Kimchi is an excellent starter fermentation project!
Kimchi is easy to make and is made with a combination of some of the healthiest vegetables which makes it is FULL of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics and more.
Even the garlic, chilis, and ginger used to flavor kimchi are superfoods themselves with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Kimchi especially supports digestive function, liver health and is known to have powerful detoxifying properties.
In practice I never measure or follow a 'recipe' when I make kimchi. I simply collect my preferred veggies (always changes depending on the season) and adjust the amount of brine and the flavoring depending on how much volume I end up with. I first learned how to make kimchi in a class, and second from the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Kaatz (highly recommend) and my method is an amalgamation of the two. Don't overthink it!
Kimchi is most commonly made with napa cabbage and a combination of other vegetables like: leek, daikon, bok choi, carrot, kohlrabi, radish, onion, scallions, shallots, ginger, garlic, chilies.
Ideally Korean red chili flakes & Korean red chili paste (regular chili flakes will work) and traditionally fish sauce would be included.
Kimchi is fermented using a salt-brine solution. Brine ratio is:
1 tbs sea salt: 1 cup filtered water
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
Sea salt, un-chlorinated water, a big glass jar or crock (glass or ceramic or food grade plastic, wide mouth is preferred.
STEP 1 (day 1)
1. Chop/grate/slice/shred vegetables and loosely pack into a vessel.
2. Submerge vegetables in a brine solution. You will need to make as much brine as you need to completely cover all the solids.
3. You may use a weight/plate to hold vegetables under the surface or check on them periodically and push them down if they float up.
4. Cover with a cloth or coffee filter (keep it clean) and leave soaking in brine solution for *1-30 hours.
*What do I mean 1-30 hours? Anything in-between will work! If you want to do the whole kimchi job in one afternoon, go ahead and brine your veggies for a few hours and then complete Step 2.
In practice, I often complete Step 1, leave this overnight, and then I do Step 2 the following day. When I teach in-person classes we only brine for an hour or so and these ferments always work out splendidly. In my own experience either a short or long brine time will absolutely both work.
STEP 2 (could be hours later OR day 2)
1. Pour the brine liquid off the vegetables. Reserve brine for next step and/or future use.
2. Add the flavor.
For around one gallon (4 liters) of brined vegetables I generally use approximately 1/3 cup fresh ginger, 2 full bulbs of garlic and 3 tbs of dried chili flakes.
This will produce medium to spicy kimchi.
You can use a blender/food processor along with a small amount of brine (liquid helps to blitz everything up easily) to quickly turn garlic, ginger and chilis into an easily mixable purée.
You may also choose to dice or grate these instead if you prefer.
Traditionally fish sauce would also be included at this step. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, both ways are yummy! When using fish sauce make sure to choose a variety with no preservatives. Also be aware of the potential for allergy/vegan/vegetarian alerts.
3. Combine the brined vegetables and flavor purée together. Once it is well mixed, tightly pack into your vessel for fermenting.
Make sure the vegetables are submerged underneath the liquid of the brine. Ideally use something to weight it down.
If you need to, you can add some of the original brine mixture to make sure it is covered with liquid.
4. Cover it. A variety of different methods will all work effectively. You must keep it clean from bugs and debris but also make sure that there is air flow so that gases can escape.
You can use: a clean cloth, or one of any number of air-lock devices that are commercially available.
I regularly use a 'loose lid' aka a jar lid left slightly unscrewed. The anaerobic environment of being submerged under the salt brine is what 'makes' the kimchi. The lid functions to keep the ferment clean while also allowing for the release of fermentation gases
Sometimes the liquid levels in your ferment will fall or swell to remember to always put your ferment on a plate to catch any excess liquids.
Now you must wait. Kimchi can be ‘done’ in 7-9 days in a household temperature OR could be left to ferment for a month or even more in cooler temperatures.
You can taste it periodically to see if it is ready. Before is it done it may taste more salty than pickled, give it time. Trust the process!
Finally enjoy! When your kimchi is fermented to your liking, put it in the fridge and it will keep for months.
Kimchi can be enjoyed at any meal!
Enjoy kimchi with:
o Eggs or tacos
o With rice, beans/legumes and veggies
o on a sandwich, wrap, or burger
o enhance a salad, or a buddha or macro bowl
o use as a small side salad on its own
I’ve known many friends and family to have a little bowlful as a ‘quick snack’ because kimchi satisfies a pickle craving perfectly!
Our jar usually finds its way to the table.
Feel free to experiment with flavors and textures!
You may choose to cut your vegetables into larger slices for a chunky final product or you may opt to finely grate/dice everything so that the final product has a more relish like consistency.
You can add virtually any vegetable or spice to the mixture to change the flavor and nutrient content of your ferment. The possibilities are endless.
Beets add a wonderful color and sweetness.
Adding seaweeds (like wakame) is a great way to get more of this superfood into the diet.
Feel free to turn up the heat with some extra spice or keep it on the milder side so it appeals to a wider audience.
Make it extra garlicky and extra oniony OR with no chilis or no ginger.
Purée it and make kimchi sauce!
Or use a different flavor combo entirely!
There are even fruit kimchis.
1. Don’t forget to use water that is free of chlorine to make your brine. Using unfiltered chlorinated tap water may kill the microorganisms you need for a successful fermentation process.
2. Do check on your kimchi every few days.
Sometimes the liquid level will rise or fall and you may need to add more brine. (ratio is 1tbs salt: 1 cup water)
Sometimes the kimchi may float/rise up so that the top layer is floating out of the brine. You can push it down again or use something to weigh it down.
Always make sure the solids are submerged!
3. Don’t forget to put your ferment on a plate/bowl to catch the potential swelling of excess liquid. Don’t forget.
4. Use wooden utensils/clean hands to poke and prod at your kimchi. Don’t use metal if it can be avoided.
5. If the top layer looks ‘weird’
Is it because you forgot to check on it and it wasn’t submerged? You can scoop off everything that looks a bit grey or limp and everything that was submerged under the liquid is probably just fine. If it looks good, and smells good, it probably is good.
If you get MOLD (green, blue, brown, black) you may need to discard your ferment.
If you have a white film this may be Kahm yeast which isn’t ideal but does not ruin the edibility of your ferment. Consume quickly.
Trust your instincts.
6. Don’t forget to make more kimchi at least a week or more before you start to run out so your household does not go through kimchi withdrawal!! This can cause whining and moaning, and digestive upset until the stock is replenished!