Possibly my most favorite fermented food, yes, even more than wine or beer, kimchi is amazing in so many ways. First of all, it supposedly cures everything from swine flu to cancer, but how could stinky, spicy cabbage not be good for you? Speaking of stinky, yes, it smells – some might say delicious, while others might say funky gym socks – either way it is definitely nostril clearing. It gets “better” with age, of course, taking on a life and charm all its own, just like many fermented foods. I used to worry about kimchi going bad in my fridge until I found out from my Korean classmate that the best restaurants in Korea serve kimchi aged up to 10 years! Mine never lasts that long, sadly, so I may have to actually go to Korea to try any that’s older than 2 months.
I used to buy kimchi from this great Korean grocery store in Raleigh, but after moving to DC and having no close-by asian grocery, I decided to try it myself. Looking through a few online recipes, I got a sense of what goes into it, and then I set out on my own. I had bought the Korean chili pepper flakes a long time ago, using them in soups, so I was ready there. After that, I used napa cabbage, carrots, green onions, ginger, garlic, salt, and a little fish sauce (some recipes called for anchovies). First, you let the cabbage sit in warm, salty water overnight, then you mix some brine with chili flakes, fish sauce, garlic ginger, and layer all the veggies together, pouring the liquid over.
Make sure to weigh down the veggies with a heavy plate to keep them submerged. At this point, you could bury it in your back yard in a clay urn (which is how it is traditionally done – I think) or put it in the back of your fridge (which is what I do). A friend told me that you have to “let it breathe” so that the right bacteria can work its magic. I’ve done it both ways (sealing it tight or leaving it open), so I think it can work either way- but leaving it open speeds things up. In a few weeks, you should notice that distinct kimchi scent. I, of course, can’t help tasting it….but I do try to wait until it is nice and sour before digging in.