Kimchi: How to Make the “Healthiest Food in the World”

If there’s one superfood bandwagon you need to jump on, it’s the one filled with kimchi.

This Korean fermented vegetable side dish is now not only a staple in Korea (they literally eat it with every meal!), but has also gained traction in the Western world - we can’t get enough of this powerful health food!

A good friend of mine, Ashley, is a passionate Kimchi advocate, after living in South Korea for 5 years, she is determined to share the precious edible creation that is KIMCHI.

Ashley was kind enough to host a workshop where I learnt how to make it myself (spoiler alert: there is A LOT of chopping involved!), and now she’s sharing her wisdom with anyone who’s interested in learning more...

A Bit About Ashley:

  • I am currently an occasional (supply) elementary school teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a literacy website developer with the University of Toronto. Before coming to Toronto for my MA, I ventured to South Korea with the goal of learning a new language and travelling-- but I ended-up staying for 5 years! I fell in love with the people and culture, and I even fell in love with a lovely Korean man. Although we are no longer together, I have no regrets. I was lucky to share the majority of my life in Korea with the most amazing family a girl could ask for. I was also able to perfect a lot of Korean recipes, my favourite being kimchi!

Ashley’s Take on Kimchi:

  • I instantly fell in love with eating and cooking Korean food, but it wasn’t until my second year that I was brave enough to attempt making kimchi. Although my first batch was a disaster, I didn’t give up. With the help of my Korean family, I became the kimchi making queen. No one could believe that a foreigner could make kimchi so well. I guess it was because my heart was so invested in learning the tradition so that I could share the process and product with others.

  • These days, Korean men and women are so busy with work and family life that many don’t have time to make homemade Kimchi (Koreans work some of the longest hours in the world). Many mothers and grandmothers take on the task of making kimchi, but the tradition isn’t always being passed down to their children. This really inspired me to learn how to make it myself, and it’s my pleasure to bring such a delicious and healthy food back to my home country. I’ve even found ways to tweak the recipe so that it’s even healthier but just as delicious.

  • Koreans don’t mess around when it comes to refrigerators. They have one for everyday use (like you and I do) but at least one more JUST for kimchi! As Koreans eat some form of kimchi with literally every meal, they need somewhere to store it. Many Koreans celebrate something called Kimjang, where everyone gets together for the fall nappa cabbage harvest to make a giant batch of kimchi for the winter. Traditionally, they would dig a huge hole in the ground where they would store a large clay pot for consistent refrigeration, but now with all of Korea’s stellar advancements, they have huge fridges to keep their kimchi perfectly stored right in the comfort of their own homes.

Variations of Kimchi:

There are literally hundreds of kinds of kimchi. There are different recipes for making traditional nappa cabbage kimchi, or you can take just about any vegetable and use a similar process to make it into a kind of kimchi (I started to use kimchi as a verb rather than a noun to talk about all the things I wanted to kimchi-- maybe I still do….). As you learn to make it yourself, it’s fun to decide what kind of batch you want to make. Sometimes I like more garlic or salt when I know I intend to cook with it. I love adding pear instead of sugar for a natural sweetness option. Lastly, I personally think the older it is, the better it tastes, so it’s a good thing that the older it is, the better it is for you!

How to Make Kimchi:

  • When researching different ways to make kimchi, I find that the most inconsistent part is the brining process. Some people soak the cabbage in salt water for 5 hours and some for 10. Some people dip the cabbage in salt water then leave it to drain all the water out. Whichever way you choose, make sure you do the bend test! Your cabbage is ready to rinse when you can bend the leaf most of the way until it finally cracks. If you can bend the leaf all the way without it snapping, then you’ve overdone it. Don’t worry though; it will still taste delicious!

 

  • You’ll want to cut your cabbage about two inches down the centre. Then you can gently pull the pieces apart.

  • The next most important part is rinsing out all the salt. You’re going to want to wash the cabbage thoroughly at least two or three times. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve made your kimchi too salty!

  • As you’re waiting for the cabbage to drain, you can prepare all of your veggies and sauce.

 

  • PUT ON GLOVES!

  • Many people use different ingredients in various amounts at this point, so feel free to be flexible with portions. Add more of whatever you like. If you prefer milder kimchi, cut back on the chili flakes.

There I am (Kiki) giving it a go - with the helpful instruction of Ashley!

There I am (Kiki) giving it a go - with the helpful instruction of Ashley!

 

  • Start from the inside of the cabbage and work your way out. Make sure to put sauce all the way down to the base of the cabbage. Try and spread the veggie and sauce mix as evenly as possible.

  • Some people leave the cabbage in two halves, others quarter at this point.I prefer to keep it in halves. I like to use the larger leaf on the outside to wrap around your sauced cabbage, keeping all of the ingredients nicely packed together. However, you may like to slice it before packing to make it easier to take out as you need it.

  • Whatever way you choose to package your kimchi, make sure there is a little room left from the top and that it is airtight. You’ll need to leave it out for a day or two before putting it in the fridge. This gets the fermentation process started. You can peak on it before putting it in the fridge. You’ll notice it bubble as you push it down.

  • You can eat your kimchi right away and there are many fantastic recipes for this, but I like to wait at least a week before eating. The longer you wait, the better it is for you and the better it tastes!

 

  • Enjoy your kimchi and all of its crazy awesome health benefits.

Whether or not we’ve inspired you to try your hand at making your own...here are some delicious recipes where you can incorporate some ready-made kimchi in:

Or, if you’re ready to take the plunge - give it a go start to finish by dilligently following this recipe: