Kimchi comes in all shapes and sizes, but this Kkakdugi (깍두기) made with large Korean radish is a perennial favorite. With crunchy cubes of radish in a sweet and spicy pickling sauce Kkakdugi goes well as a side for grilled meats and soups as well as a bowl of rice.
As someone who loves condiments, and pickles in particular, I’ve tried preserved vegetables in various forms from cultures around the world. I’d argue though that no one does pickles quite as well as the Koreans. Kimchi was traditionally prepared during fall in large batches and stored underground in earthenware urns. This was the perfect way to preserve summer vegetables for the long harsh Korean winter.
Like a fine wine, kkakdugi tastes better as it matures. I love that you can enjoy a batch over the course of its fermentation. It starts off vibrant and fresh, like a pungent salad. As the flavors meld, it mellows out, bringing out the sweetness of the gochugaru (chili flakes) and radish. As it continues to mature, lacto-fermenation converts the sugars into lactic acid giving it a distinctly tangy taste and adding a whole new dimension to the humble pickle.
While most recipes have you go straight from salting to pickling your kimchi, I prefer adding a day of drying. This reduces the water content of the radish and gives it a crunchier texture, but you can skip this step for a more tender kkakdugi.
Daikon is a different type of radish, but it’s much easier to find in the US and will work in a pinch. Whatever you use, make sure it’s fresh, otherwise it can have a gritty stringy texture. The skin should be taut and shiny the tops slightly green, and ideally it’ll still have the greens attached to the top (which you can pickle separately to make another kimchi). You should be able to find gochugaru in the Korean section of most Asian grocery stores. Saeujeot is a bit harder to find and you may need to find a Korean grocery store (such as HMart), however if you really can’t find it, belacan or even fish sauce will work.
- Wash the radish thoroughly. You can peel if if you like, but I like leaving the skin on because it adds a nice texture.
- Cut the ends off the radishes and stand them upright. Slice into 4 even slices (about 1/2" thick). Place each slice flat on the cutting board and slice 4 times lengthwise to make 4 sticks about 1/2" in diameter. Turn the sticks 90 degrees and slice the them into 1/2" cubes.
- Add the cubed radish into a Ziploc bag along with the salt and toss to coat. Seal the bag and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours to allow moisture to seep out.
- Put down a layer of paper towels on a large wire rack and squeeze the radish before laying them out on the rack, saving the liquid in the bag for the next step. Cover with a single layer of paper towels and let them dry for 24 hours in a breezy place.
- To make the the Kkakdugi, add the scallions, gochugaru, radish liquid, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, and Saeujeot to a large bowl and stir well until combined. Add the dried radish and stir to coat evenly.
- Transfer to a container . If you use glass, be sure not to tighten the lid too tight as the radish will release gasses as it ferments. Let the kimchi ferment in the fridge for at least a week. The kimchi will naturally turn tart as it ferments, so this is a desirable quality.