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The Best Kimchi Ever: A Tutorial


You knew I was part Korean, right?  No?  Well, me neither.  And I'm not even cool enough to have any Korean friends.  Sigh...  Because if I was, maybe I would have found out about Kimchi sooner.

What is Kimchi, you ask?  Only the best thing to ever shock your taste buds.  It is a traditionally-pickled-spicy-cabbage-condiment guaranteed to make ketchup jealous, that's what.  And it's good for you, too.  Take that, Ketchup.

If you happen to be Korean or are fortunate enough to get invited over to dinner by your Korean friends, then you'll know that they eat it with just about everything.  Why?  Because they're smart enough to know a good condiment when they see one.

I'll bet you are falling over with desperation to know what (besides it's incredible taste) makes it so good for you, right?  When don't fret, because I'm about to tell you.

Kimchi is pickled using an old-world (at least in our American eyes) technique of fermentation. It's actually how we used to make pickles and sauerkraut back before refrigeration and modern industrialized canning took over.  The cool thing is that it actually turns ordinary healthy veggies into super-foods.  Yup.  Kimchi is actually a super hero.  Now you know.

Kimchi is high in Vitamins A and C, some of the B vitamins, iron, calcium and selenium, plus lots of micronutrients.  The fermentation process means that Kimchi is a great source of probiotics and enzymes.  You can do a quick google search on the benefits of Kimchi and find loads of information.  To get you started, here are a few links:

What is Lacto-Fermentation?
Amazing Health Benefits of Kimchi
Should I add Fermented Foods to my Diet?

I've already told you about my weird propensity to have things growing on my kitchen counter, so it shouldn't surprise you that I wanted to try Kimchi once I started hearing about it.  I was a little concerned, though.  Although I like sauerkraut on a good Rueben, I'm not a big sauerkraut fan generally speaking (I know, I know...)  So I wasn't sure what I would think of a spicy pickled cabbage.  Then I spotted some traditionally pickled Kimchi in our local Harps.  I grabbed it and promptly fell in love.  

If you decide to buy some, there are some things to watch for.  First, it should be in the refrigerator section.  If it's just sitting on a shelf, it isn't alive and it won't have the probiotic benefits.  It was probably just made with vinegar like our pickles are these days.  Second, it should have little bubbles going in there (Those bubbles are proof that your Kimchi is alive. That's a good thing.)  Third, it shouldn't look like sauerkraut.  It should be kind of red.  I saw a different brand recently that looked like a glorified sauerkraut.  Live a little.  Get the spicy stuff.  It tastes much better.  Remember, this is a condiment, not a side dish (although we have been known to eat it like a side dish.).  If it's too spicy for you, just add a little less to whatever you're eating.

After tried the store-bought stuff and polished off nearly a whole jar in one sitting, I knew I needed to learn how to make my own.  To the great excitement of my family, I started my Kimchi adventure.  And you know what?  We like our homemade version ten times better than the original store-bought version that inspired me. 

To make good Kimchi, you'll need to acquire a couple things that you probably don't already have in your cupboard.  The first is traditionally fermented Fish Sauce.  Let me warn you, this stuff smells nasty, but it is absolutely essential to get the umami flavor.  Oddly, I already had this in my cabinet, because I'm funny like that.  I got mine at our local Walmart (go figure.  I can't buy Cajun file there, but I can buy this.)  The second essential ingredient you will need is Gochugaru. Gochugaru is a Korean red pepper powder and you really need the real thing.  Chili powder or Cayenne pepper is not going to do the job.  I ordered mine on Amazon, but if you have an Asian grocery nearby, they will probably have some.  Without these two ingredients, you'll just have spiced cabbage.  So without further ado, I bring you our version of Kimchi:

Kimchi:  A Spicy Korean Pickled Cabbage

Adapted from this vegan Kimchi at theKitchn and the ingredient list on the back of my store bought Kimchi.

1 head of napa cabbage (about 2 pounds), cut into quarters and cored, then cut into 2-inch wide strips
1/4 cup sea salt (don't use table salt because it inhibits the fermentation process.)
filtered water (chlorinated water also inhibits the fermentation process.)
1 TBSP freshly grated garlic
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp cane juice sugar
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 TBSP starter juice from previous Kimchi (this is optional, but will give your Kimchi a good start because you are introducing some of the probiotics from your last batch or store bought Kimchi.  If you don't have any, no worries. Your Kimchi will still do it's thing.)
3 TBSP Gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder) You can add more or less to taste
1 cup Korean radish or daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks.  (I haven't found either, so I use good 'ol American turnips.  It's still wonderful.  Maybe one day I'll find Korean radishes.)
4 green onions, sliced
food preparation gloves (the pepper paste will be hot and can burn your skin.  I recommend gloves.)

What to do:

1.  Place the cabbage in a large bowl.  Add salt.  Using your hands, massage the salt into the cabbage until it begins to soften.  Add water to cover the cabbage.  Put a plate inside the bowl over the cabbage to weigh it down under the water.  Place something heavy on top of the bowl to keep it weighed down.  I just use a can or jar full of something.  Let stand for an hour or two.

2.  Rinse the cabbage under cold water about 3 times and drain well for 15-20 minutes to get all the water out.  Rinse out the bowl -- you'll need it again in a minute.

3.  Make the pepper paste by combining the garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce, starter juice (if using), and the gochugaru in a small bowl.  Mix until it forms a smooth paste.

4.  Gently squeeze any remaining water out of the cabbage and put it back in the bowl you used for salting.  Add the radish, scallions and pepper paste.

5.  Put on your handy dandy gloves and gently work the pepper paste into your veggies until everything is well coated.

6.  Pack your Kimchi into a mason jar.  Press it down well, until the brine covers the veggies.  Seal tightly with a lid.  I have these cool traditional pickling lids that allow off-gassing to occur without doing anything weird like, say, exploding a jar.  Most people just us a mason jar lid, though.  You can release the pressure occasionally if that makes you feel better.

7.  Leave the Kimchi on the counter for one to five days.  If you added starter juice, the process may happen a little faster on that scale, if you didn't, you may be toward the end of the scale.  The room temperature will also be a factor.  (Warmer = faster ferment.  Colder = slower ferment.)  The brine may seep out a little.  Relax.  Just stick a plate under your jar.

8.  Check your Kimchi once a day. You may need to press the veggies back under the brine. You should start to see some little bubbles begin to rise.  It's working!!  Taste a little to see if it has pickled to your tastes.  When you're satisfied with it, stick in the refrigerator.  They say it tastes best after it's been in the fridge for at least a week, but we have a tendency to dive right in.

There you have it.  Now you can let your taste buds rejoice.

Have a great day!


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