Making Kimchi




by Lauren Lewis and Molly Haviland

Kimchi is undoubtedly the most important food in the Korean culture. It is eaten with every meal, homemade by most people using local ingredients, and very nutritious. We are not Korean, but are part of a Permaculture class instructed to post about any element of a Permaculture site. We are very interested in the Zone 0 or the home aspect of being the center of activity after harvesting (right around now!) with drying, canning, pickling, and otherwise preparing foods from your gardens.
Kimchi is made using lactic acid fermentation, a process that kills pathogenic bacteria and cultivates beneficial bacteria. Check out this page to learn more about the process- kimchi is actually a spiced sauerkraut of sorts. It is a perfect way to preserve almost any firm vegetable from the garden, and also delicious!
Lets make some kimchi!

Step 1: Gather the Organic and Locally Grown Goods

Begin with a clean space. Make sure that your hands and utensils(knives, cutting board, storage vessels) are clean. The last thing you want to do is "cure" some illness into the goods.
It is advised to bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it into the jars or container that will hold the kimchi. While the water is cooling begin to wash/scrub your ingredients.

The staples of the recipe are Chinese cabbage, onions, garlic, ginger, and hot red peppers. Variations include other members of the onion family, fish and seafood, fish sauce, fruits, and other root vegetables such as burdock.
Our recipe reflects a more northern style kimchi because it uses a watery less-salty brine used to ferment in a cooler temperature for a longer period of time .It is a little less common to encounter in America, if only because we have more contact with South Korea. A southern style Korea has a distinct red color from the spice paste that is rubbed into the cabbage leaves.

Feel free to modify the recipe to suit seasonal and local produce, but cabbage must be the main vegetable you use as it's juices and leaves contain the beneficial bacteria that we are using to ferment the kimchi.

The following ingredients were used because we already had some, and the rest were easy to find locally and organically. We do not have an Asian grocery, and we also attend a vegetarian college, so our recipe might seem a bit bland to people used to Southern style kimchi. Remember to tailor the recipe to suit your tastes and availability of ingredients. It is possible to use canned or bottled spices like hot peppers but make sure they are not soaked in preservatives because that will prevent the fermentation process.

1 lb  Napa Cabbage, cored, halved, and chopped
2 medium Daikon Radish, sliced 1/4"
2 medium Carrots, sliced 1/4"
2 Leeks, sliced 1/4" ( use only white and light green parts)
1/2 cup Jerusalem Artichokes, sliced 1/4"
2 Cucumbers, halved and quartered
7 -10 Scallions, chopped
1 head of Garlic, diced
3 Tbs grated ginger
1  Jalapeno Pepper, seeded and chopped or sliced
3 Thai Green Chilies (whole)
1/4 cup raw Sesame Seeds
3-4 Tbs Sea Salt or Canning Salt- this is important because iodized salt or added anti-caking agents will darken your vegetables

All of these ingredients can be prepared in the size and shape of your preference. Other additions might include broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, green beans, bell peppers, radishes, apples, lemons, different kinds of hot peppers, or a few spoonfuls of sugar.

Step 2: Chop Chop

Core the Napa Cabbage and then cut it lengthwise.  If extra washing is needed do so now, otherwise continue to chop into the size of your preference.
In a large bowl place a 1" layer of cabbage and sprinkle some salt over it, a decent sized pinch each time, perhaps totaling 1 1/2-2 tablespoons. Continue to layer cabbage, salt, cabbage, salt, until you run out of cabbage.  
Set aside.

Here is where most kimchi recipes advise you to use 1/4-3/4 CUP of salt to soak the cabbage, which then has to be rinsed three or more times so that the kimchi is not too salty! We do not like extremely salty tastes, but it can be unsafe in some canning recipes to alter the amounts of salts, vinegars, and other preserving agents. We conferred with an expert who said that yes, most recipes use much more salt than is necessary for the fermentation to occur. The Korean FDA is also working on making a lower-sodium kimchi more popular because “In the old days they needed to put a great deal of salt in kimchi as a way of preservation. However, with the help of state-of-the-art refrigerators these days,  we don’t need that much salt in kimchi".

Continue chopping the rest of your vegetable ingredients into bite size pieces, and your spices a bit smaller(minced garlic, grated ginger, etc.)

Mix all prepared ingredients together in a non-reactive (glass, plastic, ceramic) container.

NOTE:  If you are not stoked about spice, place the Thai chilies in your vessel whole, otherwise remove the seeds and dividers and add to the mix.

Step 3: Time for Brine

Add purified water to the vegetables to within 2-4" of covering them, depending on how heavy the object will be weighing it down (we did not keep this in mind, and had quite a briney spill to clean up!). If you need to add a lot more water, add a bit more salt. We went a little lighter on the salt, using a total of 3 Tbs, and mixed everything all at once to consolidate the process.

You can also mix up the brine separately, using 1 Tbs of salt per cup of water (4 cups to a batch), and then cover your vegetables with it.

Use a clean plate, bowl, jar, or anything that fits into the top of your fermenting container to submerge all ingredients into the brine.

Note: It is better to have less salt than too much. You may always add more salt. If you add too much salt, strain the veggies and keep the brine. Rinse the vegetable in fresh water.  Add the vegetable back to the brine mixture. Keep in mind, if you have to use this method later on, you may lose essential nutrients and beneficial bacteria.  


