Portion/Yield:Makes 2 x 250g jars
You might think that I have gone slightly off the rails with this recipe. It’s not British and there is nothing local about it. Correct on both counts. As previously explained though, I am not blind to food trends and I’m definitely not blind to other cultures. After all, the British people are a well-travelled bunch and live in a multicultural society in the United Kingdom.
Kimchi is a fermented spicy Korean vegetable side dish. Fermented foods are trending at the moment and you can find something of the fermented nature on many trendy restaurant menus, from tea to vegetables of all sorts. If you think about it, to make yogurt, a fermentation process is used, and we consume vast amounts of yogurt each day.
It’s claimed that fermented foods, including yogurt and fermented vegetables, help to treat anxiety and are good for your digestive system as the live bacteria help to restore the correct balance of bacteria in your gut.
I like this kimchi. The piquant nature of the Korean red pepper flakes gives it a fiery kick, plus the beauty of this recipe is that you can manage the strength to your liking. I have followed a very traditional style by using Chinese cabbage (also known as Chinese leaves), carrots and spring onions, but you can use vegetable combinations of your choice to make the recipe your own. I serve it as an accompaniment at barbecues. It’s also great used in cooking. I mix a few tablespoons of kimchi with flaked roasted duck, wrap it in puff or filo pastry to make individual parcels, then bake these delicious little morsels to serve at drinks parties.
I have also previously made sauerkraut, which is fermented white cabbage made using a very similar method, without the fish sauce and spicy red pepper flakes, but the principle methods of fermentation are all the same. I’m now a keen enthusiast, making my own yogurt, both sweet and savoury versions. It’s all about controlling the live cultures and the environment, plus, most importantly, providing a bit of heat and no drafts. Summer is the best time for attempting recipes that require the fermentation process, as during the winter it proves to be a bit more difficult due to the cooler temperatures.
Ingredients & Method
- 1 Chinese cabbage
- 1 red pepper
- 1 large carrot
- 1 bunch of spring onions
- 2 tablespoons sea salt (use salt that does not contain iodine or anti-caking agents)
- 4 cloves garlic, halved
- 4cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
- 2–5 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes, to taste (if you prefer it very spicy, add 5; if you are wary of spice, then add 2)
Finely shred the Chinese cabbage, remove the seeds from the red pepper and slice it, peel and julienne the carrot and slice the spring onions into 2cm-long pieces. Place them all in a large bowl with the salt, toss to mix, then place a plate on top and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours to draw out the water in the vegetables and create a brine.
In the meantime, make the kimchi paste. Using a pestle and mortar, pound together the garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce and red pepper flakes to form a paste.
Add the kimchi paste to the vegetables and brine in the bowl, then mix well – I wear disposable gloves to do this and use my hands for mixing. Pack the mixture into 2 sterilised jam jars, making sure the vegetables are covered with the brine, but don’t overfill the jars as you need to leave a bit of a gap for the fermentation process to take place. Place the lids on the jars, twisting until tightly sealed, then undo each 1½ turns. This is because as the mixture starts to ferment it gives off gases, and if the lids are too tight, then it may cause the jars to explode. There needs to be some room within the jars for the gases to move about and escape as they form.
Put the jars on a tray or in a plastic container (if the fermentation is lively and it ‘bubbles’, then any spillage is contained) and place in a dark, draft-free part of your kitchen or utility room for a week. You will be able to see the fermentation bubbles forming on the side of each jar; the longer you leave the product to ferment, the stronger the flavour becomes (a lighter fermentation can be achieved after 2 or 3 days, if you prefer, but the kimchi will not then keep for as long once opened; personally, I would recommend fermenting the mixture for the full 7 days, then storing as detailed below). Also, the warmer the atmospheric temperature, the faster the fermentation process, so during the winter, this could take longer unless your kitchen is the same temperature all year round. To stop the fermentation process, simply place the jars in the fridge, therefore, once the mixture has been left to ferment for a week, transfer the jars to the fridge.
Once fermented, the kimchi is ready to eat. It will keep, unopened, for up to 3 months in the fridge. Once opened, keep refrigerated and use within a week.
I serve kimchi with barbecued pork ribs or in burger baps with succulent pulled pork shoulder. Alternatively, stir a few spoonfuls into flaked cooked duck meat to make a filling for mini pie parcels to serve as canapés.