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Tuesday’s Tidbits (& Sips): mul kimchi

I love kimchi!  The combination of the slightly sour taste from the fermentation along with the spiciness from the red chili flakes calls to me in my dreams.  It tastes wonderful on its own and can be used in so, so many wonderful dishes from soups to pancakes to scrambled eggs and beyond.

I may have a bit of an obsession with kimchi, an addiction, if you will. It’s not one that I get to indulge much of the time, though, as Andrew pretty much abhors it…

So, what is kimchi?

In a nutshell, kimchi is a Korean term used to referred to pickled vegetable dishes; however, kimchi is not the only kind of Korean pickle.  To understand how kimchi differs from other types of pickles, one should understand the way that most pickles are made.

In general, pickles are typically made in one of two ways: fermenting in a brine or marinating in an acidic solution.  Kimchi falls under the first category.  Unlike many pickles in this category that are placed in a prepared brine, though, kimchi uses a salty spice mixture in order to draw out the natural juices of the vegetables to create a brine during fermentation.  There are a few dishes referred to as kimchi in Korean that don’t adhere to this particular rule (such as the recipe presented in this post) but, for the most part, this is how kimchi can be distinguished from the other popular type of Korean pickles known as jangajji, which are created by marinating in an vinegar-based solution.

The term kimchi, however, is often used in the Western world (and by me in my initial ramblings) to refer to the very traditional and very common dish of spicy pickled napa cabbage known as baechu kimchi in Korean.  In reality, kimchi, in the context of the original Korean meaning, comes in a staggering number of varieties.  The main ingredients, spices and traditional seasons for each of these vary widely.  For instance, my very favorite kimchi (at least of the ones that I’ve had up to this point in my life) is pa kimchi, or scallion kimchi.

While I plan on tackling some pa kimchi this summer, that is not the recipe that I have to share with you today.  Instead, while researching information about various types of kimchi, I learned about a dish called mul kimchi, or water kimchi:


Unlike other kimchi, mul kimchi includes the addition of a fairly large amount of water.  The reason for this is to create a type of broth that can be consumed along with the vegetables that are being pickled.  Mul kimchi is traditionally a summer dish that is served cold, being both refreshing and slightly spicy at the same time.  Since the weather has been starting to turn warm around here and I had never tried mul kimchi before, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to both try the dish and try my hand at making kimchi.

I did quite a bit of research before coming up with my own mix of ingredients and method.  Some of the recipes that I pulled information and ideas from include:

I have to say that the results of my experiment were extremely delicious!  Here’s what I came up with:

Mul Kimchi

Mul Kimchi

[Serves 12 to 20]

675 gr. daikon radish
6 bunches of Taiwanese bok choy, baby bok choy or some similar small but hardy green with rigid stems
coarse salt
150 gr. scallions
2 jalapeños
50 gr. ginger
6 cloves garlic
3 tbs. coarse Korean red chili flakes, or
1 cup water
1 tbs. sugar
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 apple, pear or Asian pear
6 qt. water*

  1. Peel the daikon.  Trim the ends.  Cut into roughly 1 inch cubes.  Place in a large bowl.
  2. Cut off the stem ends of the bok choy.  Clean each leaf thoroughly.  Roughly chop the bok choy into bite sized lengths.  Place in the large bowl  with the daikon.
  3. Liberally sprinkle the daikon and bok choy with coarse salt and toss.  Try not to be too harsh when tossing the vegetables to prevent bruising, especially on the leaves of the bok choy.  Let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, turn the daikon and bok choy so that the material that was on the bottom before is now on top.  Let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. After the second 30 minutes is up, rinse and drain the daikon and bok choy in cold water three times to remove most of the salt.
  6. Meanwhile, trim the root ends from the scallions and then cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch sections.  Rinse the cut scallion thoroughly to remove any grit.  Drain.  Put into a medium bowl.
  7. Rinse the jalapeños.  Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the stem and seeds.  Slice thinly crosswise and place in the bowl with the scallions.
  8. Peel and julienne the ginger.  Place in the bowl with the scallions and jalapeños.
  9. Peel and thinly slice the garlic.  Place in the bowl with the scallions, jalapeños and ginger.
  10. Sprinkle the red chili flakes over the scallions, jalapeños, ginger and garlic.  Toss to coat and set aside until the salting of the daikon and bok choy is finished.
  11. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of water and the sugar.  Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce.  Set aside to cool.
  12. Once the daikon and bok choy are salted, rinsed and drained, combine the daikon and bok choy with the scallion mixture in the container in which you will be storing the kimchi.**
  13. Peel, core and slice the apple, pear or Asian pear and toss with the other vegetables.
  14. Pour the fish sauce mixture and 6 quarts of water over the vegetables and stir gently to combine.
  15. Seal the container and allow to sit at room temperature (75 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler) for 1 to 3 days, until the desired amount of sourness is achieved.  The mixture should be stirred and the water tasted once a day during the fermentation process to check the flavor.***

Once the kimchi has reached the desired amount of sourness, it should be stored in the refrigerator.  It will last for quite a long time, at least a couple of weeks but most likely up to a month.

Mul kimchi makes a great side dish or main dish, pairing well with rice.  I have been enjoying mine as a main dish for lunch, accompanied by hard pretzels!  If you are serving the kimchi from an unrefrigerated state, add a few ice cubes to each bowl.  If you are serving kimchi that has been in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours, ice cubes aren’t necessary.

Like last time, here are some photos from the prep session for you to enjoy (click any photo to embiggen):

daikon daikon chop chop bok choy
bok choy chop chop salting scallions
jalapeños time for fish sauce time to mix

* The water used in this recipe will affect the flavor of the final product.  I recommend using bottled, purified or previously boiled water.  For my batch, I boiled the water at a full boil for 5 minutes and then let it cool completely before using in the recipe.  Do not add hot water to the recipe as this will cook the vegetables, making them soggy.
** You will need a very big container to house this recipe.  The container that I used is 8.1 quarts.  The container that you use needs to be airtight in order to prevent the intrusion of harmful bacteria into the kimchi.
*** The length of fermentation at room temperature is really up to individual taste.  The longer the kimchi is allowed to ferment, the more sour it will become.  For your reference, my kimchi was ready after 2 days at room temperature.  I personally would not allow the kimchi to sit at room temperature for more than 3 days, especially when the ambient temperature in the room is in the high 60s or more.  The reason for starting fermentation at room temperature is to speed up the fermentation process so the kimchi is ready to eat sooner.  The fermentation will continue in the refrigerator, but at a much slower pace, as the cooler temperatures will slow down the bacterial activity.  If you are uncomfortable with leaving the kimchi at room temperature, you can place the kimchi in the refrigerator right away, but it may take a week or more before the kimchi is ready to eat.