Not only is kimchi delicious but it’s a probiotic that is great for gut health. I talked to two kimchi makers to find out how to make this moreish crunchy pickle.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean condiment made from fermented vegetables and has a history dating back more than 3000 years. In the old days it provided a way of preserving the harvest and was stored in cool caves or underground.
It’s very high in vitamins K and C (one serving supplies around 30 percent of our daily requirement of each), and also contains vitamins B6 and B12, beta-carotene and folate, and essential minerals including calcium and potassium. It contains the probiotic lactobacillus found in other naturally, fermented foods, including yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir. Probiotics are live bacteria that support gut health and the immune system. Garlic is also an antiviral, antibacterial and blood cleanser, cabbage aids digestion, and chilli keeps you warm.
Auckland chef Rachel Kim has been selling her kimchi for four years as Miss Kimchi at La Cigale Market in Parnell and The Shed Collective in Henderson, and now from her own cafe, Holly’s Cafe in New Lynn. Born in Chuncheon in South Korea, Rachel came to New Zealand on a student exchange programme in 2003, and at sixteen, her parents encouraged her to come back to learn English. She stayed and met her husband, Alex Niepold. When Rachel and Alex’s daughter, Holly was born eighteen months ago, Rachel didn’t want to go back to being a full time chef so they opened Holly’s Café in July 2021 with the idea of takeaways but it has become a busy café as well. Alex, a welder, created all the steel work, balustrades, furniture, and counters in the café and now works full time with Rachel.
“Kimchi seems complicated,” she says, “but is very easy to make yourself. Once you have the mother sauce, you can make it with daikon (long white radish) or Wombok (Chinese cabbage), ordinary cabbage, red cabbage, cucumber, spring onions, even beetroot.
“In Korea there’s always traditional wombok cabbage kimchi on the table, but also several other types of kimchi along with side dishes. All are similarly made but each tastes different according to the vegetables used. Spring onion kimchi is very popular, and cucumber kimchi is beautiful, but you need to take the seeds out first otherwise it creates too much liquid. Any root vegetable works well as long as it is salted to reduce moisture.”
Koreans always naturally ferment their own kimchi and Rachel’s family puts it on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Korea kimchi is generally made in huge batches right after the autumn harvest with family and relatives arriving to help. At the end of the process the helpers take their share home with them.
To make traditional kimchi, Rachel coarsely chops up six large wombok cabbages, and soaks them for five hours in brine made from one cup of rock salt in ten cups of water (any salt is fine but iodised salt may inhibit fermentation). The longer cabbage is left in the brine, the less salt you should add, says Rachel, because salt leaches the sweetness out of the vegetables. In Korea brining commonly takes ten to fourteen hours.
Next, Rachel coarsely shreds two large daikon and adds them to a bowl with a bunch (around 100g) of chopped garlic chives which are mainly for the colour. Into another bowl, she chops three medium onions which she puts with 500gm peeled garlic, and two chopped nashi pears. The nashi are traditional and add natural sweetness so sugar isn’t necessary. Alex helps out by blending the bowl of garlic, chopped onions and nashi pears with a stick whizz into a fine sauce Rachel calls the mother sauce.
In another bowl Rachel adds 200gm of salt and 500gm of Korean Kimchi chilli powder, called gochugaru. You can find it at Korean and most other Asian supermarkets. It is a quite coarsely ground chilli that is sweeter than other chilli powders but not as hot. If you ask for kimchi chilli, you’ll get the correct product. Some types of kimchi exclude chilli altogether and are more like sauerkraut.
The quantity of chilli is always to the same ratio as garlic, so if you prefer milder kimchi, reduce the chilli but also reduce the garlic by the same weight. Once the cabbage has been properly brined it needs to be rinsed three or four times otherwise the kimchi will be too salty. Rachel mixes the denser shredded daikon with the mother sauce and the chilli and salt and allows them to stand for half an hour or so before adding it to the bowl of cabbage.
Mixing it up
Because she needs quick access to chopped kimchi in the café, Rachel generally makes Mak Kimchi, a faster-fermenting chopped version, but she keeps a couple of halved wongbok cabbages soaked in brine to make the more traditional pogi Kimchi (whole cabbage) where each leaf is opened and some of the mother sauce spread between. The cabbage is then folded and packed into a container for fermenting. Rachel drops cling film directly onto the kimchi which starves it of air so mould doesn’t form on the surface during the fermenting process.
As time goes by
Larger (denser) vegetables take longer to ferment. Kimchi is generally cold fermented in a chiller and is ready within five to seven days, unlike other cabbage ferments such as sauerkraut which take at least three weeks. Kimchi can be left at air temperature for a quicker ferment and will be quite far advanced within two days. Historically it was buried in earthenware containers for fermentation in the ground where it was cooler. Providing the container remained sealed, perfectly edible kimchi could be eaten as many as 50 years later.
Vegan and vegetarian options
Common Korean ingredients include fish sauce and fish paste but Rachel dispenses with them so vegetarians and vegans can still enjoy traditional style kimchi. If you use fish sauce and paste, exchange the 200gms of salt for 100gms fish sauce and 300gms of Korean shrimp paste.
As kimchi ages and continues fermenting it becomes more sour and the vegetables become softer but cooking removes the sourness. Older kimchi is used in stir fries, stews, as a stew itself, and eaten steamed, or in pancakes. Once the kimchi has been eaten, a juice is left over, which makes a tasty sour drink and can also be used in soup.
Kimchi but make it organic
“We wash our cabbages three or four time to wash all the bugs off,” says Be Nourished CEO, Brenda Trotman. “We only use organic cabbages because we don’t want pesticides anywhere near our fermented vegetables. By way of explanation, some pesticides need to be stopped being used weeks before harvesting. That’s how harmful pesticides are. They’re designed to kill things. Insecticides are an important cause of poor gut health.”
If kimchi is new to you, jump on the bandwagon because New Zealanders can’t get enough of this versatile savoury probiotic.
1 tbs miso paste
500g kimchi cut
500g pork shoulder or belly diced small (can replace with tofu)
400ml kimchi juice
2 Cloves of garlic, chopped
1 chilli (optional)
3 tbs chopped spring onion
- Put sesame oil in a pot and add miso paste, pork, and kimchi.
- Gently stir fry until meat is nicely coated in miso and cooked, then add water. Bring it to the boil, on high heat for 20 min.
- Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, chilli and spring onion.
- Continue cook for another 20 min.
1 cup flour (or gluten free flour)
1/3 cup kimchi juice
2/3 cup water
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.
- Place oil in a pan and when its hot add kimchi pancake batter. Cook both sides until golden brown.
- Serve with soy sauce on the side.
First published in Organic NZ – September/October 2022 Vol.81 No.5