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UPDATE 7/26/12: I no longer use whey as a starter for my ferments (learn why here). I also no longer use Mason jars for my ferments (learn why here). I use anaerobic fermenting jars exclusively and the improvement in the taste and texture of my ferments is unbelievable! I encourage everyone to take a look at the information regarding Mason jar ferments and come to a decision that best fits their family. I will be releasing updated versions of these recipes soon, as it applies to these jars. I recommend the anaerobic fermenting systems from The Probiotic Jar.
Kimchi is something I have been wanting to make for quite some time. This was the first time that I’ve made it and I am so happy with how it turned out. The awesome thing about kimchi is that you can flavor it however you want, and you can add whatever veggies you want to, so you can make it suit your own tastes.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish, traditionally eaten in Korea. There is no standard recipe, and even in Korea, the recipes vary widely, depending on the vegetables and spices used. The main ingredients tend to always be cabbage, radish, and onion, but the rest of the ingredients are up to whoever is making it. It’s typically served as a side dish and most Koreans eat it with every meal. The oldest reference to kimchi was found in some text from nearly 3,000 years ago. It doesn’t get much more traditional than this dish!
There are many different varieties of this fermented vegetable mixture, depending on the region of Korea that you’re in. Because of the big differences in temperature between North Korea and South Korea, you end up with very different products. Kimchi from Korea’s northern areas tends to have less salt and less red chili. They also don’t typically use fish sauce as a seasoning and it will have a more watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern region of Korea will usually use a lot of salt, chili peppers and some sort of fermented fish sauce for flavoring.
Like other fermented vegetable mixtures, kimchi is highly nutritious. Not only are you getting probiotic benefits from the lactic acid bacteria, you’re also getting large doses of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, calcium, carotene, and iron. It has even been dubbed one of the “World’s Healthiest Foods” by Health.com.
Baechu (Cabbage) Kimchi – Inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation
The thing I love about Sandor’s recipe is that he has you soak the vegetables in brine overnight, which helps reduce some of the salt in the finished product and makes it a little more edible. Sally Fallon’s recipes all call for a minimum of 2 tbsps. of salt added to the whole mixture and that makes it inedible for some people. I personally don’t like super salty foods, so when I make one of her recipes, I decrease the salt. Careful when adding finely ground salt to ferments – you can very easily end up with WAY too much. I use coarse or medium grind for my ferments and it has seemed to help.
Baechu (Cabbage) Kimchi
Inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, page 47
Makes approx. 1 quart
- Sea salt
- 1 pound Napa cabbage, coarsely chopped
- 1 daikon radish, sliced into 1/4″ slices
- 2 carrots, sliced into 1/4″ slices
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 large bunches scallions, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 8 cloves fermented garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp. red chili flakes (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)
- 3 tbsp. fresh, grated ginger
- Fish sauce, optional
- Any other veggies you might want to add
1. Prepare a brine of 1 quart of filtered water to 4 tablespoons sea salt. Set aside. The brine should taste very salty.
2. Chop the cabbage and slice the radish and carrots. You can also add any other veggies you want to this, like snow peas, Jerusalem artichokes, etc. I didn’t add anything new, since this was the first time making it.
3. Place the cabbage, carrots, and radish (and any additional veggies you like) in the brine and cover with a plate or some sort of weight to keep the veggies submerged. I used a big bowl with a plate that fit just inside the bowl and then I put my big Costco-sized jug of white vinegar in a clean glass bowl and placed those on top of the plate (see pic on right). I did that so that the bottom of the vinegar jug did not touch the brine or veggies. Let this sit overnight.
4. After your veggies have sat in the brine, it’s time to prepare your spice mixture. Chop your onions, scallions, garlic, cilantro, and grate the ginger. Next, I took half of the spice ingredients and whizzed them up in a food processor to make a paste, and I left the other half chopped. You don’t have to do it that way, but I think it helped develop the flavors a little more. Whichever way you do it, mix the onions, scallions, garlic, ginger, and cilantro with the red chili flakes and set aside. Traditional kimchi has fish sauce in it, so if you want to add a splash here, you can (just make sure it has no preservatives or chemicals). I didn’t add any fish sauce to this batch.
5. Drain off the brine from the vegetables that have been soaking and reserve the brine. Taste the veggies for saltiness. You want them to be strongly salty, but not so salty that they are difficult to eat. If they are too salty, you can rinse them with water, if they are not salty enough, then add a teaspoon of salt to the vegetables and stir them. Let them sit for a little bit and taste again.
6. Mix the spice mixture with your soaked veggies and stir well. Pack the mixture into a wide-mouth, quart jar. Really pack it down in there. I used my fist to get it as tightly packed as I could. You want to eliminate as much air space as possible. The juices will also rise to the top as you’re packing. If you don’t have enough juice to cover the veggies, then add some of your brine until they are covered by about an inch of liquid with about an inch of space between the top of the liquid and the lid. This recipe filled one-quart jar and then I had about a cup leftover that I packed firmly in a pint jar and covered with brine.
