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Quick Kimchi (Mak Gimchi)

Kimchi is the name given to any number of fermented vegetables in Korea as a means to preserve the fall harvest for the cold winter months. This quick, small batch version is an easy way to learn how to make kimchi. Serve it as an accompaniment to other dishes providing spicy, salty, sour notes.

A bowl of easy homemade kimchi set by a bowl of rice and with the jar of kimchi behind it.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

It’s usually a combination of a main vegetable (like Napa cabbage or a radish), garlic, ginger, chile powder, salt, and a salted seafood or fish sauce. The most popular version is baechu kimchi, which is made from Napa cabbage, but there are nearly 200 “official” varieties in Korea!

In this quick version, the cabbage is chopped into bite-sized pieces and mixed with the seasoning. The result is an easy kimchi with still a bit of bite, and all the salty, sour, spicy, and pungent flavors you’d expect from a vegetable pickled with fish sauce and garlic.

My Personal Kimchi Story

Growing up in Korea, kimchi-making was a communal affair, because each household would put up gallons of kimchi to feed their entire family for the winter.

“Kimjang” was a neighborhood party where the ladies of the village would take turns helping each other with each household’s kimchi-making. Fall was a time for my sister and me to peel pounds and pounds of garlic for my mom’s annual kimchi.

Lucky for us, we can make smaller batches now since we have refrigeration and don’t have to preserve an entire harvest before first snowfall.

Two jars of Easy Homemade Kimchi with metal chopsticks holding up a piece of it.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Why Kimchi Is Good for You

The fermentation process of making kimchi produces probiotics, like the bacteria found in yogurt and sauerkraut.

The probiotics promote not only good digestive health, but also support the immune system, heart health and have anti-inflammatory properties. The only downside of kimchi is its high salt content.

Tips for Making Kimchi

When making kimchi traditionally, I stuff individual leaves into a jar, but that takes a lot of time. For this version, I chop the cabbage into bite-sized pieces and mix the vegetables and seasonings together in one go.

It’s not only easier to make, but also convenient to eat, because it’s already pre-cut and ready to serve.

  • Choose vegetables that are dense and feel heavy for their size.
  • Wear gloves when making kimchi, not only because the chili powder might burn and stain your hands, but also the garlic and fish sauce is pretty pungent.
  • Use quart-sized canning jars with plastic lids. The salt corrodes the metal lids, and there’s no need for sealing the jars, which means the plastic lids work well here.

Ways to Adapt this Kimchi Recipe

Kimchi is easy to adapt to personal dietary and taste preferences.

  • Make it vegetarian: Replace the fish sauce with an equal amount of sea salt and a tablespoon of kelp powder to add that extra depth of flavor.
  • Adjust the heat: Add less chili powder or make white kimchi with no chili powder at all. That’s how the royals used to eat it, because spicy food was considered too common for royal palates!
  • Chile Options: It’s best to use Korean chili powder if you can find it. If not, you can use cayenne pepper, chile de arbol, or red pepper flakes.
Two jars filled iwth a Korean Kimchi recipe.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

How Do You Know When Kimchi is Ready?

You can eat the kimchi freshly made—sort of like a salad, sprinkled with toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. However, it’s best to let it ferment for at least a day or two before eating.

How Long Will Quick Kimchi Keep?

Store kimchi in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. It will get more sour and stronger in flavor, even getting a little effervescent, the longer it ferments.

What to Serve with Kimchi

Serve on the side of any Korean meal with rice and a variety of other banchan (side dishes). It’s also nice as a condiment to spice up any meat dishes or a salad that needs a kick.

The longer Kimchi ferments, the more sour it will become. When it becomes too sour to eat on its own, you can use it as in ingredient to make kimchi mandu (dumplings), kimchi jjigae (stew), fried rice, kimchi buchingae (flatcakes), mixed noodles, or any number of kimchi dishes.

A bowl with easy homemade kimchi is in front of the jar of it and white rice is behind it.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

More Easy Recipes for Preserving Vegetables

Quick Kimchi (Mak Gimchi)

Prep Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 30 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 (4 pounds) Napa cabbage, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 (1 pound) Mu or Daikon radish, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 4 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup Korean chili powder (gochu galu)
  • 6 to 8 garlic cloves (1/4 cup), minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce

Method

  1. Salt the cabbage and let it rest

    Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. Mix until combined and add water until just covered (about 3 cups). Let sit for 2 hours, mixing it a couple of times to be sure it is salted evenly, and the cabbage has gone limp.

    Napa cabbage cut in half on a cutting board for a Korean kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    Napa cabbage being chopped on a cutting board for an easy homemade kimchi.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    Napa cabbage in a mixing bowl and topped with salt for a Korean kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    Water being added to the bowl with cabbage and salt to show how to make kimchi.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
  2. Reserve come cabbage water and drain

    Reserve 1 cup of the salt water and set it aside (you may not need to use it, but its good to have it just in case). Drain the remaining water from the cabbage and rinse well with cold water. Place the cabbage back into the same large bowl.

    Chopped Napa cabbage in a metal bowl for a Korean Kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients

    In another large mixing bowl, add the radish, scallions, garlic, ginger, chili powder, sugar, and fish sauce. Use your gloved hands to fully combine the ingredients.

    Diakon radish shredded with a box grater to make an easy homemade kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    Scallions chopped at a diagonal for an easy homemade kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    Spices in a bowl for a Korean Kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
    A flexible spatula mixes ingredients to show how to make kimchi.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
  4. Combine the vegetable mixture with the salted cabbage

    Using gloved hands, massage the flavor into the cabbage and mix well until all of the cabbage is covered in the seasoning.

    A metal mixing bowl with ingredients to show how to make kimchi.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
  5. Pack the jars

    Pack the cabbage mixture into 2 quart-sized glass jars, pressing down to get rid of any air bubbles and to pack tightly. Pour a little bit of the reserved salty water to cover the cabbage and leave an inch of headspace to allow for expansion.

    Two jars filled iwth a Korean Kimchi recipe.
    Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee
  6. Wait:

    You can place the kimchi in the refrigerator right after packing the jars to ferment or a milder flavor or you can leave it on the counter in a cool, dark place with the lids slightly ajar for up to two days before transferring it to the refrigerator for a stronger flavor.

    Once two days have passed or you’ve opened the jar, place it in your refrigerator.

  7. Enjoy

    Serve on the side of any Korean meal with rice or salad.