Everything you need to know about how to make traditional cabbage kimchi! With this small batch recipe, you’ll find it not that difficult to make good authentic kimchi at home.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi (김치) is a collective term for vegetable dishes that have been salted, seasoned, and fermented. The history of kimchi goes back to ancient times. Originated from pickled vegetables, there are now hundreds of kimchi varieties in Korea. You can find some of the most common kimchi recipes in my 15 easy kimchi recipes.
Over the last decade or so, Korean kimchi has gained a global recognition as a healthy probiotic food. Kimchi is a good source of useful lactic acid bacteria, has excellent anti-oxidation and anti-cancer effects, and helps prevent aging.
This kimchi recipe is made with baechu (배추), known as napa cabbage, hence the name baechu kimchi. Because the cabbage is kept intact at its head, it’s also known as pogi kimchi (포기김치). Pogi means a “head” of a vegetable.
In late fall, Korean households make this type of kimchi in large quantity for their kimjang (or gimajang, 김장), an annual kimchi making event in preparation for cold months. I grew up watching my mother make kimchi using over 100 cabbages with her friends in the neighborhood who rotated their kimjang schedules to help each other.
I usually make it with 5 – 10 heads (pogi) of cabbages at a time because we eat kimchi every day. Also, I provide regular supply to my grown-up children. Both my mother and mother-in-law did that for us for a long time, so I am gladly continuing the tradition.
In Korean homes, there can never be too much kimchi. So many Korean dishes are made with well-fermented kimchi, such as kimchi jjigae, kimchi mandu, kimchi bibim guksu, kimchi fried rice, kimchijeon, tofu kimchi, and many more.
Buying napa cabbage
For this pogi kimchi, it’s best to use a medium to large cabbage that weighs around 5 to 5-1/2 pounds with some light green outer leaves. When cut, a good cabbage has a nicely straight white part that’s not too thick as well as bright yellow inner leaves.
Salt for making kimchi
Korean coarse sea salt (cheonilyeom, 천일염) is the best to salt the vegetables to make kimchi. It’s natural salt with a coarse texture that’s minimally processed. Commonly referred to as gulgeun-sogeum (굵은소금), meaning coarse or thick salt, this salt tastes good without bitterness, so it helps develop flavors in fermented foods.
When we first came to America, Korean sea salt wasn’t available, so we used American table salt to salt cabbages. Be sure to use less (about 1/4 less than the amount called for in the recipe) if using fine salt.
The taste of kimchi varies widely, depending on the quality, type and ratio of the seasoning ingredients. Each Korean household has its own recipes, often driven by the regional flavors of their hometown. I find myself making it differently each time.
Good quality gochugaru makes a big difference in kimchi. In addition to gochugaru (고추가루, Korean red chili pepper flakes), garlic and ginger, kimchi recipes typically call for various jeotgal (젓갈, salted seafood) for the distinct pungency and depth of flavors and to aid the fermentation process. Saeujeot (새우젓, salted shrimp) and myulchiaekjeot (멸치액젓, fish sauce made with anchovies) are the most common ones.
Sometimes, I also use fresh shrimp which is my mother’s secret ingredient for adding extra freshness to the kimchi flavor. If you can’t find saeujeot in your area, consider using some raw shrimp instead.
How to make kimchi
To help you start making kimchi at home, I came up with this recipe using one napa cabbage. Start with one cabbage, and then move to 2 or 3 by doubling or tripling the recipe.
Making kimchi usually starts with salting the main vegetable. For this pogi kimchi, you need to cut the whole cabbage in half lengthwise, and then into quarters. If you’re using 2 small cabbages, cutting in half should be enough.
You then need to thoroughly bathe each cabbage half/quarter in the salt water one at a time. Using the other half cup of salt, generously sprinkle salt over the thick white part of each leaf. This process makes sure the white parts get evenly salted,
Meanwhile, make a kimchi paste by mixing all the seasoning ingredients, and then cut the radish into thin matchsticks and mix well with the paste. The rest is easy, rub a little bit of the radish mix over each cabbage leaf, mainly the white part.
How long does kimchi last?
Although you can start eating your kimchi any time, it needs about two weeks in the fridge to fully develop its flavors. Your kimchi will continue to age in your refrigerator and will be delicious for a couple of months, when the healthy bacteria count is the highest. The kimchi will last much longer than that. It will turn very sour over time, and sour kimchi can be used in many delicious dishes!
