What is kimchi?
Kimchi is a pickle that’s commonly eaten across Asia. There is no one recipe, in fact there are probably thousands of ways to make it!
Kimchi originates from Korea, where it was stored underground to allow the fermentation process to take place. It’s nearest European cousin is sauerkraut, because the process of making it is fairly similar.
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable and spice recipe usually including cabbage. This recipe will show you how to make a basic kimchi, and you can experiment with different vegetables and spices.
How to eat it
I take a packed salad to work with me each day, and that often has a spoon or two of fermented cabbage – either as sauerkraut or kimchi!
My Indonesian friend always heads to my fridge when he comes round and opens the kimchi jar and helps himself to a small bowl! He eats it as is, or takes a little bowl of it and eats it with curry! So when you have people for dinner, put the jar on the table and let people put a little on the side.
I’ll soon upload my recipe for pickled limes and mango too, as the same friend will eat his way through that too if I let him!
Kimchi and health
Kimchi is rich in a naturally occurring bacteria that grows during the fermentation process. This bacteria is the same species that occurs during the making of beer or cheese – and is collectively known as lactic acid bacteria.
Lactic acid bacteria has caught the attention of many researchers recently, due to its link with the immune system and gut health.
Consuming fermented products that contains live bacteria does carry many health benefits (you can read more about gut bacteria here), however there is a word of caution – kimchi is fairly high in salt, which is responsible for driving up blood pressure and causing stomach problems.
Having said that, you do wash off most of the salt before kimchi is jarred (and you need to take that into account when looking at the nutrition information below, as that is calculated based on the salt in the ingredients, not what is left after washing).
Kimchi is therefore eaten in small portions, and is perfectly safe as a small accompaniment to other dishes or part of a salad.
Many people cook with it too, and add a spoon or two in stews and soups. If you do that, you won’t need to add much, if any, seasoning.
- 1 Chinese cabbage leaves separated
- 5 cloves garlic grated
- 1 tsp ginger grated
- 75 g course sea salt
- 2 medium carrots cut into small thin batons
- 2 pieces daikon radish optional - chopped
- 3 spring onions or scallions - trimmed and cut into thin strips
- 1 tbsp red chilli powder
Rub the salt into the cabbage leaves covering all surfaces and place in a bowl. Place a plate of this and weigh it down to press the cabbage (the salt will extract the water from the cabbage and start the fermentation process)
Sit for an hour or two at room temperature, and whilst that is happening, make the kimchi paste.
Smash the garlic, ginger and chilli in a mortar with a pestal forming a paste. Many Asian people add fish sauce or shrimp paste, so consider putting a desertspoon of fermented bean paste if you have it.
Once the cabbage is ready, rinse it under cold water and cut the cabbage into small strips. Give the cabbage a good squeeze to lose residual water.
Mix the cabbage, spring onions, carrots and paste in a bowl, combining well - ensuring all is well-coated with paste. You might want to use gloves at this stage!
Pack the kimchi into a jar, pressing down firmly on it as you do so to displace the air, and push the water up. You want the water to raise above the kimchi if possible. Leave about 2-3 cm from top of the kimchi and the jar lid.
Keep at room temperature for about a day or two, opening to release gases. Then transfer to the fridge to slow down the fermentation. Check occasionally, pressing down with a spoon to release air from the fermentation process at the bottom of the jar.
Keep tasting too, until it turns in the flavour you like.
Seb is a nutritionist registered with the Association for Nutrition and a writer specialising in plant-based nutrition and men’s health. He graduated from Chester University with a masters degree in human nutrition and loves discovering new and vibrant plant-based recipes.