Home grown Kimchi

11 Jan

Mini wombok

Mini wombok cabbages are one of my favourite things to grow. They are quick to develop, taste delicious and store well in the fridge. Unfortunately they are also a magnet to slugs and other pests, so on Sunday I harvested the two I had growing, simply to save them from summer’s infestation.

I’m quite blessed to live amongst one of Sydney’s large Korean communities, because I love korean food. Recently I had a terrible craving for Japchae, which I satisfied by making several batches. I think my family eventually grew sick of it.

But my great korean-food love is kimchi. This is a spicy fermented cabbage mix, which usually also includes other vegetables like scallions/shallots/green onions and daikon radish. Sometimes it also includes carrot, seaweed or other vegetables.

You could say that Kimchi is to the koreans what Vegemite is to Australians, but that would be understating it. They say that the average South Korean eats 18 kilos per year. That’s about 50 grams per day. The Korean congregation of our church share a meal together every Sunday at lunchtime, and each week they haul in bags of the stuff, just for a single meal.

There is a real regional influence that affects kimchi recipes. I hear that if you travel over the country you will find wild variations, depending on regional influence and personal preference.

Korean people I have asked about making kimchi look daunted. They say it’s really difficult. I suspect that they have a very developed palate for the subtleties of kimchi flavour, and it isn’t actually that difficult to make something that comes close to the stuff I buy from the asian grocery, at least to my taste. I set out today to give it a go.

I followed the basic recipe for cabbage kimchi found in Sandor Ellix Katz’s fabulous book, Wild Fermentation. I cut up the cabbage coarsely and covered in a fairly strong brine solution, then covered and left it overnight.

The remaining ingredients were: A few cloves of garlic, chillis, onions, ginger and dried Korean red pepper powder. I bought the pepper powder and the ginger, but the rest was home-grown.

I sliced the onions, grated a few tablespoons of the ginger, chopped up the garlic, deseeded and chopped the chillis, then mixed them all together with a couple of tablespoons of the pepper powder and a splash of fish sauce.

I then drained the cabbage and tasted it, but concluded it was far too salty so I rinsed it thoroughly before adding it to the onion and chilli mix.

I stirred it all around thoroughly then packed it into a Fowlers #31 (850ml) jar. I should have used a #36, because the batch was a bit over a litre when well-packed.

Once pushed down, the juice covered the cabbage mix nicely. If it didn’t, then the recipe indicated to add some of the brine liquid back in to cover the mix. I leave it at room temperature for several days (probably up to a week).

Finished Kimchi - ready to ferment

I need to taste the batch and push down the cabbage every day until I’m satisfied with the level of fermentation. Then I’ll put it in the fridge.

Next time I hope to have learned a few lessons from this batch – primarily the level of spiciness to expect from the amount of chilli I add, and also how strong to make the brine solution. I also hope to have some daikon and green onions growing in the garden so the kimchi will be more authentic, and particularly so it will have some dark green bits throughout.

Have you tried kimchi? Do you love it as much as I do?

***Update*** Kimchi had good flavour, but was way too salty. Will try again with far less salt.

16 Responses to “Home grown Kimchi”

  1. Barbara January 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    We’re not Korean but we’ve
    travelled a lot there and I
    LOVE kimchi. I used to make
    it before it was easy to find
    in Adelaide but now I just
    buy it (fermenting it stank
    up our house too much!).
    I bought a book of kimchi
    recipes in Korea and there
    were a lot of really unusual
    ones made with things like
    ginseng. Did you know that
    there is a kimchi museaum
    in Seoul?

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 11, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

      Ooh- how exciting Barbara! I didn’t know about the museum – shamefully despite having many Korean friends I have never actually been to Korea. Thanks for the warning about the stench 🙂
      What did you use in your version? I know a lot of them have a seafood component, but that sounded a bit daunting.

      • Barbara January 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

        The seafood component was
        pickled anchovy but I
        couldn’t get it (there weren’t
        any Korean shops in Adelaide
        at the time – now there are lots!).
        I used fish sauce instead.
        Otherwise it was pretty much
        the same as yours. I love the
        radish kimchee and also one
        with stringy greeen vegetables.
        Oddly enough, when you get
        kimchi with your meal in Korea
        (or at least at the cheap places
        we ate at) you always get the
        cabbage one.

  2. Liz January 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    Much to my embarrassment I have to admit to never having knowingly tasted Kimchi but I have been meaning to attempt making it. Could you recommend a decent brand to buy first so I know roughly what I’m aiming for (and indeed if I like it enough to bother.)

  3. L from 500m2 in Sydney January 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Hmm, decent brand. Now I’m really going to show my ignorance and say that the ones in the Asian grocers all look much the same to me apart from the obvious differences ( with or without radish etc). I’ve always liked the ones I have bought, but maybe that’s because I live in an area with so many Korean people – high demand for good kimchi.

    Hopefully some other commenters might know.

  4. Kate January 11, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    We’ve been meaning to try Kimchi ever since hearing about it from some Korean WWOOFers. Maybe this winter when the cabbages are growing again. Thanks for the recipe.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      I can tell already that the brine was too salty. I just followed the recipe verbatim, which was a bad idea. I need to taste the brine before adding the cabbage – if it’s unpleasant, there’s too much salt. I’m going to try to rescue the batch by adding some radish to take up some salt, then removing it again. Might be a lost cause, but at least I’ve learned.

  5. L from 500m2 in Sydney January 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Thanks for the extra info Barbara. I used fish sauce too, but not sure how necessary it was because I didn’t use more than a dash. I’d been warned that it’s easy to overdo it. You mention green, stringy vegetables. Not sure exactly what you are referring to, but I reckon that samphire would be great in kimchi, and would give it a real Aussie spin 🙂

    • Barbara January 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      I thnk the green stringy veg
      was the stem from something-
      maybe chinese broccoli. The
      kimchee with it (I’ve just
      noticed I seem to spell it 2
      different ways – sorry!)
      always costs more at the
      Korean store – something
      exotic in it perhaps?

  6. Sarah January 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I like kimchee, and I miss the little noodle place near Chatswood station. You always get a tub of kimchee with your order. My other half hates it with a passion, so I never have to share it!

    Gochujang paste is still my favourite korean ingredient though – I use it more than miso paste!

  7. Asydfoodie January 15, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    From what I remember, each family has their own recipe. It also gets buried in the garden.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

      Burying my food in the garden may just push P over the edge. He may actually commit me.

  8. Mrs Bok January 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    I LOVE kim chi but I’ve never made it – seems too daunting! Good on you for giving it a go though and I love that most of it comes from your garden! Those Koreans at church will be clamouring for your homegrown kim chi soon 🙂

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      Hehe, Mrs Bok – they were on Sunday, but I’m too embarrassed to let them taste the first batch – I’ll wait till I’m more confident in the result.
      Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. Louise July 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Thanks so much for this. I love kimchi too. I have just made my first batch with a different recipe – very different… I will be interested to see how it goes.


  1. Harvest Monday – 16th January 2012 « 500m2 in Sydney - January 16, 2012

    […] 4 bird’s eye chillis – I used these in the kimchi […]

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