Your body is unbelievable. It’s constantly on alert – looking out and doing battle to keep intruders from taking over – as it maintains you as that “well-oiled machine.” It’s like Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and Food and Drug Administration synchronized and for once, working well together. Imagine that!
Kimchi, made from fermented vegetables, could be one of the secret weapons your body uses to help keep you healthy. The good bacteria in it – lactobacillus – helps fight off the bad bugs in your gut and the vegetable fiber is your body’s partner in maintaining good digestive balance. But it’s not all about your midsection, heat from the chili powder can lessen chronic joint and muscle pain.
Kimchi makers have their own version of this salty, pungent as-spicy-as-you-like Korean cuisine essential. You, too, will soon have your own signature recipe for making kimchi. Serve kimchi as a flavorful condiment, much like a pickle or chutney, or as part of a main dish (think: kimchi fried rice), or as a contributor of warming flavors in brothy soups.
This recipe is adapted from Choi’s Kimchi and is a very manageable and easy way to make kimchi. The quantity is sized to make about 4 pint jars. Traditionally, seafood is used in making kimchi such as raw squid, fresh oysters or Korean salted shrimp (saeujeot). This fast and easy (mak) version uses Asian fish sauce, and while the umami flavors are not as deep, this fast and easy recipe makes a tasty kimchi.
The musts: non-idodized sea salt. Iodized salt can impart a tinny or bitter taste. This is the time to splurge on coarse sea salt. Do not substitute powdered ginger – just do without. And fresh garlic only, please.
The options: green or Savoy cabbage can be used instead of Napa cabbage but chances are, if your market carries Savoy, it’ll also have Napa cabbage. Ancho or other chili powders can be used in place of Korean chili powder; the flavors will be different. White Kimchi eschews the chili powder. Fruit is optional but try it as the fruit brings fresh sweetness to the palate – crisp Asian pears are a natural.
The process for making kimchi is similar to the salt-brining process of other vegetables such as sauerkraut. This recipe’s main ingredients, cabbage and daikon, are dry-brined in salt for a few hours and the excess salt is rinsed off. The remaining ingredients and seasonings are mixed in and the fresh kimchi is packed tightly into clean jars with fermentation taking 3-7 days.
Recipe: Pineapple Daikon Kimchi
The quantities of ingredients in this recipe don’t have to be exact but should be approximate. The amount of chili powder is for mild chili powder; increase if you like more heat – taste before packing. Ensure jars and lids are clean and free of residue. Fresh unfermented kimchi is delicious and can be eaten right away if there’s only enough left for a partial jar, refrigerate it and enjoy within a couple of days.
- 1 small head Napa cabbage, about 3 pounds
- 1 daikon, about 10 inches long x 2 inches in diameter (Japanese daikon with a diameter of not exceeding 2 1/2 inches is best) or 2-3 shorter daikon
- 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
- 3/4 cup fresh pineapple, small Asian pear, or small crisp sweet apple
- 2 carrots
- 1/4 medium yellow onion
- 5-7 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger (about the size and thickness of a quarter)
- 4 green onions
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 1/2 cup Korean ground chili powder (gochugaru)
- Prepare Napa cabbage: if necessary, remove wilted and damaged cabbage leaves. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise and remove bottom core by cutting an inverted “V” around the core. Cut cabbage crosswise into 2 – 2 1/2 inch lengths. Put cut cabbage into a large glass, ceramic, or metal bowl. Rinse the cabbage with cool water, discard, cover with cool water again and rest cabbage for a minute or two.
- Cut daikon: while cabbage is resting, cut off the heads and tails from the daikon and peel skin with a vegetable peeler; remove bruised spots. Slice the daikon into 1/4-inch thick slices.
- Brine: drain water from the cabbage using a colander, toss cabbage a couple of times to remove as much water as possible, and return cabbage to large bowl. Add sliced daikon and sprinkle all with coarse sea salt. Use your hands to mix thoroughly, then press down to compact vegetables. Leave at room temperature.
- After 20 minutes, mix vegetables with your hands to re-coat and then brine vegetables for 5-6 hours at room temperature. The mixture can stirred occasionally or loosely covered but it’s not necessary.
- Rinse: pour the brined vegetables into another large clean vessel and cover with cool water. Gently swish vegetables around with your hands and then drain vegetables in a colander. Discard rinse water, return brined vegetables back to clean vessel and add another round of rinse water and swish vegetables. Rinse up to 3 times or to your liking, tasting the soft cabbage leaves after each rinse. After the final rinse, drain brined vegetables in a colander. Toss vegetables a few times to drain off as much water as possible.
- Prepare remaining vegetables: peel, core, and slice pineapple, Asian pear, or sweet apple into 1-inch pieces about 1/4-inch thick. Cut off heads and tails and peel carrots; cut into 1-inch pieces about 1/4-inch thick. Peel yellow onion and rough dice. Peel garlic cloves, smash (flatten) with the side of a chef’s knife and chop into large pieces. Smash (flatten) fresh ginger and finely mince. Peeling ginger is optional.
- Rinse green onions, cut off whiskers and any wilted ends. Run a knife down the length of each scallion to slice it in half. If the onion bulbs are large, give the stalk a quarter turn and slice lengthwise through the white part. Cut green onions into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Set aside.
- Bring it all together: with your hands, squeeze excess liquid from brined vegetables and place into a large dry bowl, and scatter on top all of the ingredients in #6 above. In a very small bowl, dissolve sugar in fish sauce and sprinkle over vegetables. Evenly distribute the gochugaru (chili powder) over all and using large utensils or your hands (if you dare!) (chili powder = heat) and mix well. Finally, gently mix in cut green onions.
- Fill jar(s): pack vegetables into clean jars, pushing down firmly so that the liquid rises; maintain about 1-inch headspace. Liquid may not cover all of the ingredients but it will as the kimchi ferments. Screw on lids to barely tighten. Place filled jars on a rimmed tray or cookie sheet and place in a dark spot – closet, oven, available cupboard.
- Ferment and check on progress daily: fermentation may take 3-7 days depending on temperature. Check jars daily – open jars over the sink to capture liquid overflow. Little bubbles on the surface signal that the kimchi is fermenting. Push down top of vegetables to submerge in liquid so that the top layer also ferments. When you like the way the kimchi tastes, refrigerate to slow down the fermentation.
Makes about 4 pint jars. Keep refrigerated. Best when consumed within 3 months.