When you prepare your own first kimchi and realise how easy and rewarding a process it is, you are soon keen on experimenting with other vegetables. When the most popular versions (daikon (white radish), Chinese/Napa cabbage and cucumber) were already behind me, I tested celery with quite successful though ephemeral results. Bok choy kimchi is my most recent idea (although I quickly noticed a popular one among other food bloggers too) and if you like this vegetable’s subtle taste you will also enjoy this certainly spicy, but more delicate kimchi.
If you have never heard of kimchi (김치), it consist in fermenting vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long – apparently 3000 years old – history. Koreans didn’t know chili peppers until the XVIth century, so the beautiful red colour and fiery taste are quite recent. (In fact, there exists also a “white” kimchi version, without chili, originating from the Northern Korea, but as a chilli addict I haven’t tested it yet.) Apart from the chili, garlic, ginger and scallions are the most frequent ingredients of the most popular, fiery kimchi. It also always contains a fermentation “enhancer” such as fish sauce, raw shrimp, raw oysters or fermented fish.
Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but those who love it, never associate it with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is even said to prevent certain cancers… Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi is used in fried rice, stew and soups. Many Korean families have special kimchi refrigerators.
As I have already mentioned, the most popular are daikon, Chinese/Napa cabbage and cucumber kimchi, but many other vegetables can be fermented this way. Depending on the vegetables some kimchi versions have a longer life (cabbage, daikon) or a shorter one (cucumber, celery) and since the taste changes throughout the fermentation process, everyone has different “maturity” degree preferences. Very old kimchi is said to be best in soups and other hot dishes, but many people prefer it also raw. Bok choy kimchi didn’t have a particularly long life in my opinion, maybe because of its delicate texture and flavours. I would never keep it for months, the thing I often do with cabbage and daikon kimchi.
After several failures I abandoned forever the traditional Chinese cabbage kimchi method consisting in seasoning whole cabbage halves. I have been making easy version (which I like to call “lazy”) with pre-cut leaves because… well it’s easy and most of all it’s the only one that works for me. I have found it on Shu Han’s blog (an amazing inspiring place called Mummy, I can cook! you must visit if you don’t know it yet) and am extremely grateful to Shu for this clever method. Obviously I repeated the same method with bok choy. I have rejected most of the leaves because I don’t like them, but feel free to include them.
Here are some other kimchi versions you might like:
You can serve kimchi raw, as a side dish, but it can also be included into warm dishes:
TIPS: Wear gloves if you manipulate kimchi with your hands (apart from the smelly side there is lots of chili in it).
Adjust the chilli amounts to your own heat resistance and/or taste.
Make sure to flatten the kimchi before fermenting in order to remove any air bubbles and make sure the container is well closed (I prefer to use glass containers with plastic lids). The less air there is between the lid and the kimchi, the better it is, so adapt the container to the amount of kimchi (you shouldn’t fill it up to the rim though because the vegetables release some more water during the fermentation and it might leak).
Preparation: 1 hour + minimum 2 days
3 big bok choy/pak choy (about 500 grams/about 1 lb or more if you intend to discard the leaves)
about 4 tablespoons coarse salt
2 heaped tablespoons Korean chili powder
1 tablespoon sugar (or 1/3 grated pear)
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 scallions stalks, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 garlic clove, grated
2 tablespoons fish sauce (not necessarily Korean!)
2 flat tablespoons sweet (glutinous) rice flour
50 ml/about 1,7 fl oz water
1 small carrot, grated or julienned
Prepare the rice paste combining the rice flour with about 50 ml water. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens.
Remove the hard ends of stalks (and the leaves if, like me, you are not a big fan).
Cut up the bok choy into 3 cm more or less square pieces (I always discard the leaves, but feel free to keep them).
Sprinkle it with salt and leave for at least two hours. It will soften and release some water.
Drain the bok choy.
Put it into a big bowl and combine well with the remaining ingredients and the rice paste.
Taste and if you think it’s not salty enough, add some fish sauce. (It should be only a bit too salty, but definitely slightly too salty).
Transfer it into a container with a lid (the best would be if the size is as close to the volume of kimchi as possible).
Add a couple of tablespoons water to the big – now empty – bowl and “rinse off” the remains of chilli with it. Pour the water onto the kimchi.
Cover with the lid, press with your hands (wear gloves!) to remove the air from the bok choy and leave for 2 days to ferment in room temperature.
Put into the fridge after two days. In general it gets stronger and more acid every day.
You can refrigerate it only to make it cold and eat it straight away or you can wait several days or weeks to see how the flavours change and at which stage you prefer it.
You can keep mak kimchi in the fridge for several weeks, but I found it best for the first two weeks only. It is excellent added to rice dishes and soups (see above).