Recipe: Basic Kimchi

Branden Byers

Branden Byers › Branden Byers is a writer, photographer and podcast host for FermUp, a fermented food podcast and ...

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Kimchi has a long tradition in Korean cuisine and is the national dish of South Korea. There are over 200 varieties of kimchi and countless recipes for each variety.

At its most basic description, kimchi is fermented vegetables. There are quick ferments ready in a day or two and there are aged ferments that provide for families throughout long winters. There is sweet kimchi, spicy kimchi and everything in between.

One of the most recognizable kimchis in the west is one made with cabbage, garlic, ginger and pepper. This is the first kimchi that I fell in love with and remains high on my list of all time favorite fermented foods.

The main ingredient in this well-known form of kimchi is Napa cabbage. In 2010, there was a “kimchi crisis” that left South Koreans paying twenty times as much for a head of Napa cabbage due to a cabbage shortage. For a society that eats kimchi with nearly every meal, this was serious. During the crisis, some people resorted to imported European cabbages as substitute.

So, if you can’t find a good source for Napa cabbage, then you can produce a good tasting kimchi with any variety of cabbage, however the texture may be different.

Any ingredient in the basic recipe below can be substituted or omitted. As an example, I forgot to add ginger to the batch of kimchi in the photos above. Once fermented, I soon realized that some of the taste I had equated to ginger was in fact a mixture of other ingredients. The full ginger taste was missing, but it still tasted great.

So, feel free to leave out anything that you either do not like, or that you do not have readily available. But if there is an ingredient that you do not like, I encourage you to try a small batch with all of the ingredients included because you might be surprised at how the flavors interact while fermenting.

You can also cut, dice and julienne the vegetables in any fashion you would like. Some kimchi recipes use quartered Napa cabbage chunks, but I find that to be a challenge to remove from the jar and cut when ready to eat. I cut my cabbage into roughly 1-inch squares.

The other ingredient that is often omitted is fish sauce, but I highly recommend using it because it provides that extra punch of umami flavor and really rounds out the flavor.

Ingredients

1 Napa cabbage
3 carrots
1 small daikon radish
1 bunch green onion (greens only)
1 ginger chunk (1 to 2 inches in length)
3 cloves garlic
1 apple or pear
2 tablespoons pepper flakes, powder or paste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons salt

Method

Cut the Napa cabbage into approximately 1 inch squares.

Julienne the carrots.

Place the cabbage and carrots in a bowl and cover with the salt.

Wait a few hours for the cabbage to wilt and the salt to extract juice from the vegetables (optional).

Chop green onion greens into 2 inch lengths.

Puree the garlic, ginger, pepper and apple into a paste using a food processor or pestle and mortar.

Mix the green onion and paste in with the salted cabbage and carrots.

Stuff the entire mixture into a glass mason or flip-top jar.

Leave in a cool-dark place for 2 to 3 weeks and then transfer to the refrigerator.

It is important that the vegetables remain below a liquid brine. If the juice from the cabbage is not adequate, then you can mix a brine using a 2.25% ratio of salt to water.

The longer you let it ferment, the more sour your kimchi will become. If you would like an extra bubbly kimchi, allow the kimchi to ferment for one week and then place in a refrigerator for one month. Your kimchi will then be bubbly, crunchy and mildly tart.

If you have not fermented vegetables before, then kimchi is a good place to start. This kimchi is very easy to make and it tastes hot, spicy and refreshing.

Have you ever made kimchi at home?

Photo Credit: Branden Byers

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