I recently ventured to Ithaca Tofu, rumored to be the best Asian foods store in town. My, what glory! I would have spent hours trying to read the mysterious characters and marvel at the packaged oddities if the owners didn’t egg me on fast by shutting the lights off. It was, after all, quarter to nine.My cart was already loaded with mochi, buckwheat noodles, sauces, and seaweed snacks, which had all distracted me from my original purpose.

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I smiled sweetly the man and woman behind the register to help me find the right ingredients for “kimchi.” This word was my golden ticket – suddenly, there was no rush to leave. We spent the next twenty minutes meandering through the aisles, trying to discern an ancient recipe in foreign tongues. Their English was null, and though I never learned where they were from, it was not Korea (despite their love for the nation’s most celebrated fermented vegetable). We used hand signals to show how the cabbage must first be halved and then soaked in a brine, with vigorous shaking of the salt bag and a bottle of water. They suggested a pinch of MSG, but I opted to pass along with the tiny shrimp, that really add the pungent flavor kimchi is known for. I think the fish sauce suffices.

My recipe includes both the traditional method for making kimchi, and an updated version that is faster and slightly less labor intensive. And as always, a fermentation recipe is never complete without advising you check out Sandor Katz’s masterful literature and online recipes covering this age-old art.

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How to Make Homemade Kimchi

You can play with the flavor of your kimchi by adding more or less of all the seasonings. My friend Sarah also taught me that I can add other vegetables to the mix, like shredded carrots, turnips and beets. I use this brine ratio: 1 cup water to 1 tablespoon kosher salt.

Ingredients

  • Salt Brine:
  • Water - 5 cups
  • Kosher salt - 5 tablespoons
  • Kimchi:
  • Napa cabbage - 1 large head
  • Garlic - 4 large cloves, minced
  • Fresh ginger root - 1 inch, minced
  • Green onions (optional) - 1 bunch, minced
  • Korean red pepper - 2 tablespoons Korean red pepper
  • Light soy sauce - 1/3 cup
  • Fish sauce - 1 teaspoon

Instructions

  1. Traditional Method:
  2. Begin by preparing your brine. In a large pitcher or bowl, dissolve the salt in the water. You may need more brine depending on the size of your cabbage, but keep in mind that the cabbage will also release water as you press it down.
  3. Cut the cabbage in half and in a large bowl submerge it in the brine for up to three hours, or better, overnight.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare your seasoning. Mix together the garlic, ginger, green onion, pepper, soy sauce and fish sauce in a bowl. It will form a thick paste.
  5. Remove the cabbage and shake off the excess water. Save the brine for topping off your kimchi if needed.
  6. In between each layer of cabbage, spread a layer of sauce. Cover, and let the cabbage sit overnight.
  7. In the morning, slice the cabbage coarsely and pack it into sterilized wide-mouth glass jars. You really want to pack the kimchi down so that it begins to release its own juices. The liquid should come above the surface of the vegetables. You want them to be submerged to keep out bad bacteria. If you need more liquid, add some of the reserve bring from soaking the cabbage.
  8. Place something heavy on the surface of the kimchi. I usually fill water in a small jar that fits in the mouth of the kimchi jar. Cover your contraption with a bandana, t-shirt or cheesecloth and seal around the mouth of the jar with a rubber band. This will allow the kimchi to breathe and ferment, without fruit flies pestering your gold. You can let it sit for a couple of days or up to two weeks. Begin tasting it after three days - when it's to your liking, put it in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation.
  9. Modern Method:
  10. Begin by preparing your brine. In a large pitcher or bowl, dissolve the salt in the water. You may need more brine depending on the size of your cabbage, but keep in mind that the cabbage will also release water as you press it down.
  11. Shred or coarsely chop the cabbage and any other veggies you are adding to your kimchi.
  12. In a large bowl, submerge the shredded vegetables in the brine for up to three hours, or better, overnight. Weigh down with a plate. I put a ziplock bag or large jar filled with water on top of the plate to really press the vegetables and encourage them to release their own juices and begin the fermentation process.
  13. Drain the vegetables and transfer them back to the bowl.
  14. Prepare your seasoning. Mix together the garlic, ginger, green onion, pepper, soy sauce and fish sauce in a bowl. It will form a thick paste.
  15. Mix the vegetables with the seasoning and pack them into wide-mouth glass jars. You really want to pack the kimchi down so that it begins to release its own juices.pack the kimchi into jars. The liquid should come above the surface of the vegetables. You want them to be submerged to keep out bad bacteria. If you need more liquid, add some of the reserve bring from soaking the cabbage.
  16. Place something heavy on the surface of the kimchi. I usually fill water in a small jar that fits in the mouth of the kimchi jar. Cover your contraption with a bandana, t-shirt or cheesecloth and seal around the mouth of the jar with a rubber band. This will allow the kimchi to breathe and ferment, without fruit flies pestering your gold. You can let it sit for a couple of days or up to two weeks. Begin tasting it after three days - when it's to your liking, put it in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation.
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