Napa Cabbage Kimchi (Korean Baechu-Kimchi)

5 from 7 votes
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How to make classic napa cabbage kimchi (aka baechu-kimchi/pogi-kimchi) – a tangy, savory, spicy Korean fermented cabbage and ultimate side dish! This Korean kimchi recipe is simple to follow, naturally gluten-free, and the spice levels can be adapted!

Kimchi served in a plate

In the last year or so, I’ve become interested in preserving methods like pickling and fermenting. But, alongside fermented garlic honey, kombucha, and various pickled ingredients like garlic, red onions, jalapenos, and cucumbers, somehow homemade kimchi had utterly passed me by. Until now, with this napa cabbage kimchi (Korean baechu-kimchi).

This pungent fermented cabbage dish is a popular (if not the most popular) Korean side dish and has hundreds of varieties. However, I’ve really been enjoying this classic whole-leaf napa cabbage kimchi version (aka baechu-kimchi or “pogi kimchi” – which refers to using the in-tact cabbage head). 

Two jars with kimchi

While kimchi has become more readily available in stores, you know what a sucker I am for making things at home, and homemade kimchi is more cost-effective and can easily be made “your own”! In addition, you can tweak the spiciness to your liking, which is very important (especially for palates not used to very spicy food).

What is Kimchi?

While, in recent years, we (non-Koreans) have come to think of kimchi/kimchee as a specific fermented cabbage dish, the term “kimchi” is actually an umbrella term for vegetable dishes that have been salted, seasoned, and then fermented. That means there are dozens of different varieties just for vegetables alone, hundreds (if not thousands) based on the regional differences and ingredient tweaks made from household to household. 

Kimchi in a jar

For this Korean kimchi recipe, I’m making napa cabbage kimchi (aka baechu-kimchi), using the whole leaves of the cabbage. This makes it a little more labor-intensive, as you have to spend time spreading the kimchi paste over each leaf. However, this traditional kimchi style is worth trying!

Due to the fermentation process, Korean kimchi is packed with healthy bacteria and has become well known as a gut-friendly probiotic food.

The Korean Kimchi Ingredients

Napa cabbage and salt for kimchi
  • Cabbage: Napa cabbage is the traditional choice. Read the FAQs for variations.
  • Salt: Traditionally, a coarse natural sea salt ( ‘Korean brining salt’ is used for salting the cabbage. However, you can use any coarse salt. If you need to use a finer salt, then reduce the amount used by about 1/4. 

The “porridge”

Porridge ingredients for kimchi

This is needed to allow all the spices to stick to the cabbage. 

  • I use a combination of glutinous rice flour, sugar, and water. Feel free to omit the sugar, if preferred.

For the Kimchi Paste

Kimchi seasoning ingredients
  • Chili: Korean chili powder or flakes (gochugaru) is critical to the authentic kimchi flavor. While it’s technically possible to make this cabbage kimchi with another type of chili, the taste will definitely change – adjust the amount based on how spicy you want your cabbage kimchi to be. 
  • Fish: I used a combination of fish sauce and shrimp paste. You can use store-bought shrimp paste or make your own by combining tiny shrimp with vinegar and salt). You could also decide to use one or the other (increase the amounts to make up for the other). 
  • Aromatics: I used a traditional combination of onion, garlic, and ginger.

The Vegetables

Vegetables for kimchi
  • Radish: Korean radish or Daikon.
  • Carrots.
  • Green Onion: “scallion”.
  • Asian Chives: “buchu”.

How to Make Traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi

Step 1: Wash the vegetables

First, wash all the vegetables (cabbage, radish, carrot, onion, green onion, chives, garlic, and ginger). I do this by soaking them in a large pot or directly in the kitchen sink. 

Step 2: Prepare the napa cabbage

Cut off the brown end of the “core” from the cabbage with a sharp knife.

Cutting the stem of cabbage

Next, turn the cabbage so the core is upwards and the leaves are against your surface and use a sharp knife to make an incision a few inches down into the cabbage (just enough to grip both halves). Then, with your hands, gently pull the two halves apart. 

Repeat this with the cabbage halves to create quarters – by separating the cabbage this way, the leaves remain attached.

Steps for cutting napa cabbage

Step 3: Salt the cabbage

First, dunk your cabbage sections into the water to get them wet, then liberally salt between each leaf, place the pieces in a large container, and then set aside. 

Wetting it first allows the salt to adhere better to the cabbage.

Steps for salting napa cabbage

Every 30 minutes for 2 hours (so, repeated four times), turn it over – move the cabbage section on top of the container to the bottom. This will allow all the leaves to soften and release water. 

Optionally, you can scoop up some of the released water and spoon it over the cabbage to further encourage softening.

Salted cabbage in a pot

After two hours, wash the cabbage to remove excess salt and gently squeeze to remove the excess water. Let it drain well.

Rinsing cabbage under water

Step 4: Prepare the kimchi “porridge” 

Meanwhile, as the cabbage is being salted, you can prepare the porridge mixture. Add the water and flour to a small pot and heat over medium heat for around ten minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Once the mixture begins to bubble, add the sugar, stir, and cook for a further minute or so until the sugar has dissolved.

Steps for making kimchi porridge

You can optionally sieve the mixture to remove any lumps. Otherwise, simply allow it to cool down completely before using it (this is why it’s great to cook this as soon as you’ve started the cabbage salting – to give it a chance to cool before the cabbage is ready). 

Kimchi porridge in a bowl

Step 5: Prepare the kimchi shrimp paste

First, peel and roughly chop the onion, ginger, and garlic. Then transfer them to a food processor to process into a paste. Alternatively, mince the ingredients by hand – but you’ll save so much time using a machine.

Steps for processing garlic and onion

Then, mix the processed ingredients with the porridge, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and Korean chili powder and whisk well until thoroughly combined.

Step 6: Prepare the vegetables

First, peel the radish and carrots. Then, use a vegetable peeler, mandoline, or knife, if your knife skills are good enough, to shred the radish and carrot into tin noodle-like julienned pieces(around ¼ inch/0.6 cm thin maximum). Alternatively, you can cut them into matchsticks.

Then cut the green onions (scallions) and chives into small pieces. Mine were around ½-1 inch/1.3-2.5 cm each, but you could cut them even smaller.

Chopped vegetables for kimchi

Step 7: Combine the Korean kimchi ingredients

In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables and kimchi paste and stir well. Because the radish contains a lot of water, this will naturally “thin” the paste over time.

Steps for making kimchi paste with veggies

Finally, it’s time to add the salted (and rinsed!) cabbage sections. Using one section at a time, fold some of the kimchi mixture into the cabbage, making sure to spread some of the paste over every leaf, so it’s thoroughly coated.

Steps for making kimchi

Then, roll the cabbage into a circle to fit your jar and lay it at the bottom of the jar and top with a few spoonfuls more of the kimchi paste. 

You could also use a traditional onggi for the fermentation (a type of Korean earthenware crockpot dish).

Napa cabbage filled with kimchi paste

Repeat this with the remaining cabbage and kimchi paste until the jar is ¾ full – making