Say Kimchi!*

As promised, here is my super quick and easy, not too spicy kimchi, for wimpy Western palates.

For those not in the know, kimchi is a fermented vegetable side dish originating in Korea (they eat it with every meal). It’s usually knock-your-socks-off-spicy and a little bit stinky (trust me you get used to it). My version lets you choose a spice level you’re comfortable with. The stinkiness comes from the fermentation process, which is what preserves the kimchi and makes all those wonderfull prebiotics that get the healthy eating fanatics so worked up!

Apparently eating chillies can increase your life span by up to 13%, coupled with the benfits of fermented food, I’m surprised Koreans don’t live forever.

According to the internet (and scientists, presumably) the benefits of eating kimchi on a regular basis include:

  • aiding digestion and preventing constipation
  • regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • high in vitamins and antioxidants
  • aiding weightloss
  • encouraging a healthy immune system

Though be warned, it’s made from cabbage, so it can give you some fearsome wind. Don’t eat it for the first time with people you can’t comfortably let rip in front of.

Any large supermarket will stock the ingredients needed, though if you live near an oriental supermarket it’s worth buying the authentic chilli powder and some rice vinegar.

Fish sauce, gochugaru and rice vinegar.

The chilli powder (centre) will be labelled as “red pepper powder” or “gochugaru”, look for the “coarse” type. Gochugaru is a lot milder than regular chilli powder, so it’s used in quite large quantities. If you can’t get any – substitute with normal chilli flakes, but make sure you measure it in teaspoons, not tablespoons! Rice vinegar can be replaced with malt vinegar or distilled (white) vinegar. As for radishes, you can use mooli/daikon radish or a packet of normal salad radishes The long ones are easier to prepare.

Easy Mild Kimchi

  • 1 large chinese cabbage also known as “Chinese leaf”, “pak choi”, or “Napa cabbage” OR a sweetheart cabbage
  • 1 medium sized carrot
  • 1 mooli/daikon radish OR a pack of salad radishes
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • a bunch of spring onions
  • Gochugaru powder: 2 tablespoons = mild, 4 tablespoons = medium, 6 tablespoons = hot OR chilli flakes 2 teaspoons etc.
  • 60g or ¼ cup of coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (found in the Thai food section of the supermarket)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar OR malt or distilled vinegar

You will need a large mixing bowl or Tupperware type container (this is a better option as they have lids), a colander and a very sharp knife.

1. Cut up the cabbage into medium sized chunks and rinse well in the colander.

2. Put the cabbage into the container and sprinkle with the salt. Cover with water. Some recipe books tell you not to use tap water, but I find you get a better fermentaion with tap water rather than bottled. Leave the cabbage at room temperature for at least 24 hours, but no longer than 48 hours.

3. Drain off the brine, reserving half of it (you will need it later). While the cabbage is draining, in the same container, mix the chill powder, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, vinegar and sugar into a paste.

4.Cut the carrot, radish and spring onions into matchsticks and add to the paste.

5. Add the cabbage and mix well. Cover with equal amounts of fresh water and reserved brine.

6. Taste a bit of cabbage. If you think you can handle  more spice, add a bit more chilli. Otherwise, put the lid on and leave to ferment at room temperature for three days (unless the room is hot, in which case find somwhere a bit cooler, but not the fridge). It is essential that you stir the kimchi every day, or the top layer will go grey and weird. After three days put it in the fridge. Your kimchi is now ready to eat.

Eaten straight away, it has a zingy fresh flavour. With time the flavours mature and calm down, and the kimchi will develop a sourish fermented flavour. Serve shredded like coleslaw (it’s fantastic with melted cheese, burgers and hotdogs), as a side dish for Korean or Chinese food, or chopped and fried to add to stir fries.

A classic meal would be Kimchi Fried Rice, really quick and easy to prepare. Allowing a couple of heaped serving spoons of kimchi per person, slice finely, drain well, fry in a little oil until caramelised around the edges. Mix into cooked rice, moisten with a little kimchi juice and gochugaru paste and top with a fried egg.

*When taking a photo in Korea, instead of “cheese” you say “kimchi”!