Fermentation 101: How To Make Kimchi

This is part IIII of a 4 part fermentation series. Here are the first 3 parts, in case you missed them:`

  1. PART I: Are Probiotics The Answer For Everything?
  2. PART II: Fermented Foods - Everything You Need To Know
  3. PART III: Fermentation 101: How to Make Sauerkraut

For the equipment you need in this recipe, please refer to this recipe for the basics on Vegetable Fermentation.

*Use this recipe as a base but you can experiment any number of ways.

Fermentation time: 2-4 weeks or longer if desired

Tools:

  • Fermenting vessel(s) (we used two large, wide mouthed glass jars)
  • Extra large bowl for mixing
  • Weight - We used a glass mason jar or glass water bottle filled with water that fit snuggly into the fermenting vessel. If you follow this method make sure you only use glass, not plastic.
  • Cloth cover (we used a dark sheet or use a cloth if you're putting them in a cupboard or dark space)
Vegetable mixture ready to get massaged
Paste
Kimchi mixture ready to go into the fermenting vessel
Kimchi & sauerkraut during fermentation - mixture, then leaf separator, brine & weight

Prep Time:

1 hour

Cook Time:

Total Time:

Serves:

20

Ingredients

  • 2 napa cabbages, white, or savoy (I used napa for this batch but there’s no rule here, you can experiment with this)
  • 1 crunchy vegetable - I recommend a daikon radish or the equivalent of small radishes. I've also used a jicama (without the skin) and it worked really well.
  • 3 lg.grated or shredded carrots
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced
  • 2 handfuls chopped dandelion greens (This is optional but is a liver Superfood. A coarse green like kale would work well too.)
  • 1/2 cup unbleached sea salt

Paste:

  • 6 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder. (It's recommended that you use Korean specifically for the flavour. Different brands can be found in Korean markets. If you can't find this you can use crushed red chili flakes or red chili powder.)
  • Optional: 3-4 red chili peppers
  • Optional: 1 tbsp raw cane sugar (boosts the activity level of the bacteria and softens the heat of the chili, it will all be converted by the bacteria so none will remain in the final kimchi)
  • *You might notice that some recipes also call for fish sauce. You can try without first and then try another one where you add it.

Directions

  1. Set aside 3-4 large cabbage leaves for later.
  2. Chop the rest of the cabbage into pieces (just like with the sauerkraut, the size will determine the crunchiness) and place in a large bowl.
  3. Chop daikon into small pieces (keep larger if you like a little crunch in your kimchi!) and put in a bowl with all of the other veggies to set aside.
  4. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and begin to massage the salt into the cabbage. Really massage thoroughly until the cabbage has begun to release water and is turning translucent. You can let it sit in between to let more water release. You can also add more salt to help release more water. 
  5. Meanwhile, place paste ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until it forms a smooth paste. Reminder! Don’t touch your eyes or face!
  6. Add the rest of the veggies to the bowl with the cabbage and keep massaging and adding the rest of the salt. Keep tasting in between - kimchi should be a good deal saltier than you would normally eat your food. Note: you can also just massage everything (cabbage & veggies) at the same time but you'll need a really big bowl so this saves on space if you do it separately.
  7. Just before you think the kimchi is ready, add the paste and keep massaging it for a few more minutes. When you have a few inches of water in the bottom of your bowl you can transfer to your fermenting vessel.
  8. Start to add your mixture into the jar and pack it down as tightly as possible in between layers.  You’ll want to remove any air pockets. As you push down, more and more water will be released, creating your brine at the top. It’s essential that the veggies be completely submerge and the water is only at the top as you need to create an oxygen-free environment. Keep pushing down and packing until the water covers the veggies. Leave a 2 inch space at the top of the jar (more if you’re using a big jar).
  9. Fold the reserved cabbage leaf until it’s roughly the circumference of the jar or you can use a plate for this. Push the leaf/plate down until it is submerged in the brine. This step might sound a bit confusing - the cabbage leaf is going to serve as the separator between the sauerkraut mixture and the brine and stops any small pieces from floating to the top.
  10. If any small pieces float to the top remove them or tuck them under the leaf. Make sure to also clean any veggies that get stuck to the top edges of the fermenting vessel.
  11. Add your weight. Again, remember the order goes cabbage mixture, then the leaf separator, then the weight and brine. Cover the jar with your shirt or sheet. Place in a warm spot, away from direct light (like a cupboard you don’t open very often). Be sure to place the container in a shallow dish as excess brine will overflow from the jar for the first few days.

MAINTENANCE:

Check regularly! During the first 24 hours, it’s helpful to check it every few hours and keep pushing down on the weight to help more water to release. In the first few days, you may see bubbling as the CO2 is being released, this is normal. You may need to add some brine (water with salt, roughly ½ tbsp salt per cup of water) if too much liquid has evaporated and the veggies on top are being exposed to air. You may also see a scum/slime forming on top, this is normal, just spoon it off and remove your weight and give it a rinse before replacing. If there are any floating veggies that have been exposed to air, discard them too. Remember - the key to fermentation is that the veggies are in an oxygen-free environment, so they need to be submerged in brine.

After a few days, begin tasting your kimchi. Some of us like really soft, tangy krauts, others like crunchy krauts. I recommend allowing it to ferment for at least two weeks. When it’s fermented to your liking, top with a lid and store in your fridge. You can also transfer to smaller jars just make sure the vegetables are submerged in brine. If liquid evaporates, add more brine to keep it submerged. It will keep for 6 months or more.

*While most of this information is something I've picked up through Nutrition studies, there was a ton I didn't know. I attended an amazing workshop held by For The Love of Body in Toronto where I learned a lot of great information about fermentation. A lot of the tips I've included here are from that workshop and made a huge difference compared to other things I read online. If you live in the area and are interesting in taking a class, I definitely recommend their workshops!

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