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I promised Korean food, and Korean food you shall have! What better introduction to Korean food is there than kimchi?
Kimchi (also spelled “kimchee”) is often referred to as “Korean sauerkraut.” Sauerkraut: a smelly mystery jar always lurking in the door of my childhood refrigerator. Kimchi: something I had never tried until recently.
They are similar in that both are cabbage-based, fermented foods. There is no single “right” way to make kimchi; recipes can vary dramatically. Some types of kimchi are not cabbage-centric, but I will generalize for now.
Many commercial varieties contain fish sauce or shrimp, so they are not vegetarian and can even contain gluten. Making it at home is cheaper and ensures a minimum of controlled ingredients.
The most well-known version of kimchi starts with an item I had in abundance, Napa cabbage.
Chopped cabbage is salted for 4-6 hours to draw out moisture. That may seem like a long time, but it gives you ample opportunity to prepare the rest of the ingredients, and even watch a few episodes of Dexter with your hubby. Because you’re salting and rinsing the cabbage, you don’t even have to wash it first. Score!
One of the key ingredients is Korean hot pepper powder.
You can probably use Korean pepper paste (gochujang), but I was able to find this at my local Asian grocery. It was in the spice aisle in a one pound bag, not to be confused with red pepper flakes. I found various brands on different Asian grocery sites, but this is what my red pepper powder looks like:
I can’t even say “hello” in Korean, but I can read the Japanese word for kimchi (“kimuchi”) on the bag.
Just add water for your own spicy paste, thusly:
The recipe said to add garlic and ginger separately, but that seemed excessive. I just mixed them into the paste.
One reason I chose this recipe is that it uses fruit in lieu of refined sugar.
It calls for an apple and a(n Asian) pear, but I just used an apple. I even left the skin on because I hate peeling apples. The sky did not fall; I think we’re fine. The fruit is pureed with an onion and water to make the really boring photo above.
Because I’m lazy-yet-anal-retentive, I mixed the pepper paste and the fruit puree together for more even distribution. This is from a girl who used to bisect the sun so the rays were all evenly-spaced as early as kindergarten. My mother was so proud.
By this time the cabbage will have reduced in volume and your tiny kitchen may be a mess.
The wilted cabbage needs to be rinsed thoroughly, then drained, and the excess moisture squeezed out.
The recipe says scary things like, “Wear gloves because the pepper powder will burn your skin.” Instead, I put the cabbage in a giant stock pot and used my largest silicone spatula to mix it until evenly coated.
This is when I got a bit nervous.
It didn’t seem like quite enough sauce. Curious.
I consulted the recipe again. The recipe I had started using over 4 hours ago. The recipe that was one of many I had viewed earlier that day. The recipe that called for one head of Napa cabbage (about one pound).
The reason I was making kimchi, of course, was to use up the monster Napa cabbage we had from the CSA. A four-pound behemoth.
So I mixed up more pepper paste, added in more garlic and ginger, and pureed another apple. I was a little skimpy with the pepper because it looked so threateningly spicy, something I regretted later. I added more pepper to the jars a few days afterward and didn’t notice any deleterious effects.
After filling the jar(s) with cabbage and pressing it down to prevent air bubbles, the kimchi sits out at room temperature for a day to ferment before refrigeration. That also gives you a chance to figure out how to fit your accidental quadruple batch of food you don’t even know if you like let alone if it turned out into your fridge.
To be honest, I can’t tell you this tastes like authentic or awesome kimchi because it’s only the second kind I’ve had. But I like it and I’ve already used up a whole quart of it making mind-blowing lunches of kimchi fried rice (don’t worry, that recipe is next). But if you like kimchi and you make it, let me know how it rates!
Or if you live in San Diego, come on over and try some of mine. My cousin insists that it is not possible to have too much kimchi. I’m not convinced yet. Either way, I have four quarts to go.
Are you a Korean food fan? What’s your favorite way to eat kimchi? Have you ever accidentally made more food than you meant to?
Homemade Vegetarian Kimchi
Adapted from Dr. Ben Kim
Yields approximately one quart of kimchi
Notes: Korean red pepper powder (ko choo kah rhoo) can be found at Asian markets in the spice aisle. If you’re not vegetarian, you can add 2 tablespoons of anchovy paste or fish sauce to the kimchi. If you have allergies, check the fish sauce ingredients. The refrigerated kimchi will last about a month, though it will continue to ferment and develop a stronger, more sour flavor.
- One head Napa cabbage — about one pound
- 1/4 cup kosher or coarse sea salt
- 1/4 cup red pepper powder (see note)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1″ segments
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 1 medium apple, or 1/2 an apple plus 1/2 an Asian pear
- Separate cabbage leaves and chop coarsely. Place in a large bowl or pot. Dissolve salt in 1-2 cups of warm water. Pour salt water over cabbage and toss to coat. Let sit 4-6 hours, tossing once.
- After 4-6 hours has passed and cabbage is wilted, rinse and drain the cabbage well. Let sit in a colander to drain while you mix up the spices.
- Add a scant 1/4 cup of water to the red pepper powder and stir into a paste. Add garlic and ginger.
- Chop onion and apple. Puree in a blender or food processor with a cup of water until smooth.
- Stir together fruit puree and pepper paste. In a large bowl, combine drained cabbage, scallions, and the puree. Using a large spatula or gloved hands, toss until evenly coated.
- Transfer kimchi to a glass jar. Pack tightly to prevent air bubbles between leaves. Leave 2 inches of headroom in the jar for the kimchi to expand.
- Put the lid on the jar and let the kimchi ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, store the jar in the refrigerator. It will continue to ferment and develop a stronger flavor. Eat kimchi within the month.
Other kimchi recipes I found: