배추김치 Baechu-kimchi – Korean Cabbage Kimchi
If every country has their own “national dish”, Kimchi must surely be Korea’s. This spicy pickled Napa cabbage is so immensely popular, it is almost synonymously linked to Korean food culture. Its versatility deems it not only good to be eaten on its own, but also cooked in a large variety of ways from soups like kimchi jijae or kimchiguk, to kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap) as well as flavouring the base of hotpots like dubu kimchi jeongol. Its versatility also means that it is eaten is in practically every Korean meal, be it casual street food on the go where one would find kimchi pancakes (kimchijeon), to very formal royal meals like the Susarang. Even if it is not eaten on its own, the paste for making kimchi is used as a dipping sauce, from hotpots to live octopuses!
In Korea, kimchi comes in a large variety of forms. From the spicy version which evokes the liberal use of chilli pepper powder to the non-spicy and thus milder versions like the “water kimchi“. A large variety of ingredients are also used for pickling from white radish to cucumber but by far, the most popular and thus most common form of kimchi is made from Napa cabbage which the Koreans call baechu, giving rise 배추김치 Baechu-kimchi, that is Korean Cabbage Kimchi.
Baechu kimchi used to be made in the months that precedes winter and into winter itself. This is the time when napa cabbage is in season and thus widely available. Lower temperatures meant the plants grow slower and thus accumulate more sugars within. Thus, this is also the time when the vegetable is the sweetest. In the past, the harvested napa cabbage are pickled in quick sucessions and stored in underground dugouts just outside the houses where the frozen soil serve well as a “natural refrigerator” for the kimchi in the cold months. Strung high up in the cooler latitudes where the winters are cold and bitter, kimchi is eaten for a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, it is eaten much as a reserve, upon pickling as hardly any other vegetables or for the matter, anything grows during the winter period. The piquant and spicy flavours kimchi is imbued with from the use of chilli pepper as well as astringent-tasting vegetables like garlic, onion, leeks, chives, leafy mustards and spring onion help to stimulate and work up an appetite. The fermentation process that kicked in through pickling packed the cabbage with a load of pro-biotics that are cultured along the way and are said to aid in digestion amongst another beneficial qualities and thus said to be extremely good for health! In fact, it is so good that some Koreans actually believe that kimchi is effective against common ailments like flu and cold, and if one has already contracted it, eating kimchi helps to relieve the effects! Kimchi culture is so deeply ingrained in Korean food culture that a lot of Korean families have fridges in their houses dedicated for the storage of kimchi and nothing but kimchi.
The “holy trinity” in kimchi making. Korean sea salt which is developed from their famous coastal mud plains, Korean chilli powder powder and Korean fish sauce. Typical anchovy sauce (myeolchi aekjeot) is used but when I was shopping at out local Korean supermarket for fish sauce when I first made kimchi, a middle-aged Korean lady recommended me to use Kanari fish sauce instead which is made from sand lance/sand eels. According to her, it is much more flavourful than the ones made from anchovies. Well, experience from watching Korean soap operas teaches me not to question or ever get into an argument with an ajumma. So I “obediently” used kanari fish sauce instead and have been doing so for all my kimchis. I must say that it really tastes good!
If you cannot find Korean fish sauce, Vietnamese, Thai or even Chinese (Teochew or Foochow) fish sauce can be used as substitutes but bearing in mind that the flavours would be slightly different. I’d read some recipes that advocate the use of soy sauce in place of fish sauce when the latter is not available. Well, I really wouldn’t recommend doing so as the two are simply worlds apart in terms of flavour and aroma.
Two commonly used items in kimchi making though not compulsory, Korean Shingo pears add a lovely sweet dimension to the kimchi while well-cooked porridge from glutinous rice adds starchiness that perhaps help the kimchi paste to adhere better to the vegetables. Apples can also be used in place of pears. I’d also seen kimchi that incorporates carrots but it is not classically Korean though not much harm is done when they are added!
