Kimchi making is a sacred skill that Korean women treasure. So much so, that you are required to offer up your firstborn to the elders before the village women can divulge their tightly guarded kimchi recipe to you. Gotcha. First of all, there is no kimchi recipe because it is a visually taught skill, and I have yet to see a measuring cup in my step-mom’s or aunties’ kitchens. Secondly, no measuring cups mean everything is done with a dash of this and a dash of that which makes it hard for anyone not spending all their waking hours with their favorite Korean aunt, to get the seasonings correct. I, however, have spent countless hours next to my aunt, grandma, step-mom, and mom acting as their sous chef, taste testing for them, and opening up jars of this and that as their gloved hands were deep in red chili powder. And yet, it was only after I moved to California and was miles away from my family, did I become adventurous enough to try my hand at making kimchi. And it took years of practice before I offered it to any one of my visiting relatives, and more years before any one of them said it was good. (You’ve got the picture.) I’ve finally taken the time to measure everything out.
The proper jar is important;use a glass jar with an airtight lid and an opening big enough to put your hand in. I picked up these cookie jars to use. I only need a half gallon jar for one napa cabbage. Thoroughly wash the jars with hot soapy water before use.
Most of the ingredients you will need should be bought at a Korean grocery store. I’ve substituted Japanese daikon for Korean radish, Vietnamese fish sauce for fermented shrimp sauce, and had terrible results. Pick a napa cabbage that is full with tight leaves.
Cut the cabbage in half by slicing the bottom half, and then pulling it apart with your hands. Do it again into fourths, and then into eighths. I like to cut my cabbage up smaller than most because it’s easier to handle.
Trim off the tough end of the cabbage at an angle, making sure to leave some of the core intact. Fill a bowl or sink with water and plunge each cabbage piece into the bath. This is only to wet the leaves, and washing will come later in the process. Take cabbage pieces out of the water and place into a strainer.
Empty the bowl of water and reuse the bowl for the following salting steps. Take a piece of cabbage, and sprinkle salt between each leaf. A good pinch of salt is needed and concentrate on salting the whiter ends more than the leafier ends. Take your time salting as this may be one of the most important steps during the process. As you finish each cabbage piece, stack them in the bowl tightly. Now you must wait for the cabbage to wilt, which will take about 3-4 hours depending on how much salt you’ve sprinkled on the leaves.
After two hours check the cabbage and rearrange, switching the bottom pieces for the top. In another hour, check again and rearrange again if it’s not ready.
How do you know if it’s ready? Try folding the cabbage piece, and if it folds easily and remains folded, the cabbage is ready. Also, the white end of the cabbage needs to have lost moisture, making it more pliable. If the cabbage appears stiff, then sprinkle a little more salt in between the leaves, and check again after an hour.
At this point, you need to wash the cabbage pieces thoroughly with water. After they are rinsed, drain them on a strainer while you prepare the filling.
In a small saucepan, whisk 1 tbs of sweet rice flour into 1 cup of water and 1 tbs of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute while whisking. Leave thickener to cool down.
Find a large container, like a gigantic bowl or plastic bin, that can serve as your kimchi filling station. Start slicing the Korean radish into matchstick sizes. Do the same for the scallions. Place slices into the container.
To make the seasoning paste, you need to use a food processor or blender. Puree fermented shrimp, 1/2 onion, 10 garlic cloves, 1 in. piece of ginger, and 1 de-seeded red chili pepper. Add puree to the container of sliced radish and scallions. Also add coarse red hot chili flakes and sweet rice thickener to the container.
If you have sensitive hands or making a large quantity of kimchi, wear gloves at this point to mix filling. Mix all the ingredients in the container well.
Work with one cabbage piece at a time. Place limp cabbage, with outer leaves down and the whiter hinged end away from you, in the container and stuff each layer with a small amount of filling. Be patient and make sure that there is filling between all the leaves. Do not overstuff. There may be stuffing leftover at the end, which can be eaten separately. Or if you see that you may run out of filling because of your overzealous stuffing, don’t panic, just become a bit miserly when filling the rest of the cabbage pieces. You’ll just have spicy and milder versions of kimchi.
Grab the leafier end and place the hinged end into the glass jar first. When you hit the bottom of the jar, snake the end so that the cabbage piece forms a circle. Continue with the second piece and stack it on top of the previous one while pressing down slightly to minimize air gaps. Keep stacking until you are 1 1/2″ from the top of the container. Stop filling the jar at this point. You may have to use a smaller jar to fill the rest of the cabbage pieces if the first jar didn’t do the trick. If there is a good amount of space left over in the jar, place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the top piece of cabbage before closing the lid. Place a bowl under the jar when storing in a cool place(not refrigerator cool but in a draftier part of the house).
