Traditional Kimchi Recipe (Spicy Korean Sauerkraut)
Kimchi is a fermented condiment that is easy to prepare at home. With a few vegetables and by following some simple steps, you will end up with delicious homemade kimchi.
This article will give you all the information you need to successfully make kimchi.
Go straight to the section that interests you:
- What is kimchi?
- Traditional Korean kimchi recipe
- How to eat kimchi?
- Frequently asked questions
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a mixture of spicy vegetables that have been fermented. Kimchi has been prepared for hundreds of years in Korea, where it is served with almost every meal. “A meal without kimchi is not a meal,” as the Korean saying goes.
The vegetables traditionally found in kimchi are:
- Napa cabbage
- Daikon radish
- Onions or scallions
Several herbs are added, such as
- fish sauce
- Korean chili (gochugaru).
However, the ingredients, proportions, and aromatics vary from one recipe to another! Every Korean house has its own kimchi recipe! There is radish-based kimchi, kimchi without chilies, and vegan kimchi… To each his own!
To find out more, read our articles:
- What Is Kimchi, and Why Do We Eat It?
- The Benefits of Kimchi According to Science
- 9 Amazing Facts About Kimchi
What Is Kimchi Fermentation?
Vegetables are tasty. Fermented vegetables are even better! In a nutshell, fermented vegetables are more digestible, tastier, and healthier.
Lacto-fermentation (also called lactic acid fermentation) transforms plain vegetables into delicious kimchi.
Fermentation involves lactic acid bacteria (naturally found in vegetables), which eat the sugar in the vegetables and create lactic acid. This is what gives the fermented vegetables their tender texture, and their nice tangy taste.
Fermentation requires only salt and an oxygen-free environment to be successful. It’s as simple as mixing vegetables and salt and putting them in a jar!
To learn all about vegetable fermentation, check out the Complete Guide to Lacto-Fermentation.
To make kimchi, you need three things:
- A jar
- A weight, to keep vegetables free of air
- A lid to let out the fermentation gas
For this recipe, we use glass jars with screw-on lids (Mason type), which most people in North America have in their kitchens.
You also need to use a weight, such as a glass weight or an insert (ViscoDisc).
There are several other options for making kimchi at home:
- Revolution Fermentation’s Complete Kimchi Kit
- Crazy Korean Cooking Container
- Le Parfait jars with an insert
- A 20L stoneware jar (well, maybe not to start with…)
To learn more about the equipment to use, see How to choose your lacto-fermentation equipment!
Ingredients for Making Kimchi
Kimchi is made with simple and easy to find ingredients.
Choose fresh, firm vegetables. Although we recommend it, they do not have to be organic.
Napa cabbage, daikon radish, onions, and carrots are easy to find in supermarkets or Asian grocery stores. All these vegetables are also available from a growing number of local market gardeners.
If necessary, bok choy, pak choi, or even green cabbage can be used instead of napa cabbage.
Traditional kimchi recipes use seafood or dried shrimp to give the kimchi a strong flavour. Fish sauce is preferred. It is easier to find and gives kimchi a concentrated flavour!
Use soy sauce, coconut aminos, or dried seaweed for a vegan alternative to fish sauce, as in our vegan kimchi recipe.
For added flavour, fresh garlic and ginger can be chopped or ground before adding them to the mixture. They are best used fresh rather than ground.
Korean chili (gochugaru) gives a distinct colour and flavour to kimchi. You can buy gochugaru chili online or in Asian grocery stores.
Salt is essential for fermentation. For every kilogram of vegetables, you need 20g of salt (1 large tablespoon).
The salt used should be free of additives and anticaking agents. The only ingredient should be “salt”!
For more information, see Which Salt for Fermenting Vegetables?
Lactic Acid Bacteria
No need to add bacteria to your kimchi, vegetables already contain them! Trust the process 😀
Kimchi Preparation Steps
The preparation of kimchi is divided into 4 steps.
Preparing the Vegetables
This step is as easy as making a salad: remove the damaged parts and cut the vegetables into chunks.
Mix With Salt
In a large bowl, massage all the ingredients with salt to help the vegetables soak. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the water to drain from the vegetables. This will make filling the jars easier.
Putting in Jars
The vegetables are packed into jars.
Then, to avoid contact with air, a weight is added to keep the vegetables well submerged under their own liquid, and the jars are closed. If the lid is screwed on, do not tighten it too much, to allow gas to escape, but enough to prevent oxygen from entering.
Let it ferment
The jars are left at room temperature on a large plate to collect any overflow.
