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What is kimchi, what do I use it for and how do I make it from scratch?

If you haven’t tried kimchi, you’re missing out. Here’s why I can’t get enough of this umami-packed Korean condiment.

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If you're wondering what is kimchi and how to use it, here's everything to know about the Korean condiment.
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Kimchi has to be one of my favourite condiments – I use it in and on the side of so many dishes! Full of flavour and funk, it’s spicy, tangy and just plain delicious. But what IS kimchi exactly? A staple of Korean cuisine, it’s basically salted and fermented vegetables, most often made with cabbage. It’s the Asian version of sauerkraut, if you like! Once you’ve tried it, it’ll be a new family favourite, which is why my Easy Korean Kimchi recipe should be next on your list.

How to make kimchi at home

It’s easier than you think to make kimchi from scratch. My version is cabbage-based and is packed with umami goodness. And the good news? Once you’ve made it, it will last in the fridge for up to six months. The great thing about homemade kimchi is that you can tailor the recipe to suit your tastes. Mine is heavy on the garlic because I love the stuff, but feel free to tweak as necessary.

This Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich tastes divine with homemade kimchi

My Kimchi Grilled Cheese Sandwich is a good reason to make kimchi from scratch!

#1: Prepare your cabbage

First off, you want a large Chinese cabbage that weighs around 1kg (2 lb). It may be called wombok or Napa cabbage in your area, so have a look around. Cut it in half lengthways and remove the core. Then cut each portion in half again. You should now have four long strips of cabbage.

 

Now cut each quarter into 2-3cm pieces crossways. We want it in small, bite-sized pieces so it breaks down a lot faster, which makes things a lot easier and quicker.

#2: Salt your cabbage

For the best kimchi, make sure your cabbage is nice and clean by giving it a good rinse under cold running water. Drain it in a colander, then transfer to a very large bowl. Now it’s time for the salting part.

 

Not only will salt provide flavour, but it also works to soften the cabbage. Sprinkle over ⅓ cup of sea salt, then give everything a toss with your hands. I like to leave it for a couple of hours, but I’ll check on it every 30 minutes or so and give everything another mix.

It's so easy to make kimchi from scratch at home.

#3: Make your kimchi seasoning

While your cabbage is doing its thing, grab your food processor. Add in ¼ cup fish sauce, ⅓ cup gochugaru (this is a Korean chilli powder you can find at an Asian grocer), 5 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger and 1 tbsp white sugar. You’ll also want to peel and chop 1 pear and add that in too, then give it all a good blitz until it’s smooth.

#4: Time to drain your cabbage

Once your two hours is up, give your cabbage a good rinse. It helps to taste a little to make sure you’ve washed all the salt off. Give your bowl a rinse too, then pop the washed and drained cabbage back in. Now it’s time to add in your other vegies. For my homemade kimchi, I like to peel and julienne (a julienne peeler will be your best friend here) 1 medium (about 250g/9 oz) daikon (leave this out though if it’s not available near you) and cut 3 spring onions (scallions) into roughly 4cm batons. Chuck those in with your cabbage.

Homemade kimchi is a hero ingredient in my Korean-style Beef Stir-fry

I love to use kimchi in dishes such as my Korean-style Beef Stir-fry.

#5: Mix it up and let it rest

In with your chilli mixture! Use tongs or your hands (you may want to pop some gloves on) to massage the ingredients together. Keep going until everything has a lovely ruby red coating. Taste and season with more chilli and sugar if desired, then transfer across to sterilised jars. Pop the lid on, then leave out at room temperature for around two to three days so all those flavours can make friends with one another. After that, store it in the fridge and use within six months.

 

Now you’ve read everything about ‘What is kimchi?’, it’s time to watch! If you’re more of a visual person, check out my recipe for homemade kimchi in video form.

Best kimchi recipes

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