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DIY Kitchen: kimchi

September 4, 2012

You may enter cautiously into a relationship with fermented foods, tentatively cracking the lid on a jar of kraut only to have it overpower your house with its smell. But soon, you may find yourself so craving that salty sourness, that a swig from the sour pickle jar can set you right on a hot, frazzled afternoon.

And here’s the thing that I swear is true: there’s nothing scary about it. Canning a batch of peach barbecue sauce is fraught with the unknowns of acid content and faulty seals, but fermentation is really just a big party in a jar. Bring your fork. Fred Breidt, microbiologist for the USDA (who specializes in vegetable fermentation) says, “as far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food borne illness from fermented vegetables.”

My mommy! Rose asked recently why I call my mom, “mom,” as opposed to, “Nana.” “Well, because she’s my mom.” I told her. “She’s STILL your mom?” Rose asked.

I made a batch of kimchi recently with my mom, and when I asked her if I should pick more radishes, she shrugged and said, “if you have them.” And it’s true, when fermenting, you don’t have to be all finicky about things like recipes. It’s more about understanding a concept, and riffing off it like some inspired musician. And when you get the concept, it blows a door wide open, so that you can stroll through your garden like a talent scout, plucking and uprooting produce to star in the next fizzy ensemble.

Inspired fall garden ferment: radishes, carrots, green onion, parsley, garlic, dill seeds, salt and whey. Review coming.

Fermentation happens when, through the addition of salt (or bacterial cultures), the lactobacilli—a family of bacteria found on the surface of every living thing—is encouraged to proliferate while putrefying bacteria is shut out. Fermented foods are teeming with enzymes, vitamins, minerals and beneficial live cultures which replenish and diversify the bacteria in our digestive system. Through these bacteria and specialized micro-nutrients, fermented foods improve immune function while decreasing inflammation and preventing cancer and other diseases.

Oh. Is that all?” I’m temped to say while spooning a heap of sauerkraut onto my plate. It’s not that healthful factoids don’t excite me, but I love fermented foods because they’re delicious, inexpensive and fun to make, and in a world of warp-speed techno-gadgetry, it’s comforting to use the same basic recipe for yogurt as say, Jesus.

Now then, let’s get started.


~makes about 1/2 gallon~

1 large head chinese/napa cabbage

3-5 carrots

4-8 radishes

2 cloves garlic

2-4 tbsp ginger

1 bunch green onion

1 – 3 TBSP chile powder/cayenne pepper

2 TBSP salt

Chop all veggies (or whizz through food processor) fairly small and let sit in a large pot or bowl. Add cayenne and salt. Scrunch the salt into the veggies with your hands. Scrunch some more. Pound and press with a tool (potato masher/rolling pin/meat tenderizer/wooden spoon) or simply your own hands. The more you break the cell walls, the more juice will be released from from the vegetables, which is what you need for an effective ferment.

Next, leave your kimchi mix in the bowl/pot, put a lid on it and leave it alone for a few hours. When you come back it, more juice will have been released and you’ll feel like you’ve witnessed a miracle. Taste it now. Does it need more salt, more spice? If so, add and mix.

Next, pack the kimchi into a jar, pushing the vegetables down with a fork or wooden spoon so that the vegetables are below the liquid. (This is an anaerobic ferment, meaning the bacteria do their work in the absence of oxygen). Once your vegetables are covered with brine, they can float around the surface a little without spoiling. Leave 3 inches space  at the top of your jar and cap it. Sometimes on a very vigorous ferment the liquid erupts past the threads of the jar lid. If this happens you can place your jar in a casserole dish to collect the spillover or divide the kimchi into another jar. Let sit on your counter for 5-10 days (taste as you go) and then in the fridge where it will last for 4-6 months.

Salted and scrunched and sitting.

After sitting for 3 hours: juicy! Let the salt do the work.

Kimchi after 7 days.

Keeping the vegetables submerged.

Go forth and ferment! And feel free to leave questions in the comments.

PS: Remember my new sponsor, Rebecca Mullen, who offered 2 spots in her upcoming class, A Soulful Cleanse? Well, those two spots were claimed before she opened her e-mail. But she’s offering the remaining spots in her class at 25% off until it fills. Go here to sign up. Notable: each participant gets a 30 minute one-on-one coaching session with Rebecca during the class, which is worth the price of the class. Also, as the class is conducted via phone and e-mail, anyone anywhere can take it.

PPS: I am teaching a fermentation class on Saturday, September 29th, 10 – 12. We’ll do lots of sampling and talking concepts. The cost is $30, which includes a pint of kimchi (that you make, I supply the ingredients) and the starter to make a gallon of fermented ginger ale. Save the date. More info to come.

