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Cabbage Kimchi
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Cabbage Kimchi

(Baechu, or napa cabbage, kimchi)
Makes about 4 quarts

4-1 quart jars, Mason jars preferred
2-3 medium head (4 pounds total) napa cabbage
1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt (see notes)
distilled or filtered water (see notes)
2 tablespoons grated garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 6 tablespoons Korean fish sauce or water (optional, see notes)
2 to 10 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), I use 5.
   4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup
1 pound Korean radish or daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
8 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1. Slice the cabbage: Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and remove the cores. Cut each quarter crosswise into 1-2-inch-wide strips.

To split a cabbage in quarters without shredding the densely packed leaves inside, first cut two short slits in the base of the cabbage, and then gently pull the quarters apart so the cabbage splits open.

2. Salt the cabbage: Place the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Put a layer of cabbage in the bowl, sprinkle some salt on top, repeat. Put a plate on top and weigh it down with something heavy, like a jar or can of beans. Then add water to cover the cabbage. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.

3. Rinse and drain the cabbage: Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times and drain in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting, and set it aside to use in step 5.

4. Make the paste: Combine the garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce (or water) in a small bowl and mix to form a smooth paste. Mix in the gochugaru, using 2 tablespoon for mild and up to 10 tablespoons for spicy (4-6 is nominal).

5. Combine the vegetables and paste: Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and return it to the bowl along with the radish, scallions, and seasoning paste.

6. Mix thoroughly: Using your hands or a wooden spoon, gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. The gloves are optional here but recommended.

7. Packing: Pack the kimchi into the jar(s), pressing down on it until the brine rises to cover the vegetables. Leave at least 1 inch of headspace. Close the jar with the lid, but leave it slightly loose. Use a tamper or a wooden spoon to press the ingredients down and released any trapped air.


8. Let it ferment: Let the jars stand at room temperature for 3 to 7 days. You will see bubbles inside the jar and brine may seep out of the lid; place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow. You will see bubbles only when tamping. At warmer temps, less time and you may see lots of bubbles.

9. Check the kimchi once or twice a day, pressing down on the vegetables with a tamper or wooden spoon to keep them submerged under the brine. (This also releases gases produced during fermentation.) Taste a little at this point, too! When the kimchi tastes ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but it's best after another week or two.

Recipe Notes

Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation.

Water: Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation, so use spring, distilled, or filtered water if you can.

Seafood flavor and vegetarian alternatives: Seafood gives kimchi an umami flavor. Different regions and families may use fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, oysters, and other seafood. Use about 4 tablespoons of fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, or a combination of the two. For vegetarian kimchi, I like using 1.5 teaspoon kelp powder mixed with 6 tablespoons water, or simply 6 tablespoons of water.

Baechu, or napa cabbage, kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, the same process that creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. In the first stage, the cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria (the good guys!) convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them that wonderful, tangy flavor.