Kimchi is the name given to any number of fermented vegetables in Korea as a means to preserve the fall harvest for the cold winter months. This quick, small batch version is an easy way to learn how to make kimchi. It’s usually served as an accompaniment to other dishes providing spicy, salty, sour notes.
It’s usually a combination of a main vegetable (like Napa cabbage or a radish), garlic, ginger, chile powder, salt, and a salted seafood or fish sauce. The most popular version is baechu kimchi, which is made from Napa cabbage, but there are nearly 200 “official” varieties in Korea!
In this quick version, the cabbage is chopped into bite-sized pieces and mixed with the seasoning. The result is an easy kimchi with still a bit of bite, and all the salty, sour, spicy, and pungent flavors you’d expect from a vegetable pickled with fish sauce and garlic.
My Personal Kimchi Story
Growing up in Korea, kimchi-making was a communal affair, because each household would put up gallons of kimchi to feed their entire family for the winter.
“Kimjang” was a neighborhood party where the ladies of the village would take turns helping each other with each household’s kimchi-making. Fall was a time for my sister and me to peel pounds and pounds of garlic for my mom’s annual kimchi.
Lucky for us, we can make smaller batches now since we have refrigeration and don’t have to preserve an entire harvest before first snowfall.
Why Kimchi Is Good for You
The fermentation process of making kimchi produces probiotics, like the bacteria found in yogurt and sauerkraut.
The probiotics promote not only good digestive health, but also support the immune system, heart health and have anti-inflammatory properties. The only downside of kimchi is its high salt content.
Tips for Making Kimchi
When making kimchi traditionally, I stuff individual leaves into a jar, but that takes a lot of time. For this version, I chop the cabbage into bite-sized pieces and mix the vegetables and seasonings together in one go.
It’s not only easier to make, but also convenient to eat, because it’s already pre-cut and ready to serve.
- Choose vegetables that are dense and feel heavy for their size.
- Wear gloves when making kimchi, not only because the chili powder might burn and stain your hands, but also the garlic and fish sauce is pretty pungent.
- Use quart-sized canning jars with plastic lids. The salt corrodes the metal lids, and there’s no need for sealing the jars, which means the plastic lids work well here.
Ways to Adapt this Kimchi Recipe
Kimchi is easy to adapt to personal dietary and taste preferences.
- Make it vegetarian: Replace the fish sauce with an equal amount of sea salt and a tablespoon of kelp powder to add that extra depth of flavor.
- Adjust the heat: Add less chili powder or make white kimchi with no chili powder at all. That’s how the royals used to eat it, because spicy food was considered too common for royal palates!
- Chile Options: It’s best to use Korean chili powder if you can find it. If not, you can use cayenne pepper, chile de arbol, or red pepper flakes.
How Do You Know When Kimchi is Ready?
You can eat the kimchi freshly made—sort of like a salad, sprinkled with toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. However, it’s best to let it ferment for at least a day or two before eating.
How Long Will Quick Kimchi Keep?
Store kimchi in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. It will get more sour and stronger in flavor, even getting a little effervescent, the longer it ferments.
What to Serve with Kimchi
Serve on the side of any Korean meal with rice and a variety of other banchan (side dishes). It’s also nice as a condiment to spice up any meat dishes or a salad that needs a kick.
The longer Kimchi ferments, the more sour it will become. When it becomes too sour to eat on its own, you can use it as in ingredient to make kimchi mandu (dumplings), kimchi jjigae (stew), fried rice, kimchi buchingae (flatcakes), mixed noodles, or any number of kimchi dishes.