Red cabbage kimchi
Fermenting & Pickling, Recipes

Red Cabbage Kimchi

Kimchi is one of those things that seems so exotic but is so ridiculously easy to make at home — and fresh, homemade kimchi is infinitely better tasting than anything you can buy from the market.

If you’ve never had this fermented side dish, think of it like a spicy Korean version of sauerkraut. The smoke and fire comes from gochugaru, a Korean red pepper powder (sometimes also called Korean chile flakes or Korean chili powder, but definitely not to be confused with American red pepper flakes or American chili powder).

Homemade kimchi is a pungent and complex blend of flavors owing to traditional spices (gochugaru, garlic and ginger) as well as a puree of Asian pear and yellow onion, which adds a subtle sweetness without the need for sugar. I use red cabbage for the same antioxidant benefits I get from my ruby kraut. (But you can also use the more traditional napa cabbage.)

Similar to kraut, kimchi is full of probiotic goodness and it’s not solely limited to Korean dishes. I’ve made kimchi omelets, kimchi quesadillas, kimchi pizza, and even spooned a heaping of kimchi on a baked potato. This version is a medium spicy that won’t burn your tongue off, but still has enough heat and tang to make a meal interesting.

Red Cabbage Kimchi

Makes 3 quarts

Ingredients

2 pounds red cabbage, chopped
1/4 cup pickling salt
1/2 pound daikon, julienned
1/2 pound carrot, julienned
6 green onions, sliced into 1-inch segments
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 small Asian pear (or apple), peeled, cored and chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 cup dechlorinated water
1/2 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
2 tablespoons fish sauce

Method

Red cabbage tends to be a tad tougher than napa cabbage, so I chop mine into thin, bite-sized pieces.

Red cabbage

In a very large bowl, massage the salt into the cabbage until the leaves start to release liquid.

Massage the salt into the cabbage to draw out moisture

Cover with water and let the cabbage sit at room temperature for at least two hours while the salt draws out moisture. Periodically toss the cabbage and work your hands through the leaves to expel more moisture.

Soak red cabbage in brine

After about two hours, the cabbage should be soft and limp, and the volume reduced in half. (If yours is still firm and full, come back to it after another hour or two.)

Strain the cabbage and rinse under running water to remove excess salt.

Strain again, then return the cabbage to the bowl. Add daikon, carrot, green onions, garlic, and ginger.

Red cabbage, daikon, carrots, green onions, garlic, and ginger

In a blender, combine the Asian pear (or apple, if using), yellow onion, water, gochugaru, and fish sauce, and give everything a whirl until smooth. Pour the sauce over the vegetables.

Gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)

Gochugaru, Asian pear, and yellow onion puree

Pour sauce over the veggies

Now, don some gloves (the sauce can be pretty spicy and smelly to work with!) and give the kimchi a good rubdown, making sure the veggies are well combined and coated with sauce.

Toss the veggies with sauce

Pack the kimchi into jars, leaving 1 to 2 inches of headspace. The veggies will expand and release more liquid as they ferment, so you don’t want to overfill the jars.

Tamp down the veggies with the back of a spoon to fully submerge them. I find that there’s always enough liquid in the jars to keep them submerged, and since the liquid is more of a paste, the veggies don’t float to the top as in other ferments.

Submerge the veggies under sauce

Wipe the rims clean, then loosely seal with lids and let the jars ferment at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for at least three days. (It wouldn’t be a bad idea to place the jars in a shallow baking dish to catch any overflow of liquid.)

Homemade kimchi with red cabbage

Red cabbage kimchi

Every day, press down on the veggies with a spoon to expel more liquid and make sure everything is shipshape. A proper ferment should have no mold and no off smell.

After three days, you can start tasting the kimchi; refrigerate when the flavor has fermented to your liking. It should take on a spicy, sour taste. Some people like less sour and some like more sour, but you should definitely wait for your kimchi to take on a noticeably tangy taste if you want all the beneficial Lactobacilli in your ferment. I like to let mine brew for up to a week at room temperature for a more intense flavor.

Don’t worry if you feel that 3 quarts is too much kimchi for you to handle — let one of the jars get too sour in the fridge, and next month I’ll share one of my favorite Korean comfort food recipes that uses overly fermented kimchi!

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  • ElenaW

    Oops, I meant to spell it Gochujang!!

