Forget about kimchi's health and digestion qualities, this super-spicy condiment is delicious --- and a cinch to make!
I still have a lot to learn from Mom when it comes to kimchi making (there are more than a hundred different kinds!) but this mak kimchi, or simple kimchi, recipe has been a great place to start.
Baechu, or napa cabbage, kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, the same process that creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. In the first stage, the cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria (the good guys!) convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them that wonderful, tangy flavor. (If you want to learn more about fermentation, I highly recommend "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz.)
While questioning my Korean family and friends about kimchi, I have received all kinds of opinions. Some cooks swear by a little bit of sugar, while others completely shun sweeteners. There are people who include carrots, and there are people who wrinkle their noses at the idea. I'm a vegetarian, and my mother-in-law happily makes fish- and shrimp-free kimchi for me, but I'm sure some would consider it blasphemy to leave out the seafood. (I like adding a bit of kelp powder for umami flavor.)
This can be confusing, but I think it's actually a good thing. It means that you and your family can make kimchi your own. Rely on your own sense of smell and taste and you'll end up with a fine batch. Two cautions from my mother-in-law, however: Too much garlic can make the kimchi bitter, and too much ginger can make it sticky. As for the gochugaru, or red pepper powder, adjust the amount to your liking. Kimchi can be mild or fiery; it's your choice.
HOW TO MAKE CABBAGE KIMCHI
MAKES: 1 quart
• Cutting board and knife
• Large bowl
• Gloves (optional but highly recommended)
• Plate and something to weigh the kimchi down, like a jar or can of beans
• Small bowl
Clean 1-quart jar with canning lid or plastic lid
Bowl or plate to place under jar during fermentation
2. 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 jar or can of beans. Let stand for 1-2 hours.
3. Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times and drain in a colander for 15-20 minutes. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting, and set it aside to use in step 5.
4. Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, sugar and seafood flavor (or 3 tablespoons water) in a small bowl, and mix to form a smooth paste. Mix in the gochugaru, using 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy (I like about 3 1/2 tablespoons).
5. Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and return it to the bowl along with the radish, scallions and seasoning paste.
6. Using your hands, gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. The gloves are optional here but highly recommended to protect your hands from stings, stains and smells!
7. Pack the kimchi into the jar, pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the vegetables. Leave at least 1-inch of headspace. Seal the jar with the lid.
8. Let the jar stand at room temperature for 1-5 days. You may see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow.
9. Check the kimchi once a day, pressing down on the vegetables with a clean finger or 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 tastes ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but it's best after another week or two.
Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.
Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled or filtered water if you can.
For vegetarian kimchi, I like using 3/4 teaspoon kelp powder mixed with 3 tablespoons water, or simply 3 tablespoons of water.
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(Emily Ho is a writer for TheKitchn.com, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Submit any comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.)