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How to Make Kimchi

As I ventured into traditional foods years ago, I happily experimented with the introductory basics such as homemade chicken broth, cultured yogurt, and basic lacto- fermented sauerkraut. These were flavors that I already knew and loved ... although preparing the foods in my own kitchen made them even more delicious to me!

But my first encounter with fermented Korean kimchi was more of an eye-opener. Wow, the colors were vibrant and the taste was so much more intense and peppery. I quickly grew to love this slightly pungent traditional fermented food.

These days, every new batch of kimchi that I prepare is slightly different from any other. Sometimes I include more of the hot daikon radish, sometimes more spicy chili powder. Cilantro is a nice addition. There are so many possibilities!

For your first venture into the exotic flavors of Korean cuisine, here is a simple recipe loaded with iconic kimchi flavor and those powerful probiotics.

Some notes on this Simple Kimchi recipe:
- I prefer to purchase organic produce when possible.
- Traditionally-prepared Kimchi sometimes includes a small amount of seafood such as shrimp or oysters. Instead, my recipe relies on a little bit of fish sauce to provide that awesome umami flavor.

Simple Kimchi

1 large Napa cabbage
2 Tablespoons unrefined salt (I like Celtic light grey sea salt)

1 bunch scallions (green onions), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and grated
1 small daikon radish, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled then minced or grated
1 teaspoon fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand)
1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper (I like Frontier brand)

Remove one of the outer leaves of the Napa cabbage and set aside. Then core the cabbage and cut into approximately 2-inch by 2-inch pieces.

Place cabbage pieces in a large bowl, sprinkle salt on the leaves, then toss to distribute well. Allow to rest 30 minutes as the salt pulls moisture from the cabbage.

Using clean hands or a wooden pounder, gently mash the cabbage leaves to further release juices.

Add in the remaining ingredients and combine well.

Transfer the kimchi mixture to a sterilized quart-sized wide-mouth jar, pressing down as you pack the jar so that more brine juices are released. Your goal is to fill the jar just up to 1-inch below the lip, allowing space for expansion.

Cut or fold the reserved outer leaf to fit on top of the mixture and press it down so that the brine is above the leaf. You may top with a glass fermenting weight to keep the mixture below the brine.

If your cabbage did not exude very much moisture, you may need to add a little filtered water to the finished product so that the brine is above the kimchi ingredients.

Seal the jar and place out of direct light. Allow to ferment for 3 to 21 days, occasionally opening the lid to release pressure, if needed, or to add/remove brine if the level is not maintained at 1-inch below the lip of the jar. You should see occasional tiny bubbles rising along the inner sides of the jar as the veggies begin to ferment. (Note: When I first began lacto-fermenting, I started with 3 days. Over time and as my confidence built, I allowed my ferments to go longer and now find that 21 days is preferred for flavor and texture.)

After 3 to 21 days, move the kimchi to cold storage. For me, in the Southeastern region of the US, that is the top shelf of the refrigerator. Serve with beef, chicken, pork, seafood or alongside rice or other vegetables. If you are new to fermented foods, start with very small portions and proceed slowly.

Troubleshooting:
- The ideal household temperature for vegetable lacto-fermentation is 72 degrees. Fermenting may occur more slowly at cooler temperatures and more quickly at warmer temperatures
- If you observe any white mold or fuzz forming on top of the kimchi, just scrap it away with a spoon. If the mold returns the next day, remove it again but watch closely in the coming days and consider discarding the batch. I have never had mold form on my ferments but would not risk it if I found mold recurring aggressively. Lacto-fermenting is considered to be a very safe technique for preserving foods but, when in doubt, throw it out.

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