, to the kimchi mix)
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1-2 tablespoons Korean hot pepper powder (gochucaru - no gochucaru? see note below for substitution ideas)
cabbagebefore.jpg
cabbageafter.jpg

Cut your cabbage into bite-sized pieces. Layer the cabbage with salt in a non-reactive vessel (something that holds about about 1 gallon should be sufficient). If you want, speed things up by pounding and breaking up the cabbage with your fist. Nest another container or a plate on top of the cabbage to weight it down. Let the cabbage sit, loosely covered in a not-too-hot spot, at least 6 hours, or as long as overnight. 

After the cabbage has rested, you will find that it is sitting in a brine, made from the salt you added and the water that it pulled out of the vegetables.

Make the seasoning mix, by grinding, puréeing  or fine chopping the garlic and ginger. Mix the puréed garlic and ginger and pepper powder into the cabbage. Pack the cabbage mix into a pickling crock (any vessel large enough to hold everything, with a few inches of space left at the top). Push the vegetables down and they should be covered with brine, if not, make more brine to cover (see below).

The most important step now is to keep air off the vegetables so proper fermentation can occur. Make a "brine bag" by filling a clean plastic bag with brine (use the ratio below). Put the bag on top of the vegetables—it should have enough brine in it to fill the bag to the edges of your container, sealing your kimchi off from air. 

Leave your kimchi in a cool corner of the house to ferment. Start tasting the kimchi after 2-3 days. When it's sour and funky enough for you, transfer it to jars or smaller containers if you wish, and store in the fridge. 

Your kimchi will last for months this way. Enjoy!

Choosing your vegetables: Traditionally kimchi is most made from Napa cabbage, but you can use other greens like bok choy, "regular" green cabbage, kale, etc. I've also made kimchi from asparagus, green beans, ramp leaves, carrots ... Cut harder vegetables like carrots or turnips into small matchsticks (or shred it on a box grater). Treat them with salt as described in step 1.

Gochucaru substitutes: If you can't get your hands on gochucaru, you can try these substitutes. The results won't be identical, but you'll still get delicious kimchi. Substitute a mix of sweet paprika (for color and sweet pepper notes) and add cayenne (to taste)  for heat. If you have fresh hot and sweet red peppers, purée them into a paste (add hot peppers to your taste).

If you don't have enough brine to cover the vegetables, just make more. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 1 cup of water. Make as much as you need to make sure the vegetables are covered with brine. You might need to make a brine if you make kimchi with less "juicy" vegetables like carrots, or baby kale.