This kimchi recipe is a beginner’s guide using simple ingredients and makes traditional Korean kimchi. With essential kimchi making tips and step-by-step instructions, you can make healthy cabbage kimchi easily at home.

Freshly made cabbage kimchi (Mak-kimchi) is fermenting in two glass jars.

“My 4 year old daughter and I just made this recipe to a tee except I forgot the leeks and green onions. She went from being a food wimp to being a daring taster in the course of a day.”

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It is a wonderful phenomenon that more and more people around the world are trying Korean authentic kimchi recipes. That pleasantly pungent, sour, spicy, and perfectly salty taste — with the crisp texture of cabbage — indicate that you have yourself some good kimchi.

Koreans make their kimchi in different ways depending on the season and the purpose. Cabbage kimchi is perhaps the most well-known and common kimchi eaten in Korea. The next common kimchi would be the Cubed Radish Kimchi.

So, you are looking for a good kimchi recipe with a truly traditional taste, but with less effort? You are in the right place. This recipe for cabbage kimchi might be the one.

A bowl of cabbage is served with chopsticks on a wooden tray and napkin.

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional side dish and a staple food in Korean cuisine. A wide variety of vegetables, including napa cabbage and Korean radish, are salted then seasoned with a varying selection of Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), green onions, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce (akjeot, 액젓 or jeotgal, 젓갈).

About 100 different recognized varieties of kimchi are known to exist in South Korea. However, different regions in Korea have their own unique kimchi recipes that use various types of vegetables and methods. And every Korean household carries its own special family kimchi recipe, traditionally passed from mothers to daughters or daughter-in-laws, so it is hard to count the exact number of kimchi varieties.

Mak-kimchi (Easy Kimchi)

We call this kind of easy cabbage kimchi,“Mak-kimchi (막김치)”. The word “mak” is not a proper vocabulary word but it indicates a meaning of “whatever” or “anyway you like.” So as the name says, you can freely cut your cabbage as you like it without following any specific rules. It is an easy kimchi recipe and you can use any ingredients available to make it delicious.

What does kimchi taste like

Kimchi has a complex flavor and taste depending on the recipe. For the main flavor, it carries sour, spicy, and umami taste throughout due to the length of fermentation. Here are some of the characters of what good kimchi should include.

  • Crisp and crunchy texture: It should maintain its texture without going mushy even after a long fermentation.
  • Not vinegary: No kimchi recipe should have vinegar as an ingredient. Adding vinegar is almost an insult to Korean kimchi. If you are using vinegar, you are making a pickle, not kimchi.
  • Not too salty: Although a good amount of salt is used as a brine, in the end kimchi should not be too salty.
  • Refreshing aftertaste: A good kimchi should have a clean and refreshing aftertaste in your mouth.
  • Vibrant color: It should have a scarlet red hue, not brown (that’s an indication of the quality of your chili flakes).

Is kimchi good for you?

Kimchi is very good for you. It’s low in calories and fat while boasting an impressive list of nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Kimchi contains healthy bacteria and probiotics, which is effective at reducing cholesterol and improving gut health. It is also full of antioxidants and anti-aging properties, it can help reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as stroke, and diabetes.

Korean cabbage kimchi is stored in tow glass jars and fermenting.

What is Kimchi made of?

1. Cabbage

Use a whole head of Asian napa cabbage if you want to make it traditional. If Asian napa cabbage is not available in your area, try green cabbage kimchi using this recipe. It will have a different texture and taste, but it makes its own unique kimchi.

2. Korean coarse sea salt

The most important ingredient for making good kimchi is the salt. You will need to brine the cabbage with salt for 2 hours. I recommend using a good quality Korean coarse sea salt. Salt penetrates into the cabbage and draws the moisture out, which makes the cabbage wilt. The minerals in the salt bind with the cabbage, yielding a good flavor.

  • Can’t find Korean sea salt? — use any flaky sea salt or kosher salt, but only use 1/3 the recipe amount. Do not use table salt.

3. Korean Chili Flakes

Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) are perhaps the second most important ingredient. You have to use chili flakes, not the fine powder. Use the best quality you can afford — possibly a product of Korea (more expensive but worth the price). Look for a bright red hue in the chili flakes, and avoid brown flakes. See my Korean pantry page for more information.

  • There’s no substitution for Korean chili flakes. If you use a different type of chili flakes or chili powder, you will alter the flavor of kimchi vastly — and you could end up with something that is spicy beyond your imagination!

4. Starch

Starch helps kimchi to ferment ideally. The carbohydrates in the starch feed good bacteria (lactobacilli) to create a gas, which allows kimchi to develop its pungent sourness. Not all kimchi needs starch but cabbage kimchi can benefit greatly from it. There are a few different options of starch you can choose from.

