Let me start by saying that I have never had authentic kimchi.
Living in Montana, we have to make certain concessions because of our remoteness and smaller immigrant community. I don't know as any of the cities we have visited have Korean restaurants, and we aren't planning to visit the Pacific coast anytime soon. I have tried kimchi from the grocery store and found it bland, uninspired, and well...obviously Americanized. It didn't have all of the flavors I had read about, making me think it just wasn't right. After some research and experimentation I came up with this recipe. I call this "Redneck Kimchi" because I have had to make substitutions for some of the ingredients. I hope you will find that these are a bit more readily available than some of the specialty items called for in traditional recipes.
In the course of my research I learned that this is nothing new. There are as many flavors of kimchi as there are Korean mothers making it. I encourage you to experiment yourself, find the flavors you like, and go for it!
I have noted my substitutions with an asterisk. For vegan kimchi, simply substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce and leave out the shrimp paste, although you may have to add more salt. You will need at least 6 hours to prep your kimchi.
You will need:
1 large or 2 small napa cabbages, 5-6 pounds *I have also used green cabbage
1 cup coarse sea salt
5 cups water, I use distilled because our water is pretty yucky
1 pound daikon radish *one bunch of standard red radishes
3 or 4 greens onions
1 TBS glutinous rice powder *or sweet rice flour
1/2 cup Korean red chili flakes *I use 1/4 cup Sriracha chili sauces, they are more of a paste than the bottled stuff, and very easy to find.
1/4 cup salted shrimp, (saeujeot) finely minced *I use 2 TBS Lee Kum Kee finely ground shrimp sauce, it is an alarming shade of lavender and smells like stink bait, but it is one of the most important parts.
3 TBS fish sauce
3 TBS minced garlic
1 TSP grated ginger *I have also used pickled ginger, diced
1/2 cup water
2 large bowls, a colander, airtight fermenting container, I use 3-4 quart sized canning jars, freshly washed and dried, small weights that will fit into your jars, and gloves, I really recommend the gloves!
Preparing the cabbage:
Cut your cabbage into quarters, removing the cores from each. Then cut crosswise so that you have roughly 2" square pieces. I like my leaves loose, not still attached, I find it easier to serve.
In one bowl dissolve 1/2 cup salt in 5 cups water, rinse your leaves thoroughly, shake the excess back in the bowl and transfer to your other bowl. In the second bowl rub the leaves with the other 1/2 cup of salt, massaging gently. Pour the saltwater from your other bowl over the top and leave to soak for 4-6 hours, occasionally turning the top leaves to the bottom. You are ready to rinse when the thick base part of your leaves bend easily. Rinse well in your colander, and let them drain.
About an hour and a half before you are ready to rinse your cabbage, start prepping the sauce. The rice powder or flour goes into 1/2 cup of water on the stove. You won't need to simmer it long, just be sure to stir. Once it thickens to a thin paste, allow it to cool.
Cut your green onions into inch long pieces, the radishes into matchsticks, and mix them with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Let it sit for at least an hour, so the flavors get to know each other.
Once your cabbage has drained thoroughly, set out your canning jars or other airtight container and put your gloves on.
A few handfuls at a time, bathe the cabbage in your sauce mixture, get it good and goopy! Then place in one jar at a time, pressing down to get out air pockets. Once your jars are filled, rinse the sauce bowl with a 1/2 cup of water and pour over the top of each jar, leaving about an inch of space at the top. *If I don't have enough liquid, I will use some "mother of kimchi", the leftover liquid from my previous batch, waste not, want not!
Place your jars into a baking pan to catch any overflow, and place a weight in each jar to keep your goodies below the level of the liquid. Press down gently as you may have a bit of air. I use my Japanese teacups as weights, they fit perfectly in the mouths of jars, but leave a little space for gases to escape.
I leave my kimchi out at room temperature for a full day or two. During those days, check the jars for bubbles. Bubbles let you know that fermentation is happening. Press gently on your weights to let the gases rise to the top. Then put the lids on the jars and put them in the fridge. While you can start eating it right away, I recommend giving it at least a week for the flavor to improve. It should keep well for weeks.
Once you've had your own homemade kimchi, you'll probably never stop making it! It goes well with almost everything: It's a cooling salad with spicy dishes, and a spicy inferno with mild dishes. Truly a wonder food, and probiotic, so it's good for you too!