Monday, November 21, 2011

Kimchi in the Kitchen

So I'll start where I stand. In my kitchen with a big pink bowl of stinky cabbage.

Freshly packed Kimchi
Fermenting is something that has intrigued me for a little while now. Whether it is my affinity for Asian food, attraction to all things traditional, desire to save money or simply the need to use up the vast amount of whey building up in my fridge as a by-product of my yogurt making, I felt the need to make Korean Kimchi.

There are also the always helpful and much desired probiotic enzymes, wonderfully useful bacterial and the delicious sour, salty, incomparable taste.

To compare the price, a pint of good quality. fresh kimchi runs anywhere from $5-10 per pint. I ended up with 2.5 quarts for the cost of a head of cabbage and a daikon radish (about $3). I'm a sucker for saving money while eliminating unknown variables from my food.

So, I made Kimchi! After a quick trip to the H-Mart (local Asian supermarket) I proceeded to peek the interest of those around me with the interesting veggie combination and pungent spices so unfamiliar. A bit of soaking, pounding, mixing and waiting later, I have a delicious, healthy, smelly snack or meal!

Kimchi / Kim Chee

(What I did over my three day process, based on a few recipes, adapted originally from Instructables - Kimchi)


1 large and 1 small Non-Reactive Bowl, preferably glass, plastic or ceramic. Aluminum or copper will react with the salt and vinegar byproduct.

3 or 4 Containers with nonreactive lids. I used a few quart sized mason jars with plastic lids and a recycled store bought Kimchi jar.

1 head Napa Cabbage
1 Daikon Radish
2 Carrots
1 bunch scallions
8 garlic cloves
A 4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
2-3 Tablespoons of Korean Chili Powder
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce (I used Thai anchovy sauce) *
1/4 Cup Whey **
Brine: 1 Tbsp sea salt or kosher salt per 1 cup of warm water (to cover veggies)

Keep in mind that the veggies are completely interchangeable and optional. You can also use other types of cabbage and radish, add seaweed, onions, peppers, beets, other root vegetables, etc. Its up to you and your taste buds. 

*Omit to make Vegan Kimchi, or use a different variety. It does make the smell more pungent and add some salt. You could also replace with Hondashi, Japanese bonito fish soup base. Its up to you.

**I use my whey that I get as a byproduct of making Greek yogurt, which I'll get into next time I make it.
If you don't have any, you can simply strain some plain yogurt (With Live and Active cultures) through cheese cloth for a few hours. The liquid that drains is the whey. Use the thickened yogurt in place of cream cheese or with berries as a snack or dessert.
Alternatively, if you don't have whey, add a tablespoon of salt to the spice mix to start fermentation.

Chop and Soak

Chop the veggies that you are including. I used a mandolin to slice my rainbow carrots thinly and make large matchsticks of the radish. However you slice it, make sure everything is small enough to ferment all the way through and large enough to not make mush. Some people just shred everything, I prefer not to.

Clean the cabbage leaves and slice them as well. I stacked and sliced them into large chunks.

To make the brine, dissolve a mixture of about 1 Tablespoon of sea or kosher salt to 1 cup of warm water, enough to completely cover the veggies. I needed about 8 cups and rested a plate on top to keep everything submerged.

Soak for a few hours, until the leaves are wilty, or even overnight. This will help kill bad bacterial, soften the veggies and help start the fermentation.

 Mix Spices

Finely chop garlic, ginger and scallions (and/or onions if using). I use a food processor for this. Mix in a bowl with the chili powder, fish sauce and whey to make a spice paste. It may not look like enough, but it will be.

Keep in mind something I learned. How spicy it tastes before fermenting is NOT how spicy the finished product will be. It will get Hotter as it sits and mixes with the vinegar, ginger and garlic. Start with less chili, it's easier to add heat later than take it away.

(I forgot to take a picture of this step, I'll remedy that next time I make it)

Drain and Combine

Drain the brine, but reserve for later. Rinse veggies if they are too salty for your taste, but it is not necessary. In the same large bowl, combine the spice mix with veggies and mix well.

After or while mixing, pound the mixture to soften veggies even more and release some of their natural juices. I used the clean, bottom of a jar that i would be packing in for this. Feel free to use anything handy, including your hands. It's fun.

If you have any leftover juice from another batch of Kimchi, store bought or homemade, feel free to throw it in now.

Pack and Wait

It's time to Ferment! You can do this in a number of ways. Traditionally, the Kimchi is prepared in clay pots, covered with a few reserved cabbage leaves and buried or put on the porch. Some leave it in the bowl covered on the kitchen counter.

Since I have neither an appropriate chamber to bury nor a family with tolerant noses, I opted for packing in individual mason jars.

***Quick note- after a few more batches (for myself, friends and family) I have come to realize that it is much easier to do it the more traditional way. Pound the kimchi in the bowl the cover with reserved cabbage leaves to protect from mold. I then covered the bowl tightly with a dish cloth and let sit about 3 days. When it was done, I packed it in jars and refrigerated. This worked much better and I think My family has gotten used to the smell.***

*Very Important!!! No matter how you keep your Kimchi, keep the air off of it!  It will get moldy, possibly grow bad bacterial and be inedible.*

To prevent this, I pounded the cabbage a bit more once in the jars and used a plastic chopstick to remove any air bubbles I saw. I also added a bit of the brine to cover any exposed vegetables. Another lesson I learned from practice, do not over fill your jars. Leave at least an inch or two of space from the rim. While fermenting, the vegetables will expand and release CO2, which will raise the level and spill the liquid (which trust me, no one in your house will like, including you). As an extra safety precaution, maybe place the jars onto a high lipped plate or pan, just in case.

Covered Kimchi in Jars - 2 days in (and outside due to the smell)

You will also need to cover them. The best way I've found so far is to put small plastic bags in the jars then nearly fill with water until they take up all the remaining space. You can rest the lid on top but do not close as they could explode.

All that's left now is to wait. Put the jars in a place where the temperature is steadily around 70F/21C. Not a cold basement or refrigerator. Let sit and ferment for 2-3 days at this temperature in a place where the smell wont offend too many people. Some opt for the garage, which is fine if the temp is steady.

You should see air bubbles form and the smell should get stronger. This means it is fermenting properly. Feel free to taste as you go and put it in the fridge when you are ready. It will continue to  ferment but at a much slower rate, and even grow some different, cold loving bacteria.

If you have eaten Kimchi, you know the smell. If it seems moldy, bad or overly offensive, toss it! Don't take a chance. Botulism won't grow because of the natural vinegar produced and CO2, but other things could have gotten in there and fouled it. As with any living food, be cautious and eat at your own risk. I have never had a problem, nor heard of one, but I must still make this statement.


The longer it sits, the better it gets, but dig in as soon as you want. My first serving was two and a half days later. I couldn't wait. I will pick at it daily and finish it before I know it. Then I'll just have to make more and add a few pictures to this.

Fresh Kimchi over Rice Porridge


Learn more about Kimchi, one of the worlds healthiest foods:
Kimchi in the Kitchen on Punk Domestics


  1. I plan on making this. I LOVE kimchi. I can eat a whole jar of it in one day!

  2. Good Luck! I hope it turns out as well as mine did! And that the members of your household are more tolerant of the smel, lol

  3. I dont know what is kimchi but I will try to find it and also will eat.....

  4. A week later and its still getting better. I'm down to 1 quart left! :-O wow

  5. What a great idea, kimchi with jook. I've been having my homemeade kimchi with my german butterball potatoes and eggs. I know that sounds weird, but kimchi with everything!!!!

  6. I really did love the Kimchi over the Jook - Rice porridge was an experience gladly had in Thailand and brought home with me to cherish forever. I am always trying to get that exact flavor and combo of seasonings that was created the first time...I've gotten pretty close :)