Pickled vegetables are a speciality in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines. This is understandable, given the abundance of vegetables on the one hand and the absence of refrigeration (until quite recently) on the other. Necessity generated inventiveness and imagination to preserve the foods in a palatable way. Korean meals almost always include a pickled vegetable, ‘kimchi’ as it is called generically, to stimulate the palate and as a contrast to less fiery foods. In the West, we use our pickled dishes more sparingly, serving them on picnics or with cold platters. In this adaptation of Korean kimchi, I follow the traditional method of fermentation without the use of vinegar. The leaves develop a slightly sour taste enlivened by chilli — if you find it too hot, reduce the amount of chilli. Pickled cabbage is sold in glass jars in specialist food shops but it is usually full of preservatives and monosodium glutamate. I urge you to make your own; it is quite simple, can be prepared in advance, and keeps for weeks in the fridge.
Separate the Chinese leaves and sprinkle them with the salt. Pour in the cold water and leave to stand in a cool place for 8 hours or overnight. Rinse the cabbage well and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Boil the water and pour over the pickling mixture. Mix well and combine with the Chinese leaves. Put the leaves with the pickling mixture into a large glass bowl. You may have to cut the leaves in half to make them fit. Cover the kimchi with cling film and leave in a cool place for about 2 days. Drain and cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Pack into a glass jar until ready to serve.
© 1995 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.