It’s super easy to make your own fermented kimchi at home. The most popular version (at least here in North America). is made with napa cabbage, but there actually lots and lots of variations, even in traditional Korean kimchi. I’ve made a bok choy version here. So let’s dive in and learn how to make kimchi.
Kimchi: Korea’s Amazing Fermented Vegetables
You like kimchi? Yeah, me too. I’ve been eating it since I was like five or six years old. No, I didn’t grow up in Korea. I had a best friend–Jimmy–with a Korean mother.
Korean restaurants were non-existent in Wisconsin in the early 1970s, so for a kid like me eating kimchi, pajeon, and bulgogi was pretty exotic. But suffice it to say I’ve had a lifelong love of Korean cuisine.
Jimmy’s mom, Chong, had a spare refrigerator in the garage that was packed with jars of homemade kimchi. Like most Koreans, Chong ate kimchi with just about every meal.
Kimchi is Really Good for You
Kimchi, as we know, is a fermented food. That’s right. Lacto-fermentation. I’ve really been geeking out on the lacto-fermentation these days. Exhibit A: these lacto-fermented dill pickles. Exhibit B: this Salvadoran Curtido. We like this, because, as we’ve noted before, fermented foods are good for our microbiome, right?
Legend has it that there is still a person here or there in the western world who’ve never tried kimchi. I don’t have a clue who these people might be. Feral children perhaps. People living under a rock or in a cave. Insular communities living off of the grid, perhaps. Zombie apocalypse preppers or some such.
Anyway, to explain kimchi to the uninitiated, kimchi is sometimes described as “Korean sauerkraut”. Cabbage kimchi is the most common kimchi, and sauerkraut is also lacto-fermented cabbage Makes sense, right?
I would argue, however, that kimchi is actually better for you than sauerkraut simply because of the way it’s eaten.. Sauerkraut is usually cooked and served warm. And when you cook the sauerkraut, the lactobacillus bacteria is killed. And then the benefit–getting the lactobacillus bacteria into your gut–is removed. The great virtue of kimchi is that it’s typically eaten raw. It’s alive. And Koreans eat it every day.
Sure, there are recipes that cook kimchi. And some people eat sauerkraut raw. But generally speaking I think you get the idea.
How to Make Kimchi
I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that it’s really easy to make kimchi. You chop your vegetable matter into manageable pieces and salt it. It sits and loses a good bit of liquid. You drain off that liquid, add some flavorings (garlic, ginger, hot chili powder, or whatever), and pack it into a jar. The you let it ferment for some days or weeks (depending on the temperature and how sour you want it to get). Done. That’s how to make kimchi.
Now what goes into that kimchi? Well the possibilities are pretty much endless. Without even leaving the domain of traditional Korean kimchi, there are over 200 kinds to choose from. Here’s a list (check it out–it’s awesome). Deviate from the traditional and sky’s the limit.
As long as you stick with the salting and draining method, you can get creative with the vegetables and spices. I have a batch of brutally hot habanero Korean radish kimchi fermenting right now. Habanero? Why not? I like it hot.
You like caraway seeds? Eggplant? Oysters? You can make kimchi with it. I’m not kidding here. The key is to experiment with ingredients you like until you get it dialed.
- 12 Baby Bok Choy Cabbages
- 1 Cup Daikon Radish cubes, peeled and diced into ½ inch cubes
- 2 Cups Shredded Carrot
- 12 Green Onions, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- ¼ Cup Coarse Sea Salt
- ¾ Cup Dried Korean Chili Powder
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 4 Cloves Garlic, peeled
- 1 Tart Apple (e.g., Granny Smith), cored
- 2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
- Cut each bok choy cabbage into halfs or quarters, depending on size. Not the best rule of thumb, granted. Use your best judgment.
- Add the bok choy, radish, carrot, and green onion in to a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. Let it soak for 30-45 minutes, tossing every ten minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, mix the chili powder, ginger, garlic, apple, and fish sauce in a food processor until smooth.
- Drain and reserve the liquid that accumulates in the salted vegetables.
- Mix in the chili paste mixture.
- Pack the mixture into two quart jars, pressing down firmly to remove as much airspace as possible, Liquid should come to the top of the mixture. If not, add some of the reserved liquid.
- Place a fermentation airlock on top of each quart jar and allow to ferment for one week to a month, depending on how hot the ambient temperature is and how sour you want your kimchi.