How To Make Kimchi: Step by Step
Kimchi: The Traditional Korean Side Dish
Slightly sour, usually quite spicy, and full of interesting medleys of flavor, kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made of vegetables and seasonings. Most often, kimchi is made with napa cabbage and seasoned with spicy pepper, garlic, and ginger. But there are a million ways to make kimchi. It can be very salty or not, very spicy or mild, gingery, garlicky, or fishy. It doesn’t need to include cabbage at all, and can instead include cubed radish, cucumber, or even fruit.
Kimchi can liven up any meal, and can also serve as a fantastic base to soups and stews. Because it is a fermented dish, kimchi contains many healthy bacteria, known as probiotics, which ease digestion and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Fermented vegetable mixes such as kimchi are so healthy and fun to make that you'll never want to pick up a batch of the stuff at a store again. Store bought kimchi, while really tasty, is often canned which will kill much of the positive bacterial benefits kimchi offers! Add to that the expense - with these directions you can have kimchi fermenting in your kitchen all year round.
Step One: Assemble Ingredients
To make Kimchi, two sets of ingredients are needed: the vegetables and the spices. Along with this we will also use water and sea-salt to make a brine.
Vegetables: Vegetable ingredients make up the bulk of the kimchi. Normally vegetable ingredients include cabbage, carrots, radish, and scallions. For interesting varieties of kimchi, watermelon rinds, cucumber, and even tropical fruit are used! The great thing about making kimchi is that you can feel free to use a variety of different ingredients.
For this batch, we will use:
- 4 cabbages
- 1 bunch of chard
- 5 carrots
Spices: Spice ingredients are added to the prepared vegetables just before leaving the kimchi to ferment. Again, spices vary widely in kimchi. For those sensitive to spicy-hot food, either omit or be careful with adding hot pepper. The spice mixture should include at least one sweet component - either sugar or fruit - to help the fermentation process.
For this batch, we will use:
- 1 full head of garlic
- A large, 4 inch hunk of fresh ginger
- 2 medium onions
- 1 large pear
- 200 mL (nearly 1 cup) soy sauce
- 2 generous handfuls of red pepper flakes
Step Two: Assemble Equipment
The equipment list for kimchi is short but very important! Using metal, reactive materials can ruin an entire batch of kimchi.
- A very large, non-reactive bowl for mixing the ingredients
- A food-grade bucket (or a non-metal crock of some kind) for leaving the kimchi to ferment. If using a plastic food-grade bucket, avoid buckets with lots of scratches.
- A ceramic or plastic plate to weigh down the cabbage while it ferments
- A clean weight to place on top of the plate
- Gloves, optional, for mixing the ingredients and spices together
Step Three: Make a Saltwater Brine
Making brine is very easy, and essential to this way of making kimchi.
For every gallon of water, add 5 ounces (150 grams) of seasalt or kosher salt. Be sure you are not using iodized salt as this may ruin your entire batch of kimchi.
Stir the brine well, and pour into the large plastic bowl you have ready. The salt should dissolve before adding vegetables.
Step Four: Prepare the Vegetables
The vegetables are prepared by chopping them into large pieces. The carrots are peeled (if not organic) and chopped into 1/8 inch diagonal rounds, and the chard and cabbage are chopped into large chunks.
All of the chopped vegetables can go directly into the prepared brine. Clean hands can break up the cabbage layers that stick together.
The vegetables may sit in the brine from 4-20 hours.
Step Five: Prepare the Spices
Preparing the spices is easy and will fill your kitchen with aromas of ginger and garlic.
With the exception of the soy sauce and chili flakes, all the spices can go directly into a food processor or blender to be blended until smooth.
Or, if preferred, spice ingredients may be diced finely.
Step Six: Combine the Vegetables and the Spices
After the vegetables have soaked for sufficient time in the brine, drain off the saltwater and give the vegetables a good rinse.
Now, comes the fun part. In the large bowl, work the spices, including the soy sauce and hot pepper, into the vegetables with your hands. For those with sensitive hands, wear plastic gloves! It is best for the flavor of the kimchi to be sure all the cabbage and carrots get a coating of the spice mixture. Depending on the size of the batch, this can take between 5 - 20 minutes.
After you are sure you have done a thorough job of coating the vegetables with the spices, try the kimchi to see if salt, soy sauce, or more chili should be added.
Step Seven: Smashing and Storing
The last step! Pour all of the prepared vegetables and spices into the food-grade bucket (or selected crock). With a lot of force, the vegetables must be smashed down towards the bottom of the bucket until liquid from the vegetables is forced to the top.
When you begin to see liquid, place a large plate, which should be just smaller than the diameter of the bucket, on top of the kimchi. Press down until liquid covers the plate.
In the case that enough water cannot be produced, add a bit more brine to the mixture.
After the liquid is sufficiently covering the plate and the vegetables, place a heavy object on top of the plate to weight it down. It is very important that none of the vegetables has access to air - this will keep the good bacteria in, and the bad bacteria out! Clean off the side of the bucket to remove any spice or vegetables.
Now the kimchi is ready to store. Cover with a large cloth, and place in a cool dark spot of your kitchen or a storage room. Remember that fermenting vegetables can smell bad to people who aren't used to them, so storing away from heavy-traffic areas of the house might be a good idea.
Depending on climate, kimchi should be left to ferment for one to four weeks. For the beginner, it is smart to check on the kimchi every other day to be sure that the liquid is still covering the vegetables.
After one week, try the kimchi. Then try every day until the kimchi is as sour as you like it.
I leave kimchi fermenting away until we have finished off the entire batch. Depending on how sour you like your kimchi, storing it in the refrigerator will slow (but not stop) fermentation.
Fermenting for kids:
Make a quick, small batch of kimchi and ferment it in a glass jar. Kids can see the bubbles rising to the top of the jar to learn about fermentation! Make this batch with less spice for kids to enjoy it too, and be sure not to cover the jar tightly - it might explode!
Serve kimchi as a side dish to nearly any food. It goes especially well with stirfry, savory pancakes, and any food that needs a kick. To tone down the flavor (but also lose some of the greatest nutrients), cook the kimchi over low heat before serving.
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Last updated on January 7, 2011
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