My mother always had at least four kinds of kimchi in the refrigerator at any given time; cucumber, cabbage, and turnip were the most common. Most of them were so spicy that she had to rinse ours with water before giving it to us kids (confession, I did the same thing with my daughters).
In the winter, a big glass jar full of white radishes and green onions with a few pepper slices floating in a clear liquid would join the other kimchi. This was dongchimi, Korean radish water kimchi.
What Is Dongchimi?
Dongchimi literally means winter kimchi, and it is a non-spicy kimchi that is usually made in the fall and typically lasts through the winter months. In traditional folk medicine, the liquid part of the dongchimi (the brine) was used to help with an upset stomach or a cough. As a child, if I had a sore throat, I was given a choice of gargling with hot salt water or drinking dongchimi brine. Guess which one I chose.
Dongchimi captures most of the taste elements, being a little sweet and a bit salty with a pleasant, tangy acidity that helps to cut through the fattiness of grilled meats. It’s a reprieve from other spicy or steamy foods you may be eating. The brine is also a common ingredient in naengmyeon, cold Korean noodle soup.
My mother, and most Koreans, serve it in the winter as a light and refreshing broth that they eat with hot foods, especially grilled meats like kalbi. I love to drink the brine and eat all the vegetables as soon as the bowl hits the table, but my mother would sip hers throughout a meal.
The Best Radishes for Dongchimi
Traditionally dongchimi is made from whole small Korean radishes called mu. The Korean radish is a firm vegetable that is shorter and more stout than a daikon radish (my mom called them chubby radishes). They are white on top and have a light green color about halfway down. The more green you see, the sweeter they tend to be.
A Quick(er) Recipe
My mother would take small whole radishes, roll them in coarse salt, and allow them to sit in a jar in a cold spot for several days to soften. She then added sliced fruit, garlic, and a few chili peppers, covered everything with water, and allowed the whole thing to ferment for several weeks.
This recipe for quick dongchimi utilizes sliced radishes and a purée of fruits and aromatics, making an even more flavorful brine and shortening the whole process to a mere 48 hours. After that, the dongchimi will continue to ferment and get even more flavorful over time.
I prefer to make my radish water kimchi in a glass jar so that I can see the bubbles of fermentation forming, confirming that it’s ready to eat. After that I place it in the refrigerator, ready for me to pour out a serving whenever I like. Properly stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator, your dongchimi will taste great for up to 3 months.
Fun with Fermentation
- Fermented Pickles
- Fermented Garlic Honey
- Homemade Sauerkraut
Prepare the radishes:
Peel and slice the Korean radishes into very thin, 1/8-inch-thick half-moon shapes. In a medium bowl, toss the radishes with the salt and honey and let sit for 1 hour while you make the brine.
Make the brine:
Place the pear, apple, onion, ginger, and garlic in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of cold water. Blend until smooth. Line a wire mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl. Pour the blended ingredients into the strainer to catch all the liquid in the bowl. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze to get as much liquid from the purée as possible into the bowl. Discard the cheesecloth with the dry purée.
Make the kimchi:
Drain and rinse the radish slices to remove as much of the salt and honey as possible. Place in the bottom of a 2-quart container with a lid along with the sliced green onions and pepper (if using). Pour all of the strained liquid from the purée along with the remaining 3 cups of cold water on top of the radishes.
Cover and store at room temperature for at least 48 hours, or until you can see bubbles on top of the liquid. Transfer to the refrigerator, where it will keep for a few months. It never really goes bad, but the flavor is best in the first 3 months.
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