If there’s anything I can’t live without – it has to be kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish that consists of fermented vegetables – this is possibly the most famous Korean dish of all time. The most common and popular form of kimchi is the spicy napa cabbage (Chinese leaf cabbage) kimchi, which is the kimchi I will show you how to make today.
Kimchi is known as one of the world’s healthiest foods out there, loaded with vitamins and great for digestion (yay for fermentation!). Unfortunately, traditional kimchi is not vegan… not even vegetarian! Even though it seems innocent and completely plant-based, it almost always contains fish/shrimp paste. But not to worry, it is easy to make vegan and tastes just the same, if not more delicious 😉
Now, I like to think of kimchi-making as a bit of an art. It’s quite different from other recipes because it requires what I would consider to be somewhat of an “intuition”, if you will. Especially because it also requires a fermentation process, it isn’t your typical “add two tablespoons of this, 3 cups of this, and voila, here’s your dish!”-type recipe. You need to be able to adjust certain things to your own tastes but I will try to explain to the best of my ability in each step. I will also be filming a YouTube video on the topic, which will be embedded below.
Whilst there is a more “traditional” form of making kimchi, today I’m going to show you guys how to get the traditional results and taste with the least amount of effort. You’ll still get the awesome taste of kimchi that us Koreans love!
Making kimchi requires a bit of prep and a few different steps. I would say there are four main steps to this process.
Here is a SUMMARY of the steps:
- Preparing the cabbage + other vegetables
- Cut up cabbage
- Add salt + water and put aside for 2+ hours, mixing halfway through
- Chop green onions
- Making kimchi paste
- Make sweet rice flour paste
- Peel/chop vegetables and blend together with water
- Mix together sweet rice paste, blended vegetables, kelp powder, gochugaru & salt
- Mixing the cabbage + paste together
- Once cabbage is wilted, rinse thoroughly and drain
- Add cabbage, green onions and paste together and mix well
- Adjust amount of paste to your preference
- Transfer finished product into a jar/container
- Leave in room temperature for 24-48 hours to ferment, then refrigerate
- Enjoy the goodness
Materials you need:
- Cutting board
- Big sharp knife
- Gloves to protect your hands
- Big pot(s) – the size of the pot(s) you have will probably determine how much kimchi you can make at a time.
- Storage containers – you can use plastic containers or glass jars, up to you. Pasta sauce jars or pickle jars work great.
Most of these could be find in your local Korean/Asian supermarkets. To find some of these online, please refer to the very bottom of this blog post for links!
For Step 1 –
- Napa Cabbage (Chinese leaf) x however much you want to make… For storage purposes, I would say approximately 2-3 cabbage heads is probably a good number for most people. (see Note below)
- Green onions/scallions – approx. handful per cabbage head but up to you!
- Coarse salt – approx. 1/4 – 1/3 cup per cabbage head – salt is used to “soften” and wilt the cabbage leaves, while also working as a preservative.
For Step 2 (Important: see Note 2 below) –
- 1 Korean radish
- 5 tbsp sweet rice flour + 3 cups water (this is optional but highly recommended)
- 1-2 cups peeled garlic
- 1 medium or large onion
- Small piece of ginger
- 6-7 cups Gochugaru (Korean Spicy Red Chili Pepper Flakes)
- 3 tbsp Kelp Powder (See Note 3 below)
- 4-5 tbsp Salt (we used sea salt but for this, you could use whatever salt – table salt might be more salty than the sea salt we used)
Note: Kimchi is meant to be kept in the fridge for an extended period of time and eaten as a side dish. So there really is no “serving size” standard. This just depends on how many people will be consuming that kimchi and however much you want to make! You don’t want to make too much if you don’t have much room in your fridge or if you know you won’t be consuming too much too quickly – as kimchi will ferment faster in a regular fridge. The reason why lots of Korean households have kimchi refrigerators (yes, refrigerators dedicated to kimchi) is because the temperature of kimchi fridges are generally colder and normally kimchi fridges have a better environment for the kimchi to last longer on. So if you are using a normal fridge to store our kimchi, you may not want to make TOO much at once.
