This homemade kimchi recipe is one that blends the classic salty, sweet and spicy flavors of traditional kimchi with one of our favorite superfoods, the goji berry.
Kimchi, a well-known side dish, or "banchan" of Korean cuisine, is largely created the same way you would make sauerkraut or any kind of cultured vegetable, requiring the same method of lacto-fermentation.
This is a fairly simple culturing technique that basically involves, chopping your vegetables, creating a brine, packing the mix into a jar and leaving it to ferment for a number of days in a row. Generally, we like to let ours to go for about 7 days, but shorter or longer fermentation times are also possible depending on what you'd like to achieve.
Three day ferments produce more subtle flavors and crisper textures, whereas longer ones allow for more developed pickled tastes and softer vegetables. Kimchi, fermented for at least 7 days, contains greater amounts of beneficial lactic acid bacteria.
In Korea some regional styles are very short ferments however most are customarily kept at cooler temperatures, sometimes buried in the ground, to slowly age for many months.
By far the most popular variety of kimchi known around the world is called baechu kimchi, which uses Napa cabbage, or also called Chinese cabbage, as a main ingredient.
The ways in which it is prepared varies considerably. Some cabbages are left whole and the leaves are stuffed or layered with salt and paste mixture, whereas other recipes may culture the whole individual leaves or chop them into large pieces.
Depending on the regional style, some kimchi can be saltier than others. In certain parts of Korea where more salt is added, it is customary to soak the cabbage in fresh saltwater for a number of hours and rinse and repeat this process several times.
Certain varieties include a broad range of foods like pine nuts, jujube dates, chestnuts, watercress, mushrooms, pears, sesame seeds/oil and a number seafoods. We have also come across some information that this specialty version may additionally include tonic roots like Korean ginseng.
Our kimchi recipe version here on this page is basically an adapted
American-style baechu kimchi variety using traditional ingredients along with a few of our
A great tasting kimchi is only as good as the seasonings you use to culture it. Having a well-balanced kimchi recipe that incorporates spicy, sweet and salty flavors is key.
Adjustments can be made, of course, depending on one's own taste preferences. Some may enjoy hot pungent spices while others might prefer less spice as well as different ratios of salt or sweetener. These ingredients can be easily modified as most fermented vegetable recipes are quite versatile. We prefer ours less on the salty side but with a good amount of pungency.
When making kimchi, a paste or kind of brine sauce is often used. We make ours
by blending culture starters, pure water, some cabbage, honey,
soaked goji, salt and spices. In Korean-style kimchi, a similar paste is often added to whole pieces of cabbage and customarily squeezed to help extract the natural juices. This is usually done directly with clean or gloved hands by gently squeezing and massaging the mixture.
Culture starters are not normally used in traditional preparation and are not required for a successful end result. They can be helpful to add, however, if you want to ensure a good microbe-filled ferment. A culture starter, or a simple probiotic powder, can also help to initially activate the fermentation process, giving it a good head start.
Kimchi needs to ferment in an anaerobic environment protected under a brine solution. This means that your unfermented mixture should be submerged within the surrounding liquid created from a combination of brine and the natural juices released from the vegetables after the two are mixed together.
This is most effectively achieved by adding glass crock rocks (also called pickle pebbles) or equivalent weight to the top of the kimchi ingredients to weigh it down under the cabbage leaf layer. We have also found that when packed tightly the ingredients often remain fully submerged, but a heavy weight on top can definitely help provide an oxygen-free environment.
We always place a loose lid over the fermentation vessel, but you can also use what are often called "kraut kaps." These are mason jar or gallon size fitted lids that have an airlock embedded in the lid which helps to release gases but keeps the oxygen and contaminants from getting in.
Remember that you should never place a tight lid on fermenting vegetables as the carbon monoxide gas can build up pressure in the jar and cause it to potentially explode.
When using a loose lid we always place a clean cotton cloth over the top with a rubber band to help keep out any dust or debris.
It is a good idea, although not completely necessary, to replace your top cabbage leaves at about day 3 or 4. These top leaves often soften at this point and if exposed to air can create surface mold or become slimy. To avoid this we replace them with fresh cabbage leaves mid-way through fermentation.
As mentioned, it is best to keep the fermentation time at about 7 days between a temperature range of 65-70°F (18-21°C). Warmer temps over 70-75 will ferment much faster than cooler ones below 65°F (18°C) and may increase the likelihood of surface molds. Fermenting at the appropriate temperature allows for the best tasting kimchi flavor and texture in our opinion.
When kimchi is packed tightly in a jar or vessel under a liquid brine, an oxygen-free environment is produced which supports the growth of desirable bacteria and eliminates pathogenic varieties when kept at a room temperature not greater than 72°F (22°C).
According to the "Agriculture and Consumer Protection" branch of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, "the whole basis of lactic acid fermentation centers on the ability of lactic acid bacteria to produce acid, which then inhibits the growth of other non-desirable organisms." (Source)
During the vegetable culturing process the lactose and other sugars in
the vegetables are converted to lactic acid, which in turn gives birth
to various genus strains of the lactic acid bacteria (LAB), called
Lactobacillales. Each of these anaerobic bacteria, in varying
proportions, are produced at different stages of the fermentation
process, supplying unique tastes and textural qualities.
Some common LAB's like L. acidophilus, L. plantarum and W. cibaria are probiotic (life-supporting) bacteria that are beneficial to consume for healthy intestinal balance and additionally help to improve digestion of the foods consumed with them.
In one 2014 published study in the Journal of Cancer Prevention, kimchi was demonstrated to exhibit both intestinal and immune-enhancing qualities.
Many traditional kimchi recipes use sugar, but instead we use honey and the sweetness of goji berries. The end result, however, only has a mildly sweet taste because most of the sugar content is consumed by the beneficial microbes.
You will need a one gallon glass or ceramic vessel to pack your vegetable mix. This recipe makes approximately 3/4 of a gallon of kimchi as you will be leaving some room at the top to place your cabbage leaves and/or rock crocks (pickle pebbles) if you are using any.
There will also be a good amount of brine liquid which can be strained out and used for salad dressings.
Store jars in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process. Most kimchi will last for months and even years when stored appropriately.
Remember... It is also possible to impart a seafood-like flavor, comparable to many traditional Korean kimchi recipes, by adding different seaweeds like nori or dulse flakes and pieces.
Also see our fermented food recipes in the links below for more on how to make your own cultured vegetables as well as black-eyed tempeh, black bean miso, coconut kefir and other cultured foods.