Fermentation basics: How to make kimchi (two ways)

Last Updated September 2020
By Cameron Pitts

Fermented foods are delicious and good for your gut — but artisanal ferments tend to be costly. Though the prospect of home fermentation tends to scare people off, the truth is that it’s pretty straightforward (though it takes some patience). All you need is a simple recipe to follow. 

While it’s possible to ferment many types of foods — turning dairy into kefir, tea into kombucha, grapes into wine, etc. — it’s easiest to start with fermenting vegetables, as they only require a salty brine and a bit of time.

If you’re interested in the process of fermentation, here are our favorite beginner kimchi recipes to get you started. 

 

How to make traditional kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean condiment or side dish often made of pickled cabbage and other vegetables. It’s one of the easiest places to start with your fermenting, as you can keep it simple or personalize it with your seasonings of choice. Here’s our favorite recipe.

Ingredients for traditional kimchi:

 

1 large Napa cabbage

1 cup coarse sea salt

5 cups water

1 tablespoon rice flour

1 pound Korean radish (like daikon)

3-4 scallions

1/2 cup gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flakes), adjust to taste

1 piece kombu (dried kelp)

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

Kimchi directions:

 

1. Quarter the cabbage lengthwise with a chef’s knife. In a large pot, dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 5 cups of water to make a brine, then submerge each of the cabbage quarters in the saltwater. Do this one at a time. As you pull each out, shake them off to remove excess liquid and place them in a colander until dry. Then, put them in a clean pot. 

2. Take the remaining 1/2 cup of salt and sprinkle it over the thicker white part of each quartered cabbage. You should use the entire half cup to cover all four pieces. 

3. Pour the remaining brine over the salted cabbage. Set this aside for about 6 to 8 hours, rotating the bottom pieces to the top every 2 to 3 hours. When the thick white parts of each cabbage are easy to bend, it’s ready to be washed. Rinse three times and drain well.

4. Mix the rice flour with 1/2 cup water and the piece of kombu, and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until it makes a thin paste. Let it cool.

5. Combine the rice paste, minced garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and fish sauce in 1/2 cup of water. Set mixture aside until the red pepper flakes are pasty. Cut the radish into matchsticks and mix with the seasoning paste when it’s ready. Cut the scallions diagonally into 1-inch pieces and add them to this mixture, then let all of this sit for about 30 minutes.

6. Cut off the tough stem of each cabbage piece, leaving enough of the tougher white portion to hold the leaves together. Wear gloves at this point in the process to avoid touching the chili flakes. Put each quarter, one at a time, into the radish mixture and stuff each with 1 to 2 tablespoons, spreading it over each leaf.

7. Fold the leafy part of each cabbage piece over the stem, wrapping it neatly. Place the four quarters in an airtight container and press them down to remove any air. Put 1/2 cup of water in the bowl that had the radish mixture, then pour that over your cabbage. 

8. Leave it in the airtight container on your counter for a day or two, then refrigerate. The hotter it is in your kitchen, the sooner you should refrigerate it. After refrigerating your kimchi, you can eat it at any time, though it’s best after about two weeks.

How to make radish kimchi

If you’re looking for something more exciting than standard kimchi, this cubed daikon option is a nice alternative that is even simpler to make. 

Ingredients for radish kimchi:

 

2 1/2 pounds Korean radish (like daikon), peeled

3 scallions

2 tablespoons raw sugar

2 tablespoons coarse salt

1/2 small onion, diced

1/2 small red apple, diced

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 tablespoon minced ginger

4 tablespoons gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flakes), adjust to taste

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon rice flour

Radish kimchi directions:

 

1. Cut the cabbage into medium-sized cubes with a chef’s knife. The size depends on your preference, but know that the radish will shrink in the fermentation process. Put cubed radish into a bowl with salt and sugar, and let sit for 1 hour on your counter.

2. While that sits, chop scallions into small pieces and set them aside. Blend the onion, apple, and fish sauce in a blender. Heat 1/4 cup water and mix it with rice flour to make a runny paste. Mix this paste, the onion/apple mixture, garlic, and ginger in a medium bowl to make your kimchi base.

3. After your radish has sat for an hour, rinse it in cold water a few times and set it in a colander for about 5 minutes to drain excess water.

4. Put dry radish into a clean mixing bowl and add 2 tablespoons of Korean chili flakes, then mix it uniformly. Add the chopped scallions and the kimchi base, and mix them evenly.

5. Put the radish in a large airtight container (about 1 gallon) and leave it on your counter for about 6 hours to a day (less time for hotter climes, more time for cooler). Then, put it in the refrigerator. It’s ready to enjoy!

Cameron Pitts is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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