How to make classic napa cabbage kimchi (aka baechu-kimchi/pogi-kimchi) - a tangy, savory, spicy Korean fermented cabbage and ultimate side dish! This Korean kimchi recipe is simple to follow, naturally gluten-free, and the spice levels can be adapted!
Wash all the vegetables (cabbage, radish, carrot, onion, green onion, chives, garlic, and ginger). I do this by soaking them in a large pot or directly in the kitchen sink.
Step 2: Prepare the napa cabbage
Cut off the brown end of the "core" from the cabbage with a sharp knife.
Turn the cabbage so the core is upwards and the leaves are against your surface and use a sharp knife to make an incision a few inches down into the cabbage (just enough to grip both halves). Then, with your hands, gently pull the two halves apart.
Repeat this with the cabbage halves to create quarters - by separating the cabbage this way, the leaves remain attached.
Step 3: Salt the cabbage
Dunk the cabbage sections into the water to get them wet, then liberally salt between each leaf, place the pieces in a large container, and then set aside.Wetting it first allows the salt to adhere better to the cabbage.
Every 30 minutes for 2 hours (so, repeated four times), turn it over - move the cabbage section on top of the container to the bottom. This will allow all the leaves to soften and release water.Optionally, you can scoop up some of the released water and spoon it over the cabbage to further encourage softening.
After two hours, wash the cabbage to remove excess salt and gently squeeze to remove the excess water. Let it drain well.
Step 4: Prepare the kimchi ‘porridge’
Meanwhile, as the cabbage is being salted, you can prepare the porridge mixture. Add the water and flour to a small pot and heat over medium heat for around ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the mixture begins to bubble, add the sugar, stir, and cook for a further minute or so until the sugar has dissolved.You can optionally sieve the mixture to remove any lumps. Otherwise, simply allow it to cool down completely before using it (this is why it’s great to cook this as soon as you’ve started the cabbage salting - to give it a chance to cool before the cabbage is ready).
Step 5: Prepare the kimchi shrimp paste
Peel and roughly chop the onion, ginger, and garlic. Then transfer them to a food processor to process into a paste. Alternatively, mince the ingredients by hand - but you’ll save so much time using a machine.
Mix the processed ingredients with the porridge, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and Korean chili powder, and whisk well until thoroughly combined.
Step 6: Prepare the vegetables
Peel the radish and carrots.
Use a vegetable peeler, mandoline, or knife, if your knife skills are good enough, to shred the radish and carrot into tin noodle-like julienned pieces (around ¼ inch/0.6 cm thin maximum). Alternatively, you can cut them into matchsticks.
Cut the green onions (scallions) and chives into small pieces. Mine were around ½-1 inch/1.3-2.5 cm each, but you could cut them even smaller.
Step 7: Combine the Korean kimchi ingredients
In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables and kimchi paste and stir well. Because the radish contains a lot of water, this will naturally "thin" the paste over time.
Add the salted (and rinsed!) cabbage sections. Using one section at a time, fold some of the kimchi mixture into the cabbage, making sure to spread some of the paste over every leaf, so it’s thoroughly coated.
Roll the cabbage into a circle to fit your jar and lay it at the bottom of the jar and top with a few spoonfuls more of the kimchi paste.Instead of a jar, you can use any other air-tight container.You could also use a traditional onggi for the fermentation (a type of Korean earthenware crockpot dish).
Repeat this with the remaining cabbage and kimchi paste until the jar is ¾ full - making sure to leave a couple of inches at the top. This is because the cabbage will expand slightly from the fermentation.Your napa cabbage kimchi is ready to enjoy immediately. However, it’s best to allow it to ferment first.
Step 8: Ferment the cabbage kimchi
Leave the jar to ferment for several days at room temperature (2-3 at least, up to 5 days) away from direct sunlight. Burp the jar from time to time (open the lid just for a moment) to allow any built-up gases to release so the jar doesn’t shatter. I do this 1-2 times per day, pressing lightly on the fermenting cabbage to ensure it stays beneath the kimchi "brine."You may start to notice bubbling inside the jar during this time - that is the gases from the fermentation building up and is completely normal.
Once it’s ready, transfer the jar of cabbage kimchi to your fridge (this will slow down the fermentation process) - the flavors will continue to develop over time, but you’re ready to enjoy it!I actually recommend storing it in the refrigerator for another week at least (for further fermentation) before enjoying it!
How to Store Cabbage Kimchi
I recommend storing this cabbage kimchi in a large sterilized, airtight glass jar in the refrigerator. If stored correctly and clean utensils are used each time when serving, the cabbage kimchi will last several months this way!I prefer the flavor within the first 2-3 months best. After that, it becomes increasingly sour - though that kimchi can still be used in several dishes.
Use gloves: while this is optional, during the finals stages when you’re mixing up all the cabbage by hand, it’s a good idea to protect your hands from the spice (and smells) of the kimchi.
Increase seasoning: you can increase the amount of shrimp/fish sauce or Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) for extra flavor.
Vegan kimchi: to make vegan kimchi, omit the fish sauce/shrimp paste and instead use either Korean soup soy (‘guk ganjang’) or kelp powder combined with water (to make up the same volume).
Finding the ingredients: while many of the ingredients should be available in regular supermarkets, if you struggle to find anything, then I recommend a local Korean grocery market or turning to online sources if you don’t have a Korean (or Asian) store nearby.
The fermentation period: The time needed to ferment the cabbage kimchi at room temperature will vary based on the temperature and humidity. If you live somewhere hot and are trying to make this during summer, even half a day can sometimes be more than enough before transferring it to the refrigerator. It’s ready once the fermentation has started; the mixture will have some bubbles and start to smell and taste slightly sour.
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