How To Make Your Own Kimchi

Add a burst of flavor and heat to your meals with this fermented cabbage dish.

November 30, 2016
Caylin Harris

My sister-in-law is South Korean and I'm forever grateful to her for introducing my family to Korean food. During visits, she's whipped up bulgogi, let us sample the Korean version of ramen (spoiler alert: it's better), and made pork belly. She also introduced me to kimchi, a spicy, fermented cabbage side dish. At first, I was hesitant to try it, since it loosely resembles pickled ginger (not my favorite), but I found kimchi savory and delicious. You can add it to rice, shrimp dishes, and salads for a burst of flavor and a little heat. Since it's rich in probiotics, kimchi is a gut-healthy food, helping to boost your immune system and restore balance to the good bacteria in your gut.

The authority on kimchi in my sister-in-law's family is her grandmother—and she's such a guru that she doesn't even work off a recipe. That makes sense, since kimchi is incredibly customizable—you can add more spice, or reduce the heat. Love garlic? Add extra. For a vegetarian version, leave out the fish sauce and sub in extra water instead. Think of the ingredients as your initial inspiration, and adapt them to suit your taste buds. And don't be intimidated by the somewhat lengthy process of making kimchi—I'm a total newbie, but my results were delicious. 

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kimchi ingredients
Caylin Harris
Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients And Equipment

Use this ingredient list as a loose guide—in fact, since my grocery didn't have daikon radish available, I used red ones instead. Look for fish sauce and Korean chili powder in Asian markets, or purchase these items online. 

  • 1 medium head Napa cabbage
  • ¼ cup sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2-6 cloves garlic, grated (add more or less to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce or Korean salted shrimp, known as saeujeot (use water for a vegetarian version) 
  • 1 to 5 tablespoons Korean chili powder, or gochugaru
  • 8 ounces daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

For equipment, you'll need:

  • Cutting board
  • Large bowl
  • Colander
  • 1-quart jar, sterilized
  • Plastic gloves
soaking cabbage
Caylin Harris
Step 2: Prep Your Cabbage

Cut the cabbage into roughly 2-inch strips, keeping the core and any other rough or hard parts out of the mix. Place the cabbage and salt in a big bowl, and massage the salt into the cabbage. Then, cover the cabbage with water and let it sit for an hour or two. (I'm impatient, so I only waited an hour.) Rinse the cabbage thoroughly under cold water, and let it sit in the colander. Dry your bowl and set it aside. 

Related: 7 Genius Ways To Use The Rest Of The Cabbage In Your Fridge

preparing kimchi paste
Caylin Harris
Step 3: Prepare The Kimchi Paste

Mix together the garlic, ginger, sugar, gochugaru, and seafood flavoring (fish sauce, or salted shrimp). If you can't find fish sauce or salted shrimp, or want a vegetarian version, use water instead. The mixture should look like a thick red paste. 

mix up kimchi ingredients
Caylin Harris
Step 4: Put On Your Gloves And Mix It Up

Mix together the cabbage, radishes, and scallions with the spicy paste. With gloves on, use your hands to really work the paste into the vegetable. (You can skip the gloves as I did, but you'll wind up with hands that smell potent and are dyed red.)

kimchi in a jar
Caylin Harris
Step 5: Jar Your Mixture

Put the cabbage mixture into a sterilized jar. Don't overstuff the jar—during the fermenting process, the cabbage and liquid will expand. At this point, you may see a brine—but don't fear if there isn't one yet, since it'll develop as the kimchi sits.

Related: How To Make Sauerkraut In A Jar

Caylin Harris
Step 6: Wait. Wait Some More. Enjoy

This is the hardest part: Waiting. Let the kimchi sit at room temperature in a dark place for up to five days. Look at it once a day, open the jar to release the gases, and submerge the cabbage into brine, if it's there yet. 

I left my jar in the sink because it can bubble up and drip. I got up the nerve to taste it on day three, and put it into the fridge on day four. Use your taste buds as your guide for how long to let the kimchi ferment—the longer it ferments, the more sour and tangy it'll taste. Once your kimchi is to your taste, store it in the fridge. It'll stay good for up to a month. Serve your kimchi alongside just about anything savory—omelets and breakfast scrambles, soups, stir-fries, sautéed veggies, salads, and rice bowls.