The cabbage-based dish known as kimchi (sometimes spelled "kim chee" or "kim chi") is a celebrated Korean mainstay, famous for its intoxicating spicy flavor and tangy pallet. Served as part of nearly every meal in Korea, including breakfast, kimchi is an integral part of Korean cuisine. But for a food that plays such an important role in Asian culture, there is little consensus over the best way to prepare it.
Most kimchi recipes begin with preparation of the cabbage, which must be fermented in jars, which are then buried for several days. To ensure that the chemical composition of the jar does not impose itself on the flavor of the cabbage, clay (earthenware) jars are preferred over metal or glass jars. Kimchi purists can be quite adamant about this, claiming that fermentation in any other type of container yields a noticeable, and unpleasant, aftertaste.
Once the cabbage has fermented for the desired length of time, it is then chopped up and mixed with a combination of salt and water. Exact quantities will vary based on the amount of kimchi being made, and the desired spiciness of the final dish. (The longer the kimchi ferments, the spicier it tends to be.) It's worth nothing that North Koreans tend to prefer a slightly milder flavor of kimchi, which South Koreans love their kimchi as fire-breathingly spicy as possible, often adding red pepper to the already blistering dish.
The bitterness of the fermented cabbage can be mitigated by the addition of chopped or diced vegetables, with cucumbers featuring prominently in many recipes. Other spices can be added as needed, including ginger, paprika, and even sugar in many cases. These spices provide a slight nuance to the flavor, while sugar can help reduce spiciness in the unlikely event that the dish has become unpleasant to consume. The final result can be eaten as a side dish by itself, not unlike a small salad, while other Koreans prefer to mix it with rice, noodles, or even soup.
The fact of the matter is that while nearly every Korean considers kimchi to be an indispensable part of mealtime, there is no single "correct" recipe, and no right way to enjoy this celebrated component of the culture. Feel free to experiment! And don't worry about making too much -- kimchi freezes quite nicely, and can be stored that way for many months.
Credit: New World EncyclopediaCredit: New World Encyclopedia