If you’ve eaten Korean food then you’ve probably tried Kimchi.
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and has been around for thousands of years. It’s made with pickled cabbage, salt and other spices. The fermentation process allows it to last very long periods of time without spoiling; stored in big jars or plastic container in its own special fridge. Kimchi is very healthy, rich in vitamins and more importantly a very long-lasting addition to any Korean’s diet.
The origin of kimchi dates back to 37 BC when fermented foods were widely available. However, early records show that it wasn’t as we know it today. The fermented cabbage was made without garlic and chilli peppers, up until Portuguese travellers introduced the spicy red pepper to Korea in the 18th century.
Today kimchi is the trademark of Korean cuisine. It’s such a popular food that Korean airlines even serve it in tiny pouches on every flight. You can also buy travel pouches in Korean supermarkets; perfect for those like us, who can’t go a day without it. It’s versatile and as well as a side dish is often added to recipes like:
Kimchi Jjigae – A delicious stew filled with tofu, onions and other ingredients.
Kimchi fried rice – kimchi and rice mainly make up this dish.
Kimchi Jeon – Made with sliced kimchi, flour batter and sometimes other vegetables.
- 1 medium head (2 pounds) napa cabbage
- 1/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt (See recipe notes.)
- Water (See recipe notes.)
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 to 3 tablespoons shrimp paste or water (optional, See recipe notes.)
- 1 to 5 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 8 ounces Korean radish or daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Slice the cabbage: Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and remove the cores. Cut each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
- Salt the cabbage: Place the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands (gloves optional), massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit, then add water to cover the cabbage. Put a plate on top and weigh it down with something heavy, like a jar or can of beans. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
- Rinse and drain the cabbage: Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times and drain in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting, and set it aside to use in step 5.
- Make the paste: Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, sugar, and shrimp paste (or 3 tablespoons water) in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Mix in the gochugaru, using 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy (I like about 3 1/2 tablespoons).
- Combine the vegetables and paste: Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and return it to the bowl along with the radish, scallions, and seasoning paste.
- Mix thoroughly: Using your hands, gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. The gloves are optional here but highly recommended to protect your hands from stings, stains, and smells!
- Pack the kimchi into the jar: Pack the kimchi into the jar, pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the vegetables. Leave at least 1 inch of headspace. Seal the jar with the lid.
- Let it ferment: Let the jar stand at room temperature for 1 to 5 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow.
- Check it daily and refrigerate when ready: Check the kimchi once a day, pressing down on the vegetables with a clean finger or spoon to keep them submerged in the brine. (This also releases gases produced during fermentation.) Taste a little at this point, too! When the kimchi tastes ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but it’s best after another week or two.
- Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.
- Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can.
- Seafood flavour and vegetarian alternatives: Seafood gives kimchi an umami flavour. Different regions and families may use fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, oysters, and other seafood. Use about 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, or a combination of the two. For vegetarian kimchi, I like using 3/4 teaspoon kelp powder mixed with 3 tablespoons water, or simply 3 tablespoons of water.
Feature Image source ©Kimchi, 27.03.2018, thekitchn.com