Fermented Kimchi: easy, healthy, delicious
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Fermented Kimchi: easy, healthy, delicious

Long-term testing notes: Everyone in my life who has tried my kimchi is in love. We eat some every day and I make a new batch every few weeks. Our friends are now planning on adding napa cabbage to their backyard garden next year. It's that good.

I attempted a batch of fermented kimchi (modified from a couple versions published by America's Test Kitchen) as a first foray into fermentation for the digestive benefits of probiotics. Turns out it’s super-easy to make and super-delicious to eat — even on the very first try!

Note: I made just one napa cabbage worth initially and it only lasted us a week. It also only filled half of my ~gallon-sized fermentation container (which was really surprising at the time) so I’m definitely going to 1.5x my next batch (and lower the spice level, as indicated below, so that we can eat it even faster 😅).

Update: I think 4lbs of cabbage (+ radish and carrot and scallions and sauce) is perfect for the container I use & recommend, so I 1.6x the recipe listed below.

Basic things you need:

  1. An airtight container for the anaerobic process (best if it keeps oxygen out and kimchi smells in)
  2. The best kimchi container:
  3. A dark cool place that can stay roughly 65F for a week
  4. (the acceptable range is 50-70F)

    A couple notes on this:
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Ingredients:

1 (2.5lb) head napa cabbage cored and cut into 2-inch pieces (I’ve started making the pieces about half that size because I usually ended up cutting the kimchi up with kitchen scissors when I’m serving it)
  • Sourcing napa cabbage: Whole Foods usually has organic napa cabbage for $1.99/lb. It’s $3.99/lb at Safeway (or $2.99/lb for conventional, though because washing introduces a bunch of extra liquid, I personally only use organic). They also have organic cabbage at my local coop for $2.99/lb.
  • Recommendation: holding the cabbage upside down, slice through the core just far enough to be able to grip the two halves and pull the cabbage apart (this is supposed to reduce damage to the leaves but is also very satisfying!) Repeat this with each half, resulting in quarters. Then remove the core and chop the remaining cabbage crosswise into 1” or 2" pieces.

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  • (if using kosher salt: 3.75tsp Morton's or 5tsp Diamond Crystal—don't use table salt or iodized salt)
  • This is probably clear, but: 1tsp canning and pickling salt per lb of cabbage
0.33 cup gochugaru: Korean chili powder (the original recipe calls for 0.5 cups but while delicious, the kimchi was too spicy to eat as much of it as quickly as we wanted 🥵)
0.33 cup sugar
0.25 cup low-sodium soy sauce (I use Bragg’s liquid aminos)
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled (I use the edge of a spoon), and chopped coarse (I actually grate it on the biggest grate and only chop the bits that are left over)
1Tbs garlic infused olive oil—you can make it yourself but we buy it at TJ's (the original recipe calls for 20(!) peeled cloves)
Suggested: 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks; 16 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces. (After experimenting, we discovered we had a carrot fan in the family, so I double the amount of carrot and I use baby carrots to make the job easier.)
Optional: 1 big radish (I’ve tried regular daikon, purple daikon and watermelon radish, (another variety of daikon). When I tasted the radish raw, I thought I might be making a mistake, but the flavor mellowed out during the fermentation and the texture added a nice variation of crunch)
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Instructions:

