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Culinary Arts

How to Make Kimchi: Easy Recipe and Tips

Written by MasterClass

Feb 2, 2019 • 3 min read

Anything involving fermentation in the kitchen can feel like a daunting science project at worst, but at best, you get wonderful results like kimchi, which is well worth the leap. Keep a clean set-up, and watch nature show off a little.

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What Is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a Korean side dish made from salted, seasoned, and fermented vegetables—most commonly Napa cabbage with radishes, green onions, and gochugaru, or red pepper flakes.

How Is Traditional Kimchi Made?

Baechu-kimchi, or cabbage kimchi, is the most common type of kimchi. Originally developed as a way to preserve fresh vegetables well into winter, kimchi is an example of basic fermentation: depriving the vegetables of air prevents spoilage and allows the naturally occuring bacteria to transform the available starches and sugars into an acid that’s particularly-well suited for preserving.

The resulting lactobacillus bacteria gives kimchi its signature sour crunch and fizzy tang—and boosts gut health, too.

What Does Kimchi Taste Like?

Kimchi is a true expression of the complexity of umami, that elusive savory fifth taste. It has a well-rounded, tempered heat from fresh ginger, garlic, and gochugaru set off by peppery Daikon radish. Fish sauce or salted shrimp paste brings a mouth-watering, pungent brine, and the cool crunch of fermented cabbage (or vegetable of your choice) rounds out the texture. A Mason jar crammed full of those classic fiery red-orange ribbons of cabbage is a welcome sight in any refrigerator door.

Is Kimchi Vegan?

Traditional kimchi is not strictly vegan or vegetarian, thanks to the fermented seafood products central to its briny, umami flavor. To create a vegan version, substitute red miso paste, a close but not exact substitute for the fish sauce or dried shrimp in kimchi. Red miso paste is packed with glutamic acid, the same element that gives kimchi its signature burst of brightness.

What Are the Health Benefits of Kimchi?

There’s a reason kimchi has been dubbed the Korean Superfood: Kimchi is easily one of the world’s healthiest foods, thanks to the presence of lactobacillus, that gut-healthy lactic acid bacteria you get in yogurt. High levels of vitamins A and B, as well as calcium and iron, are among its many health benefits.

Does Kimchi Go Bad?

Kimchi will last in the fridge for a couple of months, but since it’s already fermented, it can’t technically go “bad” in the usual sense. As time goes on, a kimchi is said to “ripen” rather than rot, bringing with it a more aggressively sour flavor profile—when that happens, it’s the perfect time for cooking kimchi fried rice or savory pancakes, which can soften the acidity.

Quick and Easy Kimchi Recipe

Ingredient Checklist

Total 20 min | Prep 20 min | Serves 1 Quart

Homemade kimchi might seem daunting, but it comes down to a good vessel, and faith in the fermentation process.

  • 1 head Napa cabbage
  • ¼ cup sea salt or kosher salt (be sure to use iodine-free salt, otherwise the fermentation process may be impeded)
  • Filtered water
  • 5 to 6 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce or salted shrimp paste
  • 1 to 5 tbsp Korean red pepper flakes, to preference
  • 8 oz Daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 scallions, roots removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  1. Slice the cabbage lengthwise into quarters, then remove the cores. Cut each section crosswise into 2-inch wide strips.
  2. Place the cabbage in a large bowl, and sprinkle with salt. Massage the salt into the leaves until it begins to soften, then add enough cold water to cover the cabbage completely. Place an upside-down plate over the top and weigh it down with something sturdy to hold in place. Leave to soak for up to 2 hours.
  3. Drain the salted cabbage and rinse under cold water. Set aside in a colander to drain completely.
  4. Meanwhile, in the same bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce/shrimp paste into a smooth paste. Add the gochugaru, and set aside.
  5. Squeeze any remaining liquid from the cabbage before adding it to the spice mixture. Add the radish, and the scallions.
  6. Put on a pair of clean gloves, and gently work the mixture into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated.
  7. Pack the marinated vegetables into a 1-quart glass jar. Press down until the liquid rises to cover them. Seal the jar.
  8. Let the jar stand in a cool, shaded place at room temperature for up to a week. Keep an eye out for overflowing brine and catch with a bowl or plate underneath. Check the taste every day, and when it’s funky enough for your liking, transfer it to the fridge and prepare to put it on everything.

Popular Kimchi Variations

  1. In springtime, wild ramp kimchi is a favored variation on pa-kimchi, which uses scallions or green onions instead of cabbage.
  2. Baek-kimchi follows the same process, but leaves out the spicy red pepper powder, giving a much milder flavor.
  3. Yeolmu-kimchi makes use of young summer radish greens, with their miniature roots still intact.
  4. For a nuttier flavor profile, add 1 tbsp sesame oil to the spice mixture.
Different variations of Kimchi can vary in color greatly

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3 Delicious Ways to Add Kimchi to Your Recipes

Kimchi is a game-changing addition to ordinary recipes. Try adding kimchi to:

  • Kimchi soup
  • Kimchi-infused steak butter
  • Kimchi grilled cheese

It’s incredibly easy to cook with, but it’s more than dynamic enough to eat straight: either as a banchan (side dish) alongside rice, or right out of the jar.