  • ElenaW

    Hello! I have a prepared Korean chili sauce called Gocgujang, would this be an ok sub for the chili powder (certainly not in the same portion as the powder) and if so any suggestions on how much?

    Thank you for your reply!
    Elena
    Wisconsin

    • Yes, you can use gochujang (pepper paste) in place of gochugaru (pepper powder) but your kimchi will probably have a slightly sweeter, earthier flavor. I’ve never tried it so I don’t really know the proper amount to use; maybe start with half (the amount of gochugaru called for) and add more to taste. Personally, I’d add one or two fresh red chile peppers as well, unless you prefer your kimchi on the mild side.

  • Kim

    I made this recipe and I did not have enough liquid to cover the veggies so I use some of the left over water from when i soaked the cabbage in distilled water. How will that affect the flavor? I noticed after the fact that you suggested to make more gonchugara sauce in another conversation if there is not enough liquid.

    • The extra cabbage liquid should be fine, assuming you only added a small amount to submerge the vegetables. You may find that after a few days, the cabbage starts to expel more liquid of its own as it ferments as well.

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  • Rikke

    I just made this recipe and I decided to taste my kimchi.

    It tastes kind of “fizzy.” It tastes like I’m eating “kimchi soda.” Did I do something wrong? I mean, It made 3 jars. I’m kind of nervous about it. Other than that it tastes good.

    • It’s natural to see bubbles while your kimchi is fermenting. If it tastes good, it’s probably ready and can be refrigerated (at which point the fermentation process will slow down considerably).

      • Rikke

        I meant that when I chew it, it tastes a little fizzy. Kind of like I’m eating cabbage using the same stuff they use to make pop rocks “fizz and pop” in one’s mouth. Is that normal? I worked so hard and I don’t want to end up throwing it away T_T

        • I’ve never had kimchi taste fizzy, but if it looks, smells, and tastes fine, it’s probably nothing to worry about.

        • Sigh of Relief

          It makes me think of the fine fizzy bubbles in champagne. I love kimchi!

  • Saiya N.

    I know the premise of this recipe is based around red cabbage but I was wondering if one could use green cabbage as well.

    Where I live it’s pretty hard to get red cabbage without paying an arm and a leg. I’m in college and money is kind of tight.

    The recipe looks amazing and I bet it tastes even better.

  • Kate Malkin

    So excited to find this recipe as I have several heads of red cabbage left in my garden…. I’ve never made Kim chi before, so thanks for the good instructions, but can I use a different spice? I live in a small town in Vt with no Korean grocery near by…. I’m sure I could find it on line, but I need to make it soon before the frost kills my cabbage.

    • If by spice, you mean a substitute for the gochugaru, you certainly can… but it would take on a totally different flavor. It isn’t necessarily bad, but if you know what traditional red kimchi should taste like, using a different spice could yield a surprising result. You would also need to experiment with the proportions of the spice(s) you choose, as using a full 1/2 cup of something else could make the kimchi much too spicy/smoky/etc. I recommend buying gochugaru online from Amazon, or from a Korean grocer like hmart.com.

  • lisaku50

    Hi, I made as instructed but there was very little liquid in which to submerge the vegetables fully. Now on their second day the liquid is still about half way up the jars, even after I press the veggies down hard. Does this mean I am inviting bacteria in a bad way, and that if the veggies aren’t IN the liquid, the whole batch is a loss?

    • Leaving the vegetables exposed will cause them to eventually mold on the surface, so I recommend making a little more of the gochugaru sauce to add to your jars.

  • Rahari

    Bless you, bless you and bless you! I just tasted mine after three days of fermenting. It’s more than bloody fantastic. I was out of Korean radish (my roommate used the last of it w/o my knowledge) and so I ended up upping my carrot quantity.

    I added some blended habanero peppers to it since that’s the spice level that I grew up with and enjoy, so that’s another little tweak I did to your wonderful recipe.

    It’s spicy, pungent, not overly sour and the flavors intertwine just perfectly plus it is absolutely beautiful to look at.

    Thank you for this recipe. I now need to figure out how to hoard this all to myself 😀

    • I’m so happy it turned out well for you! Enjoy!!

  • Wonderful!

