It’s kimchi making season again! Last weekend, I bought a big box of napa cabbages and made two types of kimchi – pogi kimchi and this baek kimchi (white kimchi). Baek kimchi (백김치) is a variety of kimchi that’s made without red chili pepper flakes. Baek means white. Kimchi is obviously much more popular in its red spicy form, but white kimchi is enjoyed for its mild, refreshing taste. It’s child-friendly and great for people who have issues with spicy food!
Napa cabbages are in their prime these days, and they tend to be larger than the ones you find in the summer. Look for medium size cabbages (about 4 pounds) with deep green outer leaves and yellow inner leaves. Large ones tend to be soft and less sweet because of the high water content.
The best salt for salting the cabbages is Korean coarse sea salt, which are available at Korean markets. Korean sea salt is known for superior quality and high mineral content, which helps prevent the cabbages from softening quickly, while improving the taste of kimchi. It seems like kimchi recipes take so much salt, but a lot of it is washed off once the cabbages are properly salted.
The stuffing for white kimchi varies but usually includes typical kimchi ingredients such as radish, garlic, ginger, scallion, minari, pear, etc. I like to add colorful bell peppers, which are called paprika in Korea, for sweetness and additional colors. Traditionally, other ingredients such as pine nuts, jujubes, and chestnuts are also thrown into the baek kimchi stuffing. They are nice things to have, but not absolutely necessary.
Baek kimchi typically has a lot more water content than its red, spicy counterpart. The brine can be simply water and salt or flavored with other ingredients such as grated pear, garlic, ginger and salted shrimp. I usually add sweet rice (aka glutenous rice) powder paste. The rice paste is commonly used in kimchi. Among other reasons, the rice paste promotes fermentation by feeding healthy bacteria and helps develop the flavors of kimchi.
After a few days of fermentation, you will have mild kimchi that’s crunchy and full of subtle flavors with a bit of tang. The refreshing brine is great as a soup base for cold noodles.