In small Korean church basements across America, there are a half dozen or so grandmas joyfully congregating every week to not study the bible but to get their hands immersed in a bright red Korean pepper paste. These Holy women are best known for their devout devotion to God, but they are also known as Kimchi Masters who take their craft of producing the best kimchi in the area with an expert level of seriousness and commitment.
These women are not seeking to produce artisan, hipster type of spicy pickled vegetables you see being blogged across the internet or gracing the pages of a culinary magazine. Instead, a small fellowship of older women gather nearly every Saturday to strengthen a sense of cultural community as they prepare dozens of heads of Napa cabbage kimchi to be enjoyed by the entire congregation weeks later after their typical Sunday service, where congregants enjoy a simple traditional meal together accented with homemade kimchi prepared by master hands.
Making kimchi, a spicy pickled vegetable side dish, is fairly simple. All you do is salt vegetables and season them with a pepper paste. After resting for a week or longer to pickle and sometimes ferment, the kimchi is ready to be consumed. However, to get the taste just right you need more than a recipe. Like these kimchi grandmas I had the privilege to spend time with just outside of Seattle one Saturday morning, sometimes you need to add a little bit of this or a lot more than that. Each week when they prepare a new batch, they go by taste when preparing the secret pepper sauce. I’m told my mom’s friends are particularly known in the area to have the best tasting kimchi in Seattle that cannot be purchased and can only be enjoyed by attending church service followed by the congregant meal.
These women know they have a reputation for making the best kimchi in the area and half seriously strive to live up to the lore surrounding their kimchi making abilities. Most of the time they make kimchi because they love God, their Korean culture, and their fellow brothers and sisters.
I invite you to watch our latest and final season episode about how these Kimchi Grandmas make Korea’s most treasured national dish.
Recipe: How to Make Kimchi
A great simple authentic recipe on how to make kimchi from a group of Korean grandmas.
2 heads medium Napa cabbage
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 medium onion minced
1 cup Korean hot pepper flakes (gochurgaru)
12 garlic cloves minced
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons salted Korean shrimp
1 tablespoon sugar
Rinse the Napa cabbage (intact) thoroughly with in-between leaves.
Lifting up each leaf, season the cabbage with the salt and sugar.
Set the cabbage aside for 2 hours.
While the cabbage is resting, prepare the seasoning sauce.
In a small bowl add the water, onion, pepper flakes, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, salted shrimp, and sugar. Stir the ingredients to form a well mixed pepper paste.
After the cabbage has rested, rinse the cabbage again thoroughly. Squeeze the cabbage as best as you can to remove any excess water.
Apply the seasoning paste to each and every leaf, like painting.
After all the cabbage leaves have been seasoned, roll each cabbage head into one large ball and store in an airtight glass jar. The kimchi can be enjoyed immediately or store in the refrigerator for at least a week up to 3 months.