In 2 to 3 days, check the kimchi. You may notice that there is some overflow and kimchi liquid has collected in the bowl under the jar. Spoon some of the liquid out of the jar until you have the top layer of kimchi barely covered by the liquid. At this point, close up the jar, give it a good rinse, and store in the refrigerator. Most definitely, a sharp pungent smell will escape the jar as the kimchi ferments in the fridge. If that bothers you, plastic wrap the jar completely until use. In 5 days, the kimchi should be ready. In 10 days, the kimchi should be out of this world. Any longer than that, you may want to eat it cooked.
I’m fully aware that there are 25 steps in my instructions and yet I call this ‘easy kimchi.’ Easy, is relative here.
I’m feeling full and happy like Buddha.
- Half gallon glass jar(wash thoroughly)
- 2 large bowls or plastic bins
- 1 napa cabbage(full with tight leaves)
- 1 small Korean radish(about half the size of cabbage)
- 1/4 c kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 c fermented shrimp(found in Korean grocery store near prepared kimchi)
- 1 c Korean coarse hot pepper flakes(called kochugaru and found in Korean grocery store)
- 1/2 onion or 1 small onion
- 8-10 peeled garlic cloves(about 1 bulb)
- 1 inch piece of ginger
- 1 hot red chili(slice in half and de-seed)
- 3 scallions
- 1 tbs sweet rice flour(found in Korean grocery store)
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 c water
- Cut cabbage in half by slicing the bottom half, and then pulling it apart. Repeat two more times until you have eight pieces. If cabbage is small, leave in fourths.
- Trim off the tough ends of the cabbage pieces, but leave the cores intact.
- Fill a bowl with water and dunk the cabbage pieces in the water. You just want to wet the leaves. (Washing will come later.)
- Take a piece of cabbage, and sprinkle a good pinch of salt between each leaf. Use a little more salt on the inner white leaves. Plan on using 1/4 c salt for all the leaves.
- As you finish each cabbage piece, stack them in a bowl tightly.
- After 2 hours, check the cabbage and rearrange, switching the top pieces for the bottom pieces.
- When the cabbage is ready, it should easily fold in half. If the cabbage is still stiff after three hours, sprinkle a little more salt in between the leaves. (Check again in an hour.)
- Wash the cabbage pieces thoroughly with water. Drain them in a strainer as you make the filling.
- In a small saucepan, whisk in 1 tbs of sweet rice flour and 1 tbs sugar into 1 c of water. (thickener)
- Bring to a boil, and simmer for a minute while whisking. Let it cool while you prepare the rest of filling.
- Start slicing Korean radish into matchstick sizes. Begin by peeling and cutting radish in half.
- Slice scallions into strips approximately the same size as the radish. Drop them into a bowl or bin.
- Set up a food processor. Puree garlic cloves, fermented shrimp, 1/2 onion, ginger, and 1 de-seeded red chili pepper.
- Add the puree to the radish and scallions.
- Add Korean hot pepper flakes and thickener to the puree.
- Wear gloves if you have sensitive hands. Mix all the filling ingredients together with your hands.
- Place a cabbage piece, with outer leaves down and hinged end away from you, into the filling bin. Starting from the bottom leaf, place a small amount of filling between each leaf.
- Do not overstuff. Leftover filling can be eaten separately.
- As you finish stuffing each cabbage piece, place them into the glass jar. Grabbing the leafier end, place the hinged end into the jar first. Snake the end so that the cabbage piece forms a circle in the jar. Stack each cabbage piece on top of each other while pressing down slightly to minimize air gaps.
- Stop filling the jar when you are 1 1/2 " away from the top. (You may need to use another smaller jar to store the rest of the kimchi. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top piece of cabbage if there is a lot of space remaining in the jar.)
- Place a bowl under the jar and store in a cool spot inside the house.
- In 2 to 3 days, check the kimchi. If there is some liquid overflow, then spoon some of the liquid out of the jar until you have the top layer of kimchi barely covered by the liquid.
- Close up the jar, give it a rinse and store in the refrigerator.
- If your fridge starts smelling like kimchi, you can plastic wrap the entire jar until you are ready to eat kimchi.
- In 5 days, the kimchi should be ready to eat. In 10 days, the kimchi is even better.