I have been making my own kimchi for several years now, and I have really come to enjoy eating it on a regular basis. It’s also fun and easy to make, and making it yourself lets you tailor it to suit your own tastes. I regularly make several different kinds of kimchi, including the familiar Baechu Kimchi that’s made mostly with napa cabbage. I also make it with daikon radish (kkakdugi) and with kohlrabi. I ferment my kimchi in wide-mouth glass jars, though you can also use a crock or a special kimchi fermenting vessel made of ceramics or even plastic. Lately I’ve been experimenting using Fermilids, which let the gases escape and keep the oxygen out. But really no special lids or equipment are required.
This week I started two jars, one with radishes and the other with napa cabbage. I used a purple daikon radish called KN Bravo this time, though I’ve also used Bora King and Sweet Baby (my favorite) purple daikons in the past. White fleshed daikons also make tasty kimchi, and I will make another jar soon using a hybrid Korean radish called Alpine. This is the type you are likely to see in the markets, at least around here it is.
The purple color fades a bit during fermentation, but some color still remains and it makes for a flavorful ferment when aged for a few months. That’s if I can wait that long to eat it! The radishes retain a bit of crunch, and turn delightfully tart from the lacto-fermentation process.
I peel the radish and cut it up into cubes about 1/2 to 1 inch or so big. Then I soak the cubes in a 5% brine solution for 6 to 8 hours. I weigh the water and salt using an electronic scale set to weigh in grams. Any salt will do, and I use a fine Himalayan pink salt I get in a 5 pound container at Costco since I use so much of it in fermenting. 50 grams of salt in 1000 grams of water will do it, scaled up or down as needed, and I use filtered tap water.
For the cabbage I wash it first, drain, and then chop into 2″ squares. The size is approximate, and doesn’t have to be exact by any means . The pieces do shrink as the water comes out in brining and fermentation, and I find that size makes for bite sized pieces after fermenting. Some recipes call for larger pieces, and traditional recipes even call for fermenting whole heads of cabbage. The way I do it is sometimes called ‘fast’ kimchi, and it’s the only way I’ve ever made it or eaten it. I let the cabbage soak in a 5% brine for 12 hours or overnight. Then I drain it and rinse, reserving some of the brine for later to use in the seasoning paste. Many recipes call for dry salting the cabbage without using a brine, but I find the liquid method makes for a less salty tasting finished product. It takes about 2 pounds of raw chopped cabbage to fill a quart jar, and I also add about a half cup of grated or julienned daikon radish along with a bit of chopped green onion or flat leaf chives.
For both the radish and cabbage kimchi, I make a seasoning paste from garlic, ginger and gochugaru flakes, using a bit of the brine to add moisture. I also add a bit of fish sauce and soy sauce to supply that umami flavor. Some recipes call for all kinds of ingredients, including fruits like pears, apples or even pineapple. And dried shrimp or anchovies are often included. Sweet rice powder is popular also, cooked with water to make a paste. And some folks even add a bit of sugar to make their kimchi fizzy! I think part of the fun of making your own is to experiment, and how I’m making it today may not be the way I make it next year or the year after that. I mix the seasoning paste into the veggies with my hands, then pack into the jar to ferment.
The gochugaru (red pepper flakes) is an important ingredient, and is usually made from peppers with a medium amount of heat and a lot of flavor. I found this out the hard way when I first started making kimchi and tried to use cayenne peppers which are much hotter! The last couple of years I have grown my own Korean peppers and made my own gochugaru, and that is what I am using for this batch. Before that I used a Korean brand gochugaru with great results too. The mild and medium hot peppers mean you can use more of the flakes, which adds more flavor and color to the finished kimchi.
I let the kimchi ferment in the jars for at about two weeks before refrigerating. Again, recipes are all over the place when it comes to how long to let it ferment. In Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer she calls for a 3 to 7 day ferment. And in Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten K. and Christopher Shockey one recipe calls for 7 to 14 days, while another just says “for at least three days”. It’s a good idea to begin tasting the kimchi after about a week, and refrigerate when it suits your tastes. It will continue to ferment in the refrigerator, but at a much slower pace. If kept cold and covered in brine, my kimchi keeps for at least a year. I have a bit left from a jar I made a year ago, and while the veggies have gotten soft and the color faded, the flavor is outstanding.
The ingredients that follow are for the seasoning paste, and should make enough for a quart jar of kimchi. You can scale it up or down as needed, and I often double or triple it to make more than one batch at a time.