Philadelphia’s unexpected additional month of spring has been a boon for my bok choy. So far I’ve harvested at least six pounds from a single, 4 foot-long row. But my abundance of bok choy begs the question of what, exactly, to do with it. I do love the stuff, but you can only eat it steamed so many nights in a row before losing interest. Hence, kimchi.
For those readers not familiar with it, kimchi is kind of Korean pickle subject to neary infinite variations. Traditionally it was made by groups of women and stored through the winter (sometimes underground) in clay pots. The kind that you’re most likely to find at your local Asian grocery or Korean restaurant will have some kind of Asian cabbage, garlic, some kind of hot pepper seasoning, and lots of salt. Like most traditional pickles, however, there are as many kinds of kimchi as people who make it. Sometimes it has daikon radish; sometimes it has anchovies. Some people use fish sauce; others use pine nuts. As luck would have it, bok choy, with its big white stems and leafy greens, makes excellent kimchi.
I’m offering a recipe below loosely adapted from one in Linda Ziedrich’s wonderful Joy of Pickling, but I encourage you to experiment. Don’t mess with the proportion of salt, as you need a certain level of salinity to encourage the right kind of fermentation. Everything else, though, from the ingredients to the length of fermentation, is flexible. After six days my first batch was almost too pickle-y for my tastes, but the second batch came out absolutely perfect after only four days. Enjoy!
Bok Choy Kimchi
About 1 1/2 pounds bok choy (stems and leaves), cut into 2 inch squares
1 or 2 turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1 to 2 T ginger, minced
1 to 2 T garlic, minced
6 scallions, cut into 2 inch pieces, then cut in half lengthwise
2 T hot or mild paprika (your choice: I liked it better hot)
6 cups water
4 1/2 T kosher salt (or 3 T pickling salt, if you have it)
1) Make your brine by dissolving the salt in water. Put the bok choy and the turnips in a large bowl and cover with brine. Weight the vegetables so that they stay submerged (see picture) and let sit for 12 to 24 hours.
2) Drain the vegetables, reserving the brine. Mix the remaining ingredients by hand, then stuff them into a large jar. I was able to make this batch fit into a regular-mouth quart mason jar, but you may need to use a bigger one, or use two, if you have more vegetables. Pour the brine over vegetables. Run a knife alongside the inside of the jar to release air bubbles and add more brine if needed. If you’re using a regular mouth jar and everything’s submerged up to the lid, just put the lid on. If you’re using a large jar and are having problems with things floating to the top, put a ziplock bag within the jar and fill it with brine. The goal is to prevent air from touching the vegetables.
3) Move the jar to a cool, dark place (ideally 68º: I used the basement) and let it sit for 3–6 days. After a day or two you should see bubbles rising to the surface. Taste it after a few days to see if it’s sour enough. When you’re happy with the pucker factor, stash it in your fridge, where it will keep for months (assuming you don’t eat it first).