If you’ve ever wandered the grocery store in search of kimchi, only to wonder to yourself whether it would be difficult to make at home, you aren’t alone. For the longest time, I assumed kimchi would be difficult—if not impossible—to make from scratch. After all, fermentation seems like a process best left to the experts!
That said, the first time I made kimchi I was astounded by how easy it was, and before I knew it, I was making homemade kimchi for all my friends and family. I promise you, kimchi is one condiment that can be made by anyone, regardless of their skill level.
Why the hype about kimchi?
Besides kimchi’s amazing spicy and tangy flavor and its mile-long list of list of uses (with rice, in stews and soups, folded into scrambled eggs, tucked into grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.), kimchi is prized for its nutritional properties. High in vitamins A, C, and K, kimchi is also an excellent source of dietary fiber and manganese. As a fermented food, kimchi provides plenty of probiotics and has been studied for its uses as an anticancer agent and promoter of gut health.
About the Fermentation Process
Kimchi is a particularly good place to start when considering home fermentation projects because it relies on a lacto-fermentation process. Lacto-fermentation occurs after harmful bacteria are destroyed by salt, at which point the good Lactobacillus bacteria takes over and turns naturally-occurring sugars into lactic acid. The lactic acid works to preserve the cabbage mixture and produce the wonderful and deeply umami signature flavor of lacto-fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kombucha (all of which make great home fermentation projects!).
This basic recipe for kimchi is great for those just beginning to experiment with home fermentation. Once you’ve mastered this recipe you can add any number of tasty ingredients including Korean salted shrimp, kelp powder, various types of cabbage and onions, and different sources of heat.
- 1 head of Napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- ⅓ to ½ cup kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
- 1 Tbsp. garlic, grated
- 1 tsp. white sugar
- 3 Tbsp. water
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 bunches of scallions, white and green parts sliced into 1-inch pieces
- Cutting board
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Large bowl
- Small bowl
- Jarred or canned goods (to use as weights)
- Box grater OR food processor with grater attachment
- Latex or nitrile gloves
- 2-quart wide mouth glass jar with lid
- Slice the Napa cabbage in half lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Rub the kosher salt into the Napa cabbage in a gentle massaging motion until the cabbage begins to soften.
- Add enough cold water to cover the cabbage.
- Use a plate to push the cabbage down.
- Use a couple of jarred or canned goods to weigh the plate down.
- Allow the Napa cabbage to sit for 2 hours before rinsing 3 to 4 times with cold water to remove the salt water.
- Transfer the cabbage to a colander and allow to drain as you prepare the rest of the vegetables for the kimchi.
- Using a box grater or a food processor with a grater attachment, grate the daikon radish and carrots into the large bowl.
- Stir the scallions into the daikon and radish mixture.
- In a small bowl combine the fresh ginger, garlic, sugar, and water to form a paste.
- Add the Korean red pepper flakes, using more or less depending on how spicy you like your kimchi.
- Mix the drained cabbage back into the big bowl with the other vegetables.
- Pour the kimchi paste over the bowl of Napa cabbage, carrots, and scallions.
- Put on the gloves and use your hands to thoroughly combine the kimchi paste with the vegetables.
- Pack the kimchi tightly into a 2-quart wide mouth mason jar, making sure to leave an inch of space at the top of the jar.
- Allow the kimchi to ferment at room temperature for anywhere from 1 to 5 days. Note: Any bubbling action you might observe is normal.
- Use a clean spoon to press down on the kimchi every day, using this opportunity to taste and smell the kimchi.
- When the kimchi is fermented to your liking, transfer to the fridge and allow it to age for at least 1 week before eating.
Once the kimchi is in the fridge it can be used for up to one year—just make sure it’s kept cool and away from oxygen.