Cooking with Kimchi

Crunchy, spicy, tangy, refreshing, velvety, mild—there’s a kimchi for every taste.

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This spicy kimchi has carrot, ginger and cayenne pepper.

Dawna Edwards

Content Tools

Seoul is a gardener’s paradise. Gardens bloom everywhere, from the elaborate formal affairs on the grounds of the gorgeous, historic palaces, to dooryard plots outside family homes, to tiny container gardens along the thoroughfares of the shopping districts. The vegetable-loving Koreans make use of every space possible.

A cornucopia of vegetables is featured at nearly every Korean meal. A typical dinner consists of a main dish, soup, rice and many small side dishes, called banchan. The banchan usually include cooked vegetables, salads and fish, and always feature the ubiquitous Korean pickled vegetables called kimchi — often three or four kinds.

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is more than a food in Korea — it’s practically a national symbol. A survey of Koreans found that about 60 percent eat kimchi at every meal.

Kimchi’s nutritional properties form an enormous source of national pride. You’d be hard pressed to find any Korean reference to kimchi that doesn’t proclaim it as a health-giving food, full of vitamins and high in fiber and nutrients.

This dish doesn’t have to be limited to Korean dinner tables. You can experience the fabulous flavor and health benefits in your own kitchen. If you’ve tasted kimchi, chances are it was spicy tongbaechu kimchi, the best-known type, made from cabbage. The next most familiar variety, pungent kkakdugi, begins with cubed white radish. Both of these zesty, brilliant red-orange pickles burn with red-pepper fire.

However, the Korean Food Academy has categorized more than 100 different types of kimchi — probably at least that many more remain unrecorded — and not all of them are spicy. Though pickling in Korea has been documented as far back as the Three Kingdoms period (57 b.c. to a.d. 668), hot peppers weren’t introduced there until the 17th century.

Some kimchis are similar to Western-style pickles. Some resemble sauerkraut or Indian-style chutney. Others, such as dongchimi, or water kimchi, seem more like piquant cold soups. Every region of Korea boasts its own special kimchi recipes, and each season offers deliciously different kinds as the harvest progresses. Crunchy, spicy, tangy, refreshing, velvety, mild—there’s a kimchi for every taste.

Besides cabbage and radishes, Koreans also pickle cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkin and many other vegetables, as well as meat and fish. Wild plants like burdock root, Chinese bellflower root, stonecrop and mugwort also find their way into the Korean pickling crock.

Along with its traditional role as a side dish, kimchi is incorporated into stews, soup, fried rice and dumplings. It’s rolled into kimbap, the Korean equivalent of maki sushi, and packed into sandwiches. Today, it even shows up on hamburgers and pizzas. Kimchi is so important to Koreans that Seoul boasts a museum devoted to it.

In late October or early November, Korean households traditionally prepare kimchi for the winter months. During the hectic fall pickling session, called kimjang, which can take several days, everyone in the family pitches in, neighbors team up, and women and men are called on to assist in the process.

As this season approaches, temporary markets spring up, offering huge piles of kimchi ingredients. Trucks haul tons of cabbages, radishes and chiles to the cities. Some Korean firms give kimjang bonuses to their employees in November, to ease the financial strain of buying all those kimchi makings. The city of Kwangju in the southern province of Jeolla holds an annual kimchi festival each October.

As an act of friendship, housewives often exchange dishes of kimchi, sharing samples of each family’s traditional recipes, handed down from generation to generation. “The taste of kimchi is the taste of your mother’s fingertips,” a popular adage says.

The kimchi, packed in crocks, lasts throughout the winter. Traditionally, each household kept a crock jar terrace in the kitchen or garden. In the country, it was customary to bury kimchi jars in the ground, covered with straw.

Today, of course, the availability of cabbages, radishes and other vegetables year-round means that fewer families engage in an extensive kimjang. Many Koreans now buy ready-made kimchi instead of making their own, but the pickles remain a permanent fixture on the Korean table.

Tongbaechu Kimchi (Traditional Cabbate-Head Kimchi)

Serves about 20

This is the most traditional type of kimjang, or winter kimchi, prepared in autumn for use throughout the cold months. When selecting cabbage for kimchi, look for heavy, medium-sized heads that are white inside and light green outside. Wear gloves when working with the red pepper-seasoned vegetables, and be careful not to touch your eyes!

