Make Your Own Kimchi – Recipe

Homemade Kimchi
Homemade Vegetarian Won Bok Kimchi

I‘ve resisted making my own fermented foods for, well, decades at this point. I’m not sure exactly why – maybe a little fear that they might not be safe, or that the smell would be overpowering, or just a lack of patience to wait for them to mature. But lately I’ve fallen more and more in love with fermented vegetables in particular, and I finally took the plunge with this kimchi. One of my coworkers at ChefSteps, development chef Nick Gavin, was psyched to work on it too, so we made a rather enormous 10-liter batch last week and it is happily fermenting away in the back of our office space. Yes, I’m tasting it every day.

Let me just say this: making kimchi really is very easy, not at all scary, and the results are quite delicious so far. Although I started with a rather traditional Napa cabbage kimchi (won bok kimchi), I’ve got a long list of experiments in mind. Preserved lemon / kimchi hybrid. Smoked kimchi. Red radish kimchi. Fermented harissa. Fermented ketchup. Etc, etc.

Nick and I came up with our recipe for this first batch by watching a bunch of videos and reading recipes all over the web, and then combining what seemed to us like the best ideas, ratios, and methods. Obviously one batch doesn’t make me an expert, so you’ll definitely want to experiment and adjust as well, and the book that has become more or less the bible on the subject is The Art of Fermentation. Sandor Katz’s book is full of useful information about safety, equipment and styles of fermentation (but a little light on actionable recipes).

Most (but not all) kimchi that you find at a store will have some kind of seafood product in it – anchovy sauce, fish sauce, dried shrimp and so forth. The purpose of these ingredients is to add umami (savoriness) to complement the lactic fermented tang, salt, and spicy heat. In the recipe below, we’ve just omitted them. The only source of umami is a small amount of soy sauce. I’ve done a few tests mixing either MSG or yeast extracts into some of the already partially fermented kimchi and they tasted quite good. I’ll probably put them right in the spice mixture next time – if you want to experiment, try them at about 0.5% of the total weight (0.1% for pure MSG). (If the mention of MSG has sent you into a tizzy, you should go read the Wikipedia article for references on its safety.) Kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms also have lots of free glutamates, so I want to try them in the future as well.

Once you’ve got some kimchi (homemade or bought), here are some of my favorite dishes to serve it in or with: Kimchi fried rice, Tofu and Kimchi Dinner for One, Bibim Naengmyeon, and the kimchi jigae (kimchi stew) in my book.

Homemade Kimchi

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Homemade Kimchi

  • 700 grams (1 medium head) napa cabbage
  • 1000 grams (1 liter, 4 1/4 cups) water
  • 150 grams (1 cup Diamond Crystal, 1/2 cup or so of Morton's) kosher salt
  • 28 grams (6 cloves) fresh garlic
  • 15 grams (1" piece) fresh ginger, peeled
  • 15 grams (1 tablespoon) sugar
  • 15 grams (1 tablespoon) soy sauce (gluten-free if you want the kimchi to be gluten-free)
  • 100 grams onion (1/3 of an onion), roughly chopped
  • 40 grams (6 tablespoons) coarse Korean chili powder (gochugaru)
  • 15 grams (2 tablespoon) rice flour
  • 130 grams (1/2 cup) water
  • 40 grams green onion (2 green onions), cut into 3" lengths
  • 110 grams (1 medium carrot) julienned carrots
  1. Remove any discolored leaves from the cabbage and cut into 4 lengthwise sections. Remove the tough core at the bottom. Cut leaves into about 3" sections. Whisk together the 1 liter of water and 150 grams of salt in a large, very clean container. Add the cabbage, which should be fully covered by the brine. (You might not need all of the brine). Cover with plastic wrap and find a way to apply some weight to press on the cabbage. Leave for about 1 hour until the cabbage is tender and well-seasoned.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce and onion and puree in a mini-food processor or with an immersion blender. (If you are doing a larger batch, you can use a blender.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in the gochugaru.
  3. Whisk together the rice flour and 130 grams of water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. As soon as it thickens, remove from heat, cool, then stir into the spice mixture. Add the green onion and carrots and toss to coat. I find this easiest to do wearing rubber gloves.
  4. Thoroughly drain the cabbage, removing as much excess brine as possible. Again using rubber gloves, toss the cabbage with the spice mixture, thoroughly coating it.
  5. Place the cabbage in a very clean container, packing it down tightly. Cover, but allow a little airflow. (Nick rigged up an airlock on a cambro, pretty fancy!). Don't put on a tight lid or it will get blown off by CO2. Store in a cool, dark place. Taste and toss daily. Depending on temperature, it will start to develop a pleasing acidity. When it is ripe to your taste (which could be anywhere from 3 days up to a couple of weeks), transfer to clean jars and refrigerate to maximize its life.
http://herbivoracious.com/2013/05/making-your-own-kimchi-recipe.html

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, May 30th, 2013 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Sauces and Condiments, Vegan or Modifiable.

