In all my years cooking and trying new recipes, there are a couple of things I’ve always been intimidated by. One of those things? Fermentation and canning. I know, they’re very different processes, but I put them in the same category because they both use jars. So, basically, I’m intimated by jars. 😉
Last month, my friend Jess posted that she was making kimchi, the famous fermented vegetables of Korean origin. The recipe she used included napa cabbage and shredded daikon (radish) and carrots. You know how sometimes projects or goals seem really unattainable, but then you see someone else do it, and then it feels like it’s actually possible? That’s what happened to me with kimchi. All of a sudden, I was filled with a sudden urge to make kimchi too! It helped that Jess was available to answer my questions, plus the recipe looked pretty reasonable. The kimchi project also justified purchasing the food processor that I’ve had my eye on. (Which, BTW, is great. Works well, cleans up easily. I love it.) I should note that you don’t *need* a food processor, but I hate shredding vegetables and this recipe called for a lot of shredding.
After obtaining all of the necessary ingredients from the store and washing all of my mason jars, I got to work. Altogether, it took me about 3 hours from start to finish to make the kimchi, about half of which I spent doing active work: chopping, mixing, and cleaning up. It would’ve been easier if I had bought the chili flakes as opposed to chili powder – unfortunately, the powder was all I could find. The powder was very fine and clumped up a lot, making it hard to spread evenly. Oh, Jess also told me that her kimchi turned out super spicy, so instead of using 1.5 cups of chili, I only used 1 cup.
(Funny side note: while I was making the kimchi and had already added the chili powder, I freaked out thinking that I had bought the wrong thing. I texted both Jess and my Korean friend LGS in a panic, and both confirmed that I had bought the right stuff. Whew!)
After I put the kimchi into the jars (I ended up with 9), I left them in the laundry room, out of direct sunlight. I don’t know if that was important or not, but it seemed to be the right thing to do. I was supposed to “burp” them about every 24 hours, meaning I had to open the jars to let the air out. This is because during fermentation, the bacteria release gasses that build up and could cause a high pressure situation in the jar. As a scientist, I found this whole process really fun. The first day, there was a little bit of gas, but not many bubbles (similar to soda fizz). On the second day, there was both gas and bubbles, which was really exciting. On the third day, there was gas and less bubbles – which I made a video of (not so exciting). It was also the first day of the taste test. I was supposed to stick the kimchi in the fridge (and stop fermentation) if the kimchi tasted tangy and “fizzy”, which it did.
The next week, we ate 2 jars of kimchi in about 5 days! We’ve since slowed down. The nice thing is that the kimchi lasts for a year in the fridge, so we don’t have to barrel through it all at once (though it won’t take us a year to finish 9 jars). For the first couple of meals, we bought marinated meals from Mama Cho’s, a local butcher. One of our favorite combinations is bulgolgi (grilled marinated beef) with arugula. We ate it with rice and a healthy serving of kimchi. Several nights later, we did the same thing but with spicy pork (also from Mama Cho’s). Delish!
With leftover rice, I like to make fried rice… so you can probably predict the next thing we made: kimchi fried rice! With all of my Instagram posts and tweets about the kimchi, Hillary forwarded me a recipe for an easy and modern kimchi fried rice. I made it with kale and green onion – it was really good! Though next time, I’d like to add spam or some kind of salty meat.
When I make kimchi again, I think I will add more fish sauce and maybe also some kind of salty fish. While the initial tang and the after taste of the kimchi was spot on, the middle notes left something to be desired. In my experience, that missing “fullness” is usually due to a lack of umami – and can be correcting by a savory base like broth or salted meat. Besides that one criticism, I think this is a great recipe and I would definitely recommend it!