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Let’s talk Kimchi, shall we? Once a somewhat pungent condiment known only by Koreans and those with adventurous palates, the fermented cabbage dish is now hipper than a toque-topped bearded man in skinny jeans and a surfboart shirt.

This is good news, because we’re finally catching on to the secret Koreans have known for centuries: kimchi is one of the most incredible foods you’ll ever eat. What other food can boast a national museum and a scientific institute devoted to its health and flavour benefits?

Thankfully you don’t need a PhD in Kimchiology (yeah, we made that up) to start enjoying it. Simply head to your nearest Korean grocer, where it’s always available in several varieties, or better yet, find a Korean ajumma (loosely translated this means married woman, but the term implies a certain level of domestic know-how) to teach you how to whip it up yourself. Koreans are fiercely proud of their kimchi tradition, and experience has taught us that flattery and a genuine appreciation for Korean food is all it takes to unlock the secrets to good homemade kimchi (or at the very least, you’ll score a batch to take home).

But if you don’t have an ajumma nearby, or just want to get started right away, we’ve got you covered.

This recipe, reprinted with permission from Fermented Foods for Health, is an excellent choice if you happen to live far from a Korean grocery store and can’t score the traditional ingredients. To make it more authentic, substitute the chili pepper with 1/2 – 1 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder).

Sizes vary greatly, but aim to buy around 6 pounds of Nappa cabbage and 1 pound of daikon. Carrots are optional, but they add a nice sweetness.

While it’s true that kimchi can last indefinitely, the leaves tend to wilt and sour over time. If you find your kimchi has aged into a flavour that’s too strong for your tastes, consider using it in one of the recipes below. This recipe suggests storing kimchi in a cool pantry or basement, but once it’s fermented, we prefer to store ours in the fridge.

Probiotic-Rich Radish Kimchi

2 heads Napa cabbage, quartered

Basic brine, for soaking*

2 daikon radishes, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

1 Asian pear, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

5 carrots, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

5 or 6 scallions, sliced

2 inch (5 cm)-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 head garlic, or 12 medium cloves garlic, chopped

1⁄4 cup (60 ml) fish sauce

1⁄2 cup (260 g) chili paste, or to taste

1⁄4 cup (72 g) fine sea salt

*To make basic brine, combine 6 tablespoons (108 g) fine sea salt, or 9 (162 g) tablespoons coarse sea salt with 2 quarts (2 L) filtered or purified water.

Dissolve the salt in a few cups of warm water over heat, then add cold water to make the full 2 quarts. Otherwise, you can make the brine in advance and store it in a glass jar with an airtight lid in the refrigerator.

Wash the cabbage leaves and let them soak overnight in enough brine to cover. Once soaked, discard the soaking liquid.

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the radishes, pear, carrots, scallions, ginger, garlic, fish sauce and chili paste. Add the salt to the mixture and combine well. Place the salted mixture, handful by handful, into a large fermentation jar or crock, pounding vigorously after each addition. Liquid will seep from the vegetables. The extracted water should cover the vegetables entirely. If not, add brine to cover. Be sure the level of the liquid stays 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the jar rim to allow for expansion. Press the vegetables down and keep them under the brine by placing a plate or a lid on top, weighted down by a clean rock or resealable plastic bag filled with water.

Leave the fermentation jar in a warm, dark spot in your kitchen to ferment for 5 to 7 days. Check on it periodically to ensure that the brine covers the vegetables. If fruit flies become a problem, cover the jar with a clean towel. It is ready when you are satisfied with the taste. Screw the lid on tightly and transfer it to a cool storage area such as your pantry, basement or root cellar, where it will continue to ferment. Keeps indefinitely.

Yield: 1 quart (946 ml)

Note: You can shake up your mornings by adding this kimchi to scrambled eggs, or top it over steamed or fried rice. It’s also great in a wrap with mixed greens and meats.

Recipe adapted and reprinted with permission from Fermented Foods for Health, Fair Winds Press, June 2013.

Not sure what to do with your kimchi? It’s delicious on its own and is a natural accompaniment to any Korean dish, but kimchi is also a tasty addition to Mexican-Korean fusion dishes, fried rice and a simple, spicy soup. Here are 10 more amazing kimchi-rific ideas to spice up your life.

 

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