Kimchi has become increasingly popular in the UK as we are increasingly aware of the health benefits that come from improving our gut microbiome. Kimchi is strongly flavoured, salted, fermented cabbage and it has been one of the foundations of Korean cooking for thousands of years. The best kimchi will always be homemade, in the same way that the best kefir is homemade - fortunately kimchi is incredibly easy to make. From a recipe perspective, the idea of a kimchi recipe is similar to the idea of a pickle or chutney recipe, the main thing to know is the basic idea of how it is made, and from there you can let your imagination take flight; there are no right or wrong recipes, there is no definitive list of what can and cannot go into it.
The following is my basic method - though each time I make it the contents and proportions involved vary according to what is at hand. I personally like lots of ginger in mine, so tend to be quite generous with the ginger. I like to add apple or pear because I like what it brings to the final kimchi but I have seen recipes which use sugar or honey instead of fruit and I have seen lots of recipes without any fruit at all.
1 Chinese leaf cabbage, remove two outer leaves and set aside, thickly slice the remaining cabbage.
2-3 tablespoons salt
6 spring onions, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced or minced
2-3 inch chunk of fresh ginger; grated, finely sliced or matchsticks
1 apple, chopped into 1cm chunks
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1-2 table spoons Gochujang (Korean brown rice red pepper paste)
Separate the thickly sliced Chinese cabbage leaves into a large bowl.
Dissolve the salt in a cup of warm water to make a strong brine, dilute this with another 4 cups of cold water and pour over the cabbage. Set aside for 2-3hrs [SEE NOTE BELOW]
Drain the cabbage and rinse the bring off; leave to drain in a colander while chopping up the other ingredients that go into the kimchi.
Put the drained cabbage into a large bowl, add the spring onions, garlic, ginger, gochujang paste and fish sauce together with half a cup of water and massage everything together, ensuring that every bit of cabbage has come into contact with the red mixture (if you have very sensitive hands, you may want to wear gloves for this bit!).
Once everything is well mixed, pack the mixture into a clean kilner jar, pressing down as you fill the jar to ensure there are no air pockets. If there is any spare liquid at the bottom of the bowl, pour it over the top. Leave an inch or two at the top of the jar as the mixture tends to expand a bit once the fermentation process gets going.
If there is not enough liquid to cover the mixture, add a bit of water so that everything is totally submerged. Tuck the mixture down with the spare cabbage leaf that you set aside earlier, or weigh the mixture down with something like a small jam jar to try to keep the vegetables below the surface. When the fermentation stage is over, you can remove and discard the cabbage leaf if it has spoiled in the air when you move the kimchi to the fridge.
Put the kilner jar lid on and set the jar at the back of your kitchen counter for 5 days, check daily to press the mixture down below the surface again and release any gas built up in the jar. After at least 5 days, you can start to taste the kimchi, it will taste a unique combination of sour and spicy. When it has developed a flavour you like, you can refrigerate it so slow down the fermentation (in order to stop it completely you would need to freeze it). Your kimchi will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.
Enjoy with everything, and on its own. A spoonful of kimchi perks up a sandwich, tops off a burger and peps up a plate of scrambled egg; you can use it as a condiment an extra topping or just eat it off the fork when you go into the fridge.
The flavour of your kimchi develops over time as different bacteria start to gain a foothold, many recipes suggest to put it in the refrigerator after 5-7 days but many strains of bacteria are not present in significant quantities until it has been fermenting for 7-13 days. Personal taste has a role to play in your decision about when to refrigerate, there is no right or wrong time. Here is a link to an interesting article which discusses how the microbial content of kimchi changes over time: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151022-the-secret-behind-kimichis-sour-taste
Once you get the hang of how to make kimchi, you can start playing with the amount of garlic, ginger and gochujang, you can add all sorts of different vegetables to vary the flavour and texture of your final kimchi, or add extra fresh chillies to make it even hotter.
NOTE: An alternative method for step 2 is to massage salt into the dry cabbage for 10 minutes - the cabbage gradually softens and releases liquid as you massage the salt into the cabbage leaves. Either way, the principle is that the cabbage needs to be exposed to the salt to start to draw out good bacteria which are found naturally occurring inside the cabbage leaves. These bacteria start the fermentation process through which the good bacteria convert the natural sugars in the vegetables into lactic acid which essentially pickles and preserves the kimchi.