Introduction: Homemade Kimchi
This summer, we found ourselves with an abundance of cabbage from our vegetable garden. We wanted to preserve it in a way that would allow us to enjoy it once the harvest season had passed. This kimchi recipe was born from that desire.
Step 1: The Ingredients
To make 1 gallon of kimchi
*Recipe can easily be scaled using these ratios to produce as much or as little kimchi as you’d like to make.
- Green cabbage (4 pounds)
- Yellow onions (3 small)
- Garlic (12 cloves)
- Ginger (3 inches)
- Carrots (3 pounds)
- Japanese radish called daikon (3 pounds)
- Green onions (2-3 bunches)
- Salt (½ cup)
- Fish sauce (3 tablespoons)
- Salted shrimp (3 tablespoons)
- Korean chilli powder called gochugaru (½ to 1½ cups)
*Gochugaru, salted shrimp, fish sauce, and daikon may initially be difficult to find depending upon your location, but can typically be found at many ethnic and Asian markets as well as online.
- Stock pot or large mixing bowl
- Knife and cutting board
- Food processor (optional)
- Glass jar or other large container
Step 2: The Cabbage
Wash, core, and roughly chop 3 cabbage heads (roughly 4 pounds) into bite-sized pieces. Depending on personal preference make these pieces as large or as small (within reason) as you like. I like to target roughly 2 inch squares myself, but you could go larger, or even finely shred it on a mandoline.
Step 3: The Soak
After chopping the cabbage, it is necessary to soften the cabbage by salting.
Begin by transferring your chopped cabbage to a large mixing bowl or stock pot. From here, you will need to gently massage roughly ½ cup of salt into the cabbage. Once completely mixed into the cabbage, add just enough water to cover. You may need to use a plate or other heavy object to help keep it submerged.
You will need to let the salted cabbage stand for a few hours at room temperature to draw out moisture and soften.
Similar to a wilted plant, the drawing out of water by the salt causes the cabbage to soften. The plant utilizes the water pressure within its cells to maintain its shape/rigidity and stand up straight.
Step 4: The Rinse
As soon as one, but typically after two hrs, begin regularly checking on your cabbage. If it is limp and feels a bit rubbery, it’s ready to be rinsed. If it’s still stiff, let it continue to soak a while longer before checking again as the time it takes for the cabbage to soften can vary depending upon the amount of salt used. This will take a few hours, so be patient.
Move your softened cabbage into a colander and give it a thorough rinse and drain. We’ll be adding additional salt later on, so you’ll want make sure you give it a good rinsing to ensure your finished kimchi doesn’t end up overly salty.
Step 5: Additional Vegetable Prep
Next we’ll need to get the rest of the vegetables ready.
Begin by washing and peeling your 3 pounds of carrots and daikon radish.
You will need finely cut/shred these two items. For the ease of preparation, we use the shredder attachment on our food processor. Alternatively, one could use a mandoline slicer or a box grater. Of course, if you were planning on really working on your knife skills, you could always finely julienne them by hand.
At this point, you’ll also need give 2-3 bunches of scallions a quick chop. We grow our own, so the onion tops are far larger than those typically sold at the local store. Kitchen shears make quick work of this task, however, I like to take the time to slice mine on the bias for aesthetic purposes.
Once all the scallions, carrots, and daikon have been prepped, add them to the large stock pot or mixing bowl containing your rinsed cabbage.
Step 6: The Paste
Begin by swapping out your shredding attachment for the chopping blade in your food processor.
Add 3 small yellow onions, 12 garlic cloves, and 3 inches of peeled ginger to the food processor, pulsing until smooth.
Traditionally this step had been performed with a mortar and pestle, but I do not find I have the time, nor the patience to do it this way.
Once blended, add in ½ - 1 ½ cups gochugaru (add more for a spicier, more intense flavor, or less for a milder kimchi), 3 tablespoons salted shrimp, and 3 tablespoons fish sauce and once again run until well incorporated and smooth.
While potentially difficult to track down, the gochugaru is arguably the most essential ingredient for kimchi. Adding color and lending its own distinct flavor and heat level, this Korean chili powder is rather difficult to substitute. Depending on personal preferences, you can easily adjust the amount of gochugaru added to achieve your desired heat level and flavor intensity.
