In a flash, you can have kimchi handy in for when you are too lazy to prepare a full meal. It is absolutely worth the effort!
I love Korean food. I used to lunch with my mom at my favourite restaurant, Muang Ga, in Causeway Bay almost every week when I lived in Hong Kong.
For me, the best part of a Korean meal is not really the main course. Rather, it’s the little appetizers like kimchi, sweetened black beans, wilted spinach, and bean sprouts tossed in sesame oil — among all the other delicious small plates they serve before your main course.
But since I moved to Moscow four years ago, I haven’t been able to find a restaurant here where they serve proper Korean starters, especially kimchi. I mean GOOD kimchi — spicy, well-fermented cabbage that is soft yet still crunchy, not soggy. And because I missed it so much, I started making my own at home.
Making kimchi sounds super complicated and like a big a hassle, but really, we’re talking approximately 2.5-3 hours from brining to packaging. In a flash, you can have kimchi handy in for when you are too lazy to prepare a full meal. It is absolutely worth the effort!
And in case you didn’t know, kimchi can technically be kept in the fridge forever. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process and keeps the it safe to consume over a very long time.
It will get more sour as time goes on, which is totally normal, but as long as you don’t find mould or anything abnormal, it’s safe. Make sure you always use a clean utensil to serve it in order to keep things clean.
Essential equipment for this recipe:
- Food-safe rubber gloves
Makes approximately 3 packed 10 cm x 10 cm glass containers
- 2 large Napa cabbages
- 1 palm-sized daikon/white radish
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 heads of garlic, skinned
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
- 10 scallions, trimmed
- 1.5 cup Korean chili powder
- Fine sea salt for brining
- 1/2 cup fish sauce (I used Thai)
- 1/4 cup fermented salted shrimp in salty brine, roughly chopped
2 tbsp glutenous rice flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 cups water
*See important notes below the recipe*
Brining the cabbage
Trim cabbage heads by slicing off the brown bits of the stem (about 0.2 cm to 0.4 cm). Slit the cabbage core/base in half with the tip of your knife, about 3-4 cm, then use your thumb to grip the inner core and your other fingers to grip the outer part of the cabbage. Separate the cabbage in half by gently pulling the two halves apart. This way, the baby leaves will stay attached to the core. Make another slit in the middle of each cabbage half and pull them apart. Now you should have 8 pieces.
Dunk the cabbage pieces into a pool of water in a clean sink to gently rinse off any dirt between the leaves. Remove from the water and drip off excess. Transfer cabbage into a large plastic container in which you can fit the cabbage in a single layer.
- Make sure that you have sufficient water between the leaves, or the cabbage will not be soft enough for marinating later.
- Sprinkle salt between each leaf and make sure that you salt it everywhere, even close to the core.
- Set salted cabbage aside and turn every 30 minutes for an even brining process.
Whisk together glutenous flour and water in a small saucepan and cook at medium heat for about 10 minutes until it starts bubbling. Add sugar and whisk to dissolve. Remove from heat and let porridge cool completely.
Slice carrot, daikon, and scallions into matchstick-sized pieces. Put everything into a large mixing bowl.
Pound ginger and garlic cloves. Roughly chop onion. Mince ginger, garlic, and onion in a food processor, processing until evenly minced. Add to other veggies.
Add chili powder, cooled porridge, fermented shrimp, and fish sauce and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
Marinating cabbage/making kimchi (Final step)
After 2 hours of brining, cabbage leaves and stems should be soft and less crunchy. Rinse thoroughly with running water to remove salt and dirt, and drain off excess water with a sieve.
Get your gloves and apron on. Spoon an even amount of the chili/veggie mixture onto each piece of cabbage (this will ensure you have enough paste to cover them all). Working with one piece at a time, spread the mixture between each leaf and repeat for remaining cabbage. Pack tightly into containers and press gently on top before closing container to make sure that everything is covered in marinade.
You can consume the kimchi the same day if you like it crunchy and less sour. Or you can keep it in the fridge to ferment for one week before consuming. During fermentation, use a clean spoon to press down on the pieces to make sure that everything is covered in marinade, which gives it an even flavour.
Chopping – It’s best to use the traditional method and matchstick the carrots and radish with a knife. Otherwise, the kimchi will be too salty. Of course, you could also reduce the amount of salt in the brine, but I do not recommend that.
Brining – Make sure you salt between each layer of cabbage leaves. Otherwise, they won’t be properly softened or absorb the marinade evenly.
Washing and Rinsing – although you want to drain the cabbage after brining, you need to keep it a bit wet so that there is enough water and salt between the leaves during the marinating process. Otherwise, the leaves won’t get soft enough and won’t absorb the marinade well. Just give the cabbage one or two shakes to drain the excess water without draining it completely or letting it dry too long.
Chili flakes vs chili powder – I found that using chili powder instead of chili flakes makes a better paste for my kimchi, because it’s easier to spread out between the cabbage leaves
Storage – Keeping kimchi in smaller containers speeds up the fermentation process. The bigger the box, the longer it takes to ferment.