Step 4: Check for Ripeness

Kimchi and sauerkraut have a very distinctive tart and tangy flavor when they are "done" so with clean fingers, dip into the brine and taste daily. It can take anywhere from 2-7 days in a warm environment like your kitchen, or weeks or months in a saltier brine in a cool place(underground, basement). Before modern technology, Korean families would typically make a huge batch in the fall, and bury it in an earthenware jar underground to ferment until spring.
After this date, move your jars (or whatever) to the refrigerator. We used one large crock to ferment, so this would be the point where we divide it into jars, making sure all ingredients are submerged and leaving a bit of air at the top so that the liquid is not flush with the lid. It is safe to eat an any time during the process so feel free to have a taste. Some even eat it fresh. It will continue to ferment in the refrigerator, but at a much slower pace. It should keep anywhere from weeks to decades, depending on who you to be safe we'll say a couple months.

Step 5: Enjoy!

Now you can dig in! Koreans eat kimchi with most meals...but they have different meal components than most Americans. I can't imagine it going too good on pancakes, but you never know! It is usually never eaten plain, but as a component or condiment to a meal. Traditionally used in soups, rice and noodles, and other main dishes, in modern Korea it is turning up as a pizza topping, and hamburger condiment.
Is important to be knowledgeable about these "permanent" cultural traditions as we embark to create a new perma-culture for ourselves. Our food should be woven into the very fabric of our social identity, as kimchi is for Koreans.

If you'd like to learn more before or after making your batch of kimchi, check out some of the links I used for this project. Enjoy!
the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elliot Katz, some of which is available free on Google books here. We based our recipe after this one, mainly because it was the least intimidating.

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    18 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have bought, eaten lots of variations of Kimchee but this is not Korean Kimchee.

    As AldanG said " that's not kimchi. Kimchi has red chili paste or powder".

    I live in minutes from a 100% Asian community Chinese/Korean and shop there. I never saw anything like the kimchee shown here. UGH!!


    5 years ago on Step 5

    I am half Korean and when we went to visit family in Korea we did eat kimchi with every meal! :) There were a few mornings when kimchi-pancakes were made by my aunt for breakfast. My mom makes them regularly since our trip. I've been wanting to try making my own kimchi. We like it spicy but I may just start with this. Thanks!


    6 years ago

    But I think this is too hot to you aren't you?


    6 years ago

    I'm one of Korean thanks to Your interest in Korean food I love this food


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This Kimchi looks great. I love that it is vegan. ( i"m a vegetarian) I have a love of variations of kimchi too. My fav is radish kimchi, one of my other fav's is a kimchi I ordered from Hawaii, it was a sweeter style.
    Does anyone have a recipe for Bavaria Sauerkraut, the sweet one with caraway seeds. I have tried to "doctor up" regular kraut but it doesn't taste the same? Thanks All !


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Early salting can have another purpose in a recipe, it can draw out excess moisture from the cell walls of plants via osmosis. This helps make the veggies crispy.

    Still, I would think 1.5 cups of salt is over the limit of what's needed.

    4 replies

    may depend on the veggie. Oisobagi kimchi definably gets crispier with the salting. It's a "fresh" variant, so I don't know if the fermentation over time would tend to make it softer.

    Ever have a crisp pickle before?

    Cucumbers are "crisp" or crunchy without being brined. They also stay crisp after brining usually for several months. Cabbage on the other hand is so thin that while the thicker parts retain their "crispness" they are substantially softer than raw.

    There is a Good Eats episode that can probably explain this phenomenon much more eloquently than I can. Alton Doesn't go over Kimchi, but discusses fermentation of pickles and Sauerkraut.

    I've got a potsticker recipe that uses chinese cabbage. An important first step is to chop the cabbage and toss in a relatively large amount of salt. The cabbage sits and the salt draws water out of the cell walls.

    Then you wring-out the cabbage, rinse it quickly, and then add it to other ingredients.

    The cabbage gets crisper. No, really. 


    8 years ago on Introduction

    When I make kimchi at home I usually wilt the vegetable in a stronger brine, rinse the veg mix and then begin fermentation. I follow along similar lines to this recipe in that I only make "vegan" kimchi (I do not use oysters, shrimp or fish sauce), but I differ a bit in the brine and amount of spice (I use quite a bit of Korean Chili Powder).

    I'm going to try this method next batch :)

    Have you considered the use of a pickle crock? Also, if you save a little brine from a previous batch, this works as a started and you'll get a faster fermentation (just a thought).


    8 years ago on Introduction

    That's not kimchi. Kimchi has kochujang (red chili paste or powder). This is just sauer.... well, sauerkraut and other sauer things.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I'm pretty sure that kimchi existed in Korea long before the chili plant made it to the far east.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Looks delicious. I've made homemade sauerkraut a number of times and it so much better tasting and better for you. I start tasting after a few days and continue every few days until it is done (usually a couple of weeks in the kitchen). I'm certainly going to try this pro-biotic recipe.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Mmm. Kimchi. Good 'ible, and Sandorkraut is the man. After I made several batches of kimchi, my wife noticed that it was giving everything else in the fridge a "funk", and she forbade me from making it again until I had a dedicated "fermentation fridge". We mentioned this to a Korean friend of ours and he, looking a bit perplexed, said "yes, of course, you must have a kimchi fridge".
    Now I do, so another batch is imminent.
    Also, I use dried red chilis (Thai, cayenne, and others) instead of fresh and pulverize them in a spice grinder which gives the 'chi a nice red color.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Oh man, that looks awesome! Have you gotten to try it yet? If not, update when you discover how it turned out!

    We make our own kimchi as well. You can tweak it to your taste, adjust to your spice tolerance, and use whatever is particularly good/cheap. Wild Fermentation was a good starting point for us too - useful stuff.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It was delicious!!! Not very salty or spicy, but a very complex flavor. The daikon is my favorite. Lots of our classmates tried it and liked it, and I myself cannot stop eating it!