One year, when I lived in Brooklyn, fuzzy perilla plants took over my building’s shared courtyard, so my husband washed and dried the abundance of leaves and stacked them with a quick kimchi sauce he’d puréed in the mini food processor. It was so simple, and so good, that we made more every few weeks until the plants died back.
There’s a cosmic variety of kimchi types and styles, and making your own is a satisfying way to preserve the vegetables you love — radishes, cabbages, cucumbers, mustard greens, spring onions, you name it — then build countless meals with them. If you’re not in the habit, I recommend starting with Eric Kim’s tongbaechu kimchi.
The recipe stars sweet, crunchy Napa cabbage. Quartered, salted and drained, the pieces are tucked into a vivid gochugaru-stained sauce made from apple, onion, ginger and garlic, and left to ferment for a few weeks (and up to six months). Making this kimchi vegetarian is easy: Swap out the fish sauce for another salty, rich ingredient, like vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, miso or a mix of all three.
The juice itself — a mix of the sweet liquid released by the cabbage and the spicy, garlicky kimchi sauce — will be so delicious. Don’t waste it! In this kimchi and potato hash, it’s key not to drain the kimchi before adding it to the pan because the liquid seasons the potatoes and helps them cook. And in this porridge recipe, a splash of kimchi juice acts almost like a sprinkle of seasoned salt.
The kimchi is on its own timeline. And if you taste it every few days, as Eric suggests in his recipe, you’ll really tune in to its progression. Some weeks, it might seem like it’s picking up speed, or slowing down, or like the kimchi’s personality is changing (it is!). Like a piece of fruit, it’s ripening, hurtling toward a beautiful, inevitable and profound sourness.
About six months in, it might seem too far gone, but the kimchi still has something to give you. Just as you might bake overripe strawberries into a crumble, you can turn super sour kimchi into a stew, like this vegetarian version of soondubu jjigae, and it will reward you with more nuanced depth, intensity and tang.
If you make the dish or tinker with it, please let me know how it goes. I’d like to think of the salad component on top, dressed with vinegar-soaked shallots and capers, as completely flexible — one day it could be radicchio and roasted mushrooms instead of potatoes, and another it could be sliced radishes and snap peas, salad leaves, roasted baby artichokes, or a bunch of torn herbs.