As you may know, I own an Asian restaurant called Kapow Noodle Bar in Boca Raton Florida. You may also know that my wife and I LOVE to cook. Ironically, I have never really dabbled in cooking authentic Asian cuisine but it's definitely a craft I would like to hone. I love pickled anything and a really good Korean kimchi is no exception. I have been playing with different variations on "traditional" Korean kimchi recipes and finally tweaked it to our liking (personally). I must admit, I wasn't always a huge fan of "fermented" foods, but the more we've explored the health benefits, the more I became a believer. Kimchi is often describe as spicy, sour and tangy. We like ours with some heat but also to have the right amount of zing which is achieved in the fermentation process. Kimchi is AWESOME with eggs during breakfast, a side with a good grass-fed burger or even right out of the jar! (I'm craving some now!)
There are many styles/types of kimchi. The one that I enjoy making is called baechu kimchi, which just so happens to also be the most common type of kimchi, made with napa cabbage. It is made using lacto-fermentation which is the same method used in making sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. It is a fairly simple recipe that has two basic steps. Step 1 has us salting or "brining" our cabbage to get rid of any bad bacteria and other stuff that may be on our cabbage. Step 2 has us combine all the ingredients in a jar (or two) and that's when the "magic" of fermentation happens. This is where we start creating Lactobacillus bacteria (the good stuff!) which convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them a wonderful tangy and sour flavor.
There are so many variations on "traditional" kimchi and with tradition come debate. A lot of recipes call for sugar to help with fermentation, others (us included) shun the use of any sweeteners. Some people use carrots, purists think it's sacrilege. We use carrots, sue us! No matter what your tastebuds prefer, this simple recipe will make it easy to play around and make this your own. I promise that you will have fun making your own kimchi and it will be a staple in your refrigerator. Enjoy!
How to Make Napa Cabbage Kimchi
Makes approximately 2 - 2 1/2 quarts
What You Need
- 2 medium heads napa cabbage (2-3 pounds each)
- 1/4 cup sea salt or kosher salt (see Notes)
- Water (see Notes)
- 1/2 cup smashed garlic (about 30--40 cloves)
- 1/2 cup fresh grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons of fresh whey (we make our own)
- 1/2 cup fish sauce (We use Red Boat, it's the best)
- 1/2 cup of light soy sauce (kochukaru). We prefer to use Bragg's Liquid Aminos. MUCH better product quality.
- 1 cup Korean red pepper flakes. (We use "Mother In-Law's" chili flakes. You can also buy a package of dried Thai chili peppers and put them in the food processor.)
- 1 large Daikon radish, peeled and grated
- 2 regular sized carrots, peeled and grated
- 1 small apple or pear, julienned
- 3-4 small bunches of scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- Cutting board and knife
- Large bowl
- Gloves (optional but highly recommended)
- Plate and something to weigh the kimchi down, like a weight, jar or can of beans
- Small bowl
- Two(2) to three(3) CLEAN 1-quart jars with canning lid or plastic lid
- Bowl or plate to place under jar during fermentation
- Cut the cabbage. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and remove the cores. Cut each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
- Salt the cabbage. Place the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands (gloves optional), massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit, then add water to cover the cabbage. Put a plate on top and weigh it down with something heavy, like a weight or can of beans. Let stand for a couple of hours. We actually use our VERY clean kitchen sink to brine our cabbage. It's not as messy and much easier to transfer into Step 3. (MUST be clean!!!)
- Rinse and drain the cabbage. Rinse the cabbage under cold water a couple of times and drain in a strainer for 15-20 minutes. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting, and set it aside to use in step 5.
- Make the kimchi paste. Meanwhile, combine the whey, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic & ginger, in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Mix in the red pepper powder or pieces. This is where you get to adjust your heat preferences.
- Combine the vegetables and paste. Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and return it to the bowl along with the radish, scallions, fruit and seasoning paste.
- Mix thoroughly. Using your hands, gently toss everything until they are thoroughly coated with the kimchi paste. The gloves are optional here but highly recommended to protect your hands! And be careful not to run your eyes!
- Pack the kimchi into the jars. Pack the kimchi into the two jars, pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the veggies. Leave at least 1-inch of headspace. You don't want your kimchi or juices to touch the metal lid. Seal the jar with the lid.
- Let it ferment. Let the jar stand at room temperature for 1-3 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl under the jar to help catch any overflow from the fermentation process.
- Check it daily and refrigerate when ready. Check the kimchi every day, pressing down on the vegetables with a clean spoon to keep them submerged under the brine. (This also releases gases produced during fermentation.) Taste a little at this point, too! When the kimchi starts to ZING enough to your liking, transfer the jars to the refrigerator. You can eat it right away, but it's best after another week or two (or 3).