In days of yore, our ancestors would spend much of the harvest season preparing vegetables for the long winter. Some foods would be dried, others would be stored in root cellars, and still others would be fermented as pickles. In Korea, the most popular pickle has historically been kimchi, a spicy mixture of cabbage, carrots, ginger, and peppers. As Americans have regained their interest in traditional foods, and as Korean food has become the new "It" food, kimchi has received a lot of attention of late.
Variations on the essential recipe exist, and the majority of commercially available kimchi includes fish sauce, dried shrimp, and red pepper flakes. The recipe given here is a variation on kimchi that is vegetarian, and somewhat closer to European sauerkraut, though with a strong Asian kick you won't forget any time soon. My taste for this style of kimchi was heavily conditioned by the kimchi offered by Real Pickles, a purveyor of fermented foods based in Western Massachusetts.
A note before beginning: Often times, people do not read an entire recipe before starting cooking. Please read this entire recipe first. It involves some important planning on your part.
1 head Napa or Chinese cabbage (green cabbage is fine, too) shredded.
1 cup carrots, grated
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1/4 cup daikon radish, grated (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and minced
1 cherry bomb pepper (or other small red spicy pepper), deseeded and minced
2 tbsp fine sea salt
Combine all veggies in large mixing bowl to achieve a homogenous mixture, and kneading them slightly to soften. Place in sealable 2 quart jar, pressing veggies down to fit into jar. Add sea salt to jar, and fill with filtered water, allowing approx. 1 inch of space at the top of the jar, and submerging the vegetable mixture. Seal jar and shake, in order to achieve even distribution of salt in water.
The next step is the tricky one. By brining and submerging the cabbage, you allow beneficial lactobacillus bacteria to ferment the kimchi. These beneficial bacteria are naturally present on the cabbage itself. However, if the cabbage were simply left out, it would fall prey to non-beneficial, potentially harmful bacteria - basically, it would rot. As a result, it is vitally important to keep the kimchi mixture submerged as it ferments. This can be achieved through a variety of means - if you are fermenting in a wide-mouth jar, a bowl or plate that has been weighed down can keep the vegetables submerged, but if you are fermenting in a small-mouthed jar, a smaller vessel such as a teacup will achieve the same purpose.
It should be noted that the jar you're fermenting in, and the object you're using to weigh the kimchi down should be cleaned thoroughly before using them. They do not need to be sterile, but they do need to be clean.
Allow to sit at room temperature for three days. I typically ferment in a closed container, because fermenting kimchi may have a certain... aroma. Additionally, you should expect it to bubble and overflow slightly, so have your fermentation vessel on a plate or something else that can be cleaned easily.
Once the initial fermentation phase is through, the kimchi should be refrigerated. It will take another week until the flavor has settled into maturity. Additionally, once the initial fermentation phase is through, the kimchi does not need to be kept submerged. Most will remain under the surface of the brine, but if bits and pieces stick out the top, that's fine.
To be sure, kimchi is work, but the reward is well worth it. It lasts for months and is absolutely delicious!