From Cabbage to Crunch: Your Guide to DIY Korean Kimchi

From Cabbage to Crunch: Your Guide to DIY Korean Kimchi

Authentic Kimchi Recipe

Did you know that there are close to 200 different types of Kimchi? Depending on the region and season, Koreans prepare and enjoy this nutrient-dense, flavour-explosion of a side dish in many ways. It’s so quintessentially Korean that they even host World Kimchi Festivals

We learnt this during our trip to the Jeollanam-do region, where we stopped by Kimchi Town in Gwangju to make Korean Kimchi with true Kimchi experts. It was such an apt place to learn, as Gwangju is known as the birthplace of Kimchi, and is also said to have the best Kimchi in Korea (don’t quote us, it’s in their brochure)!

Jump to Authentic Kimchi Recipe

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Arriving at an unassuming office building, we were met with enthusiastic ee-mos (aunties) ushering us into a Kimchi-preparation studio. Laid out on each kitchen island were vibrant halves of salted Korean cabbage, crisp, julienned Korean radish, spring onions and chives.

 

Gimjang Kimchi and the art of Korean kimchi-making 

Before diving in, the ee-mos shared the concept of Gimjang (김장) – the communal practice of making Kimchi. Deeply ingrained in Korean culture, this practice transcends class and region, strengthening family and neighbourly bonds through the sharing of food. So much so that it’s inscribed as Korea’s contribution to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage

The entire concept revolves around the seasons and communities. Families procure ingredients for salting and fermenting in Spring and prepare dried red chilli powder and sea salt in Summer. Come Autumn, Gimjang is in full swing where communities make and share huge quantities of Kimchi to last them through Winter. 


It’s similar to making Nonya Achar where the whole kampong comes together to dice, salt and mix together this delicious side dish.

Ingredients for the Perfect Kimchi: Paechu 

It was our turn to give it a go! The eemos guided us to mix the ingredients together. While seemingly straightforward, there’s a technique to getting Kimchi-Town-level Paechu Kimchi. And it’s all in the details! 


Paechu or Napa Cabbages are soaked in sea salt or pure salt brine (135g salt to 1.9L water) for at least 12 hours to draw out water and make the cabbage more tender. Then, taking the mixture of seasonings and sliced vegetables, we layered them between each leaf of the salted cabbage. While massaging in the mixture gently and generously across, the studio filled with laughter and stories.

 

Kimchi pairings: Ways to eat Kimchi

Before we know it, our salted Napa Cabbages glowed a brilliant red and were ready to eat! I like my Kimchi more tart and succulent, so mine goes into a fermentation stage for another 1 week or so. 

Freshly fermented Paechu Kimchi makes for tangy pickled, spicy appetiser; a perfect opening side for any meal. Kimchi can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 months with its flavours growing stronger with time. “Older” Kimchi has deeper aromas and is better for cooking, such as dishes like Kimchi Jigae and Kimchi Pancake.  And recently, my favourite has been this Kimchi Fried Rice.

Authentic Kimchi Recipe

Ingredients:

300g Korean radish (julienned)

2 Spring onions (halved lengthwise then diagonally thinly sliced)

20g Korean chives (cut into 4cm slices)

2 Halves salted Napa cabbage (1 half approx. 500g)*

 

Seasoning:

20g Korean red chilli pepper powder (Taeyangcho Gochugaru)

20g Korean coarse red chilli pepper powder (Taeyangcho Gochugaru with seeds)

10g Fine sea salt 

15g Sugar

15g Garlic cloves (finely chopped)

7g Ginger (finely chopped)

3 Red chillies (blended)

200g Korean radish (blended)

50g Glutinous rice paste made with fish stock* 

10g Fermented shrimp paste (Saeujeot)

10ml Fish sauce (Myeolchiaekjeot)

Steps:

    1. To prepare the salted Napa cabbage, soak the halves or quarters in a sea salt brine (135g salt to 1.9L of water) for at least 12 hours with weights to keep the cabbage under the brine. 
    2. After which, remove the cabbage from the brine, rinse under cold water and squeeze cabbage to wring out excess water. Let cabbage rest on a baking tray.
    3. To prepare glutinous rice paste made with fish stock, combine 24g rice flour, 30g sugar, and 1 cup (240ml) water. Whisk to combine in a sauce pan until a sticky paste forms.
    4. Blend radish and red chillies with a little water until it gets thoroughly liquidised.
    5. Put the rest of the seasoning ingredients along with the blended mixture into a large mixing bowl.
    6. Add the julienned radish to the mixing bowl and mix it evenly.
    7. Add the rest of the prepped vegetables and match them thoroughly.
    8. Place one cabbage quarter on a tray and spread the radish mixture overreach leaf; about 1-2 large tablespoons per leaf.
    9. Fold the leaf part of the cabbage over towards the stem and nicely wrap it with the outermost leaf.
    10. Place Kimchi in an airtight container and leave it at room temperature (20 – 24°C) for two days depending on the weather and personal preference (how fermented you like your Kimchi to be) then store in the fridge for at least one week to let it ferment and fully mature.

Korean Kimchi in Singapore

Ever since the trip, I’ve been spoilt. Storebought Kimchi just doesn’t taste as good. And as with most food, homemade is always better. Whether you’re trying this Authentic Korean Kimchi recipe, or trying one of our easier recipes (like this Moonlight Hor Fan), the feeling of satisfaction after making a delicious meal is truly irreplaceable. 

Plus, as Gimjang kimchi has shown, perhaps the secret to really good cooking is connection – a connection to people and places, to culture and heritage, that adds depth to the entire culinary experience.

This article is brought to you by Korean Tourism Organisation.

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