Thursday, 6 December 2012

Kimchi Gangnam style

Korean food has turned from an upcoming food trend to having actually arrived, even my local Tesco now has a section devoted to it. My first Korean meal, two decades ago, was, bizarrely, in Ecuador. And while Korean food is predominantly meat-based, my enduring memory of the meal was the delicious kimchi, or fermented spicy cabbage.
Fermented foods are very good for the health, and Koreans do love a pickle. They put kimchi in everything, soups, broths, on rice and ramen. Any vegetables packed and seasoned with salt are called kimchi, whereas soy pickled vegetables are called jjang achi. The most well known kimchi is baechu, made with Chinese leaves, but there are usually a selection of pickles in a typical Banchan bar to accompany the Korean meal. Today I made cabbage, baechu, kimchi and cucumber and daikon kimchi.

Both are easy and quick, the basic ingredient, a Korean ground hot pepper is now easily obtainable in the UK. Traditionally the longer the kimchi has been fermented, the better tasting and the better for your health. I'm looking for a suitable clay pot in order to bury a batch in my garden over the winter. The frost will break it down even more. Burying food in the ground over winter is a traditional method of preservation in many cultures: think of gravad lax in Scandinavian food; bog butter in Celtic cuisine, burying cabbage by Appalachian homesteaders and a general fear of the apocalypse by some survivalists in Florida!
The expert on fermented foods is Sandor Ellix Katz, or as he is known on Twitter @sandorkraut. The food programme has interviewed him and I've recommended his book Wild Fermentation in the bibliography of my book. I've been mucking about with fermented foods, inspired by his book, for a few years now. I made sauerkraut which is like a Western version of kimchi. Forget the sauerkraut you buy in shops, homemade is the thing.
You can even feed the excess fermented juice to your plants, it's a similar concept to Bokashi composting.

Recipe for Baechu Kimchi

2 heads of Chinese Leaves
2 litres of cold water
200 g of coarse sea salt
15g of finely chopped garlic
15g of finely minced ginger (I keep a stick in the freezer and grate it directly with a microplane)
75g Gochugaru Korean red chilli, ground. (You can order this from
30g caster sugar
5 spring onions, chopped into 5mm slices

In a food grade plastic container or other non reactive container, mix the seasalt with the water.
I separated the leaves of the cabbage and placed them in the container. You could also put the whole heads in. Make sure it's submerged, put a plate over the top and a glass jar filled with water.
I soaked the cabbage for 24 hours, so it was soft and pliable. (When you make sauerkraut, you 'punch' the cabbage to soften it).
Then draining the cabbage from the salt water, rinse it and squeeze it dry.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, ginger, chilli and sugar in a food processor.
Chop the spring onion.
I then placed the cabbage back into the plastic container in layers.
Onto each layer I spread the chilli mix and some spring onions.
I continued until I had used up all the cabbage.
Then I packed the seasoned cabbage, rolling it up, into a glass Le Parfait jar.
Let it ferment in a cool place for 3 days before eating.
If you want to try fermenting it for longer, check it every few days to make sure it isn't building up too much gas in the jar. Just open the top of the jar a little.

Recipe for Cucumber and Daikon kimchi

1 litre or so of cold water
5 cucumbers, peeled, cut into thirds.
40g sea salt
4 cloves of garlic, minced
75g of Gochugaru Korean chilli
5 spring onions or Asian chives, cut into 5mm pieces
1 Daikon, peeled and grated
30g caster sugar
Optional: you could also add toasted sesame seeds either into the pickle or last minute, as it's served.

Dissolve the seasalt in the water.
Take the thirds of cucumber and quarter them lengthways, taking care not to cut down to the bottom.
Submerge the cucumbers into the salty water and leave to soak for an hour.
Grate the daikon and cut the spring onions.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, chilli, sugar.
Then drain the cucumbers, reserving the brine and fill the split end with the chilli mixture.
In a sterilised glass container such as a Le Parfait jar, place each filled cucumber upright.
You can probably squeeze in 3 per layer. Feel free with both these recipes to squeeze them right in as the vegetables compress and later there is more room in the jar.
Between each layer dump a bunch of the grated daikon radish.
Keep filling all the jars, I filled 3 x 1 litre jars.
At the end, if the cucumbers are not submerged, add some of the briney water to each jar so that the cucumbers are covered.
Leave to ferment for a couple of days.
Afterwards keep in the fridge.


  1. I love kimchi! I love fermenting and pickling my own vegetables anyway, but kimchi is a big big one for me. A tip is to make a spice paste with rice flour, that coats the vegetables better. Take a lok here if you like:

    anyway looks stunnnig and great for xmas gifts too (:

  2. Ah I'm glad you included a link to Sous Chef for Gochugaru, I've been looking for that stuff for ages. Bit pricey for a spice, hope it's worth you reckon it makes a huge diff to the finished product, or have you always made it with Gochugaru so you wouldn't know? I've always used a bit of chili powder and a bit of paprika as a sub.

  3. Sounds delicious, might give that a try

  4. I've never been a fan of pickled cabbage or beetroot - but I adore pickling cucumber and ginger together. I haven't done this in such a long time - you've inspired me!

  5. A sharp knife: I do think it makes a difference to the flavour using the proper stuff. You can make do with other chilli, but the Korean chilli has a certain smell to it.
    Shipscook: let me know how it goes

    Lianne: I love all pickles! Zero calories too

  6. A sharp knife: I do think it makes a difference to the flavour using the proper stuff. You can make do with other chilli, but the Korean chilli has a certain smell to it.
    Shipscook: let me know how it goes

    Lianne: I love all pickles! Zero calories too

  7. Fantastic post - I made tried making kimchee some years ago with reasonably successful results. After reading this, I've got the urge to have another go!

  8. love the blog! we've just started, so much fun :)

  9. I love kimchi, and I'm looking forward to making more in the new year. The rice flour does make the kimchi juice coat the vegetables a bit more. All the recipes I've seen use fish sauce or dried shrimp too. I'm too scared to use raw oysters that some use though.

    I think it's pretty important to use the korean chilli powder - to get that redness and the correct level of heat.

  10. I've just tasted it, it having fermented for a mere 10 days, god it's lovely.
    I did put fish sauce in the cabbage actually but thought I'd leave it out for vegetarians.
    It's totally addictive isn't it Lizzie?
    The koreans are convinced that their economic recovery after World War II is done to Kimchi. Maybe that's what we need to do to avoid the triple dip next year?


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