Mention Korean cuisine and almost everyone will think of one dish: kimchi.
Yes, Kimchi is probably Korea’s best known food, and for good reason: kimchi is a part of almost every Korean meal. Despite a reputation for being spicy (and a little, shall we say, “aromatic”), it’s very easy to develop a taste for it. Once you’ve gotten hooked, it’s hard to do without.
Kimchi (also frequently spelled “kim chee”), is a traditional fermented Korean dish, typically made of vegetables such as cabbage, daikon, green onion or cucumber. If the thought of eating fermented food makes you uneasy, don’t worry. Fermenting foods has been a traditional method of food preservation in almost every culture for a very, very long time. Think of kimchi as the Korean version of sauerkraut or old-fashioned crock pickles.
While Kimchi is known to have existed for at least 3,000 years, this side dish of fermented vegetables continues to be an essential part of contemporary Korean cuisine. Early kimchi dishes were much simpler, consisting mainly of cabbage and stock. Red chili pepper, now the main ingredient used to add flavor and heat to most varieties of kimchi, was added some time after 1500 when it was first introduced from the Americas via Japan.
These days, more than two hundred varieties of historic and modern kimchi have been documented. All types of kimchi boast a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and proteins created by the fermentation of cabbage, other vegetables, spices and seafood.
Before the invention of mechanical refrigeration, different types of kimchi were made seasonally throughout the year, based on which vegetables were in season and to take advantage of hot or cool weather. Even today with modern conveniences, most Koreans still prefer to follow tradition when it comes to seasonal preferences for kimchi.
Traditionally, the greatest variety of kimchi were made for consumption during the long, cold winter months. In late autumn, many types of kimchi were prepared for underground storage in large earthenware pots. This storage method is likely the source of Westerner’s belief that kimchi is buried in the ground for six months.
Kimchi is widely considered to be a very healthful food, as it is primarily made from vegetables, is high in fiber and low in calories. According to some sources, one serving also provides up to 80% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and carotene. In addition, most types of kimchi contain onions, garlic, and peppers, all of which contain natural compounds that are believed to promote good health. Kimchi is rich in vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron and contains a number of bacteria that are beneficial to healthy digestion.
- 3 lb turnips
- 1 Tbsp coarse salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 5 Tbsp Korean chili powder
- 1 tsp crushed chili flakes (or to taste)
- 1/2 oz chili threads (optional)
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed & coarsely chopped
- 6 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Peel the turnips and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Place in a bowl and toss with the coarse salt until well-coated. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a non-reactive colander and drain well.
Combine all remaining ingredients with the salted & drained turnip cubes and mix gently, but thoroughly. Place the kimchi mixture into a large, clean jar and gently push down with the handle of a wooden spoon. Cover tightly and allow to stand at room temperature for at least 2 days. Refrigerate for about 2 weeks to allow the kimchi to continue to ferment slowly. While you can eat most varieties of kimchi immediately, turnip kimchi is at it’s best if allowed to ferment fully before eating. Remember, the longer it ages, the more tangy and sour it will become.
Hint: Good fermentation is the key to successful kimchi. You can jumpstart a strong fermentation by adding a little whey, the clear liquid that forms on the surface of yogurt. Make sure it’s a “live culture” (or homemade) yogurt – the whey will be chock-full of Lactobacillus, the beneficial bacteria that is responsible for the fermentation of milk into yogurt. This same bacteria will promote a vigorous fermentation in your kimchi!
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
For even more news, information and recipes, sign up for the free Earthy Delights email newsletter.