I love experimenting with food, and not just your usual stuff. I like to venture off the beaten path. My gateway into experimenting with “weird foods” at home was Kombucha. More recently I even taught myself how to bake sourdough, when yeast was hard to come by at the grocery store. My latest venture? Kimchi.
I love when making food overlaps with science. You may not think about this much but, all cooking/baking is like an experiment. Why do you think bakers are so precise in their measurements? Because the wrong amount of one ingredient can make a big difference. You’ll be relieved to hear that, unlike some baked goods, this kimchi recipe is pretty fool proof.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish of fermented cabbage, vegetables and various spices. It is a huge part of Korean culture and served with practically every meal there. I was first introduced to kimchi when I tried Bibimbap in college. Simply translated, bibimbap means “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables. Generally, you see it served with a sunny side egg on top and gochujang sauce (a savory/sweet and spicy condiment).
I started making kimchi at home for a few reasons. One, kimchi was hard to come by during quarantine because it’s not really a high demand item in your mainstream grocery stores. We also have been using Instacart as of late and they don’t go to the stores I would normally buy my kimchi at.
I was finding that a lot of the brands of kimchi that I could get at mainstream grocery stores, lacked an authentic flavor. I wanted a kimchi that is actually fermented. I was finding some that tasted just like pickled vegetables or sauerkraut. Which both are good, but not what I’m looking for in a kimchi.
To be honest, your kimchi should stink a little. Although necessary to its flavor, the kimchi odor is also its biggest deterrent. A 2017 Washington Post article wrote about how Korean researchers are trying to “engineer the smell out of kimchi” in order to spread kimchi culture to the US and beyond. The smell is harmless and a good sign the fermentation process is working. It means lactic acid is being created and the “stinky” smell comes from sulfur compounds that are a biproduct of the garlic and ginger fermenting.
I may be in the very small group of people that believe stinky foods are great. Some of the world’s stinkiest cheeses have incredible flavor and many of the world’s stinky foods are considered a delicacy or “high class”. You can also generally assume a pungent food is good for you. Take kombucha and kefir for example. Upon first smell, it’s a little funky. Then you begin to acquire a taste for it and in turn it balances out your gut. Also, if you’re not convinced you want to make kimchi or even try it, just remember that beer and wine were products of fermentation as well.
Kimchi has so many health benefits. Not only do the probiotics in kimchi help maintain a healthy gut, but it is said to be linked to lowering cholesterol levels, clear vision, strengthening the immune system, reducing inflammation, weight loss and some believe, even slowing down the aging process. In Korea it is viewed as a super food. During the swine flu outbreak, kids were encouraged to eat their kimchi by a popular cartoon character, named the “Kimchi Warrior”.
You may think the kimchi hype is just a hipster fad in America, but in my opinion it’s here to stay. For one thing, I could eat bibimbap every day, and in order to do that, I need kimchi. Also, in Korea, there are multiple museums dedicated to it. What food in the US has its own museum, let alone, multiple? I think I’ve made a pretty convincing argument and all signs are saying you should give it a try.
- 1 medium or large napa cabbage
- 1/4 cup non-iodized salt (kosher or sea salt works)
- Filtered water (enough to cover you cabbage in your bowl)
- 1 cup matchstick carrots/daikon radish (or do 1/2 cup of both)
- 6-8 scallions, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
- 2 Tbsp. fish sauce (Red Boat - always!!)
- 1 Tbsp. Korean red chili pepper powder/gochugaru (up to 5 Tbsp. if you like it really spicy)
- 1 1/2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbsp. fresh minced garlic (or more, the more garlic the better!)
- Cut your napa cabbage in half lengthwise. Then take each half and quarter it lengthwise.
- At the base of each quarter, you will see the firm core. Cut this out at an angle and discard it. Then cut your cabbage into about 2 inch chunks and place in a very large bowl (for this part it might be helpful to refer to the video tutorial). Also, if you have any undesirable looking parts of your cabbage, make sure to discard them as well, or they could potentially spoil the rest of your kimchi.
- Cover your cabbage with the non-iodized salt and massage it in with clean hands until the cabbage becomes slightly soft.
- Once your cabbage has softened (it will shrink up slightly) pour filtered water over the top until it is completely submerged. Then take a plate or something heavy to weigh down the cabbage.
- Set your bowl of cabbage/salt/water aside for 1-2 hours.
- While you wait, mix together the fish sauce, Korean red chili pepper powder, ginger and garlic in a small bowl to create your spice paste.
- Once your cabbage has sat in the salt/water for 1-2 hours, you are going to rinse it thoroughly in a colander, about three times through.
- Return your cabbage back to your large bowl. You will see that the salt pulled out much of the liquid from the cabbage and it should have shrunk/wilted.
- Mix in carrots, scallions and spice paste with a pair of food safe gloves. The gloves are important because the spice paste could burn your hands.
- Once everything is well incorporated, take your jars and tightly pack in your kimchi, leaving about an inch or two of room for the gases to move around during the fermentation process.
- Leave your kimchi out at room temperature for 1-5 days to ferment. Make sure to "burp" your kimchi at least once a day. This is simply loosening the lid to allow the gases to escape. At this time you should also take a clean spoon and push the kimchi back down until it is resubmerged in the kimchi liquid.
- After 5 days your kimchi will be ready to eat, you can then keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months!
- Enjoy your kimchi with bibimbap, in soup, Korean BBQ, rice bowls, on a brat or just by itself!
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*P.S. feel free to ask any questions below!