My kimchi is ready! It finished fermenting and I packed it into jars: Now I’m having a hard time keeping out of it! The recipe comes from my friend Bonnie, who calls it “bomb-proof”—but even more compelling than that is the addictive, fresh flavor of the finished product.
Before I pass along the recipe, I want to give you some sense of its provenance. Bonnie’s brother Jim, who lives in Washington, D.C., sent the recipe to her about a decade ago. He created the recipe from instructions he got from two people: An octogenarian named Mr. Woo, who owned a dry cleaning shop and convenience store in Dupont Circle, and a friend’s wife, Sue, who is Korean.
Bonnie suggests we call it “Jim Woo Sue’s Kimchi,” or perhaps “Woo Sue Jim’s Kimchi,” for a more chronological lineage. Or, I suppose, “Woo Sue Jim Bonnie’s Kimchi,” since I got it from her!
And I’m grateful to her for sharing it with me!
I’ve amended a few details, not very important ones (for example, I prefer smaller chunks, so I’ve given a range of chopping sizes).
See the notes below the recipe for additional ideas.
Easy and Reliable Kimchi
3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Kosher salt (divided)
6 c. water
1 lg. head (approx. 2 lbs.) Napa cabbage, cut in ½–2 inch squares
6 green onions, slivered lengthwise, then cut in 1–2 inch lengths
1–2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger (see note below)
2 T Korean ground dried hot red pepper (see note below)
3–4 minced garlic cloves (I use a garlic press)
1 tsp. sugar
1. Dissolve 3 tbsp. salt in water to make a brine. Put the cabbage in a large glass bowl and pour the brine over it. Weigh the cabbage down with a heavy plate or glass pie pan (or similar nonreactive object). Let it stand (at room temperature) for 12 hours.
2. Drain the cabbage, reserving the brine. Mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients, including the remaining 1 tsp. salt. Pack the mixture into a 2-quart jar (or two 1-quart jars) (wide-mouth jars are a good idea). Pour enough reserved brine over the mix to cover it. Push a freezer bag into the mouth of the jar and pour remaining brine (or fresh water) into the bag to seal it. Set the jar(s) in a Pyrex baking dish (or similar nonreactive tray) to catch any brine that might bubble out. Let it ferment in a cool place (less than or equal to 68 degrees F) for 3 to 6 days, or until it’s as sour as you like.
3. Remove the brine bag and cap the jar(s) tightly. Store it in the fridge, where it will keep for months.
What do I eat it with? Bonnie says this pairs well with foods that are spicy, smoky, or rich, such as barbecue, chili, smoked fish, canned tuna, and so on. Basically, think of this as another kind of pickle or relish to enjoy. Plus, of course it goes well with Korean foods!
Minced fresh ginger. Asian recipes got a whole lot easier for me when I started batch-processing fresh ginger ahead of time and freezing it flat in a thin layer in a freezer zip bag. I described the process when I told you about a cantaloupe sorbet recipe.
Dried hot red pepper. The recipe calls for the Korean kind, but I used a combination of “regular” crushed red chili flakes and Indian ground red chilis. You must use your best judgment, based on your own heat preference and how hot your dried chilis are. (You can always add some chili and make it hotter, but it’s hard to do the reverse.)
Alternate veggies. Bonnie says this recipe works with lots of different kinds of cole and root vegetables. I’ll bet thin-sliced bok choi, turnips, or cucumbers would be good variations.
On a grilled cheese sandwich. Bonnie loves to caramelize the kimchi and put it on a grilled cheese sandwich. She caramelizes it by chopping ¼ cup of the kimchi rather finely and mixing it with 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. rice wine (I think mirin would do nicely), and 1 tsp. soy sauce. Then, she heats a little oil in a skillet and cooks the mixture until it bubbles.