Napa Cabbage Kimchi (Mak Kimchi)
There are many types of kimchi that can be made with an assortment of vegetables with napa cabbage being the most common one. Kimchi is Korea’s national dish which is essentially a fermented pungent spicy version of sauerkraut but on a whole other scale. Fermenting or pickling vegetables was a way to preserve food prior to refrigerators as this method would allow the food to expand their shelf life. Kimchi was buried underground in earthenware jars called onggi to ferment outdoors during the winter months to prevent the kimchi from freezing. Onggi are used for fermenting and preserving many comestible goods.
Gimjang is one of korea’s food traditions which usually takes place during mid-October to late November or even early December. It is the traditional process of preparing large quantities of kimchi where families and communities gather together to make pogi kimchi. This way of preparing kimchi can be quite labor intensive as it requires a long brining period. Then the whole quartered cabbages gets stuffed with the kimchi paste onto every individual leaf; layer after layer. Mak kimchi is made with cabbages that have been cut into smaller pieces and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. This method is known as easy or fast kimchi since it doesn’t require as much salting or fermentation time but most importantly, it will still be tasty.
The time it takes for your kimchi to ferment will depend on the temperature of your kitchen. Kimchi will ferment at a much quicker rate in a more humid and warm environment. While fermenting your kimchi, it should be kept away from direct sunlight. My kimchi usually starts to ferments within a day or two at room temperature. At this point, it should have a slight tang which is my preferred stage. Then, I will store it in the fridge and use as needed. The kimchi will continue to ferment in the fridge but at a much slower rate. The cooler temperature slows down the fermenting process. Over time the kimchi will continue to age and becoming more sour. It will last for many months in the fridge as long as it’s kept cool and away from oxygen.
Kimchi is definitely an acquired taste as it is quite pungent but it is loved by many. The more aged the kimchi is, the better it is for cooking. You can make a variety of things with it such as kimchi fried rice, kimchi stew (jjigae) or kimchi pancakes (jeon). It is also delicious on its own over a bowl of hot steamed rice. Kimchi is one of the most versatile condiment as it complements with basically anything. I like to serve mine with many of my Vietnamese caramelized dishes as the tanginess balances out the sweetness so perfectly. At times, I find myself adding in cubed daikon radish to my kimchi because the texture is so satisfying. It’s like having two different types of kimchi in one batch.
- 1 large or 3 lb napa cabbage (cut into 2 in pieces)
- 1/4 cup sea salt
- 1 cup water
- 3 carrots (julienne)
- 1 small daikon radish (cubed or julienne)
- 1/3 cup scallions (sliced)
- 2/3 cup chives (sliced into 2 inch pieces)
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 2 tbsp salted fermented shrimp in brine (saeujeot: optional)
- 1/2 small to medium sized onion (puréed)
- 1 large Asian pear or 2 apples (puréed)
- 6-8 cloves garlic (puréed)
- 1 tbsp ginger (puréed)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Cut the cabbage at the base of the stem about 1/3 of the way down, then pull the halves apart to separate them. Repeat the process until you have 4 sections. Then cut the quartered sections into 2 inch pieces; discard the core.
- To brine: add the cabbage in a large bowl, add salt to every layer of the cabbage and pour water over; allow to sit for 2-4 hours or until cabbage is flexible. Occasionally toss the cabbage to make sure every piece gets coated.
- Chop up daikon radish, carrots, chives, and scallions.
- For the kimchi paste: add peeled Asian pear or apples, garlic, ginger, and onion into a food processor; blend to puréed.
- Squeeze the brine from the salted fermented shrimp into puréed mixture and chop the shrimp into fine pieces. Add to the mixture along with fish sauce, Korean red pepper flakes, and sugar.
- Rinse cabbage under cold water about 3 times, drain to remove excess water.
- Add chopped vegetables and the kimchi paste to the brined cabbage. Toss to make sure everything is thoroughly coated. Taste and adjust to desired preference.
- Store in a clean jar, making sure to press the kimchi down so that air doesn’t come inside; allow to ferment for 24-36 hours at room temperature.
- Once the kimchi is fermented, it should be ready to be served. Store in refrigerator.
- Kimchi may seem like it has an excessive amount of salt which is necessary through the brining period but most of it will be washed off.
- If your kimchi doesn’t have enough salt, it won’t be good to keep for long as it will turn sour too quickly.
- Kimchi is typically a bit salty when it is freshly made. The saltiness will reduce as it ferments.
- If using cubed radishes be sure to salt them for 30 minutes before adding it into the kimchi.
- Rice flour is typically used as the base to make the kimchi paste. It is to help the kimchi ferment faster and also for holding the seasonings together.
- Salted fermented shrimp (saeujeot) can be omitted but I find that it adds another depth of flavor and amps up the umami factor to the kimchi.
- Make sure to use good quality fish sauce. My prefer fish sauce is the Viet Huong Three Crabs brand.
- Often Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru) is mislabeled as “red pepper powder” but preferably coarse pepper flakes is used for making kimchi.
- Korean red pepper flakes has a slightly smokey and sweet flavor that can range from mild to hot.
- You can use more or less Korean red pepper flakes depending on your spice tolerance.
- Kimchi should be fermented in an air tight BPA free plastic container or preferably a glass jar away from direct sunlight.