The salted shrimp and fish sauce contribute a depth of complexity, as well as the characteristically umami and salty character. If the idea of using shrimp is rather unappetizing, or if you are having difficulty obtaining the salted shrimp, feel free to substitute it out by doubling the amount of fish sauce used. Alternatively, you can also strictly use the salted shrimp instead of the combination of both for a slightly different flavor. Feel free to experiment and decide which suits your palate the best.
For a vegetarian option, one could also substitute the fermented seafood products for strictly soy sauce.
Step 7: The Mix
Once your paste has been created, add it to your mixing vessel containing all your prepped vegetables and incorporate well.
While a large spoon or tongs might work, there really is no easier way than diving right in and giving it a thorough mixing with your hands.
I would strongly recommend that you use gloves for this step as the capsaicin (the oil contained in chilis that causes the sensation of heat) can be quite the irritant to your hands and any part of your body you may touch. Seeing as I have been eating/handling hot peppers for many years, my body seems to have built up quite a tolerance to it long ago.
Step 8: The Pack
Once thoroughly mixed, all that’s really left is to transfer your kimchi into its final container.
While ceramic crocks are traditional, glass containers (i.e. mason jars) are cheap and readily accessible. Personally, due to the volume we make and consume, we tend to use 1 gallon glass jars which we have picked up at our local homebrew shop.
Make sure to pack it down as you fill the jar, pushing out any air pockets that might form. Aim for roughly 1”-1.5” of headspace between the top of your kimchi and lid
Step 9: The Ferment
Seemingly the simplest step, the most important step for flavor development is to let your packed kimchi rest at room temperature and let the microbes go to work!
While many different wild yeasts and bacteria contribute to the finished flavor of your fermented kimchi, the most notable microbe is lactobacillus. This particular bacteria has garnered much notoriety lately as a “probiotic”, one of the many healthy microbes at work in your digestive system. It has commonly been associated with adding that quintessential lactic acid “twang” you’ll find in yoghurt, kombucha, and other fermented foods (i.e. sauerkraut and traditional fermented pickles), as well as adding the sourness found in sourdough bread and even sour beer!
Not only is it healthy, as the lactobacillus microbe goes to work fermenting sugars present in the cabbage and shredded vegetables it produces lactic acid which essentially drops the pH of the food item. This helps create an environment too inhospitable for most microbes to take hold, helping preserve the food for long term storage.
It is important to make sure to keep the lid on your jar slightly loose, or if you are afraid of contamination, occasionally loosen the lid of your vessel in order to release the CO2 pressure build up created during fermentation. This is important to help keep your jar from exploding!
After about 2 days, begin to try your kimchi. Additional liquid has likely been drawn out of the cabbage and vegetables, so keeping a plate under your jar helps keep things tidy in case of an accidental spill.
Please note, there are many factors that contribute to the time it takes for the fermentation to occur, but one of the largest factors is temperature. The warmer you keep your kimchi, the quicker it ferments and the faster it becomes sour. There is a balance to be had. Too high of a temperature (I’d say much above 80) begins to increase the likelihood that mold will form on the top of your kimchi since the lactobacillus has not yet had enough time to lower the pH. Some will tell you to go ahead and remove any moldy pieces and let it finish, others will tell you to throw the whole thing out. This is personal choice depending on what you are comfortable with doing.
Once the kimchi has developed a level of sourness that suits your personal taste, move the jar to the refrigerator to slow further fermentation in order to keep the kimchi from becoming too sour to eat.
At refrigerator temperatures, kimchi can easily last for a month or longer. While kimchi doesn’t technically spoil, it will continue to slowly ferment, becoming more intense as it ages.
Step 10: Finished!
Now you’re ready to enjoy your homemade kimchi! Feel free to adapt this recipe as you see fit. Although kimchi is traditionally made using napa cabbage, we used green cabbage because it is what we harvested from our garden. Red/purple cabbage can also be used, which the creates the deep red you see in the photo. Don’t limit yourself to the vegetables we’ve used here as you can add in other veggies besides carrot and daikon, like cucumber or greens. As you become more comfortable with making your own kimchi, experiment with different options and see which one you like best!