27 Responses to “Make Your Own Kimchi – Recipe”

  1. Elizabeth
    May 30, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Any readily available kosher substitute for that chili powder? What might be an equivalent chili if I were to dry and grind? Or find readily available with a hechsher?

    • May 30, 2013 at 8:13 am #

      Yep, I imagine it will be darn hard to find gochugaru that is kosher stamped. I’ve never tried any substitutions, but my inclination would probably be a mix of ancho for the fruitiness and something like chili de arbol for the heat.

    • devorah
      November 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      Single ground spice are fine without kosher supervision. Just read package to check that is just pepper without additives.

  2. Moira
    May 30, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Grams ???

    Any down-home Rube-Goldberg suggestions for the vented cover, while fermenting ? Or is it simple enough to keep a pot lid tilted off a bit ?

    Thanks, Michael. I’ve been putting this process off myself.

    • May 30, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      Some folks even just use cheesecloth. I think even a tilted pot lid would be fine. The main thing is to keep the vegetables submerged so you don’t get a layer of mold on top.

  3. May 30, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    This looks very interesting. Shall bookmark for later in teh year when we have cabbages galore!
    Janie x

  4. May 30, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Love Sandor’s books, especially Wild Fermentation. Love this kimchi recipe. So simple and delicious way to spice things up.

  5. May 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Hi Michael, with all the moving/graduations/etc in my life have not had a chance to leave a comment here in a long time. But I am reading every post (big thanks to the e-mail subscription!).
    This post came in a perfect time. I few weeks ago I was teaching people in the area the “arts of fermentation”, and we made sauerkraut, kimchi, and some other fermented foods. I came up with the vegetarian kimchi recipe with soy sauce. We couldn’t find gochugaru in the area, so I decided to use just plain chili pepper flakes. Also I didn’t use any rice flour, only pear and pineapple puree. I need to tell you that my students were very happy, and kimchi was delicious (even though it was made out of 10 kilograms of napa cabbage it’s all gone by now!) Later I received a gift from one of m friends book on kimchi where I found out that there are over 300 (!) kimchi recipes. Each region has it’s own secret ingredient. Wow, I want to taste them all! :) Isn’t fermenting fun?!
    Thanks for giving your recipe in metric system! Although fermenting is not that precise when it comes to ingredients, it is good to have it in familiar numbers. :)

    • May 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      So true! It is almost like opening a whole ‘nother door on cooking, with endless possibilities to explore. I have the feeling there are going to be a lot of fermented posts on here over the next few months. You are very right, it isn’t necessary to be as precise as all that, I just like to record everything as accurately as possible to make it easier to judge future variations.

  6. May 30, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    I am so thrilled for a vegetarian Kimchi, and I love all the variations that you mentioned too!!!!

  7. May 31, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    I’ve been wanting to make my own kimchi, but haven’t worked up the courage yet. This looks amazing — I am going to give this a try!

  8. May 31, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Michael, I was just at Smallwares in PDX and they had a lovely dish that used kimchi in a broth with clams! Might be fun to try in a veggie version :)

    • May 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      Yeah! I’m all excited about kimchi purees, broths, chips, powders… so many fun things to try.

  9. May 31, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Chips!! Omg…

  10. Christina Peterson
    June 1, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    Excited to try it! but could you please convert the measurements from grams to actual amounts? I have no idea how much 28 grams of garlic is, or 100 grams of onions…

    • June 1, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      I’ve added in some approximate volume measurements.. that said, I’ve switched to working by weight most of the time and I love it – not just for accuracy. It is so much faster, cleaner, and there are fewer dishes to do. Here’s a video about it: link to chefsteps.com

  11. Hanna
    June 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Great recipe for vegetarian kimchi. I’m glad that you’re interested in trying out all the different possibilities–like you said, kimchi is easy to make. Most of the time is wait time!

