When putting together this baechu (Napa cabbage) kimchi ferment/recipe, I remembered the boatloads of clementines we had in the fridge and it hit me – some fresh squeezed juice and orange zest would be a great add to kimchi. The sugars help feed the lactic acid-producing bacteria (LABs) present on the cabbage as well as that on the orange peel zest (particularly if it’s organic citrus) for an active, healthy ferment.
If you want to skip the clementine and just make a traditional mak (easy) Napa cabbage kimchi, this recipe has got you covered.
Now back to why the clementine was so good: the sweet and sour flavors of oranges are an amazing complement to kimchi. You may never want to make kimchi without it again. I indicated the measurements of juice and zest at the end of the ingredient list.
You will need
Knife and cutting board; measuring cups & spoons; large non-reactive bowl; non-iodized salt; half gallon fermenting vessel (with or without an airlock) or two quart jars; carrot/vegetable peeler (optional); zester/grater (optional); kitchen/latex gloves (if you’re worried about burning fingers, otherwise just make sure to thoroughly wash your hands).
Note: The shoulder of a half-gallon jar is an ideal resting point in a ferment. However, if you fall a bit short of it, kimchi is a very forgiving ferment and there should be no issues. You also don’t have to have everything submerged in a liquid brine when making kimchi, but everything needs to be at least coated in the paste.
~5.25 lb. Napa cabbage
~1/2 lb. of Korean radish, matchstick cut (or any radish; I used regular red radishes from my garden; daikons are another great substitute, or use a combination of radish and carrot strings)
1/2 cup non-iodized salt (150 g)
1 bunch of green onions, cut in 3/4” – 1” slices
3 TBSP minced garlic (use only 1-2 TBS if you prefer a milder garlic flavor)
1 TBSP minced ginger
1-2 TBSP sugar; you can also omit sugar or increase up to 3 TBSP depending on preference, more sugar increases fizziness in early stages and final sourness of the kimchi. (In this particular batch, I subbed sugar with Korean rice syrup and loved the result, although it’s not normally used in Korea for ferments)
1 TBSP fish sauce (2 TBSP for a stronger umami flavor; no fish sauce for vegetarians is fine or substitute with another umami ingredient such as organic soy sauce, tamari, liquid aminos, or kelp powder)
~ 1/3 – 1/2 cup Korean red pepper flakes. (Use more flakes for a hotter flavor; add more brine for a juicier kimchi)
1/2 cup cabbage salt brine (will form after soaking the cabbage in salt long enough and should be reserved in a separate bowl)
Optional: zest and juice of one clementine
Optional: for a spicy kimchi, add ~1 TBSP minced hot pepper such as red serrano, or 1 tsp spicy red pepper flakes to taste (I used half a manzano pepper for this recipe, which is very hot and has a citrusy flavor to pair with the clementine)
Optional: You can blend 1/2 a pear or Asian pear into the kimchi paste for added depth of flavor and a thicker consistency
1.) Wash all produce; peel radish if desired before matchstick cutting.
2.) Remove dry/blemished exterior leaves of the cabbage. Cut the cabbage length-wise, then repeat process, cutting the cabbage into quarters or eighths. Discard the core. (I cut into eighths to produce smaller, more bite-size pieces.) Make cuts every 1” perpendicular to the strips of cabbage. The process is shown here:
3.) Place the cut cabbage into the large bowl and thoroughly massage with the salt. If possible, cover cabbage with a weighted object, cover with wrap, and let sit for at least 2 hours. The salt will pull out the water from the cabbage, forming a salt brine.
4.) After the allotted time, strain the brine that forms into a separate bowl (you will use some of the brine later). Then rinse the cabbage thoroughly two to three times, then let sit in a colander for 15-20 minutes to fully drain.
5.) In the large bowl, add and thoroughly mix all the kimchi paste ingredients. That is the pepper flakes, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, clementine zest and juice, and (optional) hot pepper and/or pear. Then add around 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the reserved brine (you can use a bit more for a juicier kimchi) and mix thoroughly with chopsticks or other instrument. If preferred, you can blend all the kimchi paste ingredients in a blender or processor for a smoother texture. (If you are adding the pear, you’ll definitely want to blend it in.) Then combine the paste with the drained cabbage, green onion, and radish and evenly mix with gloved hands.
6.) Transfer the fresh kimchi to the fermenting vessel. See below for ferment times.
If you don’t use an airlock lid, just remember to burp the jar once a day for the duration of the ferment to prevent excessive gas buildup. This involves a slight counter-clockwise turn of the lid to loosen but not removing it.
Ferment duration: I let it sit on a shelf for 8 days before refrigerating. The temperature ranged from 66-68 F. This batch was hot and sour, with a welcome touch of sweetness and fizz. Some choose to ferment kimchi for a shorter period, such as 4-5 days, while others go much longer. This can also depend on your ambient temperature, where shorter ferment times are associated with higher temps.