Asia is filled with many different cultures and cuisines but what many of them have in common is a love of pickles. No, not brined cucumbers but a whole universe of sweet, salty, spicy fermented or preserved veggies. 漬物, tsukemono or literally “things that are pickled,” are so popular in Japan that they usually accompany most meals as tangy, crunchy side dishes and 김치 or kimchi/gimchi is so venerated in Korea that it’s considered the national dish. Most Americans think of kimchi as a briny, fermented cabbage with nuclear spiciness but as with most foods there a many variations depending on which region of Korea you’re from. Southern and coastal regions tend to include fermented seafood, mainly anchovies although different varieties of fish and even oysters can pop up along with a lot of chili pepper power. Northern kimchi tends to be less salty, less spicy, and seafood-free. Did I also mention that with the different seasons different veggies also come into play like radishes and cucumbers in the summer versus wintery chestnuts? With so many different options, it’s really a smörgåsbord of flavors to choose from. Since I have a penchant of tangy, sweet-savory flavors I like a sweet and sour kimchi. And while I’m a fan of spice, I find crying, rivulets of sweat, and the sensation that my tongue is on the verge of turning inside-out distressing so this is a moderate heat recipe or as I like to call it, “Portlandia spicy.” Once you get bitten by the pickle bug you may just find yourself sneaking pickles into your stir-fries like 김치 볶음밥 Kimchi Fried Rice, sandwiches, and sushis. I’m a big fan of pickled daikon in my spam musubi and grilled eggplant pickled with herbs and balsamic vinegar is a sandwich in and of itself. Now back to that cabbage….
Things to make your life easier:
1) I like to ferment my kimchi at room temp in a sterile canning jar like these by Bormioli. Because the kimchi has such a high acidity and spice level I’m comfortable with keeping it at room temp but you can also ferment it in the refrigerator, it’ll just take about twice as long to achieve the same level of fermentation. I usually ferment at room temp for the first 3 days which is enough fermentation to make things tasty and then pop everything into the refrigerator. Once you’ve opened the canning jar, it’s best to keep it in the refrigerator from then on.
2) The cabbage loses a lot of volume just within the first day so if I’m making a large batch of kimchi I’ll start the fermentation process is a gallon zip bag and then transfer everything to a canning jar later in the day as most of the liquid is drawn out of the veggies.
3) If you can’t find Korean chili pepper powder, crushed red pepper will work but you should use 2 tbsp as gochugaru is about 4000-8000 Scoville units whereas crushed red pepper is 30-40,000 SU.
4) Don’t worry about the amount of chili pepper powder in this recipe, while it is spicy, it actually gets less spicy over time as the liquid is drawn from the cabbage which dilutes out the spice. I actually find myself adding more chili powder after the first week to compensate.
1 Napa cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4-1/2 c Korean chili pepper powder, also called gochugaru 고추가루
1 tbsp sugar
1 + 1 tbsp salt
1/4 c unseasoned rice wine vinegar
Mix cabbage and 1 tbsp salt in a large non-reactive bowl like ceramic or plastic. Cover and let sit at room temp for 2-3 hours. Rinse off cabbage and gently squeeze pat moisture out with paper towels.
Mix green onions, ginger, garlic, chili pepper powder, sugar, remaining 1 tbsp salt and rice wine vinegar together in a gallon zip bag. Add half of cabbage and mix. Mix in remaining cabbage and keep at room temp. After 4-6 hours, the cabbage will have wilted even further. Divide cabbage and liquid between two 0.75 liter canning jars and seal. Keep at room temp for 3 days then refrigerate. I invert the jars every couple of days to mix them. Will keep for 2-3 months in the refrigerator once opened. Makes 1.5 liters or 1.6 quarts.