Kimchi is a classic Korean dish of fermented vegetables such as cabbage, radish, cucumber, and alliums (garlic, onion, scallions). Though pickled foods were once heavily relied upon as a major source of vitamins and minerals during the winter months in cooler climates, the increased availability of fresh produce year-round has transformed the practice into more of a tradition than an outright need in many parts of the world. Even so, the distinctly-flavored dish, which is high in fiber, vitamins C, K, and B9 (folate), and lactic acid bacteria while low in calories, has become evermore popular around the globe and can be easily prepared at home.
Makes about 2 quarts
- 1 large head of cabbage (Napa, Chinese, or Savoy)
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 gallon cool water
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated (I used a microplane grater)
- 1/2 cup chili powder (Korean recommended; I used New Mexican)
- 1 cup daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced (Can also use spring/summer radishes)
- 1 cup carrot, peeled and julienne cut
- 1 apple or pear, peeled and finely chopped or 1 tsp sugar
- cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce or water
Wash the cabbage leaves, drain, and chop them into one-inch pieces. Fill a large bowl with the salt and water, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cabbage to the brine, covering with a large plate to keep it submerged. Allow it to sit for two hours.
While you are waiting on the cabbage, you can prepare the chili paste. The really quick and easy way is to throw your garlic, ginger, fruit or sugar, fish sauce or water, and chili powder into a food processor and buzz it into a puree. However, I do not own such luxurious equipment! So I had to put in a little more time and elbow grease. I grated the ginger (you could also grate the garlic if you want) and whisked it with the chili powder, a few shakes of cayenne pepper to up the heat, and fish sauce (or water) to get a paste-like consistency. I thinly sliced the garlic and finely chopped the fruit but kept these items to the side. While waiting on your cabbage, you can also julienne cut carrots and thinly slice your radish(es).
After letting the cabbage soak, drain and rinse it. Then using your hands (I advise wearing gloves if you have any small cuts), gently squeeze as much moisture out of the cabbage as you can, placing it into another large bowl as you go. Add the carrots, radish, garlic, fruit (or sugar), and chili paste and toss so that all pieces are thoroughly coated with the paste. Pack the kimchi into 2 glass quart jars, tightly seal, and place in a cool, dark place. Allow the kimchi to sit for one or two days until it begins to ferment; you'll know it's "working" when it gets a little bubbly. The kimchi should then be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a month.
Images by Rebekah Carter (2012). Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.