Welcome to the world of Kimchi! This tangy, spicy dish is a staple in the Korean culture and is typically eaten with every meal. In fact, kimchi is their national dish. Once you become accustomed to its unique characteristics, you may find yourself hooked! Kimchi is a mixture of vegetables and spices that go through a fermentation process, in our case we’ll be using cabbage as our base. Fermenting foods have long been known for their health benefits. Foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso and tempeh are probiotic powerhouses. The fermenting creates good bacteria which work directly in the gut to balance and regulate a variety of bodily functions. It can help with IBS, boost your immunity, aid in weight loss and even promote better skin. With kimchi being so simple to make, it’s easy to add this beneficial mixture to your weekly meal plans.
My first experience with kimchi was with a jar I picked up at a local grocery store labeled Pickled Planet. I fell in love with the spicy flavor. I also have an affinity for all the ingredients listed on the jar and set out to make my own using the list as my guide. Basically it’s cabbage, apple, green onion, red pepper, salt, garlic & ginger. After researching I found how kimchi recipes vary. I’ll be playing around with different versions and sharing my experience here as I do. It’s very easy to make and just takes patience to get through the first day or two. In the last couple weeks, I’ve tried 2 different spice blends, both delicious and noted below. I’ve also used different style cabbages, all great. I’ve even added shredded carrots but will save that for another recipe. Kimchi is a new addiction for me. Its spicy, pungent flavor and versatility keeps me coming back for more. If you’ve never tried kimchi, I hope this will inspire you to get in the kitchen and give it a try, or pick up a ready-made vegan version and enjoy asap!
First, quarter your cabbage and slice laterally into 2″ chunks. Cabbage will shrink a bit more during the fermentation process so no need to chop it too small. But you may consider slicing the pieces with thick stalks (mainly the pieces towards the bottom), slicing them in half will do fine. Here I used Napa cabbage as it is the most traditionally used cabbage but you can use green or savoy with excellent results, you may even find you like one of these better.
Next is the soaking of the cabbage in salt water, this will help draw moisture from the plant cells causing the leaves to wilt. Soaking the cabbage in salt water will move the preparation along a lot faster than than other methods used, it is my preferred method. For your salt, stick with using kosher, pickling or other course salts like sea or mineral salts that do not contain iodine. Iodine, with its antimicrobial properties, may interfere with proper fermentation. Place cabbage in a salted water bath, cover with dish and place weighted object on top to submerge the cabbage, let soak for at least 2 hours, up to 12 if you like but I find 2 hours is plenty.
Puree the apple, onion, ginger and garlic making a sweet and zesty mixture. The sugar from the apple will help in the fermentation while adding a hint of sweetness. You can also use a pear. Some recipes call for a teaspoon or two of sugar in place of the apple (I will save that method for another kimchi recipe). I like the thought of using an apple but if you’re in a pinch without an apple in sight, use 2 teaspoons of organic pure cane sugar, coconut sugar or sugar in the raw….just the puriest sugar you can find. You may like to add a bit of water to the mix as well, about 2 – 3 tablespoons.
For the spice, you’ll want to source out Korean red pepper powder or flakes known as gochugaru. You can find it at Asian grocery stores or online. I just tried this one from Mother In Laws Kimchi Korean red pepper flakes and thought it had an nice flavor. The peppers are not overly spicy, but I do find that the spiciness will intensify as the kimchi ages. I’ve also replaced the Korean red pepper and used a mix of cayenne pepper and sweet Hungarian paprika, using 1 tablespoon each, and it was delicious as well.
Make your spice mixtures and combine with cabbage and green onions, mix well to coat. Some use their hands (gloves recommended if you do), I used wooden spoons. Pack your mixture into glass jars or containers with a lid, leaving a little room at the top and cover. Check periodically for the next 24 – 36 hours. Move to refrigerator, kimchi will keep for at least a month, maybe 2.
- 1 medium Napa cabbage, about 2 lbs (savoy, green or any combo works too)
- 1/4 cup kosher, sea salt or other course salt
- 6 cups water
- 3/4 sweet apple (I used fuji), chopped
- 1/2 small white onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 inch ginger, chopped
- 1 – 2 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons Korean chili powder (gochugaru) or 1 tablespoon each cayenne & Hungarian paprika
- 3 – 4 scallions (green onions), sliced 1 inch
Preparing Cabbage: Quarter cabbage and chop laterally into about 2 inch pieces. Place cabbage in a an extra large bowl or pot. Combine salt with 2 cups of luke warm water, stir to dissolve salt. Pour salt water over the cabbage and add remaining 4 cups, stir to mix. If you can, place a plate or circular baking dish of sorts on top to submerge the cabbage (I used a pie dish), place something with a good amount of weight on top to hold down if necessary (it’s not completely necessary but will help to evenly wilt the cabbage). Give cabbage a good mix every now and then. Let set for 2 hours, up to 12 if you like. I found that 2 – 4 hours was enough and didn’t see much change between the two times.
Make your seasonings: While cabbage is soaking, combine apple, onion, ginger and garlic in food processor/blender and process until fairly smooth.
In a small bowl, mix the chili pepper with a small amount of water to make a wet paste. You can just as easily blend it with the apple/onion mixture adding a couple tablespoons of water as well.
Mix everything together: Once cabbage is ready, drain water, reserving 1/2 cup, and rinse well. Place cabbage back in large bowl, combine with the scallions, apple/onion mixture and chili paste. Mix well to coat all pieces. Either use your hands (with gloves on pref to protect from the chili pepper) or simply use wooden spoons to toss everything.
Packing: Place the kimchi in glass jars or containers with lid, pack down the best you can to close air pockets and leave about an inch at the top for air and gases. Top with remaining juices, add reserved brine if needed to cover vegetables.
Fermenting: Let kimchi set at room temp (or in a cool place like a pantry or closet if weather is extremely warm) for 24 – 36 hours. After 24 hours, open kimchi and pack the mixture down with a spoon (the cabbage will have likely shrunk and you’ll have more liquids). You may notice it bubbling, this is perfectly normal as the kimchi is fermenting. As your kimchi ferments the flavors will develop, taste every 24 hours and place kimchi in the refrigerator once you’re happy with the taste and to slow fermentation, usually after 48 – 36 hours. It should be tangy, spicy and slightly sweet. After moving to the fridge, it’s best used within a month, maybe two.
Makes about 3 – 4 cups.
Practice makes perfect with kimchi. You may find you like it more or less spicy. After a few tries you’ll find the perfect mix to suit your taste. Also, how fermented you like your kimchi will take practice as well. The weather will also play a role in how fast/slow your mixture will ferment. Higher temperatures will progress fermentation while cooler will slow it down.
If you’re in a pinch without an apple in sight, use 2 teaspoons of organic pure cane sugar, coconut sugar or sugar in the raw….just the puriest sugar you can find. You may like to add a bit of water to the mix as well, about 2 – 3 tablespoons.
You can also enjoy kimchi fresh right after you mix it and store it straight in the fridge. You may like to experiment by putting half the recipe in the fridge and the other half in the pantry to ferment & sour to see which flavor is your favorite.
Optional ingredients for color and variation: carrots and/or daikon radish (grated or julienned), about a 1/2 cup of each. If using these, add to cabbage when mixing scallions and wet mixtures together.
If using savoy or green cabbage, quarter cabbage, remove core and roughly slice.
If you don’t have glass jars, plastic containers with lids will work just as well. If you have too much room, more than and inch, place plastic wrap over top but sinking it close to the surface of the kimchi and cover with lid.