Living on the west coast of Canada is fantastic, not only for its beauty, but for its close connection to Asian culture and cuisine. I adore Japanese and Korean food and I feel blessed to have worked alongside these cultures to learn about and taste their beloved dishes.
I absolutely LOVE kimchi. Several years ago I got really into the fermented food movement and started making my own kombucha and kimchi. There is so much joy in witnessing and experiencing the fermentation process with food at home.
I will admit though, I have experienced some failures along the way! I have had the kombucha explosion! It was horrible and it truly did kill my interest in brewing it ever again, lol, but these fails are necessary in this quest for the perfect fermented recipe. This also applies to kimchi as well. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences. Some may prefer to make their kimchi vegan, others experiment with unusual vegetables. The best part about making your own kimchi is that you decide whether it is salty or spicy, what is in it or how fermented it is. It's fun, it's cheap and it is gloriously healthy!
Fail One - Use the correct Korean red pepper powder!
The first few times I made kimchi years ago I followed a traditional recipe and went out to find the right ingredients. As we live a couple of hours away from a big city, we were not privy to the correct Korean red pepper powder. I assumed that I could simply substitute with a chili pepper powder instead for heat, and followed the correct proportions.
Huge mistake! I love spice but this was the wrong ingredient and was far too hot. I ate it and enjoyed it anyway, however it wasn't good enough to serve or give as gifts.
If you do not have access to Korean red pepper powder, just reduce the amount of chili pepper powder you use. Keep that in mind. You could perhaps try using plain paprika for colour and adding chili powder for heat, although I have not made kimchi with paprika yet, I am suddenly inspired to try;)
Fail Two - Don't skip on the rinsing
Our family loves doing a lot of camping with friends and family and favourite camping meal to impress is a Korean BBQ! I will save that story for a later article because it is so awesome, but with every Korean BBQ you gotta have fried kimchi. So as we enjoy throwing Korean BBQ's I thought it was time to start making my own kimchi again.
I have still not had an opportunity to visit a Korean supermarket to pick up the correct powder but I really wanted to make a new batch of kimchi to take on our next trip so I was going to have to experiment again. I decided to omit my chili pepper powder so maybe this time my kids would actually try it. I also wanted to experiment a bit with the method. This time I used two different recipes and took what I liked from both and made my own variation. BUT I forgot an important step....
Fermentation requires salt, but there was a discrepency between the two recipes I worked with and I didn't take into consideration rinsing. I'll explain as we go.
DIY Kimchi Recipe
1 Large napa cabbage, cut length ways, core removed and thinly sliced
3 large carrots peeled and cut into match sticks
1/2 large diakon radish, grated
A small bunch of kale, leaves removed from stem and roughly chopped
1 bunch of green onions, roots removed and thinly sliced
6 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons of chili pepper powder
12 cloves garlic
5 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled
2 teaspoons of fish sauce
2 heaping tablespoons white miso paste
I went easy on proportions with the ingredients as I was hoping to get a mild result with this batch for my kids.
Combine cabbage, carrots, green onion, daikon and kale in a large, non-reactive container with a fitted lid.
Sprinkle salt all over the veg and then massage the veg mix vigorously to encourage the salt to get to work! Loosely cover the container and let sit in a room temperature room for 1 day.
Next day, drain the excess water out of the vegetable mix and set aside the brine liquid for later.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Add spice mixture to the vegetables and then firmly pack mixture into glass mason jars. Make sure the jars are packed tight and all vegetables are fully submerged. Use the left over brine to make sure vegetables are fully covered.
Loosely screw on the lids and place jars on a baking tray as liquid may escape the jars during the fermentation process. Place tray in a room temperature space. Check the jars daily to make sure there isn't mold or foam building inside the jar. You will also need to taste your creation as the longer it sits out the more fermented it will taste. Once you have achieved the flavour you want, throw them in the fridge! They will keep for a long time.
My concerns with this recipe
I used two different methods and combined them however I forgot to address the rinsing issue. One method I followed was from the gorgeous book titled "Batch" written by Joel MacCharles & Dana Harrison. This is a FABULOUS book on fermenting, cellaring, canning etc. I love it! In their recipe, they recommend adding the salt to the julienned vegetables and then scrunch the veg and salt mixture vigorously with your hands. Let it sit in a container covered for 1 day. This process allows the salt to draw out all of the excess water from the vegetables and creates a natural brine. After the day passes, drain the excess water out of the veg and keep aside in a separate container. This recipe does not call to rinse the veg, only drain it. I decided to follow this method.
I also referred to Foodie with Family's recipe Her recipe interested me as she uses miso paste which was a great idea in my opinion. Her method was also more similar to the recipe I followed years ago. Her method also suggests massaging the salt and vegetable mix but then to fill the container with cold chlorine free water until covered and let sit for at least 1 1/2 hours. This is where both methods significantly differ. Although she also refers to draining the veg mix and not to rinse, this method is essentially diluted compared to the method above.
So when I began packing my jars I tasted the vegetable mix first to see if I needed to add more spice and that was when I was blown away by how SALTY this recipe was! I do not remember it ever tasty this salty before and that was when I realized maybe I should have rinsed the vegetables. At this point it was too late because I had already added the spice mix so I decided to do a test.
I packed two jars with the original mixture, and I packed two other jars with the mixture however I topped them up with filtered water.
After doing some research on forums discussing kimchi issues, I found that many people do rinse their kimchi first before adding the spice. However I also read to give the salty mixture a chance, eventually the salt will mellow out. This also spoke to me because it is essentially a brine at work. Brines need salt to do their magic, so I am very curious to find out which jars I like better.
I am pretty confident that this recipe will not be a winner, but now I am on a mission to make a killer kimchi and I will continue to update journey as I go!