This traditional, or winter-style, kimchi is a tribute to the very labor-intensive ritual in Korea called ‘gimjang’. My mom still loves to make this traditional kimchi usually once a year. Now, with modern technology, farming advancements, and modern refrigeration available, she stores this big batch of kimchi away in her kimchi fridge. This gives us many many months of kimchi – the deliciously funky, spicy, sour fermented vegetable side dish that accompanies every Korean meal – readily available whenever we want it.
Recipes that use kimchi
Think of all the recipe possibilities available to you once you have a fridge stocked with kimchi. Also, remember, kimchi can be used as a side dish for almost any and every Korean meal you can think of. Here are just a few ideas, but the possibilities are really endless:
- Kimchi Soup (jjigae)
- Spicy Seafood Soup
- Kimchi Pancake (buchimgae)
- Kimchi Mandu/Dumplings
- Kimchi Fried Rice
- Served with Korean BBQ
- Kimchi Ramen
- Kimchi Fried Rice Chicken Quesadilla
What is ‘Gimjang’
‘Gimjang’ refers to the timeless and labor-intensive ritual of making large quantities of kimchi, typically at the onset of winter. Many Koreans, typically large families, will gather together to make a huge batch of kimchi to eat during the winter. Gimjang is still considered to be one of the most important family events in Korea after Chuseok (aka Korean Thanksgiving). Korean families gather and literally prepare a hundred to a couple of hundred heads of cabbage for fermenting into delicious kimchi.
Kimchi was stored in the ground
Today, we have modern farming and modern technology available in almost every household, such as the refrigerator. There are even refrigerators being sold now that are specifically for kimchi. My mom has one and loves it! However, back in the day, cabbage would have to be purchased when it was in season or available, hence the reason for making a big batch of traditional, or winter-style, kimchi at once. There also weren’t any refrigerators back in the day, so the big batches of kimchi would be put into the ground in ceramic pots, or earthenware vessels known as ‘hangari’, for storage through the winter. Then around the beginning of April, the ceramic pot is dug out of the ground and cleaned well to use again in the future.
Kimchi is part of Korean cultural heritage
Kimchi is not just a beloved dish in Korea. It is a deeply rooted part of the culture and a huge part of the culinary fabric of the country. Gimjang was even officially listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in December 2013.
Items you’ll need to make a large batch of traditional (winter-style) kimchi
Before you get started there are a few things we would recommend you have that are not necessarily ingredient-related. So before getting started, we recommend the following items:
- A very large food-safe bowl/tub – You can find these at most Asian markets and they’re usually specifically for making kimchi.
- Rubber or plastic food-safe gloves – You don’t want your hands burning for weeks after making kimchi so get a good pair of gloves to use. I like the elbow-length gloves to protect most of my arm while I’m working with the spicy mixture.
- Large glass jars or kimchi storage containers – Make sure you have large containers and enough containers to contain and store your finished kimchi.
Now, roll up your sleeves and get ready to make some delicious traditional, or winter-style, kimchi with our recipe. We hope you enjoy the recipe and most importantly have fun while you’re making it. It is labor-intensive, but we are sure you will love the result and outcome of having delicious homemade kimchi available when you want it. Enjoy!
Here are some recipes to make with your kimchi:
- Kimchi Fried Rice Chicken Quesadilla
- Korean Cold Noodles with Spicy Sweet and Sour Gochujang Sauce
- Korean Spicy Seafood Soup
- 4 medium-sized napa cabbage (about 10-12 lbs)
- 3 medium-sized Korean turnips (about 6-7 lbs)
- 2 Tbsp sweet rice powder
- 8 green onions
- 20 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp ginger root, minced
- 3 lbs salt
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 Tbsp brined shrimp
- 4 Tbsp fish sauce
- 3-4 cups red chili pepper powder (gochugaru), more or less depending on the preferred spice level
- 2 gallons water
- Rinse the napa cabbage really well with cold water. Cut each napa cabbage in half and remove the hard stem/root area.
- In a big food-safe container*, add 2 gallons of water and 2 lbs of salt. Mix the water and salt together well to create the brine. *Make sure this container is large enough to hold all the napa cabbage plus this brine. Or you could also separate the brine into smaller-sized containers if you don’t have a large enough container to hold all the water and cabbage.
- Place the cut cabbage into a large container (or several containers) that can hold all the napa cabbage. Place the cabbage cut side up into the large container in layers (if needed depending on the size of your container). Heavily sprinkle salt on top of the cut cabbage. Place salted cabbage into the container with the salt brine. Repeat until all cabbage is salted and put into the brine. Let the cabbage sit and brine for about 8-10 hours.
- Halfway through the sit/brine time (around the 4-hour mark), flip each cabbage over and flip the layers over. The top cabbages should be moved to the bottom of the container and those that were at the bottom be moved to the top.
- While the cabbage is brining in the salt, make the sweet rice powder mixture. Add 2 cups of water to a medium-sized pot, and add in the sweet rice powder. Bring this mixture to a boil and continue to mix well so it does not burn or clump. Once it reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool.
- Place salted/brined shrimp, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger root into a blender. Blend it until very smooth. You can add a bit of water to help with blending if needed. Put the blended mixture in a medium-sized bowl and add the cooled-down sweet rice powder mixture and red chili pepper powder (gochugaru) to it. Mix together well, and set aside for about 2-3 hours for all the flavors to incorporate through the mixture.
- Now, let’s prep the Korean turnip. Clean the turnip really well with cool water. Julienne the turnip into matchstick-like sized pieces. Using a mandoline slicer with a julienne attachment is really helpful for this and the preferred way to julienne these turnips. Like this one. Put the julienned turnips into the bowl with the red chili pepper mixture and mix together well.
- After about 10 hours, it’s time to rinse the cabbage. Rinse each cabbage well with cool water. Place the cabbage in a clean container to allow excess water to drain for about 30 minutes.
- Add ½ cup of salt to the turnip/red chili pepper mixture. Spread the turnip/red chili pepper mixture into each of the leaves of the napa cabbage. Coat each leaf with this mixture as evenly as possible, going back and forth between each leaf as you use up all of the turnip/red chili pepper mixture.
- Now, it’s time to put the kimchi into containers for storage. Place the cut side of the cabbage up when placing it inside your storage container. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of salt to the topmost layer of cabbage in your container (the top layer only, not every layer).
- Store this kimchi for about 3-4 months in your fridge or in a kimchi fridge. You may eat this kimchi at any time you want, and you will experience varying degrees of age/sourness as time progresses. Around 3-4 months is when this kimchi will have started to turn sour if this is your preferred taste, and/or if you need aged kimchi for certain recipes. Enjoy!
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