Kimchi is South Korea’s national dish of course, but Kimchi has become a universal favorite around the globe as well. You can find it being served with just about anything these days from burgers, pizzas, soups, scrambled eggs, tacos, and you name it. It’s just so addictive you can’t get enough of the stuff!
Kimchi is made throughout the year in South Korea, but fall is the real kimchi season when large batches are prepared to last through the winter months. My Korean friend Sang kindly showed me how he and his family made traditional kimchi in South Korea and I was amazed at how easy it actually is to prepare. I have included a few snap shots of Sang in action. As you can see making kimchi Korean style is an “event” with enough to put up for the winter with more to spare to give to friends!
Ingredients can be found at Korean and Asian markets including the Korean bright red ground dried chile. The Korean red chile is very similar to New Mexico ground red chile which a perfect substitute if Korean red chile is not available in your area.
The recipe that follows is a basic traditional kimchi to which you can expand on once you have the procedure down pat. Give it a try! You will never be tempted to buy commercial varieties again.
Kimchi: makes about 2 quarts/4 ½ pounds
Equipment required: A large nonreactive mixing bowl. A nonreactive vessel with lid. Several glass jars or hard plastic containers ( available from restaurant suppliers) with lids. Disposable plastic gloves. Note: Soft Plastic is not recommended for storage as it will stain and absorb odors.
- 3 large heads Chinese/ Napa cabbage
- ½ cup flaked sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 2 cups water
- 1 ½ tablespoons rice flour (optional)
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup minced garlic
- 1 cup minced onion
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
- 1/3 cup fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
- 1 ½ cups daikon (large Asian) radish batons, 1 inch length
- 1 cup carrot batons, 1 inch length
- 6 green onions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons minced dry salted baby shrimp (optional)
- 1 cup ground Korean red chile
Rinse the cabbage under cold running water to remove any soil and drain. Make a 1 ½ inch slice in the center of the core of the cabbage heads and pry the heads in half lengthwise. Rub salt between every wet leaf of the cabbage from stem to stern. Place in a large bowl to rest for at least two hours. You will notice the leaves wilting and softening. Turn the cabbage every 30 minutes and pour the salty brine that collects in the bottom the bowl over the turned cabbage.
While the cabbage is resting you can prepare the base for the chile paste. Place 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Stir in the rice flour until it is completely dissolved. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook 10 minutes, stirring now and again as the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Note: You can omit the rice flour if you plan to store the kimchi for a very long time as the rice starch tends sour the kimchi if stored for more than several months.
Prepare the minced garlic, onions, and ginger root. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Cut the peeled daikon radish and peeled carrots into thin 1 inch batons. Slice the green onions from stem to stern. Toss together in a separate bowl and set aside.
Pour the prepared chile paste base into a large stainless steel bowl. Stir in the ground chile and stir until completely combined. Add the garlic, onions, and ginger root and stir into the chile mixture until evenly incorporated. Then add the radish batons, carrot batons, and sliced green onions and toss everything together until evenly coated.
Briefly rinse the cabbage under cold running water to remove excess salt. Cut out the cores of the cabbage and separate the leaves and place in a bowl.
Here is where you want to put on the disposable gloves!
Working with one leaf at a time, dredge in the chile mixture to coat the leaf. Fold the leaf over itself to make a bundle of sorts with some of the vegetables tucked inside. Place in a non-reactive bowl or casserole dish. Continue dredging the leaves and placing the bundles in a single layer in the bowl or casserole. Top each layer with some of the vegetables, and continue this process until all the cabbage bundles are layered in the bowl or casserole dish. Pour any remaining juices and vegetables over all. Press the bundles down slightly, seal with plastic film or lid and set aside at room temperature to begin fermentation. In about 2 days you will see tiny bubbles forming if you press down on the surface kimchi with a spoon. This indicates the fermentation is under way.
At this point you can transfer the kimchi to non-reactive containers or glass jars with lids and refrigerate. The kimchi will continue to ferment over time, although less so under refrigeration, and will remain stable for several months at least, although it is more likely to be eaten well before!
Serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds (see here).
A few words on Storage: Kimchi does have a very distinctive odor that can permeate your refrigerator if not properly stored. The ingenious traditional Korean method for storage is to bury lidded ceramic pots (onggi) filled with kimchi outside the house. Not practical for urban dwellers who instead have small designated kimchi refrigerators. Otherwise the remaining option is to store the kimchi in the household fridge which has its challenges odor wise.
I have found storing the kimchi in hard plastic containers with snap lids that are then sealed up in zip lock bags controls the odor pretty well. If you are using jars, be sure the lid is left a little loose to allow gas to escape.
A little baking soda placed in the fridge will mostly absorb any errant odors.