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An Easy Way to Make Kimchi

Simple Kimchi

This sounds really silly but I used to be afraid of kimchi. I know, Even reading the words ‘kimchi’ and ‘afraid’ in the same sentence seems a bit of overkill.

But it’s true.

Hi my name is Jules and I used to be scared of fermented cabbage.

It started years ago when I was living / holidaying in New York City. A bottle of kimchi ‘followed’ me home from Whole Foods.

When I opened it there were bubbles. This thing was definitely alive. I reminded myself of my policy of ‘trying anything once’ (at least when it comes to food). And besides it had to be good for my gut microbes.

Right?

It wasn’t a love-at-first-bite story. And I guiltily left the unfinished jar in the fridge when I left town.

Fast forward 5 years and I’m in Sydney at a workshop with Sandor Katz, a champion of fermented foods. We’re learning about fermented vegetables and beverages. I’m excited about trying the sauerkraut and fermented veg.

But when he starts talking about making a paste of flour and water and korean chilli for the kimchi, I tune out.

Way too hard.

However, once I start my fermenting experiments, I realize I can control the level of ‘funky’ flavours. It doesn’t take long before I get an itch to give kimchi another try.

You know where this is headed.

So I’ll just get straight to the recipe…

But before I do… if you have any fear around fermenting at home, just remember fermented vegetables are the safest place to start. As Sandor assured us… No one has ever died from fermented vegetables. True story.

____________

Simple Kimchi-2

Simple Crunchy Kimchi

This kimchi is by no means authentic in that you don’t get the gassy bubbles as you eat it. However it is spicy, tangy and adds a refreshing crunch to any meal you feel needs it – asian or non-asian.

The best part about home ferments is that you get to control the amount of ‘funk’. I tend to keep it on the cleaner side, but you’re in charge. If you want funk, just leave it out to ferment for longer.

makes 1 large jar (about 1L / 4 cups)
takes about 30 minutes active time + a few days fermenting

1/2 large white, savoy or napa cabbage
1 bunch bok choy (optional)
2-3 teaspoons chilli flakes
5cm (2in) piece turmeric, grated
5cm (2in) piece ginger, grated
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1.5 – 2tablespoons fine salt

1. Get yourself a clean, dry jar about 1L (4 cups) plus an extra little jar in case you need it.

2. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage. Finely slice either by hand or use the slicer blade on your food processor (which is what I normally do). Place sliced cabbage in a large bowl.

3. Finely slice bok choy (if using) and add to the cabbage.

4. Add chilli flakes, turmeric, ginger, fish sauce and salt to the cabbage. Toss and cover with a tea towel. Stand at room temp to allow the salt to soften the cabbage. I leave it at least an hour but you could leave overnight.

5. Pack cabbage mixture into your large jar. I use a combo of clean hands and a spoon. You want to really squash it down to release the cabbage juices. If it won’t all fit, put the extra in your backup jar. Leave a little room at the top of each because it will expand as the fermentation happens. Divide leftover juice from the bottom of the bowl between your jars. You want the cabbage to be covered by liquid. If there isn’t enough, top with a little filtered water. Top with lids.

6. Place your jar(s) on a plate to catch any juices that overflow (this happens frequently to me). Stand at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days or longer.

7. Every day open the jar to release any gas. Once I can see evidence of bubbles I usually seal the lids and pop in the fridge. Typically this is on the 3rd day but in winter it might be longer and less in Summer. If you’re not sure, I’d err on the side of putting it in the fridge earlier. If you taste and decide it’s too bland you can always leave it out again to get more funk happening. But once it’s too funky there isn’t much you can do.

8. Keep in the fridge for a few months.

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Variations

no turmeric – if you can’t find fresh turmeric, use 1 tablespoon turmeric powder. You can skip it but it give the kimchi it’s beautiful yellow colour.

no chilli flakes – you can use any form of chilli you like, dried, powdered or fresh. Just err on the side of not enough spicy heat because you can always add more. And you could skip the chilli if you prefer a milder pickle.

vegan / vegetarian – skip the fish sauce.

different veg – grated carrot, grated daikon, chopped green onion (scallions / shallots) can all be added.

salt – salt keeps the texture crunchy. So I tend to err on the side of more but you could try less if you needed to. I use finely ground Himalayan rock salt but any salt apart from Iodized salt is great. I’ve read the iodine can hinder growth of the lactic acid bacteria.

With love,
Jules x

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ps. Are you into fermenting?

I’d love to hear about your triumphs (and tribulations) in the comments below.

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Sid 18 January, 2017, 3:50 am

    This right here is why I love you and your recipes! I was just thinking I wanted a simple, easy recipe to try to make my own kimchi. Thank you!!!

  • lee carrico 18 January, 2017, 5:14 am

    no thanks to this one, I spent time in Korea & it stinks & tastes
    awful.

  • Poppy 18 January, 2017, 5:17 am

    This is fantastic, wow thanks so much, I have also heard of putting a flat river stone inside the top of the jar to hold it all down, does that sound a good thing a to do?

  • jan 18 January, 2017, 5:39 am

    Thanks for this. I’ve been using the Korean red pepper paste with Kimchi but I think it is made with lots of sugar so I’m going to use your recipe the next time. Kimchi is so healthful- I try to work it into every meal one way and another.

  • kylie 18 January, 2017, 6:06 am

    I too had been very nervous about making my own fermented veg, these days I always seem to have one brewing up. I read about 20 recipes before I took the plunge. My first few goes were using a ratio of 1kilo of veg to 2 table spoons of salt…It was disastrously salty. I’ve cut back to 1tablespoon+1teaspoon per kilo of veg. I leave it 7 days.

