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3 Sep

Spicy and Sour Kimchi

Kimchi announces itself first by a piquant, funky aroma and then by an unforgettable flavor, one that can take some getting use to if you weren’t raised on Korean cuisine. Cool, crunchy cabbage leaves provide a little bit of relief from the otherwise spicy, sour, garlicky and pungent flavors that wallop your taste buds with each mouth-tingling bite. Kimchi can set your mouth on fire, but like other types of spicy food also has a cooling and invigorating affect on the body. Think of kamchi as a way to wake up your palate and kick-start your appetite. It’s also a way to introduce helpful probiotics to your gut, which means improved digestion and better absorption of nutrients.

Making kimchi is an art that Koreans have been practicing for centuries, so we’re not going to pretend that our version improves on the recipe. It does, however, simplify the process and make it less time-consuming, which we’re hoping will encourage many of you to try it at home. You’ll still get the probiotic benefits and the intense flavor, not to mention the satisfaction and pride that comes with creating a culinary treasure in your own kitchen.

Making kimchi involves first brining cabbage leaves and then fermenting them in a fiery mix of chili powder, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and/or salted shrimp. Kimchi’s distinctive spiciness doesn’t come from just any flavorless chili powder. You want Korean chili powder (gochu garu) which is spicy but also a bit sweet, smoky and earthy and can be found in many Asian grocery stores.  There you will also find fish sauce – most Asian countries have their own version of fish sauce, and although similar, they do not taste exactly the same. For kimchi, look for Korean fish sauce (also called anchovy sauce or aek jeot). Fermented shrimp is traditionally included in kimchi as well and gives it more of that elusive umami flavor, but in this version it is optional.

Traditional kimchi is fermented for weeks, months or even years. The fermentation process melds together the bold seasonings so that the final product has a complex flavor that cannot simply be described as spicy. It is also during the fermentation process that all the good, desirable bacteria grow. For our quick and easy version of kimchi, we recommend fermenting the cabbage at least 72 hours. After that, when the kimchi is “done” is up to your personal preference. A good rule of thumb is that if the kimchi just tastes like spicy coleslaw, we let it sit longer until a tangy, pungent flavor develops. If pungency doesn’t sound appetizing to you, think about a piece of high-quality cheese; it smells a little like gym socks, but tastes amazing. Once the kimchi tastes right to you, storing it in the fridge will slow fermentation and keep it from getting way too funky.

In Korea there are more version of kimchi than are possible to count – using a variety of different vegetables beyond cabbage, adding fruit or seafood and adjusting the seasonings is totally acceptable. Serve the kimchi in small portions alongside meat or use it as an ingredient to give recipes an added kick. There is nothing that compares to kimchi when you need to liven up any meal!


  • 3 pounds (two large heads) of Napa cabbage
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic
  • one 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Korean fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped salted shrimp (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup Korean red chili powder
  • 1 daikon radish, cut into thin 2-inch strips
  • 8-10 scallions, chopped into 1-inch pieces


Cut the cabbages in half lengthwise then chop each half into 1-inch sections.

In a large bowl combine kosher salt and 8 cups of cold water and stir so that salt dissolves. Add cabbage. Let soak for 6 hours, occasionally stirring the cabbage.

Remove cabbage from water and give it a quick rinse with clean water. You don’t need to rinse all the saltiness out, as it will give the kimchi flavor. Squeeze as much water from the leaves as possible or run it through a salad spinner a few times.

Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce (and shrimp, if using) and honey in food processor or blender until very finely minced. Stir in chili powder.

Combine radish, green onions and cabbage with the spice mixture, mixing really well to coat all the cabbage leaves. Using your hands works best for this, but put on plastic gloves if possible or the chili powder will likely burn your hands (and anything you accidentally touch with your hands, like your eyes. Ouch!)

Divide cabbage between two 1-quart canning jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

Cover the surface with tight plastic wrap, using a rubber band to seal the plastic wrap around the rim of the jar. Let it sit out at around 70 degrees for 72 hours, or longer, to ferment. Store in the refrigerator, up to about 3 weeks for best flavor.

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Where did you get the recipe? From some American book? Koreans do not use honey. They use nashi fruit and apple instead. Here is a video where a Korean person makes it:

    V wrote on May 25th, 2012
  2. I just made this for the first time yesterday and it has been fermenting for about 30 hours. I must not have left enough room because the liquid, not just the gas seems to have expanded and my saran wrap looks like a huge blister. Does anybody know how/why the liquid increases, I can understand how it makes gas but not how it makes liquid. Thanks for any help.

    Moe wrote on July 22nd, 2012
    • The liquid doesn’t actually increase, although you do get some liquid coming out of the veg. What happens is that the gas expands and pushes the cabbage, radish, veggies etc upwards, creating gaps lower in the jar.

      I’ve got some fermenting now in a Pickl-It jar and have had to put it in a larger jar due to the expansion. House smells like kimchi. :-)

      Melinda wrote on December 1st, 2013
  3. 4 soft poached eggs (runny yolks) mixed into about two cups of Kimchi is divine! It’s my favourite meal at the moment :)

    Baz wrote on January 17th, 2014
  4. My mom uses some clam juice in her kimchi. Never tried it with shrimp. She ferments hers for a week on the counter but saves a few servings of fresh for me. I prefer the crunch of fresher kimchi. That stuff can really stink up the house…and all the garlic of Korean kimchi will come out if your pores for a couple of days. The hubby won’t come near me til it’s out of my system, he also hates Asian food. Totally worth it, tho!

    My favorite is radish kimchi made with the big Asian radishes. Mmm, I’m going to ask her to make both for me next time I see her. It really goes with everything…eggs, American style BBQ

    Angel V wrote on June 20th, 2014
  5. Hi Mark~My experience with Kimchi, and all ferments, is that they need an anaerobic, no oxygen, environment. I’ve used all kinds of vessels, but found the fido jar with an airlock works the best. They are selling them on the internet now. Keeps all the bad bugs out, and the good ones in. Sure wish I could find an organic source of Korean Chili Peppers now :0)

    Marilyn Doughty wrote on February 24th, 2015
  6. Has anyone ever kept kimchi for two years? I am going on that and it still smells and tastes fine.

    Ellen wrote on July 30th, 2015
  7. Just made my 2nd batch. For some reason my garlic, ginger, and fish sauce blend is not liquid like in the photo.

    What to make of the warning to limit the amount of Kimchi eaten in a week, in order to minimize the risk of stomach cancer? Stomach cancer rates are high in parts of Asia, especially Korea and where pickled food are eaten in large quantities – “food that contain N-nitroso compounds, which are likely carcinogens.” “likely”… not to worry, right?

    Time Traveler wrote on June 23rd, 2016

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