Make Your Own Kimchi

October 17th, 2013 | Posted by Alison Spath in Vegetable Lovin'

We discovered kimchi about 3 years ago, thanks in part to The 4 Hour Body (a gimmicky book but some aspects were informative and entertaining nonetheless.)  Kimchi is an Asian dish – it’s a spicy, sour fermented cabbage. Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, real pickles (and kimchi!) are an important part of your diet (have I convinced you read Deep Nutrition yet?  Come on people!)

With that, store bought kimchi (or kim chee) seems to fall under one of two categories:

Category 1: Not that good.

Category 2: Not that cheap.

(Last time I looked, the kimchi at Wegmans is $5 for a pint jar and falls under Category 1.  The kimchi at my local hippie food co-op is better, but at $8 a jar – it falls under Category 2 and is a rare treat.)

The good news is you can make kimchi yourself!  Even better news, my mother has been making it for months now and has her recipe totally nailed down.  She’s been bringing us jars of her homemade kimchi and we devour it in an embarrassingly short period of time.  Of the last jar she brought us, Zak described it as being so good he swallowed it whole before he remembered we’re supposed to chew it.

But the best news of all, homemade kimchi is in a category all it’s own: REALLY GOOD and PRETTY DANG CHEAP!

Recipe to Make Your Own Kimchi

For my birthday (ummm, back in April) my mom brought me a jar that looked a lot like that one pictured above, with her recipe and instructions tucked neatly into my birthday card.

Kimchi Recipe and Instructions Directions for Cutting Out Spine

Despite loving her recipe, I have totally been dragging my feet making kimchi myself.  I don’t know why, it just felt like a huge… project.  This was something new, and anything “new” means I’m going to need time to think!  Thinking?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  I mean there are all these steps and spices and crazy ingredients (like fish sauce!  What the hell is fish sauce?  Where do I find FISH SAUCE?  What am I supposed to do?  Ask someone?  Thinking and asking!  This is getting too complicated.) and then there’s the fermentation part and OMG you mean I have to cut up this big unruly head of cabbage and dear-god-this-feels-like-a-lot-of-work-I’ll-just-let-mom-bring-me-another-jar.

Fortunately, I stopped being such a whiny kimchi excuse maker and finally got my act together – and I’m so glad I did!  Because this kimchi is fantastic and now that I’ve done it a couple times I’m a Crazy Kimchi Making Machine.

So dear friends, happy (early/late/right-on-time) birthday To YOU!  From me.  And from my mom.

Here is my mama’s kimchi recipe with some step by step photos of the process, because that’s what I do.

Granny Weed’s Kimchi Recipe

click to print and tuck neatly into your birthday card from me (I will just need you to sign my name.)


2 Large heads Nappa cabbage, washed, spines removed, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 or 2 bunches of green onions, all of the white and part of the green, sliced
2+ Tbsp minced fresh garlic
2+ Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 – 2 Tbsp ground, dried chili pepper (Korean or Mexican varieties will work, use less if you don’t like heat!) NOT chili powder 
2 Tbsp fish sauce (optional for vegetarians)
1 tsp sugar
6 cups of water


In a very large bowl, dissolve the salt into the water.
Add prepared cabbage to water, cover with a plate, a bowl on the plate and put a weight into the bowl to push the cabbage down.
Soak for at least 10 to 12 hours.
Drain the cabbage and reserve the salt water that it was soaking in.
Mix together the onions, garlic, ginger, chili pepper, optional fish sauce and sugar.
Add the mixture to the drained cabbage and mix well.
Stuff the cabbage mixture into a 2 quart jar.
Fill with the reserved salt water to the top of the jar.
Cover and allow to ferment at cool room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months (if you have any left!)


Gently turn jar over and back a couple times during the fermentation process to ensure all cabbage continues to mix with the spices.
Easy prep of the cabbage is to cut the bottom 1 or 2 inches off the head, hold together while rinsing within and without, set the head bottom down in a bowl and remove leaves one by one.

And now here comes the step by step photos, to show you that while yes, making kimchi is a bit of a project, it’s nothing you need to drag your feet over.  (P.S., you’ll find fish sauce in the ethnic food aisle, I found with the Asian foods.)

Let’s call this Phase 1 of the Kimchi Making Project.  If you scroll back up and look at the diagram on the recipe from my mother, you’ll see how to easily remove the spine from nappa cabbage leaf.  The lack of cabbage spines is one of the things that makes this homemade kimchi so good, but this step is optional.

Nappa Cabbage Leaf

You’ll end up with more kimchi if you leave the spine in – but I’ve been cutting the biggest, thickest pieces out.

Cut out Nappa Cabbage Spine

With your pile of trimmed nappa cabbage leaves, chop into bite sized pieces,

Pile of Nappa Leaves Chop Nappa Cabbage into Bite Sized Pieces

and then cover with your salt water brine.

