Bile Them Cabbage Down

A blast from the past! Here’s an old time fiddle tune that just seemed to fit in with some of the traditional things I’ve been up to in the kitchen. Andy and The Dillards are singing my song: Bile Them Cabbage Down

‘Tis the season…for cabbage! I’ve become totally obsessed with this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge and am really getting into the whole brining and fermentation thing. I’ve been brining my chickens and turkeys for ages and did fermented pickles summer before last so I’m not new to the whole concept but, in the spirit of the challenge, I wanted to challenge myself.

Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation has been on my wish list for a while so I figured the time was right to add it to my library. I am so glad I did. Yes, he makes fermentation fun and understandable but he also makes a lot of other very relevant points, or at least they are relevant to me:

“Resistance takes place on many planes. Occasionally it can be dramatic and public, but most of the decisions we are faced with are mundane and private. What to eat is a choice that we make several times a day, if we’re lucky. The cumulative choices we make about food have profound implications.”

“Food offers us many opportunities to resist the culture of mass marketing and commodification. Though consumer action can take many creative and powerful forms, we do not have to be reduced to the roles of consumers selecting from seductive convenience items. We can merge appetite with activism and choose to involve ourselves in food as co-creators. Food has historically been one of our most direct links to the life forces of the Earth.”

I have been fascinated with kimchi since I heard about it on an episode of M*A*S*H but when I finally had an opportunity to taste it, the experience was, well, underwhelming. It just tasted so generic. There had to be more to it than that insipid flavor or the tradition wouldn’t have been passed down for generations, right? I have saved recipes for kimchi, with kimchi and about kimchi so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to “co-create” and understand.

This recipe is an amalgamation from lots of reading, several different recipes, some input from one of my husband’s coworkers who grew up right outside of Korea and some tweaking to accommodate my personal flavor preferences. It can easily be divided down to make a smaller batch if a gallon seems a little…excessive. Enjoy!


You’ll need a clean, dry 1 gallon jar

Fun with Phallic food!

About 6 pounds of Napa cabbage:

I like to use smaller ones rather than one huge head. The stems at the bottom get too thick on the bigger ones. Trim off any ugly outer leaves, cut in half, lengthwise and rinse

1 cup Kosher salt dissolved in 1 gallon of warm water – Pour in a non-reactive container big enough to submerge all of the cabbage (stainless steel, ceramic or food-grade plastic)

1 1/4 lbs daikon radish, julienned. Mix with 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt and place in a colander to drain

1 1/2 cups of julienned carrot

2 bunches of thin green onions, cut in 2-inch lengths

Wilting the daikon

1 giant onion, cut in chunks

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut in chunks

2 or more jalapenos or other chilis cut in chunks, with or without seeds, depending on how hot you like it. (I used 2 but next time I will probably use 3 very hot jalapenos with seeds)

1 inch piece or less of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1/2 cup fish sauce (I used Vietnamese because I couldn’t find Korean)

3/4 cup kochukaru, Korean chili powder (be careful some have added salt) Do not substitute cayenne!

1/2 C finely minced garlic- about 10 large cloves  (Use less if you like it less garlicky)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted in a hot, dry skillet until they are golden and starting to pop

1 tablespoon sweet rice flour dissolved in 3/4 cup cold water. Put in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low. Stir constantly until smooth and shiny, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Submerge each halved head of cabbage in the bucket of brine. Open up each leaf and swish it around, making sure the brine gets all the way to the bottom of each leaf. Repeat with all the cabbage halves, then arrange them so the stems are totally covered and at the bottom of the container. Let the cabbage soak in the brine for about 3 hours, until really wilted.

Cabbages going in the brine

Spice mix:

While the rice flour mixture is cooling, prep the other ingredients:  put the onions, ginger, red bell pepper and jalapenos in the food processor. Process until it is really soupy, scraping down often to catch any stray pieces. Pour into a large non reactive bowl.

Add the rice flour mixture, garlic, fish sauce, kochugaru, wilted daikon (don’t need to rinse), carrots, green onions and sesame seeds. PUT ON A PAIR OF RUBBER GLOVES (unless you like pain and orange fingers).  Mix thoroughly to combine.

The Spice Mix

Now it’s time to start slinging the spicy stuff around:

To make sure I had enough of the seasoning mix to go around, I divided it into little piles; one for each cabbage half. Grab your cabbage halves and shake off the excess brine.  WEARING RUBBER GLOVES, smear the spice mix between and on every leaf of the cabbage. Make sure you put plenty down by the stem because it’s so thick.  Fold the seasoned cabbage halves in half, then stuff them into the gallon jar. Keep stuffing them into the jar very tightly; you don’t want any air pockets.  Tap the jar on the counter to help dislodge any air bubbles.

Packing it in!

This amount of cabbage should fit into the gallon jar but if there is still headspace, just press some plastic wrap over the top of the cabbage.

If your jar has a metal lid, put a piece of plastic wrap on the top of the jar before putting the lid on it. Let the kimchi sit in a cool place for three days, then eat and refrigerate the rest.

NOTE: I don’t know if this is necessary or not but my glass jar is the kind with a glass lid and gasket so I “burped” it every day. We are fermenting, after all, and I had visions of coming home to exploded glass and kimchi all over the place! A screw-top lid can just be screwed on very loosely.

…and then it was Wednesday and the kimchi was ready! This recipe, based on the traditional Korean dish, bibimbap looked like it would fit the bill for a weeknight dinner. I used an Emerald Glen Farms flank steak (because that’s what I had) brown rice and a combination of kale and broccoli instead of the asparagus (because that’s what the farmer’s market had).


Now, anybody that knows me knows that sunny side up eggs are not my thing but that gorgeous orange yolk stirred in with everything else was such a beautiful thing. And you know what? There was no commodification (great word!) here and there was nothing generic or insipid about this kimchi. It was everything it should be and then some because some friendly microorganisms and I co-created it.