Say Korea and the first thing that usually comes into a person’s mind is Kimchi, a popular spicy cabbage dish. Characterized by its spicy taste and crispness, the taste of kimchi varies depending on the fermentation process, ingredients used, region where it is made and the weather.
Born from the need to preserve vegetables during the country’s long and bitter winter months, kimchi is a staple on every Korean table. A meal is never complete without one. It is an acquired taste, but once you’ve learned to love its tart, slightly sour and spicy goodness, you’ll definitely be a convert.
So, why don’t you try to make some? Here’s how:
1 large Chinese cabbage, about 1 1/2 kilogram
3 liters water
1 cup sea salt
1 piece daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin strips
5 tbsp gochugaru or Korean chili powder (make sure it is not too fine, but not too coarse)
10 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp ginger, minced
1 cup fish sauce (or shrimp sauce)
1 piece onion, finely grated
1 bunch Chinese chives, cut into 1-inch length
Step 1: CUTTING
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage. Split the cabbage in quarters. To halve it lengthwise, start cutting at the roots. But only cut halfway. Use your hands to split the rest so that you will avoid making little pieces of cabbage.
Step 2: SOAKING
Sprinkle coarse sea salt evenly in between all the cabbage leaves. Set aside.
In a large pot, combine the water and remaining salt. Stir until the salt in dissolved. The ratio of water to salt is 1 part salt to 2 parts water.
Then, soak the cabbage in the salt water for three to six hours. Turn the cabbage occasionally during the soaking process.
Step 3: RINSING
After 3 to 6 hours, rinse the salted cabbage twice. Make sure to wash it in running water. Let the cabbage drain for about two to three hours.
NOTE: It is important not to over-salt the cabbage. Ideally, the leaves should remain slightly crisp. If the process is overdone, the spicy seasoning will not be fully absorbed by the cabbage.
Step 4: SEASONING
In a large bowl, combine daikon radish and chili powder and mix well. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended.
NOTE: There are several variations you can use for the seasoning. You can also try this for seasoning: For every two kilo of cabbage, combine 1 cup of chili powder, 30 grams of fish sauce or anchovy sauce, 10 grams of sugar, 5 grams of chopped ginger, 40 grams of crushed garlic, some oyster and one pureed pear.
Get a handful of the seasoning and rub it on the cabbage. Then, separate the leaves of the cabbage and spread some seasoning in between. Coat the leaves evenly, making sure that both sides are well-coated.
Step 6: STORING
After coating the cabbage with seasoning, you can eat it as it is, unfermented and fresh. But it you want tart and a little sour, let it ferment for at least to to three days.
To store kimchi, place the stuffed cabbage in an airtight container and allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Then, put the container in the refrigerator. Kimchi will keep for two to three weeks.
NOTE: If you want some nutty flavor, sprinkle some sesame seeds on each cabbage quarter before storing it in a container.
Step 7: COOKING
While Kimchi can be eaten as it is, you can also use it for a number of dishes such as:
KIMCHIJEON (Kimchi Pancake): usually made by adding ripe kimchi in a flour batter and then fried.
KIMCHI BOKKEUMBAP (Kimchi Fried Rice): In a frying pan, stir fry finely chopped kimchi. Then, add pork or tuna, onions and other vegetables. Lastly, add steamed rice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
KIMCHI JJIGAE (Kimchi Stew): Kimchi, pork, tofu and various ingredients are simmered in a pot. Usually seasoned with doenjang (soybean paste).
KIMCHI MANDU (Kimchi Dumplings): The filling for the dumpling is made by combining finely chopped kimchi, ground pork (or ground chicken), tofu and various vegetables. (I like putting chives, ginger and garlic). Put a spoonful of the filling in a dumpling wrapper. Repeat. You can either steam, fry or make the dumpling into a soup.