  • Rice paste: boiling rice flour and water makes a glue-like paste.
  • Wheat paste: same cooking method as rice paste, but use wheat flour instead of rice flour.
  • Cooked rice: a great way to use up leftover rice. Use white rice.
  • Cooked potato: A plain cooked potato is another great starch to use in Kimchi. See my radish kimchi recipe for an idea.

5. Fish Sauce and Salted Shrimp

Traditional Korean kimchi recipes always uses Korean fish sauce and salted shrimps. Korean fish sauce is made with fermented anchovies, and salted shrimps are fermented baby shrimps. They are easily found in most Korean stores.

  • If you can’t find these sauces, substitute with Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, but reduce the amount to half.
  • If you can’t have the seafood sauces at all for a dietary reason, my vegan kimchi recipe will be more suitable.

6. Sweetener

A good kimchi needs a balance of spiciness and sweetness. Here’s a few sweetener options that are commonly used in Korean kimchi. For this recipe, I used a mixture of apple and pear nectar which I found it in my local Latin grocery store. I love the outcome!

  • Asian pear: The crisp, juicy, sweet Asian pear is the most widely used sweetener in traditional Korean kimchi. It’s natural and better for you.
  • Sweet red apple: Another natural fruit that is often used
  • Korean plum extract: It’s a syrup made with green plums that are often used in Korean cooking.
  • Sugar: an everyday ingredient that everyone has
  • Pear juice or nectar: Since it is a liquid, you don’t need to add the additional water.

7. Flavored Stock (Optional)

I like to add sea kelp stock or other flavored stock in the kimchi seasoning paste. It’s an optional addition – and you can use water instead. Kimchi stock will deepen the overall taste of kimchi and adds umami.

Kitchen Tools for making kimchi

Kitchen rubber gloves, large mixing bowl, and strainer is needed to make kimchi
  • Extra large mixing bowl: You will need it to soak the cabbage with salt. You could even use your kitchen sink.
  • Big colander: It’s for straining the extra water from the cabbage after rinsing them out.
  • Kitchen rubber gloves: Food-prep rubber kimchi gloves are to protect your hands from intensive red chili kimchi filling when you mix.
  • Storage jar(s): I recommend using glass food storage jar(s) with an airtight lid. They should be large enough to have room at the top, or use two smaller jars.
A bowl of cabbage kimchi and kimchi jars are on grey napkins

Here’s how to make easy kimchi recipe

Step 1: cut napa cabbage

Here are steps on how to cut nappa cabbage to make kimchi.

  • Get your cabbage and coarse sea salt.
  • Cut a 3-inch slit through the white stem part of cabbage.
  • Open up the cabbage from the white stem part using your hand. It should open up easily.
  • Cut additional slits on each cabbage half on the stem and open up again. By doing so, you are quartering the cabbage the Korean traditional way. Rinse the cabbage quarters once to wet them.
  • Dice cabbage quarters into large chunks. For the large outer leaves, slice them in half lengthwise first, then dice into chunks.
  • In a large bowl, put in a small layer of cabbage chunks and sprinkle about 2-3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the cabbage. Repeat the process several times, creating layers of cabbage chunks and salt.

Need a tutorial video?

I have posted a 30-minute kimchi recipe on my website before. I recommend watching the beginning part of my recipe tutorial video to understand how to cut cabbage the Korean traditional way. The 30-minute kimchi recipe itself is designed to make a quick small batch of kimchi as the title indicates. It is not suitable for a longer fermentation, though.

How to cut napa cabbage for Kimchi video tutorial

Step 2: salt brine for kimchi

Salting cabbage is an important step, and this easy brine method works best for making cut cabbage kimchi.

  • Let the cabbage soak for 2 hours, turning them upside down a couple of times during the soaking.
  • When you bend the white stem part of cabbage, if it bends with a gentle pressure, the brine step is completed.
  • Rinse the cabbage 3 times in water. Drain the cabbage in a colander, pressing down gently to remove excess water.

Step 3: make fruit and vegetable puree

Before you move on to make kimchi paste, puree the savory ingredients and sweet fruits together in a blender.

  • Combine onion, garlic, ginger, apple (or pear), sugar, Korean anchovy sauce, salted shrimp, and cooked rice (or other choice of starch) in a blender.
  • Pour in sea kelp stock (or water) to allow the blade to mix the ingredients. If using fruit nectar, you don’t need to add stock. Process everything until smooth.

How to make sea kelp stock: Simmer 2 cups water with a piece of dried sea kelp (dashima) in a pot over low heat for 5 minutes. Discard the sea kelp and let the stock cool.

Step 4: make kimchi paste and mix

Use good quality Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) for making kimchi paste. You want you kimchi to look its bright and vibrant red color.

