2-3 Napa cabbages, say 1000g
100g sea salt or similar
Several litres of pure water
Teaspoon or so of grated fresh root ginger
6-10 cloves fresh garlic
Wee teaspoon of sugar
Gochugaru, spicy chillis, oriental, up to five tablespoonsful
Optional maritime flavouring
Small bunch of scallions
250g daikon, Korean radish
Marty tells me Koreans eat Kimchi at every meal and have the world’s greatest longevity of life. These two facts are clearly linked but, as he described it to me, I was thinking “Is it worth it?”, for it seemed to be simply pickled cabbage.
Somehow I was persuaded to try it. Well I like home made produce – as a philosophy. You know, I’ve been a cook since I was a wee kid. My curries were legend, and I also cooked risottos, soups, cakes, bread and more. My granny used to make wonderful fudge, so I learned that and progressed to other sweetmeats and jams from home grown fruits like blackcurrants and raspberries. I even made mango chutney once or twice.
Never, though, had I pickled a cabbage. Yeah, I had got over school cabbage, where the vegetable had all life or resemblance to food, removed from it by the devil’s own cooks, who would shred it small then boil it for hours until it resembled some kind of a paste, maybe to hang wallpaper with. Tasted like that, too, the one time I dared to try it.
But I learned to minimally cook cabbages of many types then anoint them with butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper as a very decent addition to any meal. But the idea of pickling the cabbage carried with it a dread, firmly rooted in that early taste of the institutional treatment of this noble vegetable.
OK, but I like and respect Marty, and love home made, so a few weeks ago I thought “What the heck, I’ll give it a go”.
As an omen, maybe, my local supermarket said “What a brilliant idea” and sold me four of the required napa cabbage super cheap, at nine pence each. The recipe I’d printed said “Napa” cabbage – my Wiki translated it to the Chinese cabbages I knew and usually disregarded as being a specialist, prone to wilt and/or rot variety, without much flavour or other zing. Yeah, I’d used it once or twice in “stir-fries” but have no real affinity for the plant.
But I got them, as specified. Also much of the other ingredients although I found no daikon, Korean radish, and goshugaru remained a mystery. I was actually struggling with this one. “Well, I could go to Carmen’s” I thought, thinking of the whimsical Chinese and all foods East mini-supermarket a few miles away. Thing is, I had in mind yoghurts and kombothcha and other fermented foods – they all require a starter to introduce the culture to your brew.
Except elderflower champagne, I thought. This fantastic summertime drink I’d stumbled upon quite early on, as well. “You take maybe ten heads of elderflower and soak them in previously sterilised by boiling water with sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Then, after a day or two, you bottle it and leave it for two weeks. As you unscrew the cap take care – there may well be an energetic spurt of the pop out of said bottle. Enjoy what you can get into the glass!” I’d once used cheap plastic, former spring water containers which simply bulged and, yes, one exploded very loudly.
Careful reading indicated that gochugaru was flavouring not ferment. In fact it sounded interesting and potentially spicy – Korean red pepper flakes. Added by the tablespoonful. Up to five per cabbage. I had a brainwave to use a jarful of an extreme, chunky, Chinese chilli sauce.
First task was to dismember the cabbages. I used three and did as I was told, cutting them into five centimetre strips and throwing out the “cores”. The leaf so filled a circular, ten litre bowl. Still being very obedient, albeit totally disbelieving, I MASSAGED about fifty grams of Himalayan pink salt into the shredded leaves “until it starts to soften a bit” and then filled the bowl with [cheap] bottled water, to cover the leaf. Bottled as “chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation”. If no bottled available then you could boil it to release the chlorine and allow the liquid to cool, then use that. I should tell you about potent stone age beer at this point, which used a similar technique, but I’ll resist the temptation! It’s an extension of the elderflower champagne story, anyways….
“Put a plate on top and weigh it down with something heavy”. OK, cool, and I left it for four or five hours rather than the “one or two” suggested, before rinsing and draining the leaves thoroughly – “three times” and also in bottled/chlorine free water.
To my jar of chilli paste I added grated fresh ginger and chopped garlic and a teaspoon of sugar. The recipe adds “seafood flavour” – the taste of “umani”, being shrimp, oyster or even, for vegetarians, kelp. But, hey, I had no expectation of success and so was happy to omit this. I also gave up looking for the radish but did add a dozen “scallions” – spring onions – chopped into one centimetre pieces.
A bit like making bread, this paste was then kneaded into the salted and rinsed leaf but only after “gently” squeezing the “remaining water”/life out of said brassica. “Come on now” thought I “I said I’d do this, so I must stick to the program”. Frankly, this was the low point in the operation. “Well, at least I’ve not lost much except an afternoon. And its all experience” I ended, philosophical, as ever!
Good luck came here, maybe. There was a fair amount of the mixture produced and I found it nearly filled a large sandwich box, about three or four liters capacity, leaving a couple of centimetres “headspace” above it when I clipped the lid on to seal it in.
Then simply “Leave the jar to stand at room temperature for 1 to 5 days”. I now had a new “faith thing” to stay with. Each day I stirred it with a wooden spoon, pressed it flat again, wondered at how little free liquid there was, resealed the lid and put it back on the top shelf in the cupboard.
The final line of the recipe read:
“When the Kimchi tastes ripe enough for your liking transfer the jar to the refrigerator. You may eat it right away, but its best after another week or so”.
In truth, I was scared. Was it toxic? Could I even make myself taste it? What should it be like, anyway? Would it, like, go off or what might happen?
Well, I tried a bit. It was rather nice. Savoury, smooth but with a pleasing chilliness and a hint of ginger. Together with a softly nutty and mildly moreish back taste.
Next day I had a bit more and put some in an omelette. Both were good and the pot now lives in the fridge, getting tastier every day. Yesterday I bought two fresh napa and two fresh jars of Chopped Chinese and Very Spicy Marinaded Chillis. That’s right. I’m hooked!
April 1st, 2017 – but guaranteed not a joke!