How to Make Kimchi

how to make kimchi

My maternal grandmother gets most of the credit for broadening my palate and introducing me to strange things that I probably would never have tasted otherwise, or at least not until I was much older. She fed my brother and me things like nori sheets toasted with parmesan, curried pumpkin seeds, spicy dried mango, Swiss cheese and crackers, liver and onions, tofu and kimchi. She took us to probably the only Asian market in Austin at the time in the early 80s and let us pick out exotic-looking fruits in cans with no English on them. She also took me to Red Lobster once and I was VERY impressed by the live lobsters and I picked one out and we ate it and I loved it. She encouraged adventurous eating and healthy cooking every day and instilled those values in me, too.

Thanks, Grandma. I love you.

For a time when I was very small, maybe four, she was married to a Korean-American man named Yong. It’s weird to me that I was so tiny when they were together because I remember him well and I don’t remember much else from when I was so tiny. But I remember him being tall and handsome and her being very sad when they separated. Ugh. I’m getting weepy.

Anyway, you are probably thinking that I’m telling you all this so that I can eventually divulge Yong’s secret family recipe for kimchi. But I am not. Sorry. I don’t know his secret family recipe, or even if they had one. Then what am I getting at? Good question.

The deal is, I love kimchi and kimchi makes me think of my grandma. So when I had a roommate from Seoul many years ago, I paid close attention whenever she made kimchi so that I could make it for myself and think about my grandma. As I said, this was many many years ago and surely my method has been altered a bit by time and distance. But there’s more than one way to make kimchi and this white girl does it like this.

Kimchi

Special Equipment Note: You’ll need a really big bowl for the salting process and a really big jar for the fermenting process. I use a giant pickle jar.

How to Make Kimchi
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 8 cups
Ingredients
  • 1 small head napa cabbage, about 1 pound
  • 1 daikon radish
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 bunch green onions (or garlic chives if you can find them)
  • about 4 tablespoons pickling salt or Kosher salt
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2" piece of ginger, minced
  • about ¼ cup red pepper flakes (you can buy the bright-red kimchi pepper flakes - gochugaru - in Asian markets, but I have found that ground-up Mexican chiles de arbol make a fine substitute)
Instructions
  1. Cut the cabbage in half cross-wise to separate the leafiest tops from the bottom. Cut the base from the cabbage bottom and separate all the leaves. Rinse everything in cool water and set in a colander to drain.
  2. Peel the daikon and carrots and cut into julienne pieces, about ¼" x ¼", 2-3" long.
  3. Cut the onions into 1" lengths
  4. Get your large bowl out and toss the carrots and daikon with about a tablespoon of salt, or enough to coat them well.
  5. Cut the stem-ends of the cabbage leaves into 1" wide slices. Toss them with about 2 tablespoons of salt, or enough to coat them well and put em on top of the carrots.
  6. Toss the leafy tops and the green onions with another tablespoon or so of salt until coated and lay them on top.
  7. Weigh everything down with a plate and leave it on the counter for 4-6 hours.
  8. Stir up the vegetables.
  9. Now get out your big jar and start layering things in it.
  10. Put in a couple handfuls of the vegetable mixture, sprinkle over a tablespoon of red pepper (or less if you want it less spicy. I like it spicy!), sprinkle over some of the minced garlic and ginger.
  11. Keep doing that and as you go, use a wooden spoon to pack it down. At first, it may be hard to get everything into the jar but you'll manage.
  12. Once it's all in, sprinkle another teaspoon or so of salt all over the top and put the lid on tight.
  13. Leave it on the counter for 24 hours, giving it a shake whenever you walk by. After 24 hours it will have shrunken considerably and there will be almost enough liquid in the jar to cover the vegetables. Use your wooden spoon again to cram it all down into the liquid.
  14. Now stick it in the fridge. It will keep for several months.


My roommate used to take some of the fresh kimchi (before it went into the refrigerator) and mix it with sesame oil and sesame seeds and that was delicious. I like to use a little of it chopped up in stirfry or just as a spicy accompaniment to a sandwich.

Some recipes call for adding fish sauce or anchovy paste. I’ve never done it that way, have you?