  • Pour the fruit and vegetable puree in a large mixing bowl. Add Korean chili flakes, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning of kimchi paste for your liking. Let the paste rest for 5 minutes, so the chili flakes will get re-hydrated.
  • Put the drained cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Add leek (or green onion), fresh chili (if using), and kimchi paste to the cabbage.
  • Mix well to coat the cabbage with the seasoning paste. (Wear kitchen rubber gloves to protect your hands from getting stained or smelly.)
Idealy fermented napa cabbage kimchi is in a glass jar

Kimchi fermenting tips

Put kimchi in an airtight glass food storage jar(s). Let it sit in a room temperature for 1 day (or as long as 2 days, depending on the temperature). When you see a gas foaming and air bobbles appear, transfer your kimchi to the refrigerator and store it for 4-5 days before you serve.

How to store kimchi:

Unlike traditional cabbage kimchi, this easy version of cabbage kimchi (Mak-kimchi) is not intended for a very long storage period. But it will still last in the fridge for up to 2 months. After that, your kimchi will continue to ferment and become very sour and potent.

Fermented kimchi produces odor. Keep 1-2 box of odor absorbing baking soda in your fridge to keep the other food from the smell.

Recipes using cabbage kimchi

You can enjoy freshly made kimchi as a kimchi salad – Bossam or other Korean pork belly dishes are great to go with. If your kimchi has gone too sour to eat as is, do not throw it away. Sour kimchi makes a great base for the following dishes:

More easy kimchi recipes

Cabbage kimchi (Mak-kimchi) is fermenting in two glass jars

Easy Kimchi Recipe for Beginners

This kimchi recipe is a beginner’s guide and makes traditional Korean kimchi easily. You can enjoy the healthy benefit of homemade kimchi with this cabbage kimchi recipe.
5 from 6 ratings

Ingredients

  • 3 lb napa cabbage, about 1 head
  • 2/3 cup Korean coarse sea salt
  • 1 bunch green onion, sliced
  • 2-3 fresh red chili (optional), sliced

For kimchi paste

Instructions 

To salt brine the cabbage

  • Cut a 3-inch slit through the white stem part of cabbage. Open up the cabbage from the white stem part using your hand. It should open up easily. Cut additional slits on each cabbage half on the stem and open up again. By doing so, you are quartering the cabbage the Korean traditional way. Rinse the cabbage quarters once to wet them.
  • Dice cabbage quarters into large chunks. For the large outer leaves, slice them in half lengthwise first, then dice into chunks.
  • In a large bowl, put in a small layer of cabbage chunks and sprinkle about 2-3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the cabbage. Repeat the process several times, creating layers of cabbage chunks and salt.
  • Let the cabbage soak for 2 hours, turning them upside down a couple of times during the soaking. When you bend the white stem part of cabbage, if it bends with a gentle pressure, the brine step is completed. Rinse the cabbage 3 times in water. Drain the cabbage in a colander, pressing down gently to remove excess water.

To make kimchi paste

  • Combine onion, garlic, ginger, salted shrimps, fish sauce, cooked rice (or other choice of starch), and fruit in a blender. Pour in sea kelp stock (or water) to allow the blade to mix the ingredients. (If using fruit nectar, you don't need to add stock.) Process everything until smooth.
  • Pour the puree in a large mixing bowl. Add Korean chili flakes, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning of paste for your liking. Let the paste rest for 5 minutes, so the chili flakes will get re-hydrated.

To assemble kimchi

  • Put the drained cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Add leek (or green onion), fresh chili (if using), and kimchi paste to the cabbage.
  • Mix well to coat the cabbage with the seasoning paste. (Wear kitchen rubber gloves to protect your hands from getting stained or smelly.)

To ferment and store kimchi

  • Put kimchi in an airtight glass food storage jar(s). Let it sit in a room temperature for 1 day (or as long as 2 days, depending on the temperature). When you see a gas foaming and air bobbles appear, transfer your kimchi to the refrigerator and store it for 4-5 days before you serve. It will last in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Notes

How to make sea kelp stock: Simmer 2 cups water with a piece of dried sea kelp (dashima) in a pot over low heat for 5 minutes. Discard the sea kelp and let the stock cool.
Keep the odor out: Fermented kimchi produces odor. Keep 1-2 box of odor absorbing baking soda in your fridge to keep the other food from the smell.
Calories: 338kcal, Carbohydrates: 67g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Sodium: 33285mg, Potassium: 2584mg, Fiber: 25g, Sugar: 24g, Vitamin A: 16223IU, Vitamin C: 208mg, Calcium: 646mg, Iron: 11mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @beyondkimchee on Instagram. I love to see your masterpiece.