Note 2: This will yield a LOT of kimchi paste – we used about half of the paste we made with these measurements to use on 9-10 cabbage heads. I suggest dividing the paste recipe in half or even 1/3 or 1/4, and any paste you have left over, keep it in the freezer for future use (simply thaw in the fridge the night before making the next batch of kimchi, then freeze again after). It stores for a very long time in the freezer (probably years…) so need to worry about it going bad. This means that next time, you can skip step #2.
Note 3: Alternatively, you can use dry kelp and make “kelp broth”. If you can find pieces of dry kelp, just use a handful with some water and bring this to a boil then simmer for 15-30 minutes. You can use this flavoured water to make the sweet rice flour paste instead of just regular water (First step in step #2).
Okay, now that you are ready to go… let’s get started!
1. Preparing the Vegetables
- Cut up the napa cabbage into big bite-size pieces – first by cutting them vertically into 4-8 pieces. Once you have 4 vertical pieces, you are going to cut up the stems, as close to the stem as possible – these stems, you can throw away. Then you can cut the cabbage into smaller pieces, horizontally.
- Add the cabbage pieces into a big pot whilst sprinkling a good amount of salt evenly – do this in layers to make sure each piece has salt on it. The approximate measurement is 1/3 – 1/4 cup of salt per cabbage head – depending on the size of the cabbage.
- Make sure the salt is evenly covering the cabbage pieces – mix it around and sprinkling with water as you go, making sure the cabbage is wet.
- Now set this aside (covered, if possible) for at least 2 hours (the more cabbage you use, the longer you want to let it sit for. If you’re only using 2-3 cabbage heads, 2 hours should be more than enough).
- Half way through the wait time, you’ll want to mix the cabbage around a bit and wait some more.
- At the end of the wait time, your cabbage should have wilted and be very “limp” – it should basically feel/look like kimchi without the paste on it!
- Cut up the scallions and put them aside. You can cut them horizontally then chop them vertically into smaller pieces (refer to the video).
While you are waiting…. proceed to step 2.
2. Making the kimchi paste
This step can be skipped if you already have frozen kimchi paste leftover. Just take the paste out of the freezer the night before and thaw it in the fridge before use. Then freeze the leftovers again!
- Prepare the sweet rice starch paste (put three cups of water into a pot and add 5 tbsp sweet rice starch, bring to a boil and let it thicken into a paste then put aside)
- Peel garlic (may want to have this prepped in advance)
- Peel the radish + onion + ginger and cut up into smaller pieces for the blender
- Blend the radish, garlic, onion and ginger together in a blender. For this amount, you will want to divide this into half so it could fit in the blender – use approx. one cup of water for each half to blend together nicely.
- Transfer the blended mixture into a big pot.
- Add the sweet rice flour paste.
- Add gochugaru – the amount of gochugaru is optional as to how spicy you want it. For this entire mixture, we added around 6-7 cups of gochugaru – use less if you prefer less spicy. I suggest adding a bit at a time, giving it a taste and adding more as you go.
- Add kelp powder and salt – then taste it to see how it is. It should definitely be salty but not too salty.
- Mix well together until everything is nicely combined into a red thick paste.
- Put aside and proceed to step 3.
3. Mixing everything together
- After the cabbage has been sitting out for 2+ hours, it should be wilted and softened. It should look and feel like finished kimchi minus the paste! If it’s NOT wilted, then that means you either need to add more salt and/or wait longer. The salt should have softened and wilted the cabbage.
- Take your wilted cabbage, rinse it with cold water and drain. Repeat twice to ensure it’s rinsed well.
- Return into the big/pot tub and add small amounts of the kimchi paste at a time while mixing together. The amount of paste depends solely on your own preferences, so add a little at a time while giving it a taste.
- Once everything is mixed together very well and you are satisfied with the taste, proceed to step 4.
- Transfer your finished kimchi into containers/jars and close the lids.
- Leave out in room temperature for 24-48 hours (give it a taste after 24 hours and see how you like it. I usually only leave it out for 24 hours).
- After the 24-48 hour period, refrigerate. The kimchi will continue to ferment slowly in the fridge. The longer you leave it in room temperature, the faster it will ferment.
- Hurray, you are finished!!! Enjoy 🙂
Where to buy some of the ingredients (Affiliate links):
Sweet Rice Flour (use code CJW878 to get $5 off your first order)
Kelp Powder (use code CJW878 to get $5 off your first order)