7. Now, there are three ways to let them ferment:
(a) you can cover the kimchi with a tight-fitting lid, but you need to check it every day to make sure the veggies are still submerged. If they’re not, use clean hands and press them back down below the liquid.
(b) You can use something as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. In my pint jar, I used a water glass that just fit inside the pint jar, filled it with leftover brine, and used that as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. Get creative. Some people use sanitized rocks, some people fill baggies with brine, etc. If you use the weight method, cover everything with some cheesecloth or an old t-shirt, or something to keep the dust and bugs out. I did take a picture of my set up using this method, but I accidentally deleted it off my camera when I was transferring pics, so I have nothing to show you 🙁
(c) You can use an airlock. If you use an airlock, you want to make sure that there is at least one inch of space between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the airlock, otherwise, it will suck the brine up into the airlock and can increase the risk of harmful bacteria growth. For this recipe, if you want to use an airlock, I’d recommend only filling your quart jar three-quarters full, cover with an inch of brine, and then add the airlock.
6. Now that you’ve selected your method, leave at room temperature to ferment. You can taste the kimchi daily to see how the flavor develops, but if you use an airlock, this would defeat the purpose of that method. I used an airlock on my quart jar and the weighted method for my pint jar. I left mine out at room temperature for 5 days and then moved to the fridge.
7. Let the kimchi chill completely and then enjoy! I’ve been eating a little dish with each meal and I even got my hubby to eat some of the carrots out of it. We’re making progress!! 😉
So, Have you made kimchi? What other veggies or spices have you added? I am definitely going to make this again and experiment with more veggies, especially as we head into spring and summer when I’ll have more to choose from. I think I’d like to try using a red chili paste for more flavor. I love the rich red color of the kimchi pics in the Wikipedia article I read. I am assuming that color comes from red chili paste or sauce? Whatever it is, it makes it look yummy!
Can I use whey and reduce the salt? Would it still be better yo do a brine then? Thanks
Hi Micki – Sandor doesn’t use whey in any of his vegetable ferments. Sally Fallon does and according to her kimchi recipe, she recommends 1 tbsp. sea salt and 4 tbsps. whey. That’s for a 2 quart recipe. I think you could still do the brine if you wanted, but in her recipe, she just has you combine all the ingredients and pound the veggies to release the juices and then pack in the container. You could make a little extra brine to pour on top of the mixture if you can’t get enough natural juices to release. I hope that helps!
Actually, if you haven’t made it yet, the recipe for tsukemono in Nourishing Traditions only calls for 2 teaspoons of salt (unless you use whey). It also has lemon juice and soy sauce so maybe that is why.
It’s on my list! Can’t wait to try it!! 🙂
Korean red pepper is milder than Western red pepper so they can use a lot more of it. This is what my Korean neighbor told me. You must use real Korean red pepper from a Korean market in order to be traditional. I love red kimchi but see nothing wrong with adapting to locally available ingredients.
Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to swing by one of our local Korean markets and see if I can get some for the next batch.
I love making kimchi out of whatever’s in season, and it’s really not that difficult to adapt the flavors depending on what’s in your fridge, or what happened to catch your eye at the farmer’s market.
Cabbage is the classic type, but there are many, many other types of kimchis out there. The more Korean influenced in style kimchis that I’ve made I’ve used Korean chili powder, which is very mild, and you have to use a lot to be able to make it turn that red color. You can use any kind of pepper though, from the flakes use put on pizza to slices of habañero, whatever strikes your fancy. I’ve noticed that the flavors really meld together after you let it ferment a while, and you tend to get an end product much less spicy than expected. I’ve used those bird’s eye chilis that they use in thai food, with great success.
Remember that all cabbages lend well to kimchi, and it can be very fun to put a purple cabbage in it, because as the lactobacillus start to acidify the brine, the anthocyanins that look purple start turning a very bright pink- kind of a built in litmus paper to let you know the fermentation is picking up. These color pigments are present in several veggies, and you can get the same results with the color change with the addition of red onions, purple carrots, and watermelon radishes. I love putting the spiciest radishes I can in my kimchi, and I’m hoping one of these days i’ll find someone selling fresh horseradish (i want to do a kimchi with it and kale and ginger). I would also recommend you try adding leeks to your kimchi, they tender up and give a nice flavor. Any relative of garlic, chives, scallions, shallots, onion, etc are great in kimchi.
