Kimchi 101, Two Recipes for Korean Fermented Cabbage


This post is a post I have had brewing for months. I have a lot of DIY’s in me but this one took some trial and error, and I can say without a doubt that I have almost mastered the art of making kimchi. This is a long one folks, so buckle up! Pronounced Kim-Chee, this is a naturally fermented Korean dish. Served as banchan (meaning side dish) it is part of every meal. Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, kimchi is the heart and soul of the Korean table and culture. The oldest references to kimchi can be found as far back as 3,000 years ago. Early kimchi was made only with cabbage and beef stock, but when red chili was introduced in the  late 1500’s fiery red kimchi became standard. Ingredients and methods vary by region and family. The most popular and standard kimchi is made with napa cabbage, but it also can be made with cucumber, radish or really any other vegetable that is on hand. Although every one of my posts I put my soul into this one truly was, and is a living, breathing, labor of love.


As mentioned, kimchi is the heart of Korean food, and truly my new favorite food. (and cat) I buy 10 pounds of cabbage about twice a month, I eat it at least once a day. Although you may think it is merely gussied up cabbage, this dish is a nourishing traditional food that offers a spicy, powerful taste with many health benefits as well. Like anything that is naturally fermented it is great for your digestive health. It is packed with vitamins A, B and C and the cabbage itself is said to prevent the growth of cancerous cells in the body. Kimchi is not only a historical and culturally rich food, it is a traditional and nourishing super food.

I can not quite remember where about I heard of kimchi first, I can tell you that one of my favorite books Nourishing Traditions made reference of it. The recipe is called Korean Sauerkraut and it is fairly straight forward. (even suited for vegetarian palates with no fish sauce or shrimp.)  My major resource for  Korean food DIY is of course the PBS Mini-Series Kimchi Chronicles. I’ve seen many of the episodes numerous times, and I have to say I could probably watch them a few more times with no less drool involved. Kimchi Chronicles highlights Korean cooking with many American and even traditional French influences. (Seeing that Marja’s co-host and husband is world renowned Jean-Georges.) Kimchi relish on hot dogs, or delicious pork neck stew, the recipes are not boring. A step into another world Korean food is my current obsession.
Left: Store bought Kimchi $5 for less than one pound
Right: Homemade Kimchi made with Standard Cabbage $3.00 for 2-3 pounds

The lovely Majra Vongerichten herself as well as Koreafornian Cooking were truly my cheerleaders,  throughout this process. Both of them providing me with vital information and pointers. They helped me get over my learning curve via twitter, as well as with this post which answered my temperature and vessel questions. So my Kimchi story has been a long going dialogue, but finally I can say that I mostly get it. The wonderful Miss Jina, recently gave me the authentic goods and recipe to complete one final batch in the absolute traditional manner. So my experiments are finally over. I have concluded my experimenting and following is my DIY recipes with tips, tricks and all you need to know. There is no excuse for you not to try to make some yourself!

-Before You Start-
Find the Ingredients

#1 Cabbage- Napa cabbage absolutely works the best. It is what traditional kimchi is made with. I have used regular green cabbage and it becomes fairly soggy and mushy. If you are like me and you develop a “kimchi habit” that gets expensive, you can definitely substitute  plain cabbage in a pinch.
#2 Korean Red Chili Powder- Marja says Korean chili powder is essential, but I can not easily obtain it. Cayenne or red pepper flakes are not similar as they are hotter (to me at least) and more bitter. Korean chili’s are unique and a bit more balanced. I find that in other recipes they do not dissolve as easily as cayenne. I’ve ground my own dried chili’s and my very best solution is Sriracha or Chili garlic sauce. It is readily available and sold everywhere. The real stuff can be purchased here. A natural chemical-free hot sauce is ideal.
#3 Fermented, Salted, Brined Shrimp or Oysters- Although I recently made a fairly traditional batch of kimchi using salted shrimp and Korean Chili powder, most often I only use fish sauce. Salted shrimp are not something I have ever seen before. I have seen recipes where people use anchovies or sardines instead and many traditional recipes include fresh oysters in addition to fish sauce and salted shrimp. So if you have those on hand it is worth a try. You can find salted shrimp at a well stocked Asian grocer. It is a perishable item so be sure to find a reputable resource. Although there are many vegetarian recipes floating around, I do not recommend them. I think the fishy, salty flavor is 100% critical.
#4 Sweet Rice Flour- Regular rice flour can be found anywhere, sweet rice powder is available in Asian grocery marts. (I have not tried using it) Using the rice powder slurry insures a thicker sauce that holds onto the cabbage better, keeping it more crisp and crunchy.
#5 Fermentation Vessel-  A crock of some sort is necessary. You want something non metallic and ideally large enough to hold one or two heads of cabbage. You want enough space that your kimchi will not overflow, but not so much space that there is a lot of air. Storage containers with rubber seals, mason jars or pickle jars will due. As you can tell I happen to be a jar hoarder. I have jars in every shape and size. Food grade buckets or tubs work, if you buy one $5 jumbo sized jar of pickles you are in business.
The Rest- toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic, green onions, Daikon or Korean Radish (never used it), Asian pear or apple. I don’t believe Koreans use sesame oil or apples/pears I like it in both recipes because it adds a nutty sweetness.

