This sounds really silly but I used to be afraid of kimchi. I know, Even reading the words ‘kimchi’ and ‘afraid’ in the same sentence seems a bit of overkill.
But it’s true.
Hi my name is Jules and I used to be scared of fermented cabbage.
It started years ago when I was living / holidaying in New York City. A bottle of kimchi ‘followed’ me home from Whole Foods.
When I opened it there were bubbles. This thing was definitely alive. I reminded myself of my policy of ‘trying anything once’ (at least when it comes to food). And besides it had to be good for my gut microbes.
It wasn’t a love-at-first-bite story. And I guiltily left the unfinished jar in the fridge when I left town.
Fast forward 5 years and I’m in Sydney at a workshop with Sandor Katz, a champion of fermented foods. We’re learning about fermented vegetables and beverages. I’m excited about trying the sauerkraut and fermented veg.
But when he starts talking about making a paste of flour and water and korean chilli for the kimchi, I tune out.
Way too hard.
However, once I start my fermenting experiments, I realize I can control the level of ‘funky’ flavours. It doesn’t take long before I get an itch to give kimchi another try.
You know where this is headed.
So I’ll just get straight to the recipe…
But before I do… if you have any fear around fermenting at home, just remember fermented vegetables are the safest place to start. As Sandor assured us… No one has ever died from fermented vegetables. True story.
Simple Crunchy Kimchi
This kimchi is by no means authentic in that you don’t get the gassy bubbles as you eat it. However it is spicy, tangy and adds a refreshing crunch to any meal you feel needs it – asian or non-asian.
The best part about home ferments is that you get to control the amount of ‘funk’. I tend to keep it on the cleaner side, but you’re in charge. If you want funk, just leave it out to ferment for longer.
makes 1 large jar (about 1L / 4 cups)
takes about 30 minutes active time + a few days fermenting
1/2 large white, savoy or napa cabbage
1 bunch bok choy (optional)
2-3 teaspoons chilli flakes
5cm (2in) piece turmeric, grated
5cm (2in) piece ginger, grated
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1.5 – 2tablespoons fine salt
1. Get yourself a clean, dry jar about 1L (4 cups) plus an extra little jar in case you need it.
2. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage. Finely slice either by hand or use the slicer blade on your food processor (which is what I normally do). Place sliced cabbage in a large bowl.
3. Finely slice bok choy (if using) and add to the cabbage.
4. Add chilli flakes, turmeric, ginger, fish sauce and salt to the cabbage. Toss and cover with a tea towel. Stand at room temp to allow the salt to soften the cabbage. I leave it at least an hour but you could leave overnight.
5. Pack cabbage mixture into your large jar. I use a combo of clean hands and a spoon. You want to really squash it down to release the cabbage juices. If it won’t all fit, put the extra in your backup jar. Leave a little room at the top of each because it will expand as the fermentation happens. Divide leftover juice from the bottom of the bowl between your jars. You want the cabbage to be covered by liquid. If there isn’t enough, top with a little filtered water. Top with lids.
6. Place your jar(s) on a plate to catch any juices that overflow (this happens frequently to me). Stand at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days or longer.
7. Every day open the jar to release any gas. Once I can see evidence of bubbles I usually seal the lids and pop in the fridge. Typically this is on the 3rd day but in winter it might be longer and less in Summer. If you’re not sure, I’d err on the side of putting it in the fridge earlier. If you taste and decide it’s too bland you can always leave it out again to get more funk happening. But once it’s too funky there isn’t much you can do.
8. Keep in the fridge for a few months.
no turmeric – if you can’t find fresh turmeric, use 1 tablespoon turmeric powder. You can skip it but it give the kimchi it’s beautiful yellow colour.
no chilli flakes – you can use any form of chilli you like, dried, powdered or fresh. Just err on the side of not enough spicy heat because you can always add more. And you could skip the chilli if you prefer a milder pickle.
vegan / vegetarian – skip the fish sauce.
different veg – grated carrot, grated daikon, chopped green onion (scallions / shallots) can all be added.
salt – salt keeps the texture crunchy. So I tend to err on the side of more but you could try less if you needed to. I use finely ground Himalayan rock salt but any salt apart from Iodized salt is great. I’ve read the iodine can hinder growth of the lactic acid bacteria.
ps. Are you into fermenting?
I’d love to hear about your triumphs (and tribulations) in the comments below.