• 5 Napa cabbages
• 2 1/2 cups kosher salt
• 10 cups water
• 1/2 cup Korean fish paste or anchovy paste
• 2 cups ground red pepper
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 daikon radishes, peeled and cut in matchsticks
• 5 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
• 4 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 6 inches fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated
• 1 1/4 pounds mustard greens
• 2 cups shucked oysters, rinsed in salted water and drained
• 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
• Additional salt as needed

1. Trim off the large outer leaves of the cabbages and set aside. Cut the centers in half (or quarters if large), inserting the knife through the root end and splitting the rest of it with your hands.

2. Prepare salted water by dissolving 2 1/2 cups of salt in water, then soak the cabbage halves and leaves in it for 6 to 8 hours. Rinse the cabbage thoroughly in running water and drain well. Let dry on paper towels.

3.bCombine the fish paste, red pepper and sugar. Mix the fish paste mixture with the radishes, continuing to mix until they are imbued with red color. Stir in the garlic, green onions, ginger, mustard leaves, oysters and sesame seed.

4. Pack the vegetable mixture between the layers of cabbage leaves. Fold an outer cabbage leaf around the ingredients and then place into a stoneware crock. Sprinkle each layer of cabbage bundles with some salt. On the top, cover the cabbage bundles with cabbage leaves and another sprinkle of salt. Then place a plate on top and add a heavy weight on top to compress it. Store the crock in a cold place.

5. The kimchi will be ready to eat in about two weeks, but will continue to ferment. To slow down fermentation, remove the kimchi to a glass jar and refrigerate. It should keep at least 2 months. Serves about 20.

Gut Churi Kimchi (Instant Kimchi)

• 2 cloves garlic, pressed
• 1 teaspoon ground red pepper
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon rice-wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon Asian toasted sesame oil
• 3 cups chopped napa cabbage
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Combine the garlic, red pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil in a large bowl. Add the cabbage and mix well. Add the salt, sugar and sesame seed; toss well, cover and let stand until ready to serve. Refrigerate leftovers. Serves 4.

Kkakdugi (Hot Radish Kimchi)

This spicy radish pickle is the second most common type of winter kimchi. Look for firm radishes; avoid any that seem porous. Koreans save the leaves, which they use for kimchi and soups.

• 1 large daikon radish, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
• 1/3 cup kosher salt
• 1/2 cup ground red pepper
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon rice flour
• 3/4 cup water
• 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed and cut into 2-inch lengths
• 1 green onion, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1/2 cup dried shrimp (available at Asian markets)
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1. Sprinkle the radish with salt and let stand at room temperature 2 hours. Drain well.

2. In a small saucepan, boil the rice flour with water into a thin paste-gruel and let cool.

3. Mix the salted radish cubes with the red pepper powder and sugar. Add the watercress, green onion, ginger, garlic, shrimp and rice paste to the radish and mix well. Sprinkle with sesame seed. Pack tightly into a crock and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Then transfer to a jar and refrigerate. Serves 4 to 6.

Dongchimi (Radish Water Kimchi)

• 1 pound daikon radish
• 2 green onions, slivered
• 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
• 1 red chile pepper, seeded and slivered (optional)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 2 cups water

1. Cut the radish into sticks 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Combine with the green onions, ginger, chile and garlic in a medium bowl; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the salt, mix well and let stand, covered, overnight.

2. In another bowl, combine the remaining salt, sugar and water. Let this mixture stand overnight, then pour it over the radish mixture. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

3. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate up to 1 week. Serve the chilled liquid in bowls with some of the vegetables. Serves 4.

Jjokpa Kimchi (Scallion Kimchi)

• 2 large bunches green onions, trimmed
• 1 cup clam juice
• 1 cup ground red pepper
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 inch fresh ginger root, grated
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/3 cup kosher salt or to taste
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

1. Place a layer of onions in a spacious container and sprinkle with clam juice. Put another layer on top and sprinkle with more clam juice. Repeat until all the sheaths are used up. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Combine the ground red pepper with enough water to make a paste. Add the garlic, ginger, sugar, salt and sesame seeds.

3. Apply the seasoning to the onions and work in well. Take 2 or 3 onions and fold them into a bundle, wrapping around the center with one of the greens. Pile the bundles neatly in a crock and let ferment at room temperature for several days. If the taste is to your liking, transfer to a jar in the refrigerator; otherwise, let it stand longer to let the flavors continue to sharpen. Serves 6.

