The best part about the holidays is getting to spend time with family, and one of the best parts about spending time with family is watching my mother move around the kitchen, settling herself into the most uncomfortable looking positions for great lengths of time, prepping massive amounts of food, often with at least three things going on the oven, stove, and microwave. She is a juggler in the kitchen, an army general in food prep, a master of cooking, and terribly generous with her time, energy, and culinary talent — especially when it comes to feeding her family all their favorite foods. When she learned that my sister and I were coming for Christmas, she promptly went out and bought ten pounds of short ribs for galbi, duk-gook and mandu for duk-gook soup, and made a vat of my favorite Korean spicy stew.
The staple to every meal in a Korean household is kimchi, and this year I had the pleasure of watching my mother make tons of it to hand out as holiday gifts to her friends. There are many ways to make kimchi, of course, but we are kimchi snobs and know our good kimchi from our bad.
Needless to say, my mom makes very good kimchi.
Unfortunately, what my mom is not very good at is knowing exact measurements for anything. (Sorry.)
Water Turnip Kimchi
Asian pears, sliced into thick wedges
1 bunch of scallions, just the white parts
A few thick slices of fresh ginger
1 or 2 long hot green peppers
White turnips, peeled and sliced thick
Several garlic cloves, peeled
Throw all ingredients into a large jar. Add a liberal amount of salt. Fill with water until all ingredients are submerged. Let the ingredients pickle in the fridge (or outside, if it is cold out) for one week.
Traditional Cabbage Kimchi
Napa Cabbage, washed and bisected lengthwise
White turnips, peeled, cut into thick discs, then cut into thin, julienned-esque strips with a mandolin)
Several cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
White onion, peeled and finely minced
Korean red pepper powder (throw some red bell peppers into a food processor for non-spicy kimchi instead)
Chong Jung Won Korean Sand Lance Sauce
Chong Jung Won Korean Anchovy Sauce
Three Crabs Fish Sauce
Sweet rice flour (or regular all-purpose flour in a pinch, but sweet rice flour is tastier)
Sweetener (be this sugar or Splenda or whatever)
Salt, both coarse sea salt and finer kosher salt
Thoroughly wash cabbage in salt water twice. In a separate container, let the cabbage soak in salt water (an inch or two will do), covering each bisected half in coarse sea salt. Let the cabbage sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours to soften and wilt the leaves. During this time, you can soak your garlic cloves in water to make them easier to peel. (Or try this ingenius method.)
During this period, once the leaves are fairly wilted, you can turn the cabbage heads vertically to make sure their hearts, which are tougher than the ends, are allowed to soak in the salt water longer
To make the kimchi sauce, prep your turnip with a mandolin. You can also leave a few big chunks of turnip for some turnip kimchi as well.
Korean red pepper powder is added to your turnip strips for spice but also color.
Finely mince up fresh ginger, and gently squeeze the juice from the minced ginger over your turnip.
Use a food processor to finely mince your garlic and onion and add to the mix.
Add your fish and anchovy sauces. This will smell absolutely disgusting, but it will be absolutely delicious. Needs must.
The final touch: thickener, in the form of sweet rice flour, which is mixed with water and slowly boiled until it becomes thick and gelatinous. My mother used about a fourth of a cup of rice flour to make the amount of thickener you see here. She also made a fuckton of kimchi with it. You probably won’t need that much.
Mom swirls it all by hand.
Add salt and sugar to taste.
Mom liberally coats each layer in the cabbage head by hand. The kimchi is stored in an airtight container (throw in bits of chopped up turnip in here too for some turnip kimchi) and left in the fridge for at least a week to pickle. If you’re in a relative hurry, you can also leave the kimchi out on your counter overnight and scarf some down the next day, but like all deliciously pickled things, the longer you wait, the better it will taste.