Monday, September 2, 2013

Kimchi for all seasons

My husband has discovered that he loves kimchi. We ate at a Korean restaurant and it was the most memorable part of the meal. Since then, I bought a couple different brands of kimchi at the food co-op, and then someone there said, It’s nuts to buy this stuff when it is so easy to make.”  Really?  Yes, actually, if you can get your hands on the authentic “red pepper powder” which comes in various sizes of flake (we used the smaller flakes imported by Hansung Sikpoom Trading Corp), kosher salt, a good sized head of Napa cabbage, radishes of almost any description, onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, and brown rice flour, miso (or you can use the real fish sauce but we don’t), add slant-cut scallions, and you’re all set! We now dream of an authentic ceramic kimchi pot … but that’s another story.

It takes time to make kimchi. The vegetables salt soak for at least 4 hours, and then the whole thing gets put together and sits out for 24-48 hours (we’ve always done at least 48), with occasional checking for bubbling. THEN it sits in the refrigerator for as long as it takes for you to eat it up. We’ve kept the tale end of a batch for 5- 6 weeks and it still tastes great, but sometimes it doesn’t last even 3 weeks because we love to share it.

Here’s how we make our kimchi – and be advised that the pepper glows slowly as it ferments. One recipe called for 1/2 cup, another for 4 cups (yes, 4 cups) of red pepper powder. Some use two medium heads of Napa cabbage, we like to either use one big one or one medium and 1/2 of a different cabbage for texture. 

You will need 2 chunks of time: the first is about an hour to get the vegetables organized into their salt bath. The second is at least an hour for the rinsing out, making the pudding/sauce, preparing the additional ingredients and then assembling the kimchi in its fermentation container. Don’t plan to leave town while you are fermenting kimchi, because it is also critical that after the first 24 hours you do check on it. Depending upon how much head space it has in your fermentation container, it can bubble up quite a bit once it gets started, and you will need to open it and compress it down – perhaps sticking a chopstick into the sides along the inner edges to release the bubble build-up. Your house will begin to smell like a kimchi batch at this point. Stick it out for another 24 hours and you will have a marvelous kimchi for weeks to come. (You can dole it out into smaller jars with good lids to store it or give it to friends, or to eat up a jar at a meal and still keep the others closed.)

Equipment to have on hand:
A medium saucepan to make the “sauce/pudding?
A large bowl (big enough to hold everything)
A large wide baking pan (enamel, ceramic or glass is good) to salt the cabbage
A good sized wide serving bowl to salt the radish/carrot mix
A colander (draining rinsed veggies)
A whisk (stirring sauce)
A fermentation container that closes tightly – either a cookie jar or flour contaner type thing, a large pasta storage container or other glass or ceramic tightly lidded container (not plastic)
A good knife or two (I use one large chopper and one paring)
Long handled wooden spoon
GLOVES – you can use dishwashing gloves
Measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup)

3/4 cup Kosher salt
1 large head Napa cabbage
8-10 big red radishes or 1 good chunk Daikon or Korean radish
4-6 carrots

“Pudding” SAUCE:
3 cups water
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup sugar

Add to Sauce Before Adding Veggies:
1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder (you can adjust this to taste)
1 cup onion chopped finely (2-3 slices of large Vidalia or 1 medium sized regular)
1/2 cup smashed garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 cup finely chopped ginger
1 cup white miso – (1 tablespoon miso in 1 cup water)
6-8 scallions slivered slantwise


Preparing the veggies:

Rinse the cabbage well, cutting off the biggest part of the stem but leaving part of it to hold the leaves together. Slice the whole head in half LONGWISE, through the stem core so it opens into two parts like a book. This way you can rinse between the leaf layers. If it is a huge head, you can slice it one more time though NOT through the core so the 1/4 parts stay connected. Then spread the kosher salt between the layers, carefully getting inbetween the leaves and let this sit in a large pan for 2 hours. (Use about 1/2 cup salt)

Once you have the cabbage organized, wash and peel the radishes and carrots, slicing them any way you want to run into them in your kimchi. We have made little cubes, and we have sliced in rounds and slants… We like all of this, so make your own choices. Put these peeled pieces (it will be about 2-3 cups of each) into a wide bowl and sprinkle and toss with kosher salt. Let sit 2 hours as well. (Use about 1/8 cup salt)

IN 2 HOURS: you will turn the cabbage pieces and add a little salt in between the layers making sure to get to the parts that are less softened or not salted from the first side. Also turn and stir the carrots/radishes and add a little fresh salt. (Use 1/8 cup salt for all of this or less)  LET SIT ANOTHER 2 HOURS.

At some point you can make the pudding/sauce and leave it quietly cooling – OR you can do this in 4 hours and set the bowl in a sink or bowl full of cold water to cool it faster while you prepare the other materials that go into the mixture.


Put 1/2 cup brown rice flour (or use sweet rice flour if you can find it) in a saucepan with 3 cups water. Turn on medium heat and stir with the whisk, calmly and continuously. When you first start to see bubbles, add the 1/2 cup sugar and cook, stirring, for another minute. This will really start to look like pudding!  Remove from heat, pour it into a large bowl (big enough for everything to fit into it) and let it cool.  YOU CAN ALSO COOL IT IN THE PAN, putting the pan into a larger pan of cold water.

While the pudding is cooling, finely chop the onion and ginger, measure out the pepper and smash and chop the garlic. You can sliver the scallions too if you are using them (these are optional). Dissolve a tablespoon of white miso into one cup of cool water.


Take the cabbage out of the pan, dumping out the salty water. Run cold water through the cabbage leaves, then leave it soak a few minutes in the pan with cold fresh water. Take the cabbage out of the pan, rinse it under cold water, then let it soak AGAIN for a few minutes in fresh cold water in the pan. While it is soaking, DO THE SAME THING with radish/carrot mixture.  Dumping them into the colander and run cold water on them, rinse the salty water out of their bowl and then let them soak in the bowl of fresh water. DO THIS TWICE TOO. After rinsing for a 3rd time, you can let the radish/carrots drain in the colander, while you RINSE THE CABBAGE a 3rd time. Then squeeze out the water from the cabbage (you can squeeze it like you would doing a handwash … it’s so limp!)
Shake all excess water off the radish/carrot mixture.

Add garlic, onion, ginger, miso, and pepper flakes to the cool pudding and stir it with a long wooden spoon until it is one strange red-flecked substance.

Take the cabbage and rough chop it into 2-4 inch chunks of various shapes. Add this to the bowl of spicy mix, then add the well shaken carrots and radishes, and scallions if you are using them.  Stir gently until everything is coated well.

Put your container in the sink and put on your gloves.
Handful by handful, stuff the spiced veggies into the jar, carefully pouring the last of the spicy juices in as well. Close the lid, and set this somewhere visible but out of the way for 24 hours. You will want to make note of how high the ingredients start out in the jar, making sure there are several inches of air space above that level when you leave it to ferment.

CHECK YOUR KIMCHI after 12 hours and push it down if it has started rising. CHECK YOUR KIMCHI every 3 hours after the first 24 hours. I’ve come home from teaching a class to find kimchi juice all over the kitchen counter and a hissing screw-top lid!! We left more head space for the next batch and used an even larger container. 

There’s every reason on earth to take a tiny sample taste after the first 12 hours just to taste what’s going on.  Remember, though, that all the flavor melds and changes as it ferments so it may be surprising in the end that you don’t taste the salt so salty or the pepper so distinctly. 

WARNING:  Making kimchi may be habit forming, and can lead to interesting experimentation! You might find yourself serving rice noodles smothered with kimchi to guests! (We do!) 

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