Watch how to make it
More kimchi recipes
Traditional kimchi (Napa Cabbage Kimchi)Side Dish
- 1 large Napa cabbage about 5 to 6 pounds, or 2 small (about 3 pounds each)
- 1 cup Korean coarse sea salt for making kimchi
- 5 cups water
- 1 pound Korean radish, mu or moo (무) mu/moo
- 1/4 Korean pear (배) optional
- 3 - 4 scallions
- 1 piece dashima (about 2 to 3 inch square) Boil it in 1.5 cups of water for 5 minutes
- 1 tablespoon glutinous rice powder, 찹쌀가루 Mix it with 1/2 cup water (or optional dashima broth) simmer over low heat until it thickens to a thin paste and cool. Yields about 3 - 4 tablespoons.
- 1/2 cup gochugaru, 고추가루, Korean red chili pepper flakes - adjust to your taste
- 1/4 cup salted shrimp (saeujeot), 새우젓, finely minced
- 3 - 4 raw shrimps, about 2 ounces, finely minced or ground - optional
- 3 tablespoons myulchiaekjeot fish sauce, 멸치액젓
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds - optional
- 1/2 cup water or dashima (dried kelp) broth
- 2 large bowls or pots 7 - 8 quarts
- a large colander
- kitchen gloves
- 3/4 - 1 gallon airtight container or jar
- Cut the thick white part of the cabbage lengthwise in half. Then, slowly pull apart by hand to separate into two pieces. Do the same for each half to make quarters. Running the knife through all the way would unnecessarily cut off the cabbage leaves.
- In a large bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 5 cups of water. Thoroughly bathe each cabbage quarter in the salt water one at a time, shake off excess water back into the bowl, and then transfer to another bowl.
- Using the other half cup of salt and starting from the outermost leaf, generously sprinkle salt over the thick white part of each leaf (similar to salting a piece of meat). Try to salt all the cabbage quarters with 1/2 cup salt, but you can use a little more if needed. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage quarters. Pour the remaining salt water from the first bowl over the cabbage. Set aside for about 6 - 8 hours, rotating the bottom ones to the top every 2 - 3 hours.
- The cabbages should be ready to be washed when the white parts of the leaves are easily bendable. Rinse thoroughly 3 times, especially between the white parts. Drain well, cut side down.
- Meanwhile, make the optional dashima broth by boiling a small piece (2 to 3 inch square) in 1.5 cup of water for 5 minutes, and cool. Mix the rice powder with 1/2 cup water (or optional dashima broth) and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens to a thin paste, and cool.
- Prepare the garlic, ginger and saeujeot. Combine all the seasoning ingredients, including the rice paste and about 1/2 cup water (or the optional dashima broth), and mix well. Set aside until the red pepper flakes to dissolve slightly and become pasty.
- Cut the radish and optional pear into matchsticks (use a mandoline if desired), transferring to a large bowl. Cut the scallions diagonally into about 1-inch long pieces.
Add the prepared seasoning mix to the radish, and mix well by hand. Throw in the scallions, and mix everything lightly. Taste a little bit. It should be a little too salty to eat as is. You can add salt, more salted shrimp or fish sauce, as needed. Let it sit for about 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld nicely.
- Cut off the tough stem part from each cabbage quarter, leaving enough to hold the leaves together. Place one cabbage quarter in the bowl with the radish mix. Spread the radish mix over each leaf, one to two tablespoons for large leaves. (Eyeball the stuffing into 4 parts and use one part for each cabbage quarter.)
- Fold the leaf part of the cabbage over toward the stem and nicely wrap it with the outermost leaf. Place it, cut side up, in a jar or airtight container. Repeat with the remaining cabbages. Once all the cabbages are in the jar or airtight container, press down hard to remove air pockets. Rinse the bowl that contained the radish mix with 1/2 cup of water (or any remaining optional dashima broth) and pour over the kimchi.
- Leave it out at room temperature for a full day or two, depending on the weather and how fast you want your kimchi to ripen. A half day is recommended during hot summer days. Then, store in the fridge.
This kimchi recipe was originally posted in January 2012. I’ve updated it here with new photos, more information and minor changes to the recipe.