    I almost aways put massive amounts of ginger, but my other favorite is white cabbage with a whole bunch of dill & black pepper…

    I might try numeric & bok choy… I like the idea of kimchi, but I can’t tolerate chili….
    Thanks for the recipe! I wish I had known all of this when my girls were babies, I could have got them used to it from when they were wee little ones….they just look at it like its from Mars…
    Happy fermenting everyone!

  • Deb 18 January, 2017, 6:32 am

    Thanks for this article. It was very timely as our cabbages are coming on in the the garden. Last year I made kimchi, and it was lovely, but it became soft and limp after a while, unlike the boaght kimchi which stays crunchy for months. I’ll try your method this year.

  • Susan 18 January, 2017, 6:41 am

    I haven’t had the courage to try fermenting yet, though I do now own the jars. I think I would start with sauerkraut, because both my husband and I like it. I’ve eaten kimchi on numerous occasions, but something in it makes my palate crawl, which is not a pleasant sensation, so I probably won’t try this. That said, you have helped me with gaining confidence in trying fermentation.

  • Julie 18 January, 2017, 6:49 am

    Hi Jules, I have never tried fermenting vegies but am keen to start. I currently make my own yoghurt (thanks for the recipe!) and sour dough bread (unfortunately I haven’t had success with your recipe yet. I’ll keep experimenting) and just love them. This last batch of yoghurt is the best yet! And the sour dough is always delicious. Thanks heaps for all the info in your website. Cheers. Julie

  • Elizabeth 18 January, 2017, 7:05 am

    I love to ferment veges and also do a green capsicum and onion. The last one was with beetroot. I leave them for at least 10 days before I put in the fridge. Love the flavours in kimchi.

  • Helen Derry 18 January, 2017, 7:16 am

    Hi Jules
    The recipe I use asks for whey that you obtain by dripping organic yogurt through a cloth for several hours. It uses 4 tablespoons of whey per litre of veg. The yogurt turns into a cream cheese like food and I use it on toast or to make cheesecake. The whey lasts a long time in the fridge.
    For the ferment / the rest is the same as your recipe with salt. Just add the whey as a source of lactobacillus.
    I wonder about dripping some sour dough starter through a cloth and using that ‘whey’ to add to the ferment veg mix. What does everyone think?
    I’ve made carrots with ginger, salsa, ginger with turmeric and pearl onions with spices. All yummy!

  • Julie 18 January, 2017, 9:39 am

    You mentioned using filtered water to cover the mixture in the jar. Does tap water (USA) have minerals and or floride that would affect the fermentation process?

  • Roger 18 January, 2017, 8:37 pm

    Sorry Jules, I may love you and your recipes but fermented veg is several steps too far! I’ll pass ta!

  • Chris Ann Urquhart 19 January, 2017, 10:57 am

    I’ve been dabbling with fermenting for a while now and always make my own yoghurt. Also have kombucha and kefir on the go – they are very forgiving of neglect! My first attempt at sauerkraut was a disaster – I went away for a couple of weeks and the moat around the lid of the fermenting pot dried out so when I came home there was a variety of different coloured moulds floating on the top above the weight. I threw the lot into the sink to drain before discarding. Unfortunately, the stuff at the bottom of the jar looked just fine so I tasted a bit and it was beautiful – made me wish i had cleaned the sink before I emptied the jar so that I could retrieve some of it!
    I have a jar of fermented chard stems and and a jar of beans lurking in the fridge but although they seem perfectly fine [no moulds at all] I dont like the taste much but am too mean to throw them out – what to do??? I also tried your fermented chilli recipe but obviously did something wrong as it ended up with blue mould on top so I tossed it out.
    Question: is it OK to scoop mould off the top and use the rest? It looked fine under the surface!

  • Melissa Loh 19 January, 2017, 2:30 pm

    I absolutely love kimchi, but it always seemed so hard. I went to Sandor’s talk in Brisbane and he made everything look so terribly easy! He was so down to earth and I loved that he dispelled fears about fermenting at home. And you don’t even need any of those fancy fermenting pots. Thanks for sharing your recipe! I’d like to try it for something a little different.

  • Ruby & Cake 21 January, 2017, 10:06 am

    I love kimchi – this seems like an easy delicious recipe to do it. I will probably make it way too spicy though haha We are making kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut at the moment.

  • Sabrina 23 January, 2017, 3:06 am

    have very similar fears regarding kimchi, also the “perfume” of odor depending on your point of view, so thank you for helping me wade into it!

  • Clare 23 January, 2017, 2:19 pm

    Thanks for this very do-able recipe!
    My friend lived in Korea for 9 years (and married a local!) and she has been helping me with my attempts to make kimchi. According to her Korean family, the secret to a very healthful kimchi is garlic :o)

  • Alison 24 January, 2017, 3:38 am

    Ooh, this looks like fun. I love kimchi and my Yorkshireman is likewise a big fan. We are in the UK so Korean stores are few and far between – some of the big supermarkets are starting to stock it but I’d love to have a go at making my own. I’m particularly attracted by the idea of being able to control how ‘funky’ fermented veg gets, having been put off in the past by some particularly lively sauerkraut that seemed to have achieved sentience and was making it’s own way out of the kitchen. :( I tried your earlier recipe for fermented carrots, though, and they were really tasty – a handy snack for those grazing moments.

  • Jennifer 4 February, 2017, 6:06 am

    I am a bit offended, this is not Kimchi, you can call it pickled cabbage but not Kimchi. There are simple Kimchi recipes out there. Normally I would not comment but your recipe is far from what Kimchi is.

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