PPPS: Not to be all End Of Times, but it is worth noting that fermentation is a way to preserve produce without refrigeration (if you have a basement/crawl space/cooler in a unheated shed) through the lean months.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2012 8:48 am

    This: “as far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food borne illness from fermented vegetables” — is exactly what my food-paranoid mind needed! I think we’ll get onto fermenting, stat. I still fear canning (absurdly, I know. I’m working on this…)

    My kids are always double-checking to make sure I’m still going to be their mom when they’re grown-ups :).

  2. September 4, 2012 10:05 am

    Oh, kimchee, how I love thee!
    You’re bubbly and tart and good and stinky.
    You’ve got a mind of your own 10,000 organisms strong —
    Come into my tummy where you can do no wrong!
    Oh, kimchee, how I love thee!
    You are pure complex simplicity!


    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 4, 2012 10:22 am

      Oh my! Is that just off-the-cuff poetry? I nominate you poet laureate for all the unsung microorganisms!

      • September 4, 2012 11:33 am

        Yes, you (and well, kimchee) inspired me at breakfast this morning. I had to go up and get a scoop right then and there!! :)

  3. September 4, 2012 11:09 am

    Gadzooks! You make bacteria gorgeous.

  4. Audrey permalink
    September 4, 2012 11:19 am

    ‘Round these parts I’ve seen (and sampled from!) several food trucks that do a pepper jack and kimchi quesadilla. It’s absolutely TO DIE FOR. Give it a shot!

    Last Friday I had drinks with a Korean friend who confirmed that everyone has a separate kimchi fridge, for various reasons I won’t go into here. Maybe you need Dan to dig a separate kimchi cellar?

    Me, I’m inspired, I’m gonna give this a shot so I can have those quesadillas any time…

    Hope Dan was successful. Missing you all!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 5, 2012 11:37 am

      I DEFINITELY need a kimchi cellar. Will put on the honey-do list. xo

  5. Danielle permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:00 pm

    can you ferment squash? would it hold up? …because I am up to my nose in every kind of squash and I just cant figure out what the heck to do with it all and sure would like to preserve some, somehow.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 4, 2012 12:07 pm

      Most certainly. I’m at the library right now, but when I get home I’ll consult my fermentation bible and get you a recipe.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 5, 2012 11:32 am


      I couldn’t find an exact recipe in any of Sandor Katz’s books, but I looked online and this recipe looks really yummy. My caveats: I would make a small trial batch and see how you like it, substitute any spices you don’t like with ones you will for sure like. And I like the idea of adding grape/cherry/apple leaves because the tannins will keep the zucchini firm. I add grape leaves to my cucumber pickles and they are so crunchy good.

  6. September 4, 2012 2:13 pm

    i’ve been toying with the idea of kimchi but the husband has been a naysayer. your post just pushed the scales in favor of experimentation :)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      September 5, 2012 11:38 am

      Glad to hear I’m pushy enough to override the husband. xo

  7. September 4, 2012 2:22 pm

    Wow! Thanks! I’ve been wanting to make Kimchi…..tons of veggies in the garden and need to find more uses for them, besides canning and freezing!

  8. Ellen permalink
    September 4, 2012 3:34 pm

    Rosie said that she was surprised that Nana was still your mom because she is no longer taking care of you. What she’ll learn is that moms never stop wanting to and trying to take care of their kids — even my very old mother (who died 6 months ago), who couldnt physically take care of her children and grandchildren because of Parkinsons, never stopped wishing that she could take care of them — and thinking about their welfare.

  9. September 4, 2012 8:21 pm

    We are just entering into the universe of fermented foods – once you eat your own pickle there is no going back.

  10. September 5, 2012 6:21 am

    I’m working on an article for a local alternative weekly about fermenting and I’m assisting with a class on it at the cooking school I sometimes work at in the coming weeks, so this was an absolutely perfect post to happen upon this morning. Thanks Rachel! Looks like I’m moving from pickles to fermenting in the coming weeks.

  11. September 5, 2012 7:47 am

    ‘Love all the solid information woven between your pictures and stories.
    (I wrote about you in my Sept. 4 post)

  12. Jamie permalink
    September 5, 2012 7:42 pm

    I am not quite ready for this, mostly due to supplies. Soon though! I pinned your recipe for easy finding, just so you know.

  13. Ben Hewitt permalink
    September 5, 2012 7:58 pm

    Hi Rachel,

    I found your site from the comment you left at mine… thanks for your note.

    We do a ton of fermenting, too. Kimchi, green beans, fiddlehead ferns, kombucha, sausage, etc, etc. The more we ferment, the more it seems as if canning is really just one giant pain in the ass and waste of energy.

    Be well,

  14. September 11, 2012 3:36 pm

    “basement/crawl space/cooler in a unheated shed”… or a badass root cellar perhaps? yummy!

  15. December 3, 2012 8:31 pm

    I am a new newby, why do I need a separate fridge for kimchi?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      December 3, 2012 9:20 pm

      Did I say that? I hope not. Kimchi can totally co-mingle with the rest of the fridge goods.


  1. Fermentation Lesson | Sammy Lyon

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