Home Lifestyle and Culinary Tips Making Kimchi for the First Time

Making Kimchi for the First Time

by Emily

Yeah! It’s Kimchi time! A word of warning, there are pictures of me here in sweatpants, no makeup, and very unkempt hair. Comfy clothes were made for the holidays, right?! We are all sloppy once in a while, aren’t we? No one ALWAYS looks perfect…unless everyone else does and I am a complete anomaly. Oh please no… let everyone look like this at home too!

But, that is totally off topic. Let’s get back to Kimchi!! Kimchi is a stable side dish in Korean culture and cuisine. There are hundreds of different varieties differing in ingredients and regions. My beau’s family recipe has passed down from generation to generation through the females in the home.

When it is time to make kimchi, the entire extended family comes together for a day. They make enough for each home for the year! (We made 10 heads of cabbage. My beau said this may last a few weeks.) This is a time when the eldest female, in my beau’s case his grandmother, has the most authority over everyone else. She is wise and all-knowing, having made kimchi each and every year since she was a child. She is someone who has helped to cook with her parents and grandparents and is now cooking for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. How many mouths has she helped feed over the years? The thought makes me sit back, wonder, and image.

I can picture my beau’s mother rushing to the door to help the extended aunts, cousins, daughters, and sisters carry in the supplies. At this point, the men would be told to get scarce and stay out of the way. My beau’s grandmother would start giving orders.

First the big buckets would be placed out. The cabbage would be rinsed and scrubbed in a salt bath and would sit for a few hours. His grandmother would continue to squat over the buckets and check each person’s work throughout the process, noting when something wasn’t right.

(left) Salting the cabbage (right) The cabbage after several hours in the salt bath
Rinsing the salt from the cabbage

They would then slice up radishes and other remaining ingredients, cook the red mixture that is added between eat cabbage layer, and patiently, one leaf at a time, cover the cabbage with the spicy but sweet red pepper mixture. I can picture everyone catching up with one another, chatting away during this process. A moment when everyone is together is rare for any family. And finally once the day and cooking is complete, and Grandmother is satisfied with the flavor, everyone sits down for a wonderful family meal and the kimchi is distributed to each family unit to take home.

Red pepper mixture with radish, green onion, and other ingredients
Spreading the red pepper mixture between cabbage layers

The traditional fermentation process included burying the kimchi in jars in the ground. The ground temperature is perfect during the fall and winter for the fermentation process. Today, most families have their own ‘Kimchi Fridge’ that is separate from the one that houses for all other perishable foods. The reason for this is three-fold.

1)     The first reason is the temperature settings of a kimchi fridge differ from our normal refrigerators. It’s design imitates the temperature of the ground and produce perfectly fermented kimchi.

2)     The second reason is that kimchi has a permeating smell and taste that can seep into other foods stored in the fridge. Who wants kimchi flavor when drinking milk or eating cheese, right?

3)     The third reason is the volume of kimchi. Koreans make it once a year. However, I neglected to mention Koreans serve kimchi at EVERY meal EVERY day of the year. That is a lot of kimchi. It takes up space! Not to mention that most families have multiple types!

Putting the cabbage into the fermentation jar

This winter my sister and I gave our father a fermentation jar. Our father loves all things fermented, whether it be sauerkraut or kimchi, and is also a giant fan of a good chemistry project. Put the two together, and we decided it was the perfect gift! Our first attempt at using the jar was with kimchi.

It was my family’s and my boyfriend’s first time making kimchi, because the process is a tradition the women of the family inherit. We wanted to share our experience with you! This post does not have a recipe attached because it was our first time making anything fermented. Once we have adapted a recipe and I have learned how to make it properly from my beau’s mother, we will share a recipe with you. For now it is just a story! It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend everyone trying to make it!

My dad and me!

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