Comments

  1. I love kimchi!

    and saying KIMCHI.

    I’m okay.

    • You’re TOTALLY okay! Fine, even!
      I love kimchi and I don’t get the people who think it smells gross. What’s not to love about spicy pickled things???

  2. “there’s more than one way to make kimchi” Truly, an important life lesson.

    Thanks for the kimchi recipe. I may attempt it, although buying it from the smiling ladies who make it at the Super H Mart is pretty easy.

  3. You didn’t think I would stop at one comment regarding kimchi?

    Kimchi is very versatile and healthy. Cabbage and vinegar are cancer-fighting and skin-brightening.

    As any Korean can tell you, kimchi goes great with grilled beef. It makes a great topper for a hamburger. I also chop it up and have it in omelets or fritattas with carrots for sweetening and even dollops of goat cheese for mellowing. For a vegetarian meal, it goes well with firm tofu and sauteed spinach.

    Here’s a great Korean breakfast fusion dish called gaeran tost-u (egg toast). Toast or saute in butter until brown two slices of white bread. Saute (or even don’t saute) one T. minced cabbage or kimchi, 1/2 T. minced carrots, and 1/2 T. minced onion. (I’ve even gotten cabbage, carrots, and onion from a salad bar.) Mix veggies with one beaten egg and fry like pancake omelet. Place omelet between slices of toast. Top with a 1/2 T. catsup and 1/2 T. brown sugar. Eat.

    • Oh, buddy. Now you’re speaking my language! That sounds heavenly. I’m trying it soon.

      • This makes me SO HAPPY! I live and teach in South Korea and I’ve developed a ridiculous addiction to kimchi. I went home last year for a little while and I was sorely disappointed in what I found in (even the Asian!) grocery stores, but I never thought/never had the time to make it myself (I was too busy stuffing my face with Mexican food, good beer, cheese and bread – since I knew I’d be returning to the land of none of the above soon). Now, in the meantime, I will continue to gorge myself on the delicious, authentic kimchi that I am lucky enough to have down the street, but this is bookmarked for when I return Stateside. P.S. I adore you.

        • Ooop, meant to make my own reply to this, but I also find it quite fitting since I also have an unhealthy addiction for the Korean egg-toast concoction too! There is a cart right outside my school that makes exactly the same sandwiches and they are deliciously, amazingly dangerous!

        • Hello darling Lindsay!
          First, I am very glad to have made you so incredibly happy with this recipe! I hope you try it when you’re back in the US and that it satisfies your every spicy desire.
          Second, I’m totally jealous. I’ve always wanted to go to Korea and climb some of them mountains and eat spicy egg sandwiches from a cart. But, I guess I do have all the good beer, cheese, and bread… so we’ll call it even. ;)

    • I’m so glad that you posted about this “Breakfast Sandwich”. I’ve spent many many weeks in Pusan S. Korea (NAVY!!) and once had a Bfast sandwich similar to your recipe (actually I had it EVERYDAY for bfast). I’ve made it NUMEROUS times and everyone loves it (especially my girls). The confusing part is that I have Korean friends and tell them about it and they have no idea what I’m talking about (never heard of Korean bfast sandwich). Anyway, mine goes like this:
      (1) chopped green onion (white and green parts)
      (2) cabbage sliced in strips
      (3) minced garlic
      (4) several raw eggs scrambled in a bowl
      (5) Toasted bread
      (6) thin sliced cucumber
      (7) Thousand Island Dressing
      (8) Katsup
      Put some green onion, garlic and cabbage in a small bowl. Spoon in just enough egg to thoroughly coat the veggies (and a little more, to your liking). Mix nicely and pour into a hot small pan. Cook on one side and flip when you are able to. Spread a little thousand island dressing on each slice of toast. Put the cooked egg mixture on the toast, top with a couple thin slices of cucumber, lightly drizzle with katsup (to your liking), top with the other slice of toast and ENJOY. Kick it up a notch with some Sirachi sauce if you’d like.

