I have always been fascinated by kimchi. And I’ve been curious about making it at home but never got around doing it till last week. The reason I didn’t try it before is that I was afraid I was going to mess something up in the process of making it, thereby poisoning myself and the entire household. But then I read this inspiring book, Wild Fermentation, and decided that it was about time for me to overcome my phobia!
Some foods are preserved with salt or sugar, vinegar or dried by the Sun or with cold air. Well, fermentation is just another way of preservation. Think wine! It breaks down enzymes your body would not otherwise digest from certain foods(e.g soy beans); it lends additional layers of flavors and texture to foods; it adds nutritious elements to the food; and it helps you get through periods where fresh food might be scarce (well not so much nowadays as food keeps traveling across oceans).
I was surprised as to how easy it was to make kimchi. Now I’ve got a big jar of it in the fridge, waiting. Last Friday Steven made a beautiful sautéed tofu dish with my homemade kimchi. That was good.
Because it is Fall, I opted to make the traditional baechu kimchi. Baechu is the name for Napa Cabbage in Korean but the word is also related to the way this particular kimchi is made.
I am a bit sensitive to smells and kimchi has this pungent aroma that rings bells in my brain signaling me to ‘chuck this thing away immediately!’ It’s spoiled! I am sure everybody has issues with certain food smells here and there… think of anchovies, fish sauce, shrimp paste or preserved tofu, all stinky but extremely healthy. My sister-in-law hates the smell of alcohol so abstains from all wine, beer and spirits. Poor girl! I have to admit, that I struggle with the smell of certain wines. I could not conceive the idea of living without so many dishes that you can make with these amazing legacy ingredients left to us from our ancestors. Don’t be shy, give it a try!
Here’s my recipe adapted from the book:
Homemade Baechu Kimchi
1 medium Napa cabbage, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 carrots cut into fine strips
1 bunch of red radishes rinsed and sliced
6 tbsp of sea salt
1 large onion cut into chunks
8 cloves of garlic (or more)
1 (or more) red Poblano pepper, seeds removed
3 (or more) red Jalapeño peppers, seeds partially removed
5 tbsp fresh grated ginger
Fill two deep salad bowls with cold water. Add equal amounts of salt to them and mix till dissolved. Add Napa cabbage, carrots and radishes and cover with a plate to soak for 4-6 hours making sure veggies are submerged at all times. Drain vegetables (do not discard the brine). Taste. The Napa cabbage should already be slightly tender at this point. It should be salty but not too salty. If too salty rinse some with cold water.
Add peppers, garlic and grated ginger to food processor and pulse to form a smooth paste. Add onion and pulse till smooth. Transfer pepper paste to vegetables and mix well. Stuff veggies into a clean 2 liter glass jar. Press them down to add as much as possible. Veggies must be completely submerged at all times. If needed, add a bit of brine just to top off. Using a small zip lock bag, fill it with some brine and place it on top of the veggies as a weight.
Let jar stand at room temperature till ready for use. San Francisco is not that warm so it took about six days. If you live somewhere warm, taste it every day for doneness as it’s likely to be ready sooner. When it’s sufficiently ripened, move jar to the fridge for longer term storage.
Eat your kimchi as a side dish with your meals. Mine turned out fairly mild so I’ll add more pepper next time. I am super proud of my first kimchi! I will definitely experiment with different veggies and roots in the future.