How to make quick and easy authentic kimchi – In just 30 minutes of hands-on-time you'll have a deliciously spicy (but not too spicy!), gut-healing and probiotic-filled condiment to enjoy with all your Korean favorites!
My family surprised me by liking traditional, lacto-fermented sauerkraut — the straight-up kind as taught in our lacto-fermentation class on Traditional Cooking School. They're surprising me with their love for the two variations: homemade kimchi (or kimchee), the Korean sauerkraut; and homemade tsukemono, the Japanese sauerkraut.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a fermented side made from vegetables and spices. There are so many varieties of Kimchi, however most Americans are familiar with the variety made with napa cabbage and spices such as Korean chili powder or red pepper flakes. Oftentimes you'll find kimchi with veggies like garlic, ginger, onion and daikon radish. If you’re not sure you like Kimchi, many grocery stores are now carrying naturally fermented kimchi in a glass jar. If your local store doesn’t carry it, check out an Asian Market as they’re sure to have some.
Kimchi makes a fantastic snack. It's low-carb and filled with gut-healing probiotics. It also compliments soaked brown rice well as a flavorful topping to an otherwise bland side dish.
Growing up, I didn't like kimchi too much. Probably because of the red chili in it. I much prefer sour over spicy, any day! Yet, the heat is growing on me. And I like my own homemade kimchi recipe. It is not too spicy and I love how good it is for us, if made traditionally using lacto-fermentation.
I like my kimchi with both bigger pieces of hand-chopped cabbage or smaller, more evenly chopped pieces from a food processor. Both methods are fine, but you will get a quicker fermentation and more even texture using a food processor. You decide which you want to do — both are good.
Many people wonder if you can make a vegetarian kimchi or a spicy Kimchi recipe without seafood ingredients (like salted shrimp). Yes, you can! And this recipe is perfect; just increase the chili flakes to your spice preference.
Is Kimchi Good for You? – Health Benefits of Kimchi
- Kimchi was named one of the World's Top 5 Healthiest Foods by Health Magazine in 2017.
- Kimchi is high in dietary fiber as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin B and Vitamin C.
- Kimchi is rich in probiotics which can help aid in a healthy gut microbiome.
- Kimchi is low fat and low carb.
- It's said that Kimchi is what helps Koreans avoid obesity because of it's satisfying nature while being so low in calories. Many Koreans eat kimchi at least once daily, oftentimes with each meal.
The kimchi recipe that I’m sharing today is an adaptation of the recipe in Nourishing Traditions on page 94. It's filled with healthy probiotics (as most ferments are) and the longer you let it ferment the deeper the flavors will become and there will be a higher probiotic content.
How you make your Kimchi is entirely up to you. Because there are so many vegetables that can be fermented, you can mix in or omit different veggies as you see fit. Many veggies range in flavor from mild and mellow to quite strong and extremely spicy. I suggest you experiment with your veggies until you find the perfect combination that's to your liking.
Do I Need Special Tools To Make Kimchi?
In short, no! Making ferments is one of the easiest things to do in a real food kitchen. A simple mason jar and lid will do. It's important to understand a few basic principles when fermenting, which is why I recommend my Lacto Fermentation course.
While I say there are no special tools needed for fermenting, there are definitely tools that will help get the job done easier. Some of my favorites are as follows:
- Prepper Pro kraut pounder from Homesteader Supply – this really helps to push and press the kraut into your jars and under the liquid to get all the excess air out.
- Pickle Pro airlock lids – these lids are wonderful for using a mason jar. They let air out without letting air in.
- Fermenting Airlock – This airlock system works well with the Fermented Vegetable Master from Cultures for Health.
- Fermenting Weights – These weights are the perfect item to help hold all veggies under the water and reduce the potential for mold.
How is Kimchi Made? The Fermentation Process
My favorite method for making kimchi (or any kind of sauerkraut) is my no-pound method. Essentially, you salt the veggies and let it sit for 30 minutes to naturally draw out the water within the veggies. This keeps you from having to pound by hand to release the juices. I find this not only saves time, but so much strength!
Another reason I love this recipe so much is that it doesn’t use fish sauce. Though I’m not against using fish sauce, I just find the smell to be overpowering at the beginning and have found I’m happy with this recipe without it. If you’d like to try adding a bit, you can pick some up at most Korean Markets (though you could likely sub in a bit of soy sauce as well).
The basic fermentation process is like this:
- Prep your fruit or veggies.
- Add mineral-rich salt to draw out natural liquids.
- Put into a clean jar or crock.
- Let sit at room temperature.
- Eat & enjoy!
There are a lot of questions about fermenting foods and we hope Traditional Cooking School can be your one-stop blog to find all your answers. If you don't find the answer to your question here, or in one of the additional articles listed below, feel free to add your question in the comments!
How long does sauerkraut keep in the fridge once opened? Does kimchi go bad?
