I love kimchi. I love it on rice, in soup, on nachos, tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, on pasta, on sandwiches and burgers. I love to eat it plain, straight from the jar, whenever I feel a cold coming on or just want a hit of spicy heat.
I don’t so much love many of the jarred versions available at my local stores – Most of them are too sweet, or not funky enough, or the pieces are larger than I like them (true, I am a bit picky). There’s one brand that I adore: Midori Farm in Port Townsend, Washington, makes amazing kimchi. Sadly, at $12 a jar, I cannot afford to eat as much of it as I’d like. Out of financial necessity, I’ve been forced to make my own. I’m very happy with what I’ve created by playing with the recipe in the New York Times’ DIY Cooking Guide. I’ve done so much tinkering that my kimchi no longer resembles anything remotely authentic.
This is my Jewish Mother Version. I use green and purple cabbage instead of napa – It grows where I live, it’s inexpensive, and I like to think my kraut- and borscht-eating ancestors smile down upon this new way to get regular old cabbage into the bellies of the latest generation of our family. I add dates and an apple for their symbolism and sweetness. I push this kimchi on my children whenever possible, and although they almost never take me up on a bite straight from the jar, they’ll eat it when it’s stirred into soup. I’m a big believer in my matzoh ball soup, and I think kimchi has the same restorative and healing powers.
Here’s how to make my Jewish Mother Kimchi – Tinker around to make your own version. If you’re new to fermenting foods at home, check out a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz for all the information and inspiration you need.
What you’ll need:
- Large stainless steel mixing bowls
- A collection of glass jars with lids
- Approximately 3 pounds of green cabbage (one good-sized head)
- Approximately 3 pounds of purple cabbage (one good-sized head)
- Sea salt, coarse grind. I get a much better price at H Mart than locally.
- 6-8 carrots, peeled
- 1-3 daikon radishes, peeled. The locally grown daikon I get through Bainbridge Barter are smaller than the jumbo daikon from the grocery stores, so I used 3 for my most recent batch.
- 1 medium/large onion, quartered, or a handful of fresh green onions, coarsely chopped. For this batch, I used my small home-grown onions, 1 white and 2 red. When my garden has them, I like to use the green tops of my walking onions.
- 1/2 – 1 head of garlic, to taste, cloves peeled. When garlic scapes are in season, I use those; the rest of the year, I use our home-grown Inchelium Red garlic.
- Fresh ginger root, to taste, peeled and cut into 3/4″ chunks. I like a hearty chunk of root 4-5″ long.
- 1 small apple, quartered and cored
- 6-8 Medjool dates, pitted
- Fish sauce – I recommend a bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce, nuoc mam. Read labels to be sure you’re getting one without artificial colors or other unnecessary additives. I like the flavor of nuoc mam better than Thai nam pla (I’ve never tried Korean fish sauce, aek jeot – I’ll have to look for a bottle).
- Gochugaru – Korean red chili pepper powder. Go for a brand that is 100% pepper flakes, no salt added. Since I can’t find this locally, I get it from the nearest H Mart and store the opened bag in the freezer between batches. Don’t go substituting another sort of pepper powder for gochugaru; you need this exact flavor.
What to do:
This is a two-day process.
Day One, to be done just before bedtime:
First, chop your cabbages up. Slice the leaves into thin ribbons, then cut these ribbons into whatever sized sections you desire. I like thin ribbons sliced again into pieces 1 – 2″ long, just right for bite-sized finished kimchi. Toss the solid cores into your compost.
Put your sliced cabbage into large stainless steel bowls and add 1/3 cup of sea salt to each bowl of cabbage. Toss well so salt is more or less evenly distributed. I put my green cabbage into one bowl, the purple into another, because I like how it looks. Push as hard as you need to to pack the cabbage into your bowls. You don’t need to be gentle, the cabbage can take it.
Add enough fresh water to cover the cabbage in each bowl, and invert a plate over each to keep the cabbage completely submerged.
Your work for day one is complete. Leave the cabbage to brine and head to bed.
This is the action packed day.
In a food processor, pulse the onion, garlic, ginger root, apple, and dates until you have a mostly smooth puree.
In a large glass measuring container, combine and mix well:
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup tamari
- 1 1/2 cups gochugaru. If you like fiery hot things, use more; if you don’t like spicy heat, use less. I make a version we call “kidchi” with 2 Tablespoons of gochugaru.
Add the puree from the food processor to the red pepper paste and mix well.
Set aside and turn your attention to the vegetables.
Julienne the carrots and daikon, then cut each matchstick into a bite-sized piece (or leave them long, as you desire).
Drain each bowl of cabbage, reserving the brine from one bowl for later use. I save the brine from the bowl of purple cabbage – It’s the most amazing color! Squeeze or press on the cabbage in a colander to get most all of the brine out.
Add the carrot and daikon pieces and toss well with your hands.
Add half of the red pepper mixture to each bowl of cabbage, carrots, and daikon.
Using your hands, massage the paste evenly into each bowl of vegetables, so that each piece of cabbage, carrot, and daikon is coated with a schmear of red. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Once everything is nicely coated, it’s time to pack the kimchi into your empty jars. Fill each jar by hand, pressing down with your fingers to pack the mixture in. Leave at least the top 2″ empty, more if your jar has a sloped top. You need room for a bit of brine, and to keep the kimchi from touching the BPA-coated lid (it’s almost guaranteed that your jars’ lids have a layer of BPA, and that’s not something you want leaching into your food).
When you have the kimchi packed into jars, ladle the reserved brine into each jar to fill it to the brim.
Using a wooden chopstick or similar instrument, poke down to the bottom of each jar, working your way around the edges and into various points inside. This helps the brine find its way down to the bottom, eliminating any air pockets that formed when you packed the jars. The brine you ladled into each jar will seep down into the contents, exposing the kimchi again.
Put a lid on each jar, and set each jar into a bowl on a counter in your house that’s out of direct sunlight. You could set all of the jars into a large lipped tray, but I think you’ll find it easier to empty individual bowls…And you will need to empty the bowls, because within 24 hours, the jars will start fermenting. Brine will be forced out of the top, either on its own or each time you open the jars. Or both.
Check each jar once a day, opening it to release the pressure and to verify that everything is still covered by brine. If anything solid is exposed, poke it back under. You can add more of the reserved brine if needed, but I’ve found that a few new pokes with the chopstick almost always settles everything back down into the briny bath.
You can eat the kimchi fresh from the day it’s packed into jars, but I like to let mine ferment at room temperature for about three days. Taste yours each day and see what you think. When you like the flavor, move the jars to your fridge to slow the fermentation. Remember to open the jars at least once a week when they’re in the fridge, so you don’t inadvertently create a kimchi bomb.
This recipe makes at least 7 24-oz jars of kimchi, enough for daily consumption and sharing with friends. You could make a half-batch, no problem. But did I mention this is good on latkes? And that it keeps for a long, long time in the fridge?
B’tei Avon! (That’s Bon Appetit in Hebrew, in case you were wondering)