  1. Toss chopped cabbage with salt in a large bowl, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour (based on recommendations from others, I tossed the cabbage every 30min and left it for 2 hours. I didn't cover it, but instead 'nested' a large bowl on top of the cabbage and weighted it with a pot to apply a bit of pressure to the cabbage). Transfer cabbage to colander, squeeze to drain excess liquid (and maybe affect the integrity of the cabbage a bit?), and return to now-empty bowl.
  2. Process gochugaru (chili powder/flakes), sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, and garlic olive oil in food processor until no large pieces of ginger remain, about 20 seconds.
  3. Add chili mixture, scallions, and carrot to cabbage and toss to combine (I actually add the chili mixture to the carrots and scallions first and then integrate that with the cabbage by adding the cabbage a fistful at a time as I finish squeezing the water out of it).
  4. Tightly pack vegetable mixture into container (or mason jar—see note above), pressing down firmly with your fist to eliminate air pockets as you pack (I do all the mixing and squishing with a firm spatula and that has worked fine—I’d seen people wearing gloves and so I’ve been avoiding contact with the chili mixture). Press down inner lid, flush against surface of vegetables, and snap on outer lid.
  5. Place container in 50-70 degree location away from direct sunlight and let ferment for 7-20 days; check daily, pressing the inner lid back down. After 7 days, taste kimchi daily until it has reached desired flavor (this may take up to 11 days longer; cabbage should be soft and translucent with a pleasant cheesy, fishy flavor. I like it with a bit of a crunch, so I popped it into the fridge when it was still on the younger end of the range. (Update: we tried 14days instead of 7 and while I think we got more signature kimchi “fizz”, it was not nearly as well-received by the people who had fallen for my kimchi after assuming they just weren’t the sort who would ever like kimchi. So a longer ferment is maybe more traditional but potentially less of a crowd-pleaser.)
  6. When kimchi has reached desired flavor, serve! The kimchi can be refrigerated for up to 3 months; in the fridge, it will continue to soften and develop flavor.

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Serving suggestions:

  • Utensils:
    • I think 9" tongs are the right utensil to use. They make it easy to mix the kimchi up and easy to put it in a serving dish and easy move it from serving dish to individual plates.
  • Pairings:
    • Put some out in a bowl and let people add it to their breakfast
      • We often have fried eggs and rice and the kimchi is a great condiment, but I bet it would also be good with scrambled eggs. The first time we did this I was apprehensive, but by the end, I was careful to make sure that every remaining bite I had would include a bit of kimchi 😋
      • Update: we’ve been adding ketchup and mayo to it to make a sort of salsa and then we mix it all together in a bowl of rice with a couple eggs.
    • Make kimchi-fried rice (basically chop it up — we use kitchen scissors — and add it to a hot pan with rice and some oil and maybe some bacon—see full recipe below)
    • Add to miso soup
    • Add it where you might use pickles or other pickled things: burgers, hot dogs, tacos
    • If it's too hot for you, tame it with some sour cream or plain yogurt (or in a pinch: accompany it with a glass of milk)
    • Try sprinkling some of TJ's Nori Komi Furikake on it
    • Kimchi Fried Rice (great for leftovers)

      Ingredients

      3 Tbs unsalted butter
      [1/2 small onion, medium dice] - we skip this because of gut issues
      1 cup roughly chopped kimchi (6oz)
      2 Tbs kimchi juice (we don't fully do this because our homemade kimchi is already so spicy and also isn't very wet)
      1/2 cup diced precooked meat (we use bacon, but the original recipe called for spam)
      2 cups cooked, cooled rice
      2 tsp soy sauce (to taste)
      1 tsp sesame oil (to taste)
      2 tsp other fat: butter, ghee, avocado oil, bacon fat
      2 eggs
      salt to taste
      garnish with TJ's Nori Komi Furikake (nori + sesame seeds)

      Step 1

      In a nonstick sauté pan or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, melt 3 Tbs unsalted butter over medium-low heat.

      [if you don't have gut issues, add 1/2 chopped small onion and cook, stirring, until the onions start to sizzle, about 2 minutes]

      Add 6oz chopped kimchi and 2 Tbs kimchi juice, and stir until it comes to a boil, about 3 minutes.

      Add meat and cook until sauce is nearly dried out, about 5 minutes.

      Step 2

      Break up the rice in the pan with a spatula, and stir it to incorporate.

      Turn heat to medium.

      Cook, stirring, until rice has absorbed the sauce and is very hot, about 5 minutes.

      Stir in soy sauce and sesame oil.

      Taste and adjust with more soy sauce, sesame oil, or kimchi juice.

      Turn heat down slightly, but let the rice continue to cook, untouched, to lightly brown while you cook the eggs.

      Step 3

      Place a small nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add the 2tsp fat/oil. When it is hot, add eggs, season with salt and fry to your desired doneness.

      Serve rice topped with fried eggs, nori, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.