It’s officially kimjang season, the time of year where thousands of Koreans prepare to make Korea’s most important food: kimchi. Kimjang is an essential part of Korean culture, a time when people come together and prepare kimchi, and a time when community is emphasized. Though the tradition is struggling against the age of convenience culture and mass production, its importance remains, so much so that in 2013 UNESCO added kimjang to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which aims to safeguard and preserve special human rituals around the world. And whether you’ve been making kimchi for years or you’re preparing for your first kimjang season, now is a great time to try out this tasty kimchi recipe.
Each year, my parents would buy 50 pounds of Napa cabbage to ferment in a spicy, red pepper seasoning blended with fragrant garlic, onion, and ginger. The spice is mellowed out with sweet fruit, ranging from refreshing Korean pears to sweet yet tart fuji apples. My parents had special tubs dedicated to making kimchi and would scream at us for getting near the kitchen in fear that a loose hair would taint their work. As the day progressed, our home slowly began to smell like each process of the ordeal — raw cabbage and salty water in the early morning, freshly peeled garlic midmorning, and fish sauce and burning hot pepper in the afternoon. Those smells always instantly take my mind back to those kimjang days of my childhood.
My version of kimchi is a blend of my mother’s and my aunt’s recipe, with a modified rice porridge à la celebrity chef Seonkyoung Longest’s The BEST Vegan Kimchi recipe. My mom always emphasized using fresh ingredients, so she picked vegetables straight from our garden. She was also adamant that there be no sugar; she liked her kimchi extra spicy. My aunt added carrots to her kimchi, which contributed another layer of mellow sweetness, a beautiful crunch that contrasted the softer cabbage leaves, and a hint of color that made it all the more aesthetically pleasing.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a garden in my apartment, but in the spirit of my mom’s kimchi, I used two cups of Korean red pepper flakes to make my kimchi extra fiery hot. I threw in Korean pears for sweetness, and I also added two tablespoons of sugar (sorry, Mom). Many recipes will call for Asian chives, but I opted for green onions instead because I like the thickness. My kimchi is vegan, but feel free to add salted baby shrimp and fish sauce to yours for an added layer of flavor.
Making kimchi can be intimidating because of all of the ingredients and steps involved, but I promise that once you get everything together, it’s really just a matter of patience. The basic steps are salting your cabbage, preparing your porridge, turning that porridge into a flavorful sauce, using the sauce to season your cabbage, and waiting for it all to ferment. Having the patience to let it ferment is probably the hardest part. Once your kimchi is ready, there’s an endless array of ways to use it in your cooking. From kimchi stew to kimchi Alfredo pasta, it fits in almost any dish. And of course, you can simply enjoy the kimchi on its own with a bowl of warm rice.
Add fish sauce and salted baby shrimp for extra punch. Save the shiitake mushrooms from the porridge and blend it with the sauce.
1 Napa cabbage head
1/2 of a Korean radish
1 Korean pear
1 bunch of green onions
1 cup of coarse sea salt
10 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of ginger
2 cups of Korean red pepper flakes
1 1/2 Korean pear
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of sea salt
2 cups of water
4 tablespoons of rice flour
3 shiitake mushrooms
1/4 sheet of Kombu
3 green onion roots
- Create a crosscut on the base of the Napa cabbage, and pull it into quarters.
- Do not wash the cabbage. Sprinkle 1 cup of coarse sea salt in between each leaf, and let sit for 3 to 5 hours. This step is crucial, as it seasons the cabbage leaves and prepares them for fermentation.
- As the cabbage sits, cut 1/2 of 1 Korean radish, 1 Korean pear, and 1 carrot into matchsticks, and cut the green onions into 1-inch pieces. Set aside 3 green onion roots for the porridge.
- For the porridge, put 2 cups of water into a pot with 3 shiitake mushrooms, a 1/4 sheet of Kombu, and the green onion roots. When it comes to a boil, remove the Kombu and let it simmer for at least 20 minutes.
- Once the stock is ready, lower the heat to low and add 4 tablespoons of rice flour. Stir vigorously. Cook the porridge for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
- Once the porridge has cooled down a bit, you will use it to create your sauce. In a blender, add 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 1/2 an onion, 1 tablespoon of ginger, 10 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 Korean pears, and the rice porridge.
- You can add the 2 cups of Korean red pepper flakes now, but doing so will require 1/4 cup of water or so to help the blender run smoothly. Otherwise, blend the mix and fold the red pepper flakes into it in a separate bowl.
- Add the carrot, radish, pear, and green onions to the sauce and mix.
- The cabbage is ready once it becomes limp. It should bend from the base without snapping. If it snaps, let it rest for another 30 minutes to an hour.
- Once the cabbage is ready, thoroughly wash each leaf and squeeze it to get rid of excess water.
- Generously coat each leaf of the cabbage front and back, from the white base to the green leaf in the sauce you have made. This step is crucial — skippingg out will result in a poorly seasoned kimchi.
- Once you have seasoned each leaf, store the kimchi in airtight containers at room temperature and let it ferment. The amount of time you allow the kimchi to ferment depends on your preference. If you want a fresher, more vegetal kimchi, you can eat it immediately or let it ferment for a day before putting it in the fridge. I prefer a more sour kimchi, so I leave it out for 2 to 3 days before refrigerating it.
- After it’s finished fermenting, pop it in the fridge and enjoy as a side dish or as part of a stew, stir-fry, pancake, or even pasta.
- Side Dishes
- Prep Time
- 5 hours
- Cook Time
- 2 days
- Total Time
- 2 days, 4 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Josh Kim