Never at any point in my life, up until the creation of this post, did I ever see a post like this coming.
Life is AMAZING.
When I held my community potluck party called The Foodie Food Club in November 2019, so many beautiful people turned up with so much beautiful food. One of the dishes brought by my friend Kwann was a box of kimchi. And when Kwann mentioned it was made by her friend, three things hit me all at once:
1. These kinds of things aren’t always made in a factory. They were originally made by people.
2. I am a person.
3. I can try making this too.
After reading up on some online references, I gave it a shot, it worked out great, and I felt like a freaking superhero.
It’s true what they say: making your own kimchi is not all that difficult. It does, however, take a fair amount of attention, and a crazy ton of time.
The advantages at least are that the ingredients are affordable, making it one-off creates a huge yield to last you a long time, and – should you wish to have them – bragging rights.
The thing that makes conventional kimchi not vegan is the inclusion of fish sauce. In this variation, I replace it with my trustworthy ‘this replaces fish sauce in ALL my dishes’ tamarind paste. You can get the seedless pureed version in most supermarkets. More commonly found in small Malaysian markets is the pulp with the seeds still inside the packaging. You can use this too. Just remove the seeds and use the pulp straight up.
If you don’t have access to tamarind paste, substitute it with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and bring down the salt in the blended mixture to 1/4 instead of 1/2 teaspoon.
And if you’re thinking of Baechu-Kimchi (Spicy Chinese / Napa Cabbage Kimchi), a star ingredient is also the gochugaru (chili flakes). I get mine from a Korean grocery store in Desa Sri Hartamas. Stocked up in their fridge was powdered chili, and chili flakes. One visit, I was told by the shop assistant to get only the flakes for kimchi. Another visit, a different assistant told me to get both. I say, just get what’s available to you. I’ve seen gochugaru being sold in a humungous 1-kilo bag at the Korean aisle at supermarkets. You may be better off buying in smaller portions on online shopping platforms like Lazada and Shopee. An important note: the moment you receive yours, store it in the fridge immediately. The Malaysian humidity turned my first pack from gochugaru to ‘no’-chugaru in less than a month. Save yourself the heartbreak!
There are different methods of salting the cabbage. Some directly rub salt in between the leaves, then let it sun-dry. Some use salt and a small amount of water, that requires the flipping of leaves from bottom to top every half hour or so. The easiest method, although most wasteful in water and salt, is making a pot full of saltwater, enough to fully immerse all of my cabbage leaves, then leaving the pot out in the noonday sun to hasten the softening process. You’d want your stems to be nice and bendy without breaking. From my experience so far, this takes 2-3 hours, followed by leaving the drained leaves out overnight in a colander to air-dry just a little. In this recipe, I’ll just get you to squeeze the saltwater out instead. Faster mar. An important note: do NOT use tap water, which has chlorine and may affect the fermentation process. Distilled purified drinking water is more ideal.
One of the elements of kimchi is cooking of the ‘porridge’. This part is a breeze.
Another element is mixing it altogether. Also a breeze.
Then there’s the fermentation period. Beyond a breeze… Unless you can’t stand the waiting around! I find it doesn’t matter whether you use an airtight jar or one that has a non-airtight lid. What’s important is that your jar is made of glass and super duper clean to encourage the best fermentation. And if you choose airtight, remember to open your lid every 12 hours to let out the gasses building inside.
There’s something magical about fermenting food at home. To bear witness to your food coming to life and ‘breathing’ with bubbles is so rewarding. Incorporating fermented foods into your diet is fantastic to maintain gut health too.
This kimchi for me is a gratifying taste assault of tangy, salty, spicy, crunchy, freshness.
I love it with rice and tempeh, in sandwiches and salad, on crackers, and for making kimchi rice. (I only add the kimchi in AFTER cooking my rice and turning off the heat to preserve as much of the good bacteria as possible.)
I’ve kept my jar in the fridge for up to 3 months. I think because it’s a fermented food, it’s a bit like cheese and wine: the older it gets, the better.
My little adventure with working on this dish proves that the motivation to dive into something new can come when you least expect it. I hope you have similar great moments of randomness this year, be it kimchi, saying Yes to a round of paintball, or getting lost in conversation with someone unexpected. Covid-19 can take away a whole load of opportunities, but it won’t ever keep us away from the little moments that truly make this life one well lived.
A staple in Korean homes which can now be a staple in yours too, this tangy, spicy, crunchy jar of fermented cabbage is kind to your gut and adds exciting diversity to your cooking repertoire.
- I small head of napa cabbage (approx. 700g)
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup chili flakes (gochugaru)
- 1/2 a large carrot
- 1/3 a large white radish (daikon)
- A few sprigs of spring onion
- FOR SOAKING:
- 1/2 cup sea salt
- 2 1/2 litres distilled purified drinking water
- FOR THE PORRIDGE:
- 1 tbsp glutinous rice flour
- 1/2 cup distilled purified drinking water
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- FOR THE BLENDED SAUCE:
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp tamarind puree or pulp
- 1.5-2 cm stem ginger
- 5-6 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion
- Step 1 In a large pot, dilute salt in water.
- Step 2 Cut cabbage lengthwise to create portions about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, then cut eat portion into thirds.
- Step 3 Immerse cabbage pieces into water. Leave in the sun for 2 to 3 hours to ‘cook’ and soften. If you need to, rotate the leaves every half hour so that all the pieces get evenly salted. After 2 hours, do a ‘bend’ test on a firm stem. If it can withstand a big bend without breaking, your cabbage is ready.
- Step 4 Drain saltwater from cabbage, gently squeeze out excess water from leaves, and set aside in a colander in the sink, or with a plate or bowl underneath to collect any drops of water.
- Step 5 Place all porridge ingredients into a small pot and cook on medium heat for up to 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a spoon, until the mixture turns goopy and translucent.
- Step 6 Place porridge into a food processor, food chopper or blender. Add all sauce ingredients. Blend together until smooth.
- Step 7 Julienne carrot, radish and spring onion.
- Step 8 In a large mixing bowl, transfer cabbage, carrot, radish, spring onion and blended mixture. Stir with a large ladle or clean hands, making sure that the sauce is evenly distributed throughout the vegetables.
- Step 9 Transfer to a large glass bowl or jar. Pack down the kimchi tightly so that no air bubbles exist.
- Step 10 Cover firmly with a lid (airtight is more ideal but optional). Leave in a warm, dry place around your home, to ferment for 24 hours. If you live in a cold country, up to 48 hours is possible.
- Step 11 Successful fermentation is visible when you see small bubbles throughout your kimchi.
- Step 12 Your kimchi is ready to eat! Or you can store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 months.