Traditional Kimchi Recipe (Spicy Korean Sauerkraut)
- 4 500ml Le Parfait jars or 4 x 2 cups Mason jars
- 1 Large mixing bowl
- 1 Cutting board
- 1 Knife
- 1 Pickle packer tamper optional
- 1 kg napa Chinese cabbage or bok choy
- 1 daikon or other radishes
- 1 carrot
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 tbsp. Korean chili peppers
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
- 2 tbsp. sea salt or weight equivalent to 2% of total weight
- 1 tbsp. dried fish or shrimp sauce* (optional)
Prepare the Vegetables
- Cut the cabbage and onion into small chunks.
- Grate the daikon and carrot.
- Chop the garlic and ginger very finely.
- Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl with your hands while crushing the vegetables (about 1 minute).
- Allow soaking for at least 15 minutes. Mix again for 1 minute.
Putting in Jars
- Put the vegetables in the jars. Compress well as you go along.
- Add an insert and close the jar.
- Place the jars on a tray (or plate) in case the juice overflows during fermentation.
- Let them ferment for about 5 days.
- Once opened, the jar should be kept in the fridge. If unopened, a jar of kimchi can remain at room temperature for many weeks.
For more information on how to ferment vegetables, read our Complete Guide to Lacto-Fermentation.
How to Eat Kimchi?
In Korea, kimchi is served as a condiment for rice, stews, grilled meats, vegetables, etc.
You can eat it as a condiment, or add it to your recipes:
- Kimchi rice bowl (bibimbap)
- Kimchi burger
- Kimchi sandwich or wrap
- Kimchi fried rice
- Grilled cheese with kimchi
- Kimchi ramen
And much more! For more ideas, see our article How to Eat Fermented Vegetables: 44 Delicious Ideas
How to Preserve Kimchi
Thanks to the fermentation process, kimchi can be stored in the fridge for at least one year. It will improve in flavour over time!
However, a few basic rules must be followed:
- Once opened, the kimchi jar should be kept in the fridge
- Always close the lid tightly after use
- Use clean utensils to remove the kimchi
- Do not put kimchi back into the jar after it has been taken out
Frequently Asked Questions About Kimchi
Why Do Some Kimchi Recipes Steep the Vegetables in Brine?
It is not mandatory to steep the vegetables before fermenting them.
The traditional method of making kimchi involves soaking the vegetables in very salty water. This soaking softens the vegetables and facilitates fermentation. We imitate this technique with salt massage.
This technique is very useful when fermenting dozens of whole cabbages, and you wish to soften them easily to put aromatics between each leaf.
To prepare a few pots of kimchi, this step is not necessary and even problematic, because you end up wasting a lot of salt.
How to Make Vegan Kimchi?
Yes, it’s easy and delicious to make vegan kimchi!
Simply replace the fish sauce with another “umami” rich ingredient like:
- soy sauce
- coconut aminos
- mushroom broth
For more information, see our Vegan Kimchi Recipe
How to Make Kimchi Without Chili?
Yes, you can make kimchi without chili. This type of kimchi is called “white kimchi” or “baek-kimchi” and is milder than traditional kimchi, but just as delicious.
Although chili adds a lot of flavour and spice to the kimchi, your fermentation will still be successful and delicious without it.
With What Can I Replace Korean Gochugaru Chili?
Korean chili (gochugaru) is a chili with a fragrant, slightly smoky taste. It adds just enough spiciness to kimchi.
It can be found in dried form, either in powder or flakes.
It can be replaced by paprika, chili flakes, or cayenne pepper. This is less traditional, but still adds a bit of spice!
Are There Any Risks in Making Kimchi?
Making kimchi is an easy and safe technique. By following the steps and keeping a clean working environment, it is safe to make kimchi.
For more information, see Is Lacto-Fermentation Safe?
How Long Does It Take to Ferment Kimchi?
Kimchi fermentation time can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. In any case, it will be safe to eat and delicious.
After 5 days of fermentation, kimchi will be slightly tangy and firm.
After several weeks, it will be more acidic and tender.
If you put it in the fridge, the fermentation will slow down, but the kimchi will continue to mature.
Why Did My Kimchi Overflow From the Jar?
During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide is created. This gas is trying to escape from the jar and causes the liquid to rise, which, if close to the rim, can escape.
Put the jars on a large plate and wipe up the spills as they occur. CO2 production should subside after a few days.
Is My Kimchi Successful?
Successful kimchi is easy to identify:
- tangy taste
- (sometimes) bubbles in the jar
- smell of marinade
Failed kimchi is easy to identify:
- visible, hairy mould on the surface
- strong smell of garbage
For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions About Fermented Vegetables.
- Discover the Revolution Fermentation Kimchi Kit
- Buy a Crazy Korean Cooking Fermentation Container
- Buy Equipment for Fermenting Vegetables
- Discover other Recipes for Making Fermented Vegetables
- Read How to Make Fermented Vegetables