If Kimchi is stored properly it has quite a long shelf-life. As long as you're creating your kimchi with clean utensils and properly re-packing the kimchi so all the vegetables are under the brine each time you open the jar, it should last indefinitely. It's important to note that the texture and flavor will continue to change the longer it sets. Some people don't care for kimchi after a few months as the cabbage can become too soft or mushy. Others prefer it older because the flavors mellow and meld with time. It's really all a matter of your preference, though.
How long can kimchi be safely stored un-refrigerated?
Kimchi should only be left un-refrigerated during the fermentation stage (usually between 3 to 14 days, give or take and depending on the size/thickness of your veggies). Once the kimchi has reached your desired flavor, it's best to transfer it to cold storage or the refrigerator. Cold storage should be between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit for best results.
What happens if I put kimchi in the fridge while fermenting?
Sometimes life happens and we need to hit “pause” on our ferments. Even if your kimchi hasn't quite finished fermenting, you can place it in the refrigerator for a few days to take a break or make sure it doesn't ferment beyond your liking. Once you're ready, bring the kimchi back to room temperature to continue the fermenting process.
How to get rid of kimchi smell in my fridge?
I've never had my refrigerator get smelly due to a ferment, but as I mentioned above, I do leave out the fish sauce. If you have an unfortunate spill or your lid isn't sealed tight, there's a chance your fridge may have some off smells. If you've spilled, be sure all liquid and any food pieces are cleaned and sanitized properly. If smell still remains simply place a bowl of baking soda in the refrigerator overnight (or up to a week) until the smell is completely gone.
Homemade Kimchi: An Easy Korean Sauerkraut Recipe
Kimchi is a classic Korean sauerkraut that has a spicy kick. This easy homemade recipe is a bit more mild, takes just 15 minutes of hands-on time and has many benefits from probiotics formed through lacto-fermentation.
- 1 head Napa cabbage or savoy cabbage, cored and shredded
- 1 bunch green onions chopped
- 1 cup carrots shredded
- 1 tablespoon ginger fresh, grated
- 3 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whey *
Start by chopping or shredding the cabbage, carrots, green onions, ginger and garlic by hand or with a food processor.
Combine all ingredients in a medium or large bowl.
Cover with a tea towel and let sit at room temperature for 1/2 hour while the salt helps pull the juices out of the veggies.
Pound a few times with a potato masher or meat hammer (or kraut pounder) to make sure it is getting juicy. If it doesn’t look wet enough, leave for another 1/2 hour. If you’re seeing plenty of liquid, proceed to the next step.
Transfer ingredients to a clean quart-size, wide mouth jar, leaving 1" space at the top of the jar.
Press down firmly. Ideally, liquid will come up to the top of the mixture, but it's ok if it doesn't at this point.
Add weights, if using, and put on lid and band and screw tightly.
Allow the kimchi to ferment at room temperature for three to seven days.
After 12-24 hours, open the jar and press down firmly on the ingredients a few times to make sure the brine is fully covering the mixture.
Brine will continue to be released over time.
Fermentation may proceed faster at very warm temperatures.
Be sure to burp jar daily to prevent air buildup. Also, if you notice air bubbles in the mixture, open the jar and press the mixture back down to submerge it all in brine again. I like to keep the jar on a towel or in a tray to catch seeping liquids.
Skim off any mold or fuzz that develops on top (everything beneath the brine should be fine).
After a few days, the mixture will be bubbly and the vegetables will soften.
Taste every few days and stop the fermentation when you like the flavor and texture. (We like ours best at 5 to 7 days.)
Transfer to the refrigerator or cool storage.
Serve alongside main dish chicken, turkey, beef, or ham. Make incredible Kimchi fried rice or even serve with eggs for breakfast. Enjoy!
- *Or omit whey and increase salt by 1/2 tablespoon.
- Repack carefully each time you serve to make sure all veggies are under the brine.
- Kimchi will keep for several months or more in the refrigerator.
- Cold storage is ideally between 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Additional Fermenting Articles
- Troubleshooting Your Ferments (KYF172)
- Lacto-Fermentation 101 Video Series
- 7 Fermenting Mistakes You Might Be Making
- Which Water is Best for Fermenting?
- Which Kind of Salt Should I Use for Fermenting?
- Can I Use Alternative Sweeteners in Ferments?
Other Fermented Condiments
- 3 Lacto-Fermented Mustard Recipes (zippy, zingy flavor!)
- Lacto-Fermented Homemade Ketchup
- Lacto-Fermented Mayonnaise
- Homemade Sauerkraut In A Stoneware Crock
- Old-Fashioned, Crunchy, Fermented Garlic-Dill Pickles
- Lacto-Fermented Turnips & Beets
Have you made homemade kimchi before? Do you like it? What's your favorite variation of sauerkraut?
This post was featured in 43 Fermented & Probiotic-Filled Condiments.
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