Salt Water Brine for Kimchi

Geez, how hard was that, lady?

Cabbage and Brine

Not that hard.  (*hangs heads*)

(I actually timed it and it took me about 10 minutes to cut up two heads of nappa cabbage with most of the spines removed.  Phase 1 is probably 15-20 minutes from start to finish.)

From there, you’re just a bowl and a plate and some hand weights away from being done until tonight or tomorrow morning (whichever is 10-12 hours later.)

Weights for Kimchi

Put your hand weights in a bowl, otherwise they’ll be swimming in salt water brine in the morning.  (I care more about my cabbage than I do my weights.)

Water Level Will Rise

When your cabbage has been sufficiently pressed, it will be time to move on to Phase 2.  Cutting up a few more vegetables (but you’ve had a 12 hour break so you’ll be rested and ready!) and mixing some spices.

Green Onions Garlic Ginger for Kimchi Fish Sauce for Kimchi

Drain your cabbage but reserve the brine.  Chop a bunch of green onions, mince some garlic and grate some ginger.  Fish sauce, chili pepper, sugar and a splash of your reserved brine:

Kimchi with Vegetables and Spices Kimchi with Vegetables and Spices

Use the as much brine as needed to fill your air tight jar to the very brim.

Jar for Kimchi Fill to Brine to Remaining Brine

KAPOW!  We’re moving on to Phase 3, baby!  It’s fermentation time.

Kimchi Ready to Ferment

You’ll want to put a pan under your jar because as cabbage ferments it will release gas (excuseme) and some liquid will be forced out of the jar.

Put Kimchi Jar in Pan

The oozing is fine, and it’s also a good sign that it’s working!  I’ve been “burping” my jar a couple of times during the 2 – 3 day fermentation process because I’m a little paranoid it’s going to explode.  I’ve been allowing my kimchi to ferment in my dark, cool(ish) pantry.

2 – 3 days later, transfer kimchi to jars and store in the refrigerator.

Homemade Kimchi Ready to Eat

(Wait to dig in until it’s cold!)

OK, now it’s your turn!  Do you eat kimchi?  Do you make kimchi?  Do you want some kimchi?  Do you say “kimchi kimchi koo!” when you tickle a baby?  Are you intimidated by new food projects? Is today your birthday?  Tell me!

I’m off to have kimchi for breakfast.

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11 Responses

  • Thanks for the recipe. I heart fermentation. (A great bumper sticker, right?)

  • sarah says:

    not a big fan, but if I ever change my mind, I know where to go!

  • Lisa says:

    I’m slightly addicted to kimchi… partly because the “good” kimchi is amazing, and partly because I’m lazy and it’s cheaper than the raw sauerkraut in whole foods. I’ve made sauerkraut with purple cabbage before (because that just sounded pretty!)… and as it was fermenting in mason jars in my pantry… one jar exploded everywhere. That was very sad—for both the smell and the mess. I’ve been lazy about fermenting ever since that, and when I did continuous brew kombucha that eventually got moldy and was very difficult and gross to discard.
    Anyway… this looks manageable and very budget-friendly! Thanks for sharing it :-)
    I’ve been reading your posts and not commenting (but intending to). Almost committed to the 40 days of yoga (but realized I prob won’t be able to follow through)…
    Thanks for the congrats too :-)

  • I just read the recipe — preparing to try this, since my previous batch of kimchi was yummy, but not awesomely yummy. You ferment this for only 2 or 3 days? Really? And without a starter? I have never done my sauerkraut for less than a week. Hmm… I would like to try your kimchi!

  • renee hart says:

    I’ve done everything the recipie called for and when I went to taste it it had a clear gel in the middle of it and it tastes rotten. What did I do wrong? Do I throw it away?

    • Wow, I have no idea! A clear gel? I’ve made it three times now with these exact instructions and had good results each time. How old was your cabbage? Did you rinse it well? Anything other than fresh vegetables? (i.e., not jarred or canned.) Did you use any ingredient that may have had gelatin in it? I’m so sorry, I’m at a loss for what could be going on or what could have gone wrong!

      • renee hart says:

        All fresh ingredients, organic also. Its okay I’ll throw it out and try again. Thank you :) I’ll let you know how the second try goes.

        • I asked a couple of fermenting friends what they thought about the gel and rotten taste of your kimchi, check out this page for lots of good info.

          Looks like it’s definitely not unheard of to have something go wrong during the fermentation process, this article has lots of good tips. Throwing it out is (sadly!) probably the right call.

          Good luck with Round 2! Definitely keep me posted.

          • Renee Hart says:

            I am proud to say my second batch turned out great. We were able to give some away to friends, and they loved it! Thank-you for your help in figuring it out. This time I separated the kimchi in 3 to 4 different containers and checked the water level and tasted it everyday. Where as before I smashed it tightly in 2 containers and checked it every other day and did not taste it.