If cabbage ever had to claim its fame, it would be for Kimchi. A spicy Korean fermented pickle with a punchy sour flavour to tickle your giblets and enough tartness to make you sassy mouth, the Kimchi has a fanatic global following which has been amplified by its status as healthy gut food. It is no secret that fermented food is good for you. The good bacteria that are the hallmark of fermented foods not only heal your gut (the largest organ in your body and a crucial one to your overall health and well being), they aid in digestion, weight loss and balancing the acids in your stomach.
Over the years this traditional art of food preparation has dwindled but with the new awareness for health and nutrition sparking books, blogs and conversations everywhere, fermented foods have got a new lease on life. I have grown up on fermented foods, the traditional steamed lentil cakes (dhokla) a staple in my mum's kitchen. With pickling an annual event on my maternal terrace, everyday fermented pickles made with fresh turmeric and ginger were fed to us with folklores of how they destroyed demons and won wars.
Kimchi, a relatively new fermented food in my culinary repertoire is no different from all the probiotic goodness I have been sampling over the years from strained yoghurt to bread and everything in between. It is a labour of love like everything else and is completely customisable. With the title of being Korea's national dish, kimchi has spawned as many fans as it has variations with hip young chefs taking it to a new level by making it from every vegetable imaginable and incorporating it in desserts and cocktails (the verdict is still out on that!). Most kimchi (also kimchee or gimchi) is made with fish sauce to give it that unique tangible umami taste. I wanted to make my kimchi vegetarian/vegan and so I experimented with flavours notorious for that elusive fifth taste known the world over as "umami" (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter). I finally managed to nail it down to a combination of mushroom and seaweed which made this batch of kimchi completely vegan and utterly delicious.
You need a big giant Napa cabbage fondly known as Wombok here in Australia, approximately 1.2 to 1.5kg in weight. You will also need a big giant glass jar. I have recently invested in a small army of Fido glass jars with amazing suction tops and some good mason jars in all sizes. They are not only great for everyday smoothie drinking and pantry storage but make very reliable fermentation buddies. I used a 5 litre jar for my kimchi experiment which was big enough to house all the fermentation gases without exploding the top. The heat in this recipe is just right, not at all spicy for my taste which is why I will increase it by adding a teaspoon of pure chilli powder to my batch the next time. But this is exactly what I have found in some of my favourite Korean dining restaurants.
Have you tried making kimchi before? If not, tonight might be a good time to start and come Sunday you will have a big brilliant batch of kimchi to eat and cook with. If you are pressed for time, try my super quick instant 30-Minute Kimchi made with Vegan Fish Sauce (secret ingredient alert!)
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HOW TO MAKE VEGAN AND GLUTEN FREE KIMCHI
- 1 Napa cabbage, wombok/wong bok/Chinese leaf/asian cabbage quartered lengthways and sliced into 2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup salt
- 12 cups water
- 2 tablespoons Korean pepper powder*
- 1 tablespoon raw sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped dried porcini mushroom
- 1 tablespoon chopped nori, dried seaweed
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 cup grated/ribboned white radish
- 2 chopped spring onions, whites and greens
- Place chopped cabbage, water and salt in a super large bowl. Press down on the cabbage to make sure it is submerged under the salted water. Cover with cling wrap (put some weight on top if you have to). Soak overnight or at least 8 hours.
- Prepare all the other ingredients and place them in a small bowl. Unwrap the cabbage bowl and drain all the water. Remove the cabbage into separate super large bowl. Add the spice and radish mix to the cabbage and mix gently with your hands until the cabbage is thoroughly coated with the spices.
- Spoon the cabbage mix and any liquid that has accumulated in a large 5 litre glass jar with a tight lid. (I used a 5 litre Fido jar with a flip top suction lid). Secure the lid tightly and place the jar in a quiet corner of your kitchen. Within the first half an hour, you will notice the cabbage settling down as it sweats and more liquid is released. An hour later, the level of the cabbage would have sunk further. Leave the jar to rest undisturbed in this spot for 48 hours. During this time, you will notice that the empty space in the jar is starting to get cloudy. This is the beautiful fermentation gases brewing and working their magic to create a tart kimchi.
- After the 48 hours have passed, your kimchi is ready to eat. If you desire a stronger tasting kimchi, rest the jar for another day or two. Once you are satisfied with the taste, spoon the kimchi in all it's glory into a large 3 litre jar or three 1 litre jars and store in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 weeks.