Garber: The merits of kimchi

By Olivia Garber

With the palate of Gordon Ramsay and the budget of an unpaid intern, the hardest part of college… With the palate of Gordon Ramsay and the budget of an unpaid intern, the hardest part of college for me is finding good, cheap food.

Pizza rolls and Easy Mac don’t count.

Fortunately, my obsession with Korean soap operas has led me to discover more about the country than its innovative technology and ridiculously good-looking pop stars. I’ve also been reminded of one of its biggest achievements, in my eyes, and the tastiest poor man’s food: kimchi.

Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made of spicy, fermented Napa cabbage, is a delicious staple that can help colds, waistlines and the budget of any student.

A versatile dish, kimchi can be made into kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakes and a bevy of other foods.

My mother, a Korean-born Chinese woman, made kimchi all the time when I was a child, and she claims its benefits are limitless.

Kimchi soup is purported to cure colds, and at only 33 calories per cup, kimchi can also help combat obesity (that’s a fact). Its main ingredient costs less than $1 per pound at certain markets.

For those who have never eaten kimchi, I advise going to a Korean restaurant to get a taste for it first. When I called my mother for the recipe, I got a list of “guidelines” instead.

“How much hot pepper powder do I use?” I asked.

“Just use enough until it tastes right,” she replied.

So it’s a good idea to get a feel for what it should taste like before you try this recipe, although you shouldn’t expect it to taste the same. This recipe was handed down from Koreans to my Chinese mother to her American daughter — something was bound to get mixed-up. My mom said her kimchi never tasted like the Koreans’, and try as I might, I have never been able to get my kimchi to taste like my mom’s.

What’s important, though, is that it tastes good to you. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to your taste.

What you’ll need:


Large mixing bowl

Large knife

A jar/container for kimchi

Rubber gloves


(All of these ingredients can be found at Lotus Food Co., an Asian grocery store on Penn Avenue)

1 six-pound Napa cabbage

10 tbsp. hot pepper powder

1/2 cup fish sauce

1 small Chinese radish

10 cloves of garlic




You’ll need to set aside two days to make kimchi. Although it takes only about an hour total to cut and mix the ingredients, you’ll have to salt the cabbage overnight.

Start by washing the Napa cabbage. Peel off any discolored leaves on the outermost part of the cabbage and discard. Then pull off each leaf and wash.

Grab about three to four leaves. Stack the leaves on top of each other, making sure they are facing the same direction and that the leaves and stalks line up. Cut down the length of the stalk, slicing through all the leaves. Then begin to chop up the leaves.

The parts of the leaf that are all stalk should be cut into one inch by one inch sections, while the leafier sections can be longer. I cut the leafy sections into long strips about two inches by three inches because I like to wrap them around rice.

Now take the bunch of leaves you just cut and put them into a large bowl. Sprinkle salt over the top layer of the cabbage — don’t toss it. The amount of salt should be a little more than what you’d normally put on food, but not by much.

Repeat the process, salting every time you add about 3-4 leaves to the bowl, until everything is cut up and salted. Let it rest on a counter overnight.

The same day you salt the cabbage, you also want to soak the hot pepper powder. My mother says it’s supposed to expand the powder.

Start off with 10 tablespoons of hot pepper powder and add 10 tablespoons of water to it, stirring gently. Let it soak overnight like the cabbage.

The next day, begin by peeling and cutting the radish. How you choose to cut it is really up to personal preference. I slice it into thin strips about 3 1/2 inches long — imagine putting it through a cheese grater.

Then, peel the garlic — whacking it first with a knife expedites the peeling process. Take an object that can be used like a pestle — such as  the base of a rolling pin — and mash the garlic.

Now take the bowl of hot pepper powder and add the fish sauce, a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of MSG. Stir it well, then taste. If it’s too salty, add more hot pepper powder and water.

Gather the radish and garlic and mix it with the sauce. You could use a spoon, but I prefer to use rubber gloves.

Once the radish is thoroughly mixed with the sauce, taste again to make sure it’s alright. The flavor should be a little spicy, salty and sour.

If everything is palatable, it’s time to mix it with the Napa. First, completely drain any excess water fromthe bowl. Don’t rinse the cabbage.

Grabbing another bowl, transfer about a third of the cabbage into it. Then, add about a third of the sauce to the cabbage.  Do the mixing in thirds to make sure you are doing it thoroughly. Continue adding equal portions of cabbage and sauce into the mixing bowl until everything is used. If the kimchi isn’t red enough, add more chili powder. If it needs salt, add more fish sauce.

When mixing, make sure you aren’t wearing nice clothes. It’s easy to get sauce on them but it’s not easy to get the sauce off.

Now put the kimchi in a container and shut the lid tightly. My family has always used glass jars, but I’ve seen people use Tupperware containers in Korean dramas. Let the mixture sit out for 48 hours before refrigerating.

The kimchi will stay good for a long time — I’ve always finished the jar before it spoiled, and I’m the only one who eats it at my apartment. If you notice that all the juice is pooling at the bottom, resulting in discolored cabbage at the top, just flip the jar over for a night.