Kimchi Bokumbap (Kimchi and Tuna Fried Rice)

• 1/2 cup cabbage kimchi with liquid
• 3 tablespoons peanut oil
• 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
• 1 (6-ounce) can tuna, drained
• 2 cups cooked rice
• Salt and pepper to taste 2 eggs

1. Drain the kimchi, reserving the liquid; chop the cabbage into small pieces. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Fry the chopped onion until tender and transparent, then add the tuna and chopped kimchi.

3. Stir in the rice, breaking it up with a wooden spatula; cook until the onion has browned. Add the kimchi liquid, and continue cooking until it is absorbed.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, fry the two eggs, sunny-side up. Taste the rice and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve topped with fried eggs. Serves 2.

Kimchi Chigae (Pork and Kimchi Stew)

• 3 tablespoons peanut oil
• 1/2 pound boneless pork chop, cubed
• 1/2 medium onion, peeled and sliced
• 2 cups chopped cabbage kimchi with liquid
• 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in water and diced
• 3 cups water
• 12 ounces tofu, cubed
• 2 green onions, sliced

1. In a wok or dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil. Stir-fry the pork and onion. When meat is browned, drain the kimchi, saving the liquid. Add the cabbage and the mushrooms to the pan, and cook, stirring, until well-combined.

2. Stir in the kimchi liquid and bring to a boil, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, bring to a fast simmer and remove from heat.

3. Stir in the tofu and green onions. Serves 4.

Kimchi Jeon (Kimchi Pancakes)

Serve these savory pancakes as a snack or appetizer. For crisp pancakes, use a mixture of all-purpose and rice flours.

Sauce:
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
• 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
• 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar

Pancakes:
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all- purpose flour and 1/2 cup rice flour)
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
• 1 cup drained and chopped cabbage kimchi
• 1/4 cup kimchi liquid
• 1 bunch green onions, sliced
• 2 green chile peppers, minced
• Vegetable oil

1. Make the sauce: Stir together all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Make the pancakes: In a large bowl, mix the flour with water and egg. Stir in the garlic, kimchi and its liquid, onions and peppers.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Pour in a quarter of the batter and spread to make a large, thin pancake and cook until lightly browned and crisp at the edges. Then flip and cook the other side. Remove to a heated platter. Repeat with the remaining batter.

4. Cut the pancakes into wedges and serve with the sauce. Serves 4.

Kimchi Burgers

For a simpler version, just use chopped kimchi as a relish on your favorite burgers.

• 1 cup chopped, drained cabbage kimchi
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, lightly mix the kimchi, beef, garlic, salt and pepper. Taking care not to overpack the beef, form into 4 patties. Grill or broil to the desired doneness. Serves 4.

Kimchi Varieties

Here are some of the many types of kimchi.

Cabbage

Baechu kimchi — Cabbage kimchi
Tongbaechu kimchi — Whole-cabbage kimchi
Bossam kimchi — Stuffed and wrapped kimchi
Yang baechu kimchi — Savoy cabbage kimchi
Sokdae kimchi — Cabbage-heart kimchi
Baek kimchi — White kimchi
Ssidoriu kimchi — Cabbage left in the field for seed kimchi
Eolgari kimchi — Winter-grown cabbage kimchi
Donga seokbakji — Winter buds salad
Baechu seokbakji — Cabbage salad
Mul kimchi — Water plain kimchi

Radish

Chonggak kimchi — Pony-tail kimchi
Ppalgan muu kimchi — Red radish kimchi
Suk kimchi — Boiled radish kimchi
Chae kimchi — Shredded kimchi
Bineul kimchi — Scale-shaped kimchi
Muu cheong kimchi — Radish tops kimchi
Nabak kimchi — All-season juicy kimchi
Aemu kimchi — Baby radish kimchi
Danmuji — Pickled radish
Yeolmugamja kimchi — Young radish potato kimchi
Mubae kimchi — Radish pear kimchi
Muu mallaengi — Semi-dried radish chips
Pa kimchi — Stone-leek kimchi
Mu jjanji — Radish in brine
Muu seokbakji — Radish salad
Dongchimi — Water kimchi
Seoul dongchimi — Seoul water kimchi
Nabok dongchimi — Radish water kimchi
Silgwa dongchimi — Fruit water kimchi
Mu jjanji — Radish in brine
Yeolmu jjanji — Young radish in brine
Ppalgan muu sobagi — Stuffed red radish pickles
Muucheong sobagi — Stuffed radish tops pickles
Muu saengchae — Radish salad