The Recipe(s)
My goal with Neo-Homesteading as a whole is making my food and recipes accessible to everyone with easy to find ingredients. I really do like my method and recipe. I have had very consistent results with it. Seeing that kimchi is such a traditional food I am sharing two recipes. I like them both. With both recipes I do not actually use a traditional sweet rice powder slurry. The slurry-sauce recipe is included with the traditional recipe. I am the only one who eats kimchi in my house and I eat it daily, so I keep it grain-free. I like to use an apple to help sweeten the batch just a smidge. For consistency I am writing these recipes out for 2 head batches because that is how I always make it. Both recipes can be made without fermentation at all, this is a fresh kimchi. It will not last as long as fermented kimchi, only 1 week or so. Fermented kimchi will last in the fridge for 6 months or longer. That is assuming you don’t eat it all up! It becomes more sour the longer it rests. I prefer it extra raunchy.
Brine The Cabbage
You will want to brine the cabbage with both recipes. Similar to making traditional sweet pickle relish the brining process helps remove excess moisture as well as insure the vegetables crispiness.
2 heads Napa Cabbage (about 10 pounds)
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
Cut cabbage into 1-2″ bite sized pieces, or leave it whole if you have a crock or food tub large enough to ferment whole heads of cabbage. Toss cabbage with salt. I sprinkle by the hand full. Generally you need a few tablespoons for 3 or 4 hand fulls of cabbage. Cover the cabbage with ice if your house is warm. Allow to soak for 4 hours. Rinse the cabbage 3 or 4 times and squeeze all of the liquid from the cabbage.
Rice Flour Slurry
1/2 cup sweet rice powder
3/4 cup water
Combine water and rice powder in a small sauce pot over medium heat. Whisk to combine just until smooth. Cool fully and combine with sauce ingredients.

-Traditional Kimchi Recipe-
2 heads Napa Cabbage, Brined
Slurry, (optional)
8-10 garlic cloves, grated
1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
4-5 spoon fulls salted shrimp
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 to 1 1/2 cups Korean Red Pepper Powder
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 apple peeled, cored and diced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Combine sauce ingredients. For a smoother sauce you can blend it in a food processor with more or less fish sauce to help it puree. I always just mix and dump. Once the cabbage is brined, rinsed and drained combine sauce with the cooled slurry. It should be about the consistency of mud. Toss this with the cabbage, if using whole heads of cabbage liberally smear the mixture in between each leaf. Place into fermenting vessels, cover with lid. Be sure not to over pack them, leave at least 1″ of space at the top. If you pack your jar too full you will have one hell of a stinky kitchen. Pets will love you, everyone else will not.
Leave at room temperature two to four days or until fermented. Placing your  jars on cookie sheets helps catch any dribble. A good batch of kimchi will fizzle like soda pop when opened. Bubbles will rise and gas should release with a pop, when the jar is opened. This is how you know it is done, it will bubble and smell sour much like a pickle, maybe a bit sweet, and of course spicy. If it stays alive and fizzy in the fridge, you my friend have made some kickin’ kimchi!
Fermenting- Time will vary according to the temperature of your home. Two or three days generally or up to four. For me it seems to be exactly 3 days. You can ferment much, much longer however it will be more sour. Regular sauerkraut ferments approximately 30 days. Insure that your goods are covered with enough liquid and not exposed to too much air, and your golden.
Speed It Up- Add whey or juice from a previous batch of kimchi. Juice from store bought kimchi will work. Doing so will cause it to ferment in as little as 36 hours. When adding juice from a previous batch my kimchi LITERALLY becomes explosive. Be sure not to over pack it. (When opened it bubbles over like a child’s science project Volcano)
-My Go-To Kimchi Recipe-
My “secret” spice is a touch of cinnamon. It adds a slight warmth, and a little Hmmm? That most recipes do not have. This recipe is my go-to and comes out consistently like every variety I’ve purchased from the stores. In both recipes you can use more or less “heat” by altering the chili, or chili sauce to your own taste. Although I am not a huge fan of the additives in many hot chili sauces, it is a necessary evil in my home.
2 heads of Napa Cabbage (Brined, as directed above)
Slurry (optional, I never use it but it does help with texture of the sauce.)
About 1 cup hot sauce or chili paste, Homemade Gochujang works GREAT.
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
4-5 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 tablespoon ginger, minced or grated
1 Apple peeled, cored and diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
A good Pinch: Ground Cinnamon
Combine and Ferment as directed in the Traditional Kimchi recipe.
-One Final Note- My Kimchi comes out slightly soupy because I do not squeeze out the liquid properly. I admit I half ass it. Also, I do not use the slurry. Finally, I have an over priced refrigerator that freezes EVERYTHING I put into it, including my kimchi.