For additional savory and umami flavours, raw seafood is often added. This included brined krill, oysters and even fresh octopuses. I couldn’t find the Korean fermented shrimp locally so I used cinchalok instead. It is essentially brined krill with glutinous rice and works really well! I heard that many Korean ladies who are residing in Singapore have turned to this as a workable substitute!
So after a round of chopping and grinding, the kimchi paste is finally ready to be used. This can be prepared while “exosmosis” kicks in for the cabbage halves which are soaked in a brine concoction and additionally sprinkled with more salt! With so much goodness added into it, it is good on its own as a dipping sauce!
Standard “greens” that go into making kimchi include leek, chives and spring onions which are all chopped to the same size.
All the side vegetables are tossed into the kimchi paste until well homogenised to form a really thick slurry…
Do check that the cabbage is throughly drained of water before using to make kimchi. The quality of the kimchi is severely affected when there is still too much water left both between the leaves as well as within. For one, they don’t store as well. This makes kimchi making a rather straightforward but nonetheless tedious procedure, having to wash the vegetables numerous times with long waiting periods in between. After all the preparation work is done, all that is left is to generously apply the kimchi concoction over each layer of cabbage leaf before leaving it to ferment over the kitchen top for a day or two and we have ready-to-eat homemade Korean kimchi to enjoy!
배추김치 Baechu-kimchi – Korean Cabbage Kimchi Recipe (for 2 large cabbages)
2 large Napa cabbage (each around 1.5 to 2kg)
1 stalk of leek, sliced diagonally into elongated rings
2-3 stalks of spring onions, cut into 4-5 cm long sections
5-8 stalks of chives, cut into 4-5 cm long sections
1 large white radish （around 800g to 1 kg) peeled and cut into thin strips
300-400g of sea salt
Kimchi Paste Ingredients
1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 large Korean Shingo pear, peeled, core and seeds removely and chopped coarsely
1 bulb of garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 thumb-knob ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
120-140g chilli pepper powder (depending on personal preference)
80-100g Korean fish sauce （either anchovy or kanari)
1 tbsp sugar (optional, use when not using Korean Shingo pear)
1 tbsp fermented krill （I used cinchalok)
1/2 cup of glutinous rice, soaked for 3-4 hours before cooking in water to form a thick porridge
Using a sharp knife, cut each cabbage lengthwise into half around the lower stem area. Using our hands, ply the upper leaves portion open and separate into halves.
Rinse the cabbage halves generously with water.
Apply seasalt generously onto each leaf.
Place cabbage halves into large bowls or containers and add a brining solution made with 1 cup of salt to 2 litres of water. The brining solution should immerse the cabbage halves at least over the halfway mark. Leave for 2 hours.
Meanwhile prepare the kimchi paste by simply blend all the ingredients stated until a thick slurry is formed.
After 2 hours, flip the cabbage halves over and leave for another 2 hours.
After 2 hours, check that the cabbage halves have lost a signifant amount of water. The leaves should be soft around the lower portion stem area.
Pour away brining liquids. Wash the cabbage halves generously over running water numerous times to remove as much salt as possible.
Carefully squeeze to remove any excess moisture.
In a large mixing bowl, mix processed kimchi paste with chopped leek, chives, spring onions and white radish until evenly coated.
Using our hands, apply kimchi paste generously over each cabbage leaf, ensuring that every part is well coated. There should also be some bits of chives, leeks, spring onions and radish stuffed in between the leaves.
Place the cabbage halves into a box carefully and apply the remaining kimchi paste over the top and around the sides.
Cover the box and leave it over the kitchen counter to ferment overnight.
Check the taste of the kimchi. It should taste slightly sourish when fermentation has started.
Serve the freshly kimchi as a sidedish for a meal with other Korean or Asian dishes.
The remaining box of kimchi should be refrigerated at all times and served or used as required in other Korean dishes.
For some kimchi dishes like kimchi jijae where matured kimchi which has a strong flavour and pungency is used, the small portion of kimchi to be used can be placed at room temperature over the kitchen top for a couple of hours or overnight, depending on ambient temperature.
I am linking this post to Asian Food Fest : Korea ( April 2014 ) hosted by Feats off feasts