I learned to make kimchi in Seoul Korea, where it is an all-day endeavor for women. This baechu (Napa cabbage) kimchi is vegan, which means that the base seasoning which replaces the ubiquitous fish sauce, is crucial to the recipe. For my base, I make a good strong shiitake mushroom and kelp concoction. The mushrooms give the kimchi a delicious pungent earthy flavor, while the kelp (kombu), a type of seaweed, gives a hint of the sea, therefore making it a good substitute for fish sauce or tiny salted baby shrimp often used in classic kimchi recipes. This recipe calls for quartering, not chopping, the cabbage leaves, which is the way I learned to make it. I find it gives a more balanced flavor, the chopped versions often too salty. One thing to watch is how long you salt and drain the cabbage, which for my recipe takes 12 hours. If you decide to chop the leaves, it will take much less time. I'm not into short cuts, but feel free to experiment. Note: though the chili paste seems like very little in comparison to the size of the cabbage, remember that the cabbage and other ingredients will give up natural juices over time while macerating. Note: Kimchi keeps for a long time, but is generally eaten up within a month or so. Also, though traditionally included in baechu kimchi, I have made garlic optional as I do not tolerate large quantities, if at all.
Quantity: Makes 2 large quart containers (wide-mouthed, recommended)
One 4-pound Napa cabbage, stem end trimmed, and quartered lengthwise
1/3 cup Kosher salt
• In a large mixing bowl, take each quarter of the cabbage, and sprinkle salt in between each leaf. Let stand at room temperature for 12 hours, turning the quarters every 2 hours or so.
• Drain and wipe clean the cabbage and proceed with Part 3.
Part 2: Mushroom and Kelp Sauce
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft, and drained
One large piece kelp (kombu), about 6 x 4 inches
1/4 cup soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
2 tablespoons salt
1 quart spring water
• While the cabbage is draining, in a medium pot, add the mushrooms, kelp, soy sauce, salt, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by 1 cup, about 1 hour. Taste to make sure the flavor is balanced. It will be salty.
Part 3: Chili Paste
1/2 cup Korean chili flakes
1 tablespoon Korean powdered chili
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and grated (optional)
1 cup finely grated daikon
1 large Asian pear, peeled and finely grated
1 cup Mushroom and Kelp Sauce
16 blades buchu, Korean chives, (or 4 scallions, greens only), cut into 1-inch pieces
• In a medium bowl, mix together the chili flakes and powder, ginger, garlic, daikon, pear and sauce.
• Drain and wipe clean each cabbage leaf, being careful to keep the quarters intact. Spread the paste in between each cabbage leaf, distributing the chives throughout. Roll up the cabbage quarters as best you can and force into each jar. You should be able to and push 2 quarters into each jar. Be sure to leave about 1-inch of space between the cabbage and rim of the jar. Secure cheese cloth, and hook the lid, without locking it. Leave the jar open and on the kitchen counter. The cabbage should be left to ferment for 48 hours at room temperature. Occasionally, with the back of a spoon, press the cabbage into its juices.
• After 48 hours, lock down the lids and refrigerate, placing the jars into a baking dish to collect any juices that may seep out, while the kimchi continues to ferment.