Kimchi announces itself first by a piquant, funky aroma and then by an unforgettable flavor, one that can take some getting use to if you weren’t raised on Korean cuisine. Cool, crunchy cabbage leaves provide a little bit of relief from the otherwise spicy, sour, garlicky and pungent flavors that wallop your taste buds with each mouth-tingling bite. Kimchi can set your mouth on fire, but like other types of spicy food also has a cooling and invigorating affect on the body. Think of kamchi as a way to wake up your palate and kick-start your appetite. It’s also a way to introduce helpful probiotics to your gut, which means improved digestion and better absorption of nutrients.
Making kimchi is an art that Koreans have been practicing for centuries, so we’re not going to pretend that our version improves on the recipe. It does, however, simplify the process and make it less time-consuming, which we’re hoping will encourage many of you to try it at home. You’ll still get the probiotic benefits and the intense flavor, not to mention the satisfaction and pride that comes with creating a culinary treasure in your own kitchen.
Making kimchi involves first brining cabbage leaves and then fermenting them in a fiery mix of chili powder, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and/or salted shrimp. Kimchi’s distinctive spiciness doesn’t come from just any flavorless chili powder. You want Korean chili powder (gochu garu) which is spicy but also a bit sweet, smoky and earthy and can be found in many Asian grocery stores. There you will also find fish sauce – most Asian countries have their own version of fish sauce, and although similar, they do not taste exactly the same. For kimchi, look for Korean fish sauce (also called anchovy sauce or aek jeot). Fermented shrimp is traditionally included in kimchi as well and gives it more of that elusive umami flavor, but in this version it is optional.
Traditional kimchi is fermented for weeks, months or even years. The fermentation process melds together the bold seasonings so that the final product has a complex flavor that cannot simply be described as spicy. It is also during the fermentation process that all the good, desirable bacteria grow. For our quick and easy version of kimchi, we recommend fermenting the cabbage at least 72 hours. After that, when the kimchi is “done” is up to your personal preference. A good rule of thumb is that if the kimchi just tastes like spicy coleslaw, we let it sit longer until a tangy, pungent flavor develops. If pungency doesn’t sound appetizing to you, think about a piece of high-quality cheese; it smells a little like gym socks, but tastes amazing. Once the kimchi tastes right to you, storing it in the fridge will slow fermentation and keep it from getting way too funky.
In Korea there are more version of kimchi than are possible to count – using a variety of different vegetables beyond cabbage, adding fruit or seafood and adjusting the seasonings is totally acceptable. Serve the kimchi in small portions alongside meat or use it as an ingredient to give recipes an added kick. There is nothing that compares to kimchi when you need to liven up any meal!
- 3 pounds (two large heads) of Napa cabbage
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 8-10 cloves of garlic
- one 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons Korean fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped salted shrimp (optional)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup Korean red chili powder
- 1 daikon radish, cut into thin 2-inch strips
- 8-10 scallions, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Cut the cabbages in half lengthwise then chop each half into 1-inch sections.
In a large bowl combine kosher salt and 8 cups of cold water and stir so that salt dissolves. Add cabbage. Let soak for 6 hours, occasionally stirring the cabbage.
Remove cabbage from water and give it a quick rinse with clean water. You don’t need to rinse all the saltiness out, as it will give the kimchi flavor. Squeeze as much water from the leaves as possible or run it through a salad spinner a few times.
Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce (and shrimp, if using) and honey in food processor or blender until very finely minced. Stir in chili powder.
Combine radish, green onions and cabbage with the spice mixture, mixing really well to coat all the cabbage leaves. Using your hands works best for this, but put on plastic gloves if possible or the chili powder will likely burn your hands (and anything you accidentally touch with your hands, like your eyes. Ouch!)
Divide cabbage between two 1-quart canning jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.
Cover the surface with tight plastic wrap, using a rubber band to seal the plastic wrap around the rim of the jar. Let it sit out at around 70 degrees for 72 hours, or longer, to ferment. Store in the refrigerator, up to about 3 weeks for best flavor.