Cucumber

Oi kkakdugi — Diced-cucumber kimchi
Oi mul kimchi — Cucumber water plain kimchi
Sobagi kimchi — Stuffed pickles
Oi sobagi — Stuffed cucumber pickles
Baechussam oi sobagi — Wrapped cabbage and stuffed cucumber pickles
Gochu sobagi — Stuffed pepper pickles
Oi songsongi — Diced-cucumber kimchi

Seaweed

Parae kimchi — Sea lettuce kimchi
Miyeok kimchi — Brown seaweed kimchi
Cheonggak kimchi — Gloiopeltis furcata kimchi

Other Vegetables

Hobak kimchi — Autumn pumpkin kimchi
Kkaennip kimchi — Sesame leaf kimchi
Minariu kimchi — Parsley kimchi
Naengi kimchi — Shepherd’s purse kimchi
Sigeumchi kimchi — Spinach kimchi
Kongnamul kimchi — Bean sprouts kimchi
Godeulppaegi kimchi — Korean lettuce kimchi
Bak kimchi — Gourd kimchi
Juksun kimchi — Bamboo shoot kimchi
Ssukgat kimchi — Crown daisy kimchi
Kogumajulgi kimchi — Sweet potato vine pickle
Gaji kimchi — Eggplant kimchi
Dallae kimchi — Wild garlic kimchi
Memilsun kimchi — Buckwheat sprout kimchi
Doraji kimchi — Bellflower roots kimchi
Dureup kimchi — Aralia elata kimchi
Buchu kimchi — Chinese chives kimchi
Gochu kimchi — Pepper kimchi
Put maneul kimchi — Unripe garlic kimchi
Silpa kimchi — Small green onion kimchi
Keotjeori kimchi — Kimchi pickled not long before eating
Seongnyu kimchi — Pomegranate kimchi
Gatji — Jeolla Province mustard pickles
Sigeumchi mul kimchi — Spinach water plain kimchi
Gaji mul kimchi — Eggplant water plain kimchi
Dolnamul mul kimchi — Stonecrop water plain kimchi
Maneul jangajji — Pickled garlic
Maneuljjong jangajji — Pickled garlic stalk
Dallae jangajji — Pickled wild garlic
Gochunnip jangajji — Pickled red pepper leaves
Putgochu jangajji — Pickled unripe red pepper
Pa jjanji — Stone-leek in brine
Paganghoe jjanji — Stone-leek and sliced meat in brine
Buchu jjanji — Chinese chives in brine
Sakhuin gochu jjanji — Fermented red pepper in brine
Gat sobagi — Stuffed mustard-leaf pickles
Deodeok sobagi — Stuffed Codonopsis lanceolata root pickles
Doraji saengchae — Balloonflower salad
Nogak saengchae — Yellowish overripe cucumber salad
Pa saengchae — Stone-leek Salad
Deodeok saengchae — Wild Codonopsis lanceolata salad
Yuja dongchimi — Citron and radish water kimch

Meat and Seafood

Gajami sikhae — Fillet of flounder
Mareun gogi sikhae — Pickled dried fish
Gul kimchi — Oyster kimchi
Daegu kimchi — Codfish kimchi
Bukeo kimchi — Dried pollack kimchi
Ojingeo kimchi — Squid kimchi
Jeonbok kimchi — Abalone kimchi
Dak kimchi — Chicken kimchi
Kkweong kimchi — Pheasant kimchi
Jeyuk kimchi — Pork kimchi
Ojingeo saengchae — Squid salad
Jeyuk saengchae — Pork salad
Tong daegu sobagi — Stuffed whole codfish pickles
Gul kkakdugi — Oyster diced-radish kimchi
Myeongtae kkagdugi — Alaska pollack diced-radish kimchi
Seogeori kimchi — Gills of Alaska pollack kimchi
Daegu kkakdugi — Codfish diced radish kimchi
Daegual kkakdugi — Cod roe diced radish kimchi
Changnanjeot kkakdugi — Salt-pickled pollack tripe