Remember, kimchi is one of the few things that improves when it’s forgotten in the back of the fridge- it just gets better! I’ve just gotten into the last quart jar of some stuff i made in december that is EXACTLY where I want it to be in fermentedness, and it’s amazingly pungent, pink, and still crunchy. 🙂
I’m enjoying your blog, keep it up! Glad you’ve tackled kimchi, it’s a little more fun in my opinion than sauerkraut. 😉
Hi Emy. Thank you for your long comment! You taught me some things and it’s much appreciated. I still have some of this jar of kimchi left and I just smelled it this evening and it smells great. Plus, I made my mom a jar of it too and she loves it. It definitely does get better with age. I added both white onions and green onions to this last batch. The more onion, the better IMO! I love the tip on the purple cabbage. I didn’t know that, so thank you for sharing. I also love the idea of kimchi with horseradish, kale, and ginger. I put some ginger in this batch, but not nearly enough. I love ginger! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and commenting and for your kind words. I hope that I see you around here again!
I’ve been making kimchi for about 5 years now. While making my last batch, I did some experimentation. I added kale to one jar along with cabbage and everything else. I also made a jar of fat match-stick daikon radish but no cabbage.
The results were great with the daikon but I will process the kale differently. I didn’t brine the kale with the cabbage but will next time. This time, the kale stayed tough and not too enjoyable. I’m still using it but only after it has been sauteed a little (like for kimchi fried rice.)
Thanks for stopping by and sharing! I have not tried kale in it yet, but will have to try that sometime! 🙂
Hey Jessica. Thanks for sharing this post on Friday Food Flicks. I’m actually featuring it this week. 🙂
Thanks Amanda!! 🙂
I was wondering if someone could answer me a question. But first some background–I have been attempting to make fermented veg, three tries so far with not great success. My first try I accidentally added way too much salt and couldn’t get past the taste. The second batch (both cabbage, carrot, onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro, salt) I don’t believe actually fermented. It tasted sour and not like any previously purchased from the health store. Now my third batch–I had whey left over from making chevre and decided to add this. Using recipe from nourishing traditions as a guide for whey and salt quantities, I mixed shredded cabbage, carrot, diced onion, pepper, beetroot, chopped cilantro and minced garlic. I pureed 1/4 of this mix and added filtered water as needed to cover mix in mason jars. I packed tightly, cabbage leaf on top, weighed down and sealed more or less air tight. FINALLY, my question! This third batch made 3 quarts and I realized I only added in enough salt and whey for one quart…this was a week ago. It is a bit sour with a nice flavor but not what I would consider fermented. No bubbles, no kick that I would expect. Should I toss and try yet again or can I remix, adding additional salt and whey, recan and add in a few hopes and wishes that, at last, I may have succeeded!? ANY advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Melissa in Ireland
Oh boy. That is a really good question! I am not sure. My guess is that you could probably leave it alone and see what happens. I am thinking it would be OK. Many times, I have used less salt than what is required by the recipe. I think if you have the whey in there, it would be fine. That said, you could dump it out and add more salt, but, I am not 100% sure that would not mess anything up. I really am being of no help here, am I? If it were me, I would go ask your question in the Wild Fermentation forums – http://www.wildfermentation.com/forum/. I have learned so much from these forums. Are you familiar with Sandor Katz, the author or Wild Fermentation? This is his site. I’m sorry I’m not more help. Start there and hopefully someone can steer you in the right direction! If you think about it, let me know what they say! 🙂
As a professional cheese maker, I can tell you that LAB reproduce and do their thing just fine in either Anaerobic or aerobic conditions. They will develop just fine in a mason jar. Presence of Oxygen does not retard growth to the point of being ineffective. Probably the reason those fermented food authors you mentioned did not say anything about what this other lady is talking about is that it is not necessary to provide a strict Anaerobic environment.
LAB reproduce fast, and consume sugars which they convert to lactic acid. This naturally lowers the pH as acid is produced. This low pH environment, along with salt and fast growth (out competing), provides all the LAB needs to overcome any stray aerobic bacteria’s that naturally will not thrive in that environment. This is essentially how we keep cheese safe to eat.
I’d say it is overly cautious and unnecessary to provide a strict Anaerobic environment, since the environment of your kim chee is already one that has good defense against such bacteria.
The air tight seal is more important to keep out foreign yeasts and molds from the vegetable matter as it does its thing. And a mason jar does this just fine.
I don’t provide an Anaerobic environment for milk when I make cheese, and never have a problem with robust LAB development.
Can’t wait to try your recipe BTW
Hi Cody – Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! We’re all still learning, but for now, I do believe that anaerobic is best. I am seeing the proof in my gut healing and the quality of my ferments. That alone is enough to make me a believer, but I do also Bellevue the research that KerryAnn has shared and have read through a ton of it. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Kimchi is one of my fave ferments! 🙂
That was supposed to be “believe”, not “Bellevue”. Not sure how that happened! 🙂