Some of you probably remember Cubed Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi 깍두기) I have written about a couple of weeks ago. This famous dish was easy, absolutely delicious and made me seriously hooked on the magic world of Korean fermentation. The Mak Kimchi you see above is another flavoursome experiment and certainly not the last one in my kimchi adventures.
For those who have never heard of kimchi, a quick reminder of what I have written in December. Kimchi (김치) is a preparation of fermented vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long history. According to Wikipedia the oldest references to kimchi 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, originating 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.
Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated 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 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.
Chinese (Napa) Cabbage is the most popular kimchi vegetable and the most versatile, since it is often added to hot dishes (fried rice, soups, noodles). I have once tried making it, but it was very disappointing and the procedure was more complicated than in the case of Radish Kimchi. I thought I would never make cabbage kimchi again, but thanks to Shu Han (from Mummy, I can cook!) I have discovered the existence of “mak kimchi”, meaning “easy kimchi” in Korean. While the classical cabbage kimchi (poggi kimchi) consists in seasoning and fermenting halved cabbages, mak kimchi (which I like to call “lazy kimchi”) is cut into small pieces before the fermentation process. This small step makes the seasonings’ distribution easier and accelerates the preparation process.
I have slightly modified Shu Han’s recipe, mainly changing the ingredients’ amounts and omitting the carrot I simply didn’t have. Nevertheless my three days old mak kimchi is already incredibly good, but since I prefer it more “mature” and stronger, it will be more to my taste in a a week’s time or so. Thank you, Shu Han for giving me this wonderful idea and for the easy, foolproof recipe! (Click here to see Shu Han’s original recipe with making-of photos.)
TIP: Wear gloves if you manipulate kimchi with your hands (apart from the smelly side there is lots of chili in it)
Preparation: 1 hour + minimum 2 days
1 small Chinese (Napa) cabbage (500 g)
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
2 flat tablespoons sweet (glutinous) rice flour
50 ml 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.
Cut up the cabbage into 3 cm more or less square pieces.
Sprinkle it with salt and leave for at least two hours. The cabbage will soften and let release some water.
Drain the cabbage and wash it.
Put it into a big container 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).
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 cabbage and leave for 2 days to ferment at 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. It is excellent added to rice dishes and soups.