the chi of kimchi

If only there was something yummy and exotic that made itself. Something you could just quickly cut up, stir, and plop in a container, only to turn out 5 days later in a delicious new guise.

Wait! There is! It’s called kimchi, and for its tart and tangy goodness we can thank the Koreans.

I’m seeing Korean food turn up everywhere. On the pages of Bon Appetit, on food blogs, and even in the New York Times. It’s even gone fusion, with a Twittering taco truck that brings mobile eats to its loyal followers. Kimchi is so important that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute even developed space kimch. Why? To accompany the first Korean astronaut to the Russian space ship, Soyuz, of course.

I can’t remember when I first tasted kimchi, but it wasn’t too long ago. I then started buying some locally-made stuff, available at the Central New York Regional Farmer’s Market, in all sorts of shades and styles. Being the fermentation freak that I am, my next thought was  “OK, my turn.”  Anyone who’s been to my apartment has seen the various fermenting things lying around my house. And before you run away scared, know that each one of them is darn delicious.

Food that is fast, easy, healthy and given to leftovers is manna for me right now. Finishing up my masters leaves little time for poring over new recipes (sad face #1), therapeutic vegetable chopping (sad face #2), and Zen-like-stove-top stirring (sad face #3). To this sorry state came my new friend kimchi.

The fabulous ferment did not only arrive to a dire, time-crunched situation, but to a household with a brand-new mandolin. Picked up for a steal of a deal on Amazon with Christmas money, this Japanese slider-knife is a miracle in a drawer. With this little beauty and a far superior recipe, my second batch of kimchi turned out much better than my clunky, over-garlicked first batch.

What, you may ask, is kimchi? It’s a Korean side dish with an inimitable taste, yet a Korean proverb reads, “if you have rice and kimchi, you have a meal.” To me, it’s crunchy ribbons of daikon and carrot folding over each other between layers of ruffled Napa cabbage. It’s chilies melding with garlic and ginger, and crisp veggies fermented to perfection. Served at room temperate over fried rice or a plate of egg rolls, or just eaten out of a jar, kimchi is a great snack full of healthy probiotics.

Best of all, the do-it-yourself kind pretty much does it itself. Just make sure you don’t spill it all over your gym bag.

Kimchi (or Kimchee, or Kim Chee)

makes 1 quart

1 lb Chinese (or Nappa) cabbage

1 medium sized white onion, or sweet white onion

2 large carrots

¼ lb white Oriental (Daikon) radish

2 scallions, thinly sliced

¼ cup soy sauce

½ cup water

2 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp honey

3 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 to 2 Tbsps fresh ginger, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ Tbsp Korean hot chili pepper

  1. Slice the cabbage lengthwise into quarters. Remove the tough core and then slice the quarters into one to two inch-long strips. Slice the onion into thin slices.
  2. With a mandolin, slice the carrot and daikon  into long ribbons. (If you don’t have one, just get them as thin as you can.)
  3. Toss cabbage, onion, carrot and daikon with the scallions, soy sauce, water, and salt. Cover loosely and let stand overnight.
  4. Drain liquid from the vegetables into a bowl. Add honey and vinegar to the liquid and stir well until honey is dissolved.
  5. Mix the ginger, garlic and chili pepper together. (*For a stronger fish flavor, add one tablespoon of jarred, wet Korean salted shrimp to this mixture.) Add it to the vegetables and stir until they are coated. Pack the whole mixture into a crock pot container, and pour liquid to cover. If more is needed, you can use water.
  6. Place a clean plate upside-down on top of the vegetables. Cover the top of the crock pot loosely with a towel and let sit at room temperature for two to three days to ferment. The liquid will bubble and the flavor will become sour.
  7. Transfer to jars and refrigerate for up to a month. The cabbage will become translucent and will be ready to serve, reaching its peak flavor at two weeks.

adapted from Bob Eddy and Choke, Artichoke

4 responses to “the chi of kimchi

  1. This sounds so delightful! I will most certainly be trying this recipe. One quick question: is the kimchi ready to eat after the 5 day mark when it becomes sour, or do you keep it jars for a while first?

    • Oh, kimchi is good! It’s kind of an acuqried taste, as you might imagine, it being fermented cabbage and all. 🙂 The process was quite simple and has room for personalization. It’s just chopped up cabbage and a few shredded carrots and green onions sitting in ginger, garlic, fish sauce, red pepper, and a little sugar. I can’t wait to see how it came out!

  2. Hi Amanda. You could eat it after the 5 day mark, but I usually let it sit in the fridge for an additional day or two. It’s quite good chilled and it gets a little tangier. Thanks for your comment!

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