And lo must I rhapsodize about cabbage, that spherical closed bud gleaming pale green in pyramid displays at the store: cheap, limitless, eternal!
Eastern Europe runs on cabbage. Kimchi is the soul of Korean cuisine. During the Great Potato Famine, cabbage was there for Ireland. And during the Great Sequestration of 2020, cabbage is here for you. For an uncannily long time. Of all of the vegetables I could have in my refrigerator right now, it is my top choice, thanks to both its enviable shelf life and its versatility. Cabbage can be a fresh, crunchy slaw that goes well with everything, or a mellow green that hunkers down in soups and stews, pasta and rice. It can be stuffed, braised, roasted, stir-fried, caramelized, and fermented.
That last extends its longevity to infinity and beyond. Use cabbage to make kimchi and you’re guaranteed to always have vegetables on hand. With a little steamed rice and a fried egg or some tofu, you’ve got a meal; it’s also great in fried rice, pancakes, soups, and stews.
If you’re interested in Korean cooking, chances are you’re familiar with Maangchi, who teaches her more than 4 million YouTube subscribers how to make everything from Korean fried chicken to the spicy, chewy rice cakes tteokbokki to jjapaguri, which you may be familiar with as the noodle dish translated as “ram-don” in the movie “Parasite.” In her accurately named cookbook “Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking,” a chapter is devoted to kimchi, with the subtitle “More Is Better.” Yes.
Among the versions is this recipe for mak-kimchi, or “easy kimchi,” made with bite-size pieces of Napa cabbage, easier to prepare and eat than the traditional version, which uses whole sections of the vegetable. The flavor is still spot-on. I didn’t have chives or daikon, so I used all scallions (but less than called for) and regular radishes. It still tastes great. (It’s a little saucier than I would have liked, so you may want to add the puree to the vegetables bit by bit until you achieve your ideal ratio.) Gochugaru, Korean chile flakes, are available at Asian markets or online.
1 head Napa cabbage (about 3 pounds)
6 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
⅓ cup fish sauce
9 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon peeled, minced ginger
1 small onion, cut into chunks (about ¾ cup)
1 cup gochugaru, or Korean chile flakes
6 ounces Korean radish or daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 ounces Asian chives or 6 scallions, cut into ½-inch-long pieces (1 cup)
6 scallions, sliced diagonally
1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters. Cut away the core of each quarter. Cut the white ribs of each quarter in half lengthwise. Then cut crosswise into 1- to 1½-inch-long pieces and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with the salt and 1 cup water. Let stand for 2 hours, tossing the cabbage every 30 minutes to salt evenly.
2. Meanwhile, combine the flour and 1 cup water in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stir until the mixture begins to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture is slightly translucent and has the consistency of a runny porridge, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool thoroughly.
3. Drain the cabbage and rinse several times with cold running water, until very clean. Drain well. Dry the bowl.
4. Put the cooled flour mixture, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and onion in a food processor and process to a puree. Transfer the puree to the bowl.
5. Add the hot pepper flakes and stir well with a wooden spoon. Stir in the radish, chives, and scallions. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
6. Add the cabbage and gently toss and mix together by hand (wear disposable gloves if you like, or put plastic bags over your hands). Transfer to one or more glass jars or airtight containers. Press down on the kimchi so it’s well packed and no air can get inside, then put the lid on the container.
7. You can serve the kimchi right away or let it ferment. It will take about 2 weeks to ferment in the refrigerator; for faster fermenting, leave it at room temperature for 1 to 2 days, depending on the warmth of your kitchen, until the kimchi smells and tastes sour. Once the kimchi is fermented, store in the refrigerator. The kimchi will continue to ferment in the refrigerator and become more sour. You can enjoy it at every stage. Whenever you remove kimchi from the container, be sure to press down on the remaining kimchi with a spoon to prevent it from being exposed to air.
Adapted from “Maangchi’s Big Book of Korean Cooking: From Everyday Meals to Celebration Cuisine,” by Maangchi. Photo by Maangchi.
Other things to try
- For cool-weather cabbage, this classic Marcella Hazan (yes, Marcella again) recipe for rice and smothered cabbage soup.
- For warm-weather cabbage, make a Southeast Asian-influenced slaw: Cut a head into quarters and remove the core, then slice each quarter into thin ribbons. Toss in a bowl with whatever else you have on hand that appeals — radishes, carrots, cucumbers, snap peas, even apples — and handfuls of fresh herbs. Cilantro and mint are a must; Thai basil is pretty key; dill and shiso are also nice. If you like spicy, throw in some sliced Thai chiles. Toss with sesame oil, lime juice, fish sauce, and a little sugar (you can grate in some raw garlic, too, if you like). If you have peanuts, chop some and sprinkle over the slaw. Taste and adjust to your liking.
- This sauerkraut recipe from fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz (affectionately known as Sandorkraut).
- For a non-cabbage thing to transform via salt, Paula Wolfert’s preserved lemons.
- For another non-cabbage thing to preserve, David Lebovitz’s pickled turnips. (I am sad when I don’t have a jar of these in the fridge.)
Question of the day: What are your favorite ways to pickle, preserve, ferment, or otherwise do stuff to produce to make it last longer?
Thinking of you, good people.