(I’m moving this over from the original over on my (now-retired) Primal Cauldron blog.)
Cut cabbage kimchi is one of the most forgiving, easy, rewarding ferments you can make. It has it all: it’s fast, practically fool-proof, and incredibly sensual. Ok, before you think I mean that kimchi is going to rub you down with oil and whisper poetry in your ear, I’m referring to actual sensory feedback. Kimchi-making is hands on, the kimchi makes sounds, the kimchi changes its scent, the kimchi has so many textures. It’s lovely stuff, from start to finish, and it’s edible from day 1 onwards, with delicious options (jjigae! jaeyook bokum!) for when it’s too funky to enjoy straight up. (More on those below.)
There are as many mak-kimchi recipes as there are kimchi makers. You can make kimchi vegan or you can make it with a plethora of fresh seafood.
As much as I’d love to make whole-cabbage kimchi (tongbaechu-kimchi, 통배추김치) I simply don’t have the space in my tiny city kitchen. And as much as I’d like to try using fresh oysters, squid, or shrimp to start the kimchi going, I don’t trust the seafood that I can get here. Maybe that’ll change in the future, but I’ve been assured that using fish sauce (or none at all) is well within the spectrum of “traditional” kimchi. I’ve tweaked this recipe over the past few years and I hope to shortly have weights up, as well, to make it even more accessible. I hope you give it a try! It’s worth it.
A note on some key ingredients:
1) You cannot substitute dried coarse-ground Korean chili peppers (gochugaru) with red pepper flakes, chili powder, etc. I’ve seen this done and it won’t work. The flavour is completely unique. That being said, Amazon sells it and most East Asian grocers will carry it. (I pick mine up in Chinatown in bulk.) Regarding gochugaru, I’ve never been able to find an organic variety. If anyone knows a source for it, I’d love to know!
2) This recipe calls for a tiny amount of glutinous rice flour. This gets completely digested by the microbes during fermentation and is gone by day 6 or 7, and won’t affect your blood sugar or your strict paleo diet. As always, check with your healthcare provider if you have specific concerns. The rice flour MUST be glutinous. You cannot substitute brown rice flour, rice starch, corn starch, etc. Like gochugaru, it can be sourced at East Asian grocers, and you should also be able to find it at South Asian grocers.
3) This recipe also calls for a tiny amount of sweetener. Like the mochiko, this is critical to the fermentation process (it’s the starter that makes kimchi “fool proof”) and is digested by the microbes by the time you eat it. You can use any natural sweetener, from sugar to molasses, but make sure it’s actual sweetener. Stevia and alcohol sugars like xylitol, erythriol, etc won’t work.
1 head Napa cabbage (approx. 2.5lbs)
1/4 c natural salt (sea salt, Himalayan salt, Kosher salt, etc)
3/4 c filtered water
1/8 c glutinous rice flour/mochiko (*not* regular rice flour/rice starch)
1 Tbsp natural sweetener (honey, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, raw sugar)
1/3 c fish sauce (make sure the only ingredients are anchovies/fish and salt)
10 Tbsp gochugaru (Korean hot red pepper flakes, coarse ground preferred)
1/4 c garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 – 1 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 c peeled and chopped white onion
1/2 c chopped Korean pear (optional)
1 bunch green onion tops/scallions
1/2 of a large daikon, peeled (Korean daikon if you can find it)
1/2 of a large carrot, peeled
1) Remove or trim any damaged leaves from the cabbage. Cut into quarters; remove entire core. Slice at approx. 1″ intervals, or as you prefer. Place into very large bowl (you can do this in stages if you don’t have a big enough bowl); cover with cold water to rinse. Carefully remove cabbage (leaving behind any grit in the water) but don’t dry it. Rinse out the bowl. Put the cabbage back in it, combine evenly with the salt. Set a timer. Every 30 minutes, mix the cabbage around with your hand to mix well with the salt. Try not to crush the cabbage too much. Do this mixing step 3 times, for a total salting time of 1.5 hours. (You can feel free to put together the rest of the recipe while the cabbage is salting!)
2) After 1.5 hours, fill the bowl up completely with cold water. Swirl around with your hand; hold the cabbage back with your hand, tip the bowl, drain the water off. Repeat 3 times, for four total rinses. Make sure you get as much of the water as possible on the last drain, without needing to drain the cabbage on a colander. It should still be pretty damp. (For saltier kimchi: do 2-3 rinses only. For less salty kimchi: 4-5. I find that four is not very salty at all, once the fermentation is complete, and that’s our favourite.)
3) Make porridge: Combine 3/4 c filtered water with 1/8 c glutinous rice flour in a small pot (I use an enamel camping mug). Mix well; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir until bubbles appear, then add in sugar. Lower heat. Cook until porridge is translucent and thick, about 3-4 more minutes, stirring to keep it from burning. It should taste sweet and not starchy. Set aside to cool.
4) Make kimchi paste: In a large bowl, combine fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, minced onion, peeled and shredded (or julienne) daikon, peeled and shredded (or julienne) carrot, and pear (if using). Add in your cooled porridge; combine well. Use your hands for best results, with gloves if you’re sensitive to hot pepper or smelling of fish sauce/garlic for the rest of the day. 😉 Wash your scallions. Cut off the bulb ends, trim any dry ends at the top. Cut scallions twice, into three approx 3″ pieces. Cut each section lengthwise in half. Mix into your kimchi paste gently.
5) Combine your kimchi paste with your cabbage. Mix very thoroughly.
6) Pack firmly into air-tight locking containers (Lock’n’Lock, glass Fido jars, etc). You can technically eat right away, but I like to let it ferment. Leave on counter for two-three days (longer when it’s cold); once a day, burp the jar and, if you want, use a CLEAN spoon to gently stir, then press down so all the kimchi is covered by liquid (optional, but fun). After 2-3 days, you will have gently fermented kimchi. For a stronger taste, leave out to ferment longer, or put in the fridge to slow the fermentation process.
Taste your kimchi every day, and have a good sniff in the jar. Eventually you’ll know when your kimchi is done to your taste by smell alone. For me, that means a lessening of the raw garlic scent and more effervescence.
Kimchi never really goes “bad”, but very strong kimchi is sour and is best used in soups or when fried with fatty meat, like pork belly.