    I’ve been told by older relatives that ketchup kimchi was actually a thing in the past. When ketchup was first introduced to Korea, one of the advertised ways of using it was in a ketchup kimchi recipe. :)

  12. Moira
    June 4, 2013 at 3:52 am #

    Hanna ~ you brought up my thought, regarding ketchup, which is actually an Asian recipe called Catsap. A fermented, spicy tomato condiment. I forget which culture it’s originally attributed to, but it was a British colony. As catsap made its way to England, it became “streamlined” and marketed as ketchup; which is to say, it lost its spice and found more sugar along the way.

    Having lived in the British Isles, I was always surprised at the higher vinegar content of ketchup there (even if it was the Heinz label I was used to in the US). Later, I met my chef Steve “Scallion”, who made his own ‘catsap-sambal’ and introduced an ancient recipe to a whorl of diners in the Boston area culture. His first restaurant recipe with this was a grilled catfish sandwich with a light, sweet slaw. We used to eat them for breakfast, setting up for busy days at the bistro.

    I find it entertaining that we’re here a few hundred years later getting back to the original via whole foods, international foods and vegetarian recipes.

  13. Moira
    June 4, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Michael ~ thanks for the gram to ounces conversion. The video is hysterical, and true enough! Thinking through a recipe so it batches into single bowls for efficiency’s sake is a modern approach, which I’ve been teaching my kids ~ because I hate washing dishes, too!

    Here’s a link to a conversion table we’ll need to have on hand if you’re going to continue “gramming” your recipes. If you have a better one, send it on over !!! This is a good topic for a longer, dedicated blog article, actually.

    link to metric-conversions.org

    Love your work.

    • June 4, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks, Moira! So the issue with a converter like that is it is converting grams to ounce weights, not ounce volumes (which is yet another confusing thing about English measurements. So it is close enough for water or things with a similar density to water, but useless for oil or flour or sugar or vegetables etc. (Unless you are still working by weight but for some reason have a scale that doesn’t do grams.)

      If you want to convert non-water-like ingredients from weight to volume, sometimes you can google things like “50 grams of sugar in tablespoons” and get a reasonable answer, or try wolframalpha.com. But far and away the easiest thing to do is pick up an inexpensive scale – one like this works great: link to amazon.com

  14. Moira
    June 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Oooh, the kids are out of school and Mom’s back in math class ! The wolframalpha link is educating enough. Birthday’s this month ~ maybe someone will profer the scale my way! I’ll trade for kimchee. ;-)

    Thanks, Moira

  15. Marylee
    June 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    What a coincidence, I just made a batch of kimchi. I have been trying to get it so the nappa cabbage doesn’t taste too salty after the brine soak. The last batch I made was too salty even after I thought I had sufficiently rinsed off enough salt from the brine soaking process. After researching several recipes I found one recommendation to soak the nappa cabbage leaves whole and then to cut them afterwards and in this way they will soak up less salt. I soaked my nappa cabbage overnight in a brine of 1/2 cup kosher salt (non-iodized) in a large stainless bowl with enough water to cover. I submerged the cabbage leaves by weighing them down with a dinner plate and a large beach cobble. To make sure the batch wasn’t too salty, I tasted some of the cabbage after I rinsed off the brine. I also omitted the salt from the seasonings that are added after the initial brine soak. I figured I could always add salt later after the counter-top fermentation process and before I put the kimchi in jars in the refrigerator. I’ve always omitted the MSG from my recipe as I have had some uncomfortable and weird side effects from MSG (namely a hot sensation on the back of my neck after eating MSG). I do like the idea of using Kombu as I keep that on hand to flavor sushi rice. I can’t draw any conclusions about my latest batch of kimchi as it’s still not done but hopefully I’ve solved the salt problem. I look forward to hearing how your first batch comes out.

    • June 16, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Yes, I didn’t find that I needed any additional salt after the brining step. To my taste, after brining the cabbage was seasoned just right. You do want to make sure to have enough salt in there during fermentation as it (along with temperature) controls the rate of fermentation, so I wouldn’t necessarily do a lot of rinsing after the brine, just try to squeeze out the excess brine so the cabbage isn’t too watery.

  16. JMC
    August 27, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    I’m late to this posting, but am excited to see it. One quick question: approximately what volume container do you need at the end? A quart jar? Half gallon?

    Just want to get the pieces lined up before I make it!

    thanks

    • August 27, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      This should fit nicely in a 2-quart (half-gallon) jar.

  17. Jen
    August 28, 2013 at 5:48 pm #

    Sounds great! On another site someone added powdered nori seaweed for that umami flavor.

    • August 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Sounds like a good call; I use powdered nori on popcorn and it is delicious.

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