One of our favorite days in Korea was spent crowded in the living room of a co-worker’s relative, making kimchi with women we had just met. Sitting around a tarp arranged in the center of the room, we watched as huge containers of hot chili pepper paste, garlic, fermented juice, and various other ingredients were poured onto the tarp. After we mixed the ingredients with gloved hands, my husband and another man began carrying in the large buckets of napa cabbage, made heavy from soaking in brine the night before. We women began making the kimchi, taking cabbage halves and rubbing them with the spicy-garlicky mixture. When the carrying work was done and my husband tried to sit and coat cabbages, too, he was shooed away by the elderly women. Making kimchi, we were told, is “women’s work.”
We coated the last of the cabbage halves (500 in all) and packed them into kimchi containers three hours later. While washing up (we looked as though we had been slaughtering animals), I took a peek in the kitchen to see what was being prepared for our lunch. In addition to the boiled pork, cold radish soup, and fruit, I was surprised to find our host sitting on the floor preparing a small bowl of kimchi. As I watched her, my co-worker came and explained the process, noting the different amounts and ingredients used for “fresh” kimchi. Made in small batches, “fresh” or “quick” kimchi is usually made before unexpected dinners, when true, fermented kimchi isn’t on hand. At lunch, we filled our plates with second and third helpings of the mock kimchi, pleased that the flavors of ginger and sesame shined through more than the garlic and chili paste.
Upon opening my WWOOF CSA box this week and finding half of a head of cabbage, I decided to replicate the mock kimchi that we enjoyed over a year ago. Going on a tip, I soaked the cabbage in a warm brine for a short time before coating it in my own kimchi paste. Wanting a slightly sour, “alive” taste, I experimented with the addition of kombucha and loved the refreshing result. If you do not have kombucha, substitute a bit of apple cider vinegar or experiment with drinking vinegar. Because kimchi is made differently by each family, feel free to use this recipe as a baseline, adding or subtracting ingredients and amounts to suit your taste.
1/2 head of cabbage or 1 smaller head of cabbage
5-6 fresh hot chilies, stems removed, finely chopped (seeding is optional)
1-2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
1/2-3/4 cup kombucha
1 tablespoon fish or anchovy sauce
1 head garlic, minced
1-2 inch piece ginger, grated
3 tablespoons sesame oil
5 green onions, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
First, roughly chop the cabbage. Rinse the cabbage pieces well to remove any dirt, place them in a large bowl.
Heat enough water to cover the cabbage (5-7 cups water) in a pot over medium heat. When the water begins to simmer, add 2/3 cup salt and stir to dissolve. Turn off the heat and let the water cool a bit if needed. The water should be warm, not hot, so as not to cook the cabbage.
Pour the brine over the cabbage, making sure it is submerged. Because I used a thicker cabbage for kimchi-making instead of the traditional Napa cabbage, I soaked my cabbage for about 30 minutes, and turned the cabbage over mid-way through. If using Napa cabbage, your soaking time should be shorter, 10-15 minutes.
Carefully drain the cabbage of the brine and rinse it well.
In a small food processor, blend together the chilies, garlic, ginger, and fish/anchovy sauce. Pour the paste over the kimchi, followed by the kombucha and sesame oil. With gloved hands, mix the cabbage and ingredients well. Taste a small piece of the kimchi, and add more of any ingredient you feel is needed.
When the kimchi is to your liking, add the toasted sesame seeds and green onions, mixing well. For a simple but stunning dish, serve the mock kimchi over warm black rice and ginkgo nuts.