  4. Hey, Hilah! Here’s another thing we have in common: I got my adventurous with food from my maternal grandmother, too! During the Depression, she worked in produce packing sheds in the Salinas Valley in California. She became friends with many of her Latina, Italian and Chinese co-workers and they taught her a lot of their dishes. I was probably 7 before I realized that enchiladas weren’t “American”. She never made kimchi, though. I don’t think that there were many Koreans in the area at the time.

    That loud yell of “YEEEESSSSS!!!!!” that you might have heard coming from South Austin this afternoon was me. Making kimchi has been on my todo list for over a year. I’ve collected at least half a dozen recipes, but never have gotten around to making it. The biggest reason is that I’ve unable to find gochugaru or saeujeot (Korean salted shrimp). The good folks at the Chi’Lantro taco truck told me that there’s at least two Korean grocers in Austin, but they’re in parts of town I rarely go to. So I’m glad you suggest substitutes for the saeujeot and gochugaru. BTW, yours looks incredible.

    Your grandmother didn’t, by any chance, teach you how to fish and shoot a gun, did she?

    • Wow, Randy! That is really cool about your granny. I’m not sure where mine got her adventurous tastes; she grew up in the Appalachians and didn’t have any contact with the “outside world” until she moved away as an adult.
      I hope I’ve given you the confidence to make kimchi with chiles de arbol. The first time I did it was out of desperation but it worked so well, I haven’t bothered to find the gochugaru since.

  5. In the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, there is a concentration of real Korean restaurants in Annandale. We get plenty of bugolgi, kimchichigae, and bibimbap there and at our local outpost of Korea’s Woo Lae Oak chain. The population of Japanese immigrants appears to be smaller here, so even the Japanese restaurants often are run by Korean and have some Korean-influenced Japanese dishes..

    • I am extremely envious of your real Korean restaurants!
      That’s interesting about the Korean-run Japanese restaurants. To me, the cuisines are vastly different.

      • Here is a discussion thread on Yelp addressing the question. The point, of course, is not who makes and serves the food. (For example, you have a great kimchi recipe and aren’t Korean.) Is the food good? That’s most important. Is it authentic? That’s next.

        • I surely agree with that at home. In fact, there’s a line in my Learn to Cook book to that effect: it doesn’t have to be authentic to be good.
          But I might be a little disappointed if I were wanting and paying for Japanese food and got something more like Korean food. In some cases it might even be called false advertising? That’s all I’m saying.

          • The Korean-run Japanese restaurants here all are pretty authentic, according to our Son #3 who speaks Japanese and did a home-stay over there. Restaurants in Japan tend to serve one kind of food, so a yakitori place never would serve sushi, for example. In the U.S., it’s a mishmash.

          • You know, I was thinking about this on my way home.
            I guess I (and probably lots of people) rather naively think that “Japanese food” (substitute any country) is all made the same way throughout Japan, and therefore that there is only one “real” way to make it. But obviously, when I think about it, that is totally wrong. I know several Mexican-Americans and they each have their own “real” enchilada sauce recipe, for example. There’s a hundred variations on chicken-fried steak and gumbo, too, but they’re still all “real” American food.
            So I take it all back! ;)
            I love these little debates about food.

          • And we love you Hilah!

            E
            houston TX

  6. Ahh KIMCHI!

    I spent a year in Korea (US Army). I love Kimchi. It’s definitely an acquired taste. I loved it with a big plate of BULGOGI (not sure on the spelling on that one).

    Yumm.

    I remember they had a white Kimchi as well. Not as spicy as the Red. But just as yummy.

    E
    houston TX

    • Hi Eric!
      You’re right about that. I know a couple of people that can’t stand kimchi. I’ll never understand…
      I love bulgogi, too! I will have to figure out how to make it someday soon.
      Thanks for writing.

  7. I just was watching “Kimchi Chronicles” on the PBS station in DC. They mentioned that their website (http://www.kimchichronicles.tv) had a list of Korean food trucks. I found a Tex/Mex/Korean truck in Austin, called Chi’Lantro – http://www.chilantrobbq.com/

  8. OMG hilah i have THE BEST bulgogi recipe for you!!! TOTZ amaze. it doesn’t hurt that you start with ribeye…but it’s pretty freaking awesome…just saying…

  9. I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (www.punkdomestics.com), a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site — we’re featuring kimchi today. Good stuff!

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