Seeing radish kimchi at Hyosun Ro’s Eating and Living and then at Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking I felt it was high time I embarked on a fermenting adventure. Kimchi (김치) is the real monument of the Korean cuisine. It is a preparation of fermented vegetables – most often Napa/Chinese cabbage or white radish – with dried chili peppers and other seasonings. Kimchi is certainly one of the oldest dishes in the world, since (according to Wikipedia) the oldest references to it go back as far as 3000 years ago. 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, originary from the Northern Korea. ) 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.
To those who haven’t tasted it, kimchi might not sound particularly appealing, especially given its powerful smell. For me well-made kimchi is a pure delight. 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 said to prevent certain cancers… In short: it’s a wonder food. Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi is used in fried rice, stew and soups. The only Korean cookery book I have contains a whole chapter dedicated to kimchi and many Korean families have special kimchi refrigerators.
I first tasted kimchi a couple of years ago in a Korean restaurant, then at my Korean neighbours’ house (the latter was of course beyond compare) and then tried making my own. The preparation was easy, but I was disappointed with the result. This experience has put me off making kimchi for two years. Last week, however, I decided I had to make at least one more attempt. I happened to have almost all the required ingredients from Hyosun Ro’s recipe, so I have followed closely her instructions and I can proudly say my kimchi is quite palatable. I panicked a little when after two days’ fermentation my kimchi was very bitter, but, strangely, leaving it to ferment for one more day resolved the problem! Thank you, Hyosun Ro, for this easy and efficient recipe! I feel now ready to carry on further kimchi experiments.
TIPS: Hyosun Ro’s recipe calls for raw shrimp as the fermentation enhancer, but since I can only get frozen shrimp, I thought it would be safer to replace it with additional fish sauce. The below recipe is adapted to my small batch (I was worried to make a bigger one for the first time), so if you want to see the original go to Eating and Living blog.
Wear gloves if you manipulate kimchi with your hands (apart from the smelly side there is lots of chili in it)
If you taste your kimchi and it seems very bitter, leave it to ferment for additional 24 hours. I did it and miraculously the bitterness disappeared!
Preparation: 1 hour + min. 2 days, but 2 weeks are optimal; the kimchi you see above was one week old and improved every day
Ingredients (I adapted the ingredients to my very small “test” batch):
500 g white radish (daikon) cut into cubes
3 heaped tablespoons Korean dried chili (my kimchi wasn’t very hot, just hot)
1 flat teaspoon grated or crushed garlic
1/2 flat teaspoon grated fresh ginger
chopped scallions (I used European chives instead)
salt (I used about 3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon glutinous rice flour
4 tablespoons fish sauce or (as advised by Hyosun Ro):
2 tablespoons finely minced saeujeot (salted shrimp)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 raw shrimp (ground)
Prepare the rice paste combining the rice flour with about 20 ml water. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens.
Sprinkle the radish cubes with salt and leave them for 30-40 minutes. They will soften and let release some water.
Drain them, but do not wash.
Put the radishes into a big container (with a lid) and combine well with the remaining ingredients.
Taste and if you think it’s not salty enough, add some fish sauce (Hyosun Ro says it should be just a bit too salty).
Cover with the lid, press with your hands (wear gloves!) to remove the air from between the radish cubes and leave for 2 days to ferment in room temperature.
Put into the fridge after two days or more. Mine tasted better (and lost its bitterness) after the third day of fermentation at room temperature. 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 (Hyosun Ro says it requires two weeks to develop the best flavours).
You can keep kimchi in the fridge for several weeks.