  • Angela White

    Thank you for posting your delicious recipe. I made this about three days ago. I had to make some modifications because I did not have time to go to my local Asian market to see if they had the daikon or red pepper powder. It turned such a beautiful purple red color and smells absolutely delicious. I can’t wait to eat it. Thanks you again!

  • Debbie Vanderveer

    I have just made my first Kimchi. It has been sitting in a dark pantry for 2 weeks. Just pulled it out and the top quarter is purple, while the remaining 3/4 is pink. Is this safe to eat??

    • It just sounds like an uneven distribution of pigments from the red cabbage. As long as there isn’t black mold on the surface (and the kimchi doesn’t smell rotten) it’s safe to eat.

      • Debbie Vanderveer

        Thank you Linda, I don’t have any mold at all. I had a tiny taste and it still tastes very vinegary. So I have put it back to ferment longer. Hope it works!!

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  • Love this…here I was in my kitchen, contemplating making this, and I think, wait, the Internet has already done this….and here it is, in great detail and looking good. Thanks!

    • LOL thank you… it’s amazing how the Internet always seems to be on the same wavelength as you. 😉

  • Emily Sullivan

    Hooray! A recipe for Kimchi with red cabbage. I was going to make a Napa Cabbage Kimchi and some red cabbage sauerkraut (spanning the globe here…) but after taking off all the bad leaves, my Napa was TINY! So now I’m using a little napa and the rest red… thanks for sharing your recipe and beautiful photos!

  • Dayanara

    I live in Culver City, where can I find good quality gochugaru? In Koreatown? Do you have a recommendation for a specific market? Also will the flavor be affected too much if I omit the fish sauce?
    Thanks!

    • Dayanara

      Sorry didn’t see the question below about the fish sauce ignore that part haha. Thanks again.

    • I’m not familiar with markets in that area, but you can easily Yelp a Korean market nearby. Gochugaru is a very common ingredient so you’ll be able to find it in any Korean market, typically sold in plastic bags in the spice aisle.

  • Marylynn Côté

    Hmm… decided to try this recipe out. I misread the instructions and used a 4-5lb cabbage. I also just used tap water since I don’t have de-chlorinated. I at least let the tap water sit for a little while. Is my kimchi possibly ruined?

    • The tap water should be fine. But if you used 5 lbs of cabbage and kept the same amount of spice ingredients, the kimchi probably won’t be flavorful enough, even after it’s fermented. You can mix in the extra spices now, or just wait and see how it actually tastes.

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  • Aparna

    If you leave out the fish sauce will it greatly affect the taste?

    • If you’re familiar with how kimchi should taste, the fish sauce does make a noticeable difference.

  • Beautifull and exellent. Thank for sharing

  • Tanya @ Lovely Greens

    Oh yum yum yum! I love Kimchee 🙂 Though not for all three meals (including breakfast) like the Koreans do it.

    Reading that cloves were in your recipe was a surprise…is that your own invention? Sounds interesting!

    • Cloves of garlic, not clove buds. 🙂

      • Tanya @ Lovely Greens

        Haha 🙂

  • Brittany

    Looks beautiful! I’ve been thinking about making kimchi for a while. There’s a napa cabbage in my fridge right now, just waiting for the opportunity to be transformed and then delivered to my mouth on some fish tacos. I’ve been digging fermentation lately; I started a nukadoko, which makes delicious pickles!

    • Ohhh interesting! I’ve heard of nukadoko but never attempted it myself because of the constant monitoring it requires. But I’m intrigued!

      • Brittany

        Yeah, it requires some watching, and some time to come up to speed. I was kind of worried about the investment required – what if the pickles were super funky tasting? I mean, come on, it’s fermented rice bran and seaweed. But the pickles are totally ordinary, light-tasting and fresh. And definitely “fast food” in terms of pickling, needing only a few hours for small, thin veggies and overnight for larger ones. They’re a bit soft (no pickle crisp in the recipe, haha) but quite good.

  • Making Kimchi has been on my short list for a while. I am totally jazzed to have such great instructions!

    • It’s so easy that it might even become part of your standard kitchen rotation! Have fun!

  • Jane Sperr

    Awesome! I’m a kimchi lover but I’ve never tried to make kimchi with red cabbage – this looks so ono I have to try it!!

    • You can try other brassicas too, like bok choy or mustard. In fact, you can kimchi pretty much any vegetable like green onions, radishes, and cucumbers (all favorites of mine).

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