Lessons from my Grandma
Hi friends! Today I want to share with you my Grandma’s simple kimchi recipe. This kimchi requires just three ingredients – cabbage, cucumbers and salt. That’s all it takes to make delicious & healthy kimchi!
My Grandma was born in North Korea and fled to South Korea when she was a young girl. In quiet moments between just the two of us, she tells me stories of living in war-torn North Korea and her escape with her own Grandmother. I could sit with my Grandma and listen to her stories for hours. In fact, as little kids, my sister and I would beg my Grandma to tell us “just one more story” about a thousand times every day.
My Grandma has taught me a lot, both in the kitchen and about life. She’s passed down some of her beloved recipes to me including Korean beef bulgogi, kimchi, zucchini miso soup, and fried rice. Every time I learn a new Korean recipe from my Grandma, I feel like she’s sharing a bit of her history and culture with me. Which in turn, is my history and culture too.
And she’s taught me a plethora of life lessons outside the kitchen as well. I can’t even count how many times she’d lecture me on staying away from “wise guys” who act like snakes and steal your virtue. She’d wiggle her finger like a snake and pretend to bite me with her “snake finger.” 😂 And my Grandma is still teaching me how to find the balance between being self sufficient and independent, while also being a loving wife and serving my family.
I hope by sharing this recipe with you, you can find both nourishment and enjoyment from it.
Types of Kimchi
There are more kimchi recipes than you could ever dream of in Korean culture. Many kimchi jars you’ll find on major grocery store shelves are made with napa cabbage or radishes along with tons of garlic, salt to preserve it, and gochugaru (Korean dried chili peppers) to give it a red color and heat. And my Grandma often makes this style too. But sometimes, it’s nice to have a mild kimchi on hand. It tastes great when mixed in with salad, eggs, rice dishes, noodles – you name it! In fact, it was only about a hundred years ago that kimchi started getting chili added to it, according to Joanne Molinaro in her book The Korean Vegan. Before that, kimchi was vibrantly green, just like my Grandma’s simple kimchi.
How to Make Kimchi
Kimchi is one of the easiest fermented foods to make, in my opinion. First, rinse and chop up your cabbage and cucumber. Then place it all in a large bowl and sprinkle two tablespoons of salt on it. Give it a good stir and let it sit, covered with a kitchen towel, for 30 minutes. Then give it all a good stir again, and let it rest covered for another 30 minutes. Keep repeating this stirring and resting until three to four hours total have surpassed. Then, rinse your vegetables well, to remove any excess salt. Test taste a piece of cabbage and a slice of cucumber. If it’s still to salty, keep rinsing. The salt adds flavor and draws out water from the veggies, while also helping with the the preservation of the kimchi once it’s packed into glass jars.
My Grandma’s simple kimchi can be eaten right away, but I like it best after it’s been tucked away in the fridge for at least two weeks. The longer you have your kimchi in the fridge, the more ripe it will taste. And my Grandma loves when I come to visit, because then we can eat the most stinky & deliciously fermented kimchi. My Grandpa, being of French-Irish descent, can’t stand the smell. But I can’t get enough of it.
Grandma’s Simple Kimchi
- 1 head cabbage (napa cabbage is traditional, but savoy or green cabbage work as well)
- 4 cups cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise and sliced again into half-moon pieces
- 2 Tbsp sea salt
- Chop the cabbage into large bite-sized pieces. Mix it with the sliced cucumber in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top and stir so the salt evenly coats the vegetables. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Stir the vegetables again, then cover and let it rest another 30 minutes.Continue stirring and resting at 30 minute intervals until a total of 3 to 4 hours have surpassed. Water will pool at the bottom of the bowl, having been drawn out of the vegetables by the salt.
- Thoroughly rinse the cabbage and cucumber in a large colander or strainer with water, until the vegetables taste slightly salty, but not overly salted. Rinsing with water is just to remove the excess salt, since a lot of the salt will have diffused into the vegetables.
- Pack the vegetables into clean glass jars and secure the lids on the jars. Let sit at room temperature for 8 hours, then enjoy right away, or transfer to the fridge. Best when served after about two weeks in the fridge, when the kimchi has developed a deliciously fermented flavor.