Baechu is the Korean word for what is commonly known as napa cabbage or Chinese leaf in the UK. It is perhaps the most popular kimchi dish, but surprisingly baechu is not a native crop in Korea and was introduced in late 19th century, while chillis were introduced in the 17th century. Koreans have however been making kimchi for thousands of years and have over three hundred different recipes. If you think of it as a process, then we may also invent new kimchis the world over, responding to each unique environment and season.
Baechu kimchi recipe
1 x 3L airtight container
1 x large mixing bowl
2 x Chinese leaf
140g salt flakes
200g spring onions or chives
250ml starchy rice water*
100g coarse chilli flakes without seed
50g salted shrimp (optional)
50ml fish sauce (optional)**
8 x large garlic cloves, minced
10g ginger, minced
*the rice water provides starch for the lactic acid bacteria to help fermentation. You can either simmer and cool a mix of 40g rice flour or plain flour with 210ml water or use 250ml of excess starchy water from cooking any white rice.
**the fish sauce and shrimp is optional, and you are welcome to use instead 100ml of brine. Season to taste - you want it to be slightly too salty to taste.
Orientalmart.co.uk is a good, cheap website to source any ingredients you can’t find, though we do recommend experimenting with what is around you. Korean chilli flakes are simply sun dried, and so slightly smokey, and without seeds. Korean shrimp and the fish sauce are simply there to add extra flavour, and you can use vegetable stock or other flavourings instead, as well as adding more garlic and ginger. The only thing to pay attention to is the salt level, and providing some starch to help with the fermentation.
Remove any withered outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut in half vertically and rinse.
Salt the cabbage by parting each leaf and throwing across a heavy pinch of salt. Salt heavier towards the base where the leaves are thicker. Leave in the fridge for 8 hours. The leaves should be soft and easy to bend.
Rinse carefully a few times under running water, then firmly squeeze out most of its liquid.
Slice the spring onions and chives into thin, 2 inch strips and combine with the rest of the seasoning ingredients.
Spread the seasoning thoroughly across one side of each leaf. Rinse the seasoning bowl with 50ml of water to add to your container later.
Place into a sealed container leaving an inch at the top and gently press down to release any air. Add the remaining mix of water and seasoning to your container and seal. You can either place a heavy weight on top to help release the gases produced as your kimchi ferments, or every few days press down with clean hands.
Ripen at room temperature for 24 hours, then place at the bottom of your fridge for 2 to 3 weeks. The flavour will continue to develop and grow more acidic as time passes. Kimchi can be eaten raw, mild or very ripe and can be stored for many months. Sour kimchi also makes for a great ingredient in stews and stir fries.
As a general rule you can use the recipe for the seasoning to make kimchi with most vegetables. Certain vegetables require different seasoning or ripening. The main difference usually is in the salting process. Turnips, squash and other dense vegetables require 2 to 3 hours of salting. Leafy greens such as spinach and chard require a mere 10 to 20 minutes. Hardier, less watery cabbages require 2 to 4 hours, and may need some trimming around the thicker ridges.