So, kimchi. Maybe you know what it is, maybe you don’t. If you’ve frequented Korean restaurants, you’re probably accustomed to its distinctive taste. In certain Asian cultures, this cultured food is a meal staple. Fortunately for the rest of the world, fermented cabbage is getting its fifteen minutes of fame. Of course, you can buy these goods already made if you fancy. The real deal stuff gets expensive though! Raw kraut and kimchi can cost 3x as much as it would to do it yourself. It takes just a few minutes of work, and you can produce much larger batches for a fraction of the cost. The naturally occurring bacteria in fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, and they promote good gut health. Keep on reading if you want to learn how to make your own kimchi two ways. Once you start filling your own jars, you’ll never go back to store-bought.
The first step to making the kimchi is gathering your ingredients, of course. As soon as you’ve got everything ready to go, create a hat made of the delicate outer leaves of your cabbage. I personally used a headband and a bit of duct tape, but get creative. Anyways, back to the ingredients! You may be able to find everything at the grocery you usually go to, but I would personally recommend going to an Asian market. The price is usually better, and you’re guaranteed to find everything you need. You will also end up leaving with some other goodies if you’re anything like me. There is tons of new produce to discover that you aren’t seeing everywhere else. Here’s the definitive list of things you’ll need:
- One large head of napa cabbage, about 2 lbs. OR about 2 lbs. of brussels sprouts
- 1/2 cup of kosher salt
- One large daikon radish, approximately 8 ounces
- 4 medium scallions
- 1/3 cup of Korean red pepper powder (I use coarse Thai chili flakes)
- 1/3 cup of fish sauce
- 1/4 cup of minced garlic
- 1/4 cup of minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons of Korean salted shrimp (optional, but if you can find ones without artificial color, it is worth the flavor!)
- 1.5 teaspoons of coconut sugar (optional)
- Fresh chopped turmeric (optional, but this is my own personal touch!)
The only additional materials that are essential to this recipe are appropriately sized glass jars. I use half-gallon mason jars, which you can order a case of here.
You’ll want to take the first official step of this recipe the night before or in the morning. Chop the end off the head of cabbage first. Slice straight down the middle lengthwise to split it in half. Next, slice in one inch segments the opposite way. For the brussels sprouts variation, cut large ones into quarters, and smaller sprouts into halves or thirds. You want them to be small enough to become softer as they ferment. Salt the leaves of your vegetables and massage them with your hands. You will notice a lot of water being extracted. This is good. Submerge them in the water, and add more if the leaves don’t produce enough. After 10 minutes or so of doing this, you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it sit for at least twelve hours before you drain the water. Make sure the leaves are covered, or they will brown overnight. Do not put this in the refrigerator!
The next day, rinse and drain the greens. Place them in a fairly large mixing bowl. Chop up your scallions into 1/2 inch pieces, and slice the daikon radish into 1-2 inch long, thinly sliced strips.
Combine the cabbage, daikon, and scallions in a mixing bowl. Mix in the salt and massage it as you go. Again, you want to extract moisture from the leaves. Take this step slowly, and add in the salt in three installments.
Next, you can throw in the rest of the ingredients. Once you have a natural brine, mix in everything else evenly throughout. Keep massaging. The process should take roughly ten minutes.
When the bowl of cabbage is thoroughly coated, you can start moving it to the jars. Loosely pack it at first.
When you’ve transferred everything, you can start pushing. Pack the leaves tight, and the brine should rise up. Since the jars will be sitting for awhile at room temperature, it’s important that the contents of the jars are completely submerged. You can purchase the tools to do this, or you can take the easy way out. If there isn’t quite enough water yet, use something that will fit inside the jar like a cup to put some pressure on the leaves. This will keep them under the brine and prevent any molding.
The final step is the most difficult – you have to wait! Store your jars in a cool, dry place for about a week. Don’t cap them with the airtight lid until you move them to the refrigerator. I seal a towel on top of the jar with the outside of the lid so there’s room to breathe.
I’ve been enjoying my ferments as a condiment on everything from burgers to omelets. It would make a fabulous topping on a slice of Korean-inspired pizza. If you’re looking for some paleo-friendly crust recipes, check out our roundup here.
I want to thank Jordan for helping me out and taking these photos of me in my element! For all of you fashion-forward foodies, show her some love over at The Thrift Junkie.