Here we go! It took a while to cobble together all my ingredients, but in the end, here’s the final tally:
- 3/4 of a large head of napa cabbage, cored, wilted outer leaves removed, cut into 2 inch chunks
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled and cubed (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 long, skinny carrot, peeled and cubed (about 3/4 cup)
- about 6 cups of a 6% salt brine solution (specifically, I dissolved 121 g of fine kosher salt into 2018 g water)
- 4 medium sized cloves garlic, roughly minced (about 1 heaping tbsp)
- 1 1/2 inch knob ginger, peeled and grated on a microplane
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp Mochiko sweet rice flour
- 2 tbsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
- 1 tbsp sweet pimenton
- 1 anaheim chile, de-stemmed and mostly seeded, thinly sliced
- 1 granny smith apple, peeled, julienned
- 4 scallions, white and tender green parts finely sliced
- 1/2 cup hijiki seaweed, rinsed
The first challenge was finding a non-reactive bowl (most of my mixing bowls are stainless steel) that was big enough to hold the vegetables. I decided to interpret “bowl” creatively and used my Le Creuset 5 Qt oven. From beginning to end, I was struck by just how beautiful the process of kimchi making is.
In went those lovely leaves of napa cabbage and bits of daikon radish and carrot. Some recipes advocated for grated root vegetables, but I thought these cubes would be a nice textural and visual contrast to the supple leaves. Next, enough brine to cover everything. I weighed this down with some heavy plates for a couple of hours until, by some alchemy of osmosis, the vegetables stayed submerged on their own. At this point I covered the pot with a lid and let this set out on the counter over night.
I was so excited to pull the cover off the pot the next morning, drain the vegetables (over a bowl, to save the brine) and find them bright and beautifully crisp. Despite Sandor Katz’s description in The Art of Fermentation and my research online, I still feared that such a long soak in the brine would leave me with cabbage, carrots and radish bits that were shriveled echoes of their former self. Instead, after a quick and thorough rinse, they tasted slightly salty, a little sweet and had a lovely crunch.
Next up, I mixed 2 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of Mochiko sweet rice flour (I couldn’t find this at any of the local markets I go to for exotic things, so I ordered online) in a small saucepan, heated it, stirring constantly, over low heat just until it thickened, and then set aside to cooled.
While waiting, I peeled and julienned my green apple, sliced my scallions and hot pepper, washed out the pot and added them in. I think my mood might be improved considerably if I could start every day invited to this delightful party of colors, flavors and textures.
Now for the fire! I mixed the garlic, ginger, gochugaru (also ordered online), pimenton, and about 4 tbsp of the rice flour mixture to come up with a ferocious (but actually delightfully complex and not too spicy) paste.
Remember, some of the vegetables are already quite salty and there’s also that extra brine, so don’t be alarmed if this does not taste salty at all – but do adjust for other flavors.
All in with the rinsed hijiki for a good mix. Every recipe I looked at for kimchi notes that clean hands are the best tool for this, and that’s because it’s true. I mixed for a little while to massage the paste into the cabbage leaves and to evenly distribute the vegetables.
Finally, I packed this into the large, super clean flip-top jar that I chose for a fermentation vessel (with an extra mason jar standing by just in case there was overflow). I pushed all the vegetables down into the brilliant red brine to make sure they were submerged and covered with a tiny bit of reserved brine for good measure. One hiccup – I tried to find a good method to weight this down for a few hours until the vegetables stayed submerged on their own. After a few disastrous attempts with glasses and jars of varying sizes, as well as a plastic zip top bag filled with water, I determined that I would just check every couple of hours and resubmerge the vegetables with my hands. Hopefully this works, but so far I have learned to seek out a wider mouthed, straighter sided vessel for my next experiment.