My new definition of the perfect summer afternoon is being with a best friend and eating a crunchy, delicious bowl of red cabbage kimchi together with our fingers. A red cabbage kimchi, speckled with caraway seeds and strips of orange zest “What?” you’d say. “I understand good friends, summer afternoons, even eating with your fingers, but kimchi doesn’t have caraway seeds or orange zest.”-- that’s what I thought. In fact, I thought I knew all about kimchi. Years ago I’d bought a jar, which sat forlorn in my fridge after the first forkful when I’d decided I didn’t like the stuff, because it was too hot. Then last year my neighbor brought me a jar of her homemade kimchi and I fell in love-- it was zesty, complex, flavorful, and not too hot. I knew I’d have to make my own. Her recipe was what we think of as kimchi: Napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, salt and Korean chili powder. I soon found an online tutorial, and made my own. It was wonderful, but we still aren’t to the caraway seeds. What I’ve learned since my first batch, with experimentation and research is that Kimchi isn’t a recipe, it’s an easy, safe, wildly healthy, and versatile pickling technique. Korea alone has more than 160 foundational styles of kimchi. The Chinese characters for kimchi mean “salted vegetables”. I use an easy brining technique to kimchi my vegetables, and this allows me to make small batches with diverse ingredients, and flavors right on my countertop. They are ready to eat in 5 days, and will keep refrigerated for a year. All kimchi involves four processes: brining, flavoring, fermenting and storing, which you will learn to do in the recipe. Try the recipe at least once, and then use the same process and ratio of weights and measurements to set off on your own and experiment with different veggies, flavors and add-ins. So far, I’ve brined cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, kale raab, dandelions, nettles, carrots, beets, apples, cranberries, parsnips… I think just about everything that comes out of the garden is a possibility. The flavoring pastes are also up to your imagination. Koreans use some beef broth, mushroom broth, seafood, fish sauce…and of course garlic, ginger, and peppers in their batches. But tarragon, dill, caraway, fennel, onions are also legitimate ways to go. My favorite part of this technique is how laid back and fun it is. I can make up kimchi as vegetables are available. The produce soaks in a salt brine overnight, which gives me time to think about the flavors. I enjoy having the fermenting jars near me, so I can taste them and decide when they’re ready. My favorite resource book for pickles and flavoring ideas is The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. Online, the blog fermentista is inspirational for their methods and unique kimchi varieties. For a traditional and modern look at Korean kimchi check out The Kimchi Cookbook by Lauryn Chun.
Koreans, I've read eat kimchi at every meal, including breakfast. They also use it to cook with from pancakes to stews. Besides being a probiotic, kimchi increases the availability of minerals and vitamins in the vegetables. Best of all it’s delicious!
Basic Cabbage KimCHi
makes 1 & 1/2 quarts Ingredients 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sea salt 6 cups filtered water (without chlorine) 2 pounds Chinese cabbage One large head cored and cut into 2 inch squares, reserve two whole outer leaves. 6 scallions cut lengthwise into 2 inch pieces 1 & 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger 1 & 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic 2 tablespoons Korean ground dried hot pepper Or other mildly hot ground chilies. I toast and grind my own dried pasilla or negro chilies, and also toss the seeds into the ferment.
Step 1: Brine Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 6 cups water. Put the chopped cabbage into a large bowl and pour the brine over it. Weight the cabbage down with a plate and a heavy bowl. Let it brine at room temperature for 12 hours.
Step 2: Flavor Drain the cabbage and reserve the brine. Mix the cabbage with the flavor ingredients including the 1 teaspoon of salt. Massage these into the cabbage, thinking good thoughts. Koreans have a word for this ‘son-mat’ which means: the taste of one’s hands. It refers to all the vibes that come through our hands while making Kimchi or cooking in general.
Step 3: Ferment Pack the mixture into a two quart jar, cover it with some of the reserved brine. Lay in the whole cabbage leaves over it. Use a smaller mason jar set inside the larger jar to weight down the cabbage so the brine completely covers it. This keeps it from spoiling. “ Under the brine doing fine” is the maxim to remember. Keep a large bowl under it to catch any spills. Let the kimchi ferment in a cool spot, at no higher than 68F, for 3-6 days or the kimchi is as sour as you like.
Step 4: Store When the flavor is right, take the jar weight out and cap the jar. I like to put mine in smaller jars. Please leave head room and don’t cap jars too tightly, because it can build up pressure. Store jars in the fridge, the flavor will deepen. Kim Chi is good for about a year.