Kimchi is like sauerkraut, only it uses different vegetables and is native to Korea rather than Germany. (Don’t know what sauerkraut is? Sliced cabbage, fermented in brine or whey.) Kimchi is awesome because it gives a boost of flavour to bland dishes, and it’s really good for your gut and immune system.
The first winter I tried it, I ate several jars over a few months, eating it most days, and only realised at the end of winter that I had not had a single cold. This is with a small snotty child using my face as a handkerchief. So I reckon this stuff works.
It’s a really flexible recipe – you can use whatever vegetables you have large quantities of, what’s in season. If you don’t like chilli, onions, or coriander, just leave them out. You must include crunchy vegetables, and salt. This is served in small spoonfuls as a condiment, or mixed into bland foods. In Korea they add dried fish, but I’m not that bold yet.
base vegetables – cabbage, carrot, radish (huge daikon are great)
4 T salt
1 L water
other vegetables – kale, broccoli, capsicum, silverbeet, asian greens, green herbs, rocket, violet leaves, hibiscus leaves, dandelion leaves, spinach, celery, choko, etc
lemon or lime juice
onion, leek or spring onions
chilli, garlic and ginger
whole coriander seeds
Chop all vegetables finely and mix in a large bowl. Keep the clean outer cabbage leaves for finishing the jars off (see below). I got my four year old to help me chop the vegies and made a few jars without chilli, hoping he would eat the finished kimchi… didn’t work. I shall keep offering it to him every few months and wait for his tastes to change! It was good chopping practice for him, anyway.
Mix the onion-type vegetables, chilli and ginger in a smaller bowl. Make a brine with the salt and water, double it if necessary, depending on how many vegies you chopped. Tip all veg into the large bowl, and pour in brine until all vegies are covered. Add juice of a couple of lemons or limes, if you like.
Cover with a cloth and leave for a few hours, or massage the brine through with clean hands to speed the process up. This is my favourite part, squeezing the squeaky cabbage and watching it turn translucent. Wear gloves if you are sensitive to chilli.
Rinse some glass jars in hot water, sterilise in oven if desired (I don’t). Old vegemite or honey jars with plastic lids are good, because you don’t need them to vacuum seal like jam jars and the plastic lids won’t corrode with the salt. Don’t put plastic lids, or jars with plastic ring seals in the oven!
Drain off the brine and set aside for soup making if desired (it’s very strong!).
Pack vegies into clean jars, a large spoonful at a time, tamping them down with the end of a wooden spoon. A special tamping tool works quicker, if you can find one – it’s just a clean thick piece of dowel.
Allow the brine to overflow as you tamp the vegetables in, so you fit the maximum amount of vegies into each jar. They will compress a lot. When the jar is full, weigh the vegies down so they stay submerged. You can use a plastic bag filled with water, or a folded cabbage leaf. The leaf will go mouldy because it’s above the liquid, but you can safely throw that bit away later and eat the rest.
When all the jars are filled, set the lids on them loosely, and place them in a plastic tray to catch the salty water. They will bubble and overflow as they ferment. Leave them on the bench or in the pantry for 3 days to several months. It will keep fermenting the longer you keep it at room temperature. The warmer it is, the faster the ferment happens. Keep checking them; if the vegies start to protrude from the brine, push them back down with clean hands or top up with more brine (1 part salt to 9 parts water).
Taste some after a few days. You can let it ferment longer, or put it in the fridge now to slow the ferment down. If you have several jars, leave one at room temperature to ferment for several months so you can compare the flavours.
If the top layer goes mouldy, just throw it out and eat the rest. It’s too salty and acidic for dangerous bacteria. Wipe off the mould residue around the top of the jar with a paper towel. If the mould spreads through the entire jar, throw it all out (onto the compost heap) and try again, making sure the vegies are covered with liquid the whole time.
Serve spoonfuls with rice or noodle dishes, on toast, with salad or stir fries.
What do you like to put in your kimchi?