I have lived on the land of kimchi, walked the soil of its origin and tasted many different varieties of it.
My memories of South Korea are of the warmest; possibly they were the happiest times.
For a long time after my departure, I dreamed of going back there. For the uncanny reasons, it felt like I didn’t spend enough time there and something paramount was left behind.
I missed my friends, people, and that incredible, deep sense of cultural pride South Koreans carry.
The food was great! We had a little family tradition; nearly every Sunday we would walk to a local beachside restaurant (wish I could remember the name) for our usual meal. The habitual menu was contained of barbecued smoked duck and pork sausages with an array of side dishes. There were other dishes on their menu as well, those we would normally try only once. They all tasted great, though, were very spicy. It was a funny pursuit trying to explain our sense of “not too spicy” to the local waiters. I was never sure, was it the language barrier? Or the fact their understanding of “not too spicy” was very mismatched to ours.
I had tried kimchi long before I went to live in South Korea, but it was in South Korea where I learned to appreciate it.
There are many varieties of kimchi. Vegetables such as radishes, cucumbers, scallions and many other are pickles in kimchi sauce, the Napa cabbage kimchi being one of the renown.
This is a very simple napa cabbage kimchi recipe. I think I might’ve broken a rule or two when making it. I didn’t add any pickled fish or shrimp that many recipes call for. But despite omitting the above, the fish sauce still gave it plenty of fishy flavours and the taste was very authentic.
Kimchi possesses many healing properties. The naturally occurring lactobacillus act as a gut healing force. And my favourite; the vitamins and antioxidants and healthy bacteria in kimchi encourage the production of collagen which aids in improving skin elasticity, delaying skin aging.
So, let’s eat kimchi, stay healthy and youthful!
1 (approximately 2kg) napa cabbage (also known as wombok or Chinese cabbage)
1/2 cup coarse sea salt (I used unionized cooking sea salt)
For the hot chilli paste
1 tbsp glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup water
2 tsp raw or brown sugar (optional)
4-6 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1/2 cup chilli flakes (Korean red pepper flakes- Gochugaru, if available)
1/3 cup fish sauce
1 daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 scallions ( spring onions ) sliced
Large crock pot or a large jar thoroughly washed with hot water.
- Rince cabbage and cut in half lengthwise.
Lifting each leaf rub salt between the cabbage leaves.
Place salted halves into a sink or a large bowl and leave till the leaves of the cabbage start to wilt, about 2-3 hours.
Rince well ensuring no salt or dirt left between the leaves and leave cut sides facing down to drain any excess water for 30 minutes. Once the cabbage has drained, cut it into 2-3 cm squares.
- Mix 1 tbsp rice flour and 1/2 cup water in small pan. Cook stirring over a low heat till thickens (it takes only few minutes and it may not get to the simmering stage before it is thick). Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Mix the daikon radish sticks with 1/2 tablespoon of salt and leave to sit for 30 minutes, then squeeze well (reserve the left juices for later).
- To prepare the chilli paste, place ginger, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, chilli flakes and the rice paste into a food processor and process till paste forms.
- In a large bowl mix cabbage, vegetables, and the chilli paste.
- Tightly pack kimchi into the prepared jar or a crock pot. Add the reserved radish juice to the bowl where kimchi was mixed and give it a good swishing around to remove all the leftover paste, pour over kimchi.
- Weigh kimchi down, so it is covered in juices. Place jars into shallow bowls to catch any spillage. Once kimchi will start to ferment, fluid can bubble over.
Leave jars on the kitchen counter bench or in a pantry.
In a warmer climate, it will take two days for the kimchi to be ready, in a colder climate it may take up to 5 days, but it’s fine to eat this kimchi straight away.
I had my kimchi sitting on a kitchen counter for a day where temperatures were 20-22C, and then I moved into a shed where temperatures were a bit lower 12-15C. It tasted ready on day 4-5, then I moved it into the fridge.
Check on your kimchi regularly while it is fermenting. Having kimchi submerged under its juices will prevent from mold developing on top of exposed vegetables.
If your fermenting kimchi has developed mold, has a foul smell and is slimy, it indicates that the harmful bacteria made it’s way in and the best is to throw it away and start over.
Personally, I have never encountered the issue when fermenting cabbage. High sugar content may be the reason for slime to develop.
Once kimchi is in the fridge, it still continues to ferment but at a much slower rate.
You may wish to leave it out to ferment longer; longer fermentation has a positive effect on the growth of healthy bacteria. I find kimchi tends to get fairly sour when left out longer than seven days.