Kimchee with Variations: Might Work, Might Not

Spicy, sometimes hot, infinitely variable, easy to make (but requires a lot of patience), kimchee is a quintessential Korean accompaniment OR main dish OR topping OR condiment OR whatever you like. I'm not Korean, and I don't play one on TV, but I love HOT kimchee. Unfortunately, the versions you find in stores in the US that are labeled "hot" are usually mediocre at best. This is my version. It works, but it probably has a lot to do with the environmental conditions it's made in. I've made sauerkraut before, and it can go bad; this is another of those fermented vegetable recipes. While it's brewing, it'll smell strong, but not horrendous .

You'll probably adjust the salt and seasonings after the first attempt. Unless it spoils, even if the first attempt is salty or too hot, you can probably rinse it before using and still get a tasty condiment out of it. This is the last version I made. It's hot, slightly salty, gives a horrible case of bad breath, and you can't stop eating it. The recipe below is only one version of this venerable dish. This one's good; it's probably not authentic, and it's not the only version.

You need a really large covered casserole, or preferably a crock or one of those (clean) candy/apothecary jars. Basically, something that would hold about 2 gallons.

Cut cabbages in quarters lengthwise. Slice these quarters in half. Chop off stem ends, loosen the leaves. Slice daikon (or regular radishes if you must) in long thin strips (about 1/8 inch). Mix water and salt, stir until salt is dissolved. Hot water works best. Soak the cabbage/radish in the brine for 12 hours, give or take, until cabbage is wilted. You'll have to press the vegetables down often since the bastards float. Drain and reserve liquid.

·         use rinsed FRESH (not packed in brine) grape leaves instead of cabbage (optional)

·         add 1 cup slivered cucumber to regular recipe (optional)

·         add rinsed Thai pepper stems (with peppers) (optional)

·         add 1 cup sliced (1/2") bok choy

Mix these ingredients (i.e. all but the cabbage/radish/water/salt) in a bowl. After you've waited for 12 or so hours and drained the brine, mix this stuff in well with the cabbage. Press down well; add enough of the reserved liquid to cover. Press down again (and again and again). You should have a vegetable glop.

Cover in the crock/big dish/big bowl/whatever. If any vegetation floats, press it down when you notice it. Store in a warm area, preferably dark. Press the stuff down if you need to. After about 2 days, look at the mix (first) and then sniff (second). If it looks like a giant moldy blob is growing on the top, THROW IT AWAY!. If not, sniff. It should smell earthy, slightly sour, and...well, like kimchee. At 3 days, taste. When fermentation is done, it will be (1) salty and (2) acidic (from the lactic acid production during the fermentation).

Sometime after 3-5 days, it should be ready. When it tastes good, remove the vegetable part (after mixing well) and pack in jars; add some of the liquid to cover. Refrigerate. You can keep the leftover liquid to add to soups, stocks, sauces, or you can be brave and drink it.

I've made this with pepper leaves (replacing 1/2 of the cabbage), cucumbers (replacing 1/2 of the cabbage), regular cabbage, spinach, and grape leaves. All are good, and all taste different. If you have a different version, please send to the address below.

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