I wasn’t really sold on kimchi when I was first introduced to it, but after visiting Korea and tasting the real thing, I immediately understood the hype. It seemed that before, with or after every meal, we were served a tiny side of the spicy pickled veggie mixture. Even for breakfast! It took some time to get used to, but near the end of our trip, we weren’t satisfied until we had our kimchi.
When we returned to Japan, we tried to continue on our kimchi high with the store-bought versions available at the supermarket. But our options were limited to, as the best I can describe, kimchi preserves: kimchi ingredients in a sweet, gelatin-like sauce. None could amount to the balance of sour and spice that the Korean cooks have perfected.
So if we wanted kimchi, we were going to make it ourselves.
I began to learn about the health benefits of fermentation and the importance of eating fermented foods a few years ago. Back in Oregon, I experimented with making kombucha, eating more yogurt and sauerkraut. And after moving to Japan, the world of fermented everything, from tofu to natto, many of my stomach pains and bloating ceased.
I remembered learning about Sandor Katz, a leader in the world of fermentation and the author of The Art of Fermentation, when I was in Food Studies at the University of Oregon. On his website, Wild Fermentation, he offers great tips and recipes for anyone who is a beginner like me or an experienced fermentor. After browsing his articles and gleaning additional knowledge from the always inspiring Michael Pollan, I decided to gather tips, ingredients and a few tools and make my own version of kimchi and sauerkraut (en route) as I watched Pollan’s Cooked on Netflix. I figured it couldn’t be that hard. And I was right.
IT’S SO EASY. Almost too easy.
The Easiest Kimchi (and Sauerkraut) Ever.
Ingredients: These many vary upon your personal preference
Half head of Napa cabbage
Any other green, leafy vegetable you have on hand
Chives or green onions
For kimchi only:
Kimchi paste or red pepper flakes
Two cloves of garlic
Jars and lids
1. Chop cabbage into small pieces, preferably no larger than 3 inches long and place in a colander to rinse under water. Let the cabbage dry or squeeze water out with hands.
2. Cut or grate the rest of your veggies into small pieces
3. Combine all chopped veggies in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. I used about 3 tablespoons (but I didn’t measure)
4. With clean hands (DO NOT wash with antibacterial soap!!!), massage and squeeze the salt into the veggies. You will begin to feel the water being squeezed out. This is good! Continue to massage your veggies until they are soft and salty.
5. At this point, you have successfully made your sauerkraut and you can stuff it into an air-tight jar for fermentation. Make sure the brine (the liquid) is covering the mixture. Leave about one inch of air. If you want to continue to the kimchi, add the paste or red pepper flakes to the mixture. Add the garlic if you haven’t already (but it’s also okay without it!)
6. Mix with your hands for one more minute until the mixture is completely coated with the paste or flakes.
7. Finally, stuff the mixture into air-tight jars to begin the fermentation process. Make sure the brine (the liquid) is covering the mixture. Leave about one inch of air.
8. After 3-5 days of fermenting on a shelf, place in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation. Remember, the longer it ferments, the more beneficial bacteria can grow! And don’t forget to take off the lid every day to let out the gasses.
9. Enjoy! Your taste buds and your tummy will thank you.