Making kimchi, at least the way I do it, is super fun and easy. We eat it most days at our house. It’s great on egg and pasta dishes, and our casual party favorite mac and kimchis. We eat it in alone, in small quantities, and it is fantastic as a filling (mixed with some kind of protein such as beans) on top of a sourdough crepe. I also use it in ways that other people probably find disgusting, such as mixed with cottage cheese or on a veggie dog. But, I digress.
The great thing about kimchi is that it’s flexible and you can sub what you’ve got. I’ve used regular cabbage instead of napa, french breakfast radishes instead of daikon, and I’ve used leeks and/or red peppers and tons of other stuff I’ve pulled out of my garden or the off the stands at the farmer’s market. All-radish kimchi is traditional and so good! I’ve made it so spicy my spice-loving husband teared up and so unspicy my bland-loving friends and relatives raved. YOU CAN USE ANYTHING. Anything! Except tomatoes, cukes and squash which would mush. It’s going to taste delicious regardless of your vegetable choices so play around.
A note: generally when working with ferments, metal is not your friend. You won’t kill your kimchi like you would your kefir grains or your kombucha scoby, but as a habit, wooden or plastic utensils are better to use. During long fermentation, any metal in your container could corrode due to the lactic acid that is being produced.
Here’s my basic recipe to get you started, but remember, it’s up to you to make it taste how you like it to taste!
Basic, Flexible Kimchi (Adapted from Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation and the Art of Fermentation, The Kimchi Chronicles Cookbook by Marja Vongerichten and myriad YouTube videos over the years)
Makes one quart
1 – 2lb head napa cabbage, skanky outer leaves removed and reserved
1 large daikon
1-2 bunches of scallions (or Korean chives if you can find them)
3 large carrots, julienned (optional)
1 leek, thoroughly soaked to remove debris and sliced (optional)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced or chopped into 1/2 inch squares (optional)
4 T salt (possibly more)
1/8 c rice flour (or a chunk of fruit, equaling about 1/3 c. Stone and tropical fruits work great!)
3 inches ginger, unpeeled, or to taste (I use more)
4 cloves garlic, or to taste (I use more)
1/2 an onion
2 T red pepper flakes
1/4- c gochugaru (Korean red chili powder) (omit this if making a white kimchi)
- Thoroughly rinse cabbage, daikon, carrots, leek and bell pepper. Chop cabbage, discarding core. Put it in a big bowl full of room temperature water. This is to remove any excess dirt and debris. Rinse after 10-15 minutes of soaking.
- Chop carrots, daikon, leek and bell pepper according to preference. Most traditional is larger pieces of cabbage and matchsticks of other veggies. Put chopped veggies in a large bowl. Add rinsed cabbage.
- Mix salt into 8 cups of water (or more if needed) until dissolved. Pour over chopped veggies.
- Submerge veggies under brine using whatever you have that fits. I use a plate. Cover container with a large cloth and secure with a rubber band. Let sit overnight or up to 24 hours.
- After vegetables have brined, mix rice flour with 1 c cold water until dispersed. Put in a small pot over low heat. Stir constantly, 3-4 minutes, until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.*
- While the rice mixture is cooling, start prepping the other paste ingredients. Coarsely chop ginger. Cut out any questionable parts, but do not peel.
- Coarsely chop onions, scallions and garlic.
- Place ginger, alliums and red pepper flakes into food processor and blend into a paste.** (If using fruit instead of rice paste, blend that up, too)
- Once rice is room temp, mix together your allium/ginger paste, your rice gruel and your red pepper powder.
- Strain brined veggies.
- Mix together veggies and ginger/allium paste until veggies are well-coated.
- Press them tightly into a jar (or other container that you could compress them into) and make sure they stay submerged. (We’ll discuss a couple methods for this).
- Put them in a place out of direct sunlight, away from other ferments and that has a consistent room temperature (above 68, below 80).
- Let them sit for 3-7 days, but for your first solo batch, feel free to start tasting at 3 days to see when it hits your flavor preference. When it’s done, stick it in the fridge. That will slow, but not stop, fermentation, so your kimchi will be more sour if you pull it out of the fridge in a month than it was when you put it in.
*If using fruit for your paste, skip this step
**If using fish sauce and/or shrimp paste, you would add it here. 1/8 c or to taste fish sauce. One T shrimp paste or a few tiny salted guys, added at the hand-mixing stage.
In the US, kimchi usually means one particular kimchi recipe that contains cabbages, radishes, ginger and spice. There are many other traditional kimchis and even more recipes made in individual homes.
**You can let this ferment as long as you’d like. Start tasting at 3 days, but if you like it a bit more acidic, keep it going. According to “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz a study conducted in Korea found the ideal fermenting time for kimchi is 3 days, due to changes in the type of bacteria that thrive during early and late fermentation. I usually try to leave mine a few days more but we are generally too hungry for kimchi to leave it much longer.