Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from whatever vegetables are in season with the addition of salt and spices and then fermented. It is so popular in Korea that it is eaten with almost every meal and is very much a part of their cultural and national identity.
It took me a while to convince my husband that kimchi was going to be the new and healthy addition to our meals. His meal in particular, because unlike me, he has a passion for chilli jam and Jamaican hot sauce. He was quite skeptical at the thought of something new taking the place of these much loved condiments. He has since become a kimchi convert, which makes me happy, knowing that he is eating something not only extremely tasty but with enormous healing potential to boot.
I have to admit the first time I experimented making it, the experience was quite traumatic. For some reason I always seem to make sauerkraut the day before I go away on holiday. Much to the annoyance of my family, I’m usually to be found packing kraut into jars late at night when I should be packing my suitcases! On this particular occasion, I decided to make the kimchi from the Fabulous Fermentation Week hosted by Sarah Briton of mynewroots. This is a truly fabulous blog post, with loads of inspiration and ideas and is a great resource. Sarah also shares an excellent recipe. Feeling confident, I put my jar of newly made kimchi in the larder for what I thought would be a nice slow fermentation and thought no more about it. On my return several weeks later my friend, who had been house-sitting, said he was sure something had died, as the smell was so bad and he couldn’t think what was causing it. Sure enough there was a very pungent and sulphurous odour emanating from the larder.
Being the summer months my kimchi had undergone a very rapid fermentation. Lesson learnt! If you are going away for any length of time put your jar of ferment into the fridge or bury the pot in a cold spot in the garden (joke! but not unheard of). My very smelly jar was thus banished to the outside shed, where it remained forgotten for another month. By which time something remarkable had happened. It had transformed into something truly delicious: One of the best kimchis I have ever made. I still haven’t lived it down though, whenever there is anything my son remotely dislikes, he always declares it tastes like kimchi to wind me up!
In Korea this phase of fermentation is often known as the ‘crazy’ time which is when the kimchi is in the stage between being raw and ripe. This is the point when it neither tastes nor smells good. However either side of this phase is great. It is explained beautifully in this blog post here by JinJoo of kimchimarie.com . JinJoo explains that in Korea they even have special kimchi refrigerators!
I usually make two batches, one which is spicy and one which is cooler. Even without the chilli it still has a bit of heat coming from the ginger and garlic. Incidently, I avoid eating chilli because it is from the nightshade family and I have psoriasis. I have found that by avoiding the nightshade family, I have been able to keep my skin clear of psoriasis for many years now. If you are interested you can read about that here.
There are many ways to make kimchi, and this does not pretend to be an authentic recipe. In Korea ingredients such as rice porridge, fish sauce, sugar and soy sauce often go into making a batch of kimchi. However this is a quick and easy recipe which is good for first timers.
This recipe is adapted from Sandor Katz’s basic kimchi recipe in his book Wild Fermentation.
Spring Green Kimchi
Makes 1 litre jar of Kimchi
- Mineral rich Sea salt like Himalayan salt
- 1lb/500g Nappa Cabbage and Spring greens mixed
- 1 daikon radish or several red radishes
- 2 carrots
- 1 onion and/or 1 bunch of spring onions (about 6)
- 3-4 cloves garlic (or more if you like)
- 2 red chillies (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp of red chilli powder (this is optional, depending how spicy you want it)
- 3 tbs of freshly grated ginger root
- First make a brine of 1 litre of water to 4 tablespoons of salt. Stir it well until it has dissolved. It should taste nice and salty.
- Chop the cabbage coarsely and slice the carrots and radish. Put all the vegetables in to the brine to soak overnight or for a few hours.
- When this is done, prepare the spices: Grate the ginger, chop the the garlic finely. Slice the spring onions, and removing the seeds first, finely chop up the chillies. Add chilli powder if you want.
- Drain the vegetables saving the brine and check for saltiness. The vegetables should taste very salty but not in an unpleasant way. If they are too salty you can rinse them and if they don’t taste salty enough you can add a bit more salt.
- Add your spice mixture into the vegetables and give it a really good mix. It is a good idea to wear plastic gloves if you have used the chilli.
- Pack into a clean glass jar or several smaller ones, pushing down to release the juices so that the brine rises above the vegetables. Add some of the reserved brine if their is not enough liquid. Weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar or a plastic ziplock bag filled with water works well. Cover the jar with a tea towel to keep dust and flies out.
- Leave to ferment on your worktop 3-5 days. You can taste it every day or so but it should be ready in about a week. Close the lid and store in the fridge. It should keep for up to a month. But has been know to keep much longer depending on how ripe you like it.
When your Kimchi is ready, close the jar either with a rubber seal or a screw top lid and store in the fridge or a cool place.
Keep all equipment scrupulously clean and sterilise your jars, there is information on how to do this in this post here or straight from the dish washer is fine.
To keep kimchi for longer and to prevent it spoiling make sure to always use a clean spoon or hands when tasting the Kimchi.
It is imperative that the vegetables stay below the brine while it’s fermenting and keep jar shut when it’s in the fridge.