One of the ironies of my grad school experience involved teaching Korean housemates, who possessed zero cooking skills, how to cook rice — with a rice maker no less. As an outsider to Korean culture, I quickly realized two things: that women do most of the cooking and that there are two food items no Korean household can live without, steamed white rice and kimchi. Rice was cheap and easy to prepare and was eaten out of necessity; on the other hand, kimchi was treated with near reverence.
The pungent, highly seasoned fermented cabbage is the Korean equivalent of soul food, reminiscent of the taste of home and a source of family pride. This is the sort of well-guarded secret passed down from mother to daughter with marriage prospects riding on the outcome — meaning not the kind of information Korean moms readily imparted to curious onlookers who were passing through the kitchen on their way to the den.
The Internet has changed all of that cooking-wise. Now you don't have to be female or born into a Korean family to crack the kimchi code. Instructions and guides abound on how to make the pungent dish. If you like spicy, intensely flavored food, then kimchi is for you. Think of it as 5-alarm sauerkraut. This is a vegetarian variation on traditional kimchi that substitutes nori, a saltwater vegetable used to wrap sushi in lieu of fish sauce.
Prep time: 35 minutes
Total time: 48 hours to ferment
Yields: 5 cups
Equipment you'll need
- Chef's knife
- Large mixing bowl
- Small mixing bowl
- Food prep gloves
- Cutting board
- 6-cup Mason jar with lid
- 2.5 lbs. Napa cabbage, stemmed and cut lengthwise
- 6 to 8 cups + 1 tablespoon water, filtered or distilled*
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 daikon radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
- 1 bundle scallions, trimmed, cut into 1-inch sections
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 3 to 5 tablespoons coarse Korean red pepper flakes*
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1/2 nori sheet, torn into small pieces*
* The amount of water used is dependent on the size of your mixing bowl. A bigger bowl requires more water.
* Korean red pepper flakes, called gochugaru, are found in Asian markets or can be purchased online.
* Many kimchi recipes call for fish sauce, which adds a savory dimension to kimchi known as umami. Dulse or nori, saltwater vegetables made from kelp and seaweed respectively are good substitutes.
- Rinse and prep cabbage. Cut cabbage into strips and place in mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup salt and gently massage salt into leaves while using gloves. Pour water into bowl until cabbage is just covered, about 10 minutes. Place plate on top of cabbage to weight. Set aside for at least 3 hours or overnight, folding once or twiceThe first step in kimchi prep is rinsing cabbage and cutting it into strips. (Photo: Enrique Gili)
- Pour cabbage into a strainer and rinse under cool running water. Set strainer aside to allow cabbage to drain, about 20 minutes. Dry mixing bowl and set aside for reuse.
- Combine sugar, pepper flakes, nori and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon filtered water and stir contents until a thick paste forms. Combine 2 cups water with 1 tablespoon salt and stir. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, rinse and prep daikon, ginger, scallions and garlic. Combine ingredients with cabbage in mixing bowl. Add paste and fold until the cabbage is evenly coated with paste, about 2 minutes.
- Pack kimchi into Mason jar. Add just enough brine from step three (if needed) to cover ingredients. Seal and place jar on a shelf out direct sunlight for 24 hours. After 24 hours, open jar to release gasses, it should be stinky. Then reseal and store kimchi in fridge for up to 1 month. Add to soup, as a side dish, or with veggie burgers.Kimchi can be eaten as a tasty side dish or added to soup for some extra zest. (Photo: Enrique Gili)