Homemade cabbage Kimchi (Baechu Kimchi)
There are literally hundreds of variations of this ancient fermented dish – cabbage kimchi. Kimchi is Korea’s national dish and many meals are served with it or made using it. Historically kimchi was always prepared as a ‘white kimchi’ with no added chilli. With the trade and arrival of chilli into Korea, this spice became popular to use in kimchi.
Traditionally Kimchi is made in large batches just before winter time. This recipe makes a large batch of Kimchi, and makes several extra large jars, as I find it’s more efficient and easy to make in one afternoon, but you can easily just halve the quantity if you like!
Cabbage kimchi can actually be eaten the day you prepare it but the longer you keep it the more it will ferment and the more benefits it will have. You can wait a few weeks before eating the kimchi, or you can wait much longer or just eat as you go and taste it daily. Kimchi that is a few months old is considered ‘aged’ kimchi, which is great for cooking too – think kimchi pancakes/fritters and so on!
When serving the kimchi, bring the kimchi back to room temperature before eating it as all the healthy probiotics will become ‘awake’.
This is the beautiful red paste that ferments with the cabbage and creates that vibrant colour. Typically, the paste consists of gochujaru (A Korean chilli), garlic, ginger, onion, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and salted baby shrimp. However the beauty with making a kimchi paste, is you can adapt it all to your preferences. These are some basics below to give you some direction.
Type of Chilli
The type of chilli you use is completely up to you. Traditionally kimchi is made with gochujaru, a special type of chilli that is both spicy, sweet, and even very lightly smokey. You can use other chillies instead if you can’t access this type of chilli. It is available in Korean grocery stores. If you’re going to replace the commonly used gochujaru, you will also have to adapt the ratios as different chilli has different levels of sweetness, heat and smokiness. I would recommend if you are going to do this, make a mixture with these varieties: Chipotle chilli, finely crushed red chilli flakes, mild chilli powder. I would also add less in total than in the recipe attached.
Vegetarian or Seafood options
To make it more nutritious and mineral rich, different regions in Korea began adding freshly chopped up fish, prawns, fish sauce or even minced meat. This is entirely up to you, and if you’re used to eating kimchi out in restaurants most of them are made with a prawn paste or very tiny salted prawns, also known as saejeot (Available at Korean grocery stores). If you don’t have access to saejot you can easily replace it with a small amount of freshly cooked and salted prawns. Before adding the prawns, dice them up until a paste like mixture is formed.
For a vegetarian option, skip the fish sauce and skip any seafood/meat protein. It is not at all necessary for the fermentation process. Add some extra carrots or some other root vegetables that you like and you can make it your own family kimchi recipe. If you’re not using any seafood products, do season to taste once you’ve made the paste as the recipe attached does include seafood products.
For a white kimchi paste, skip the chillies entirely. Add grated carrots for extra sweetness.
There are lots of kimchi fermented vegetables in Korea, so you can even experiment by using this paste with vegetables such as pure daikon and cucumbers, or other seasonal produce.
Timing, Storage and the fermentation process
Cabbage Kimchi does take a few hours to prepare, but it’s traditionally made with the help of family and friends. The cabbage needs to be rubbed with salt for a couple of hours so that a lot of the liquid in the cabbage comes out before you cover it in the kimchi paste. It’s a very simple procedure but does take a bit of attention and time.
There are a few different options for storing your cabbage kimchi. In this recipe I explain how to store it in glass jars, however you can store it in plastic containers. It takes Approximately 3 days of keeping it outside in room temperature, however in summer, since it’s warmer and quite humid, then you only need to keep it out for 1 day or 24 hours. Once the kimchi is sealed, you need to allow the kimchi to breathe a few times, you can do this by opening the lid and pushing the kimchi down under the juices every time you do open the jar, or you can even use a clean, sterilised wooden skewer to poke the kimchi and let the air flow and any gas build up flow out of the jar. Some recipes keep the lid slightly ajar or if using a plastic container that has air flow there is always going to be that natural flow of oxygen.
Letting the gases out in the first few days of fermentation is crucial as it can actually explode from the gas build up.
Experiment with the different storage options, and see what you like best by storing the cabbage kimchi in different containers/jars, however watch it carefully.
The fermentation process begins quite quickly and speeds up in that first day or few days that you keep the cabbage kimchi out. You will see tiny gas bubbles forming. Once day 1 or the first few days have passed, you can seal the kimchi and place it into the fridge. The cold will slow down the fermentation process.
When eating the kimchi, take out only what you need and never return any leftovers to the original jar as this could potentially contaminate it. Store it separately covered if necessary.
Recipe for cabbage kimchi
Prep time: 2 hours for soaking the cabbage, 1 hour for making the cabbage kimchi – 3 hours in total
Makes: 4 large jars
2 x Chinese cabbages (Get whole cabbages)
250 g salt
1 large daikon – approximately 950g -1 kg (julienned into matchsticks or grated
1 x bunch of chives – approximately 30g (finely sliced)
1 x bunch of spring onion (ends cut off and sliced to your preference – finely or longer)
16 cloves of garlic (approximately)
80 g fresh ginger
70 g salted baby shrimp (optional)
120g or 1-2 cups of gochujaru red pepper powder depending on your chilli preference (Replace with other chilli – read above)
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp heaped coconut sugar
4 tbsp rice vinegar
¼ cup fish sauce (add more – depending to your preference)
Rice flour paste:
3 tbsp glutinous rice flour
- To prepare the cabbage for salting all you need to do is remove the very first few outer leaves of the cabbage, slice the cabbage in half lengthways in the centre. At the very edge of the stem, slice any stem parts that are sticking out, then slice it in the centre at the edge (see photo). Later you will natural tear this cabbage again in half.
- Rinse the cabbage halves very well under water so they slightly soften, shake of any water. Have a very large bowl ready (or 2 if you need), salt each cabbage by sprinkling the salt into each leaf (leaf by leaf, lift it up and sprinkle with salt). You want to try and get the salt to reach the centre parts so that the water comes out. Place into the bowl for a total of 2 hours, however every 30 minutes make sure to turn over and cover the cabbage with the residual salty water.
- Once the cabbage has soaked for 2 hours in the salt, drain it and wash the cabbage thoroughly from all the salt, as much as possible. Dry roughly with paper towels and then tear the halved cabbages into half again so you make quarters. Set aside.
- To make the kimchi paste start by making the rice flour paste. Bring a pot with the water to boil, reduce to a simmer and add the rice flour. Use a whisk to mix through well and remove and clumps. Once the mixture is gelatinous and has thickened just remove it from the stove top and let it cool completely.
- Place the garlic, ginger and onion into a food processor and blend well. Transfer into a large bowl. If using the shrimp finely chop it along with the juices and transfer into the bowl with the other ingredients. Add the rest of the paste ingredients and mix through well. Taste and adjust the seasonings – add more of any of the paste ingredients if you prefer. Just note you do not need to add any salt whatsoever as there is plenty of salt from the other ingredients. Once the rice flour water mixture has cooled add it to the rest of the paste ingredients. Add the daikon, chives, spring onion and mix through thoroughly. Taste one last time and adjust any seasonings.
- Coat the cabbage with the kimchi paste by placing each quarter onto a wooden board and use a spoon or your hands (wear gloves if your hands are sensitive to chilli). Start with the outside leaf first from the centre to the edge, coat eat leaf with the paste then fold the cabbage in half. Set aside on a tray or begin to place directly into your chosen jar/container. I recommend to set aside first so that you can adjust any quantities of the paste at a later stage. Note – depending on the size of the cabbage quarters you may need to cut these quarters again in half if they are really large, it will be easier to handle.
- Store in sterilised jars/containers and leave enough space between the lid and the cabbage kimchi. Press down the cabbage so that the juices rise to the top and cover the cabbage. Set the jars aside in room temperature for 1 day (in summer) 3 days (in winter). Open the jars several times during the days to allow the gases to leave (this is very important), or leave your lid slightly unsealed, then place into the fridge. The kimchi is ready to eat at this stage however will continue fermenting – see full details above for storage and fermentation.
To serve, remove the cabbage kimchi and sliced into small pieces.
You can also serve the kimchi straight away – it will taste amazing however it won’t be fermented yet. It’s common to start eating the kimchi on day one and just tasting it every day to see how it progresses.
Warning: Allow the kimchi to breathe so as not to cause any explosion by opening then resealing the jars/containers.
Recipe and Photography created for Harris Farm Markets
Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke & Rejina Pyo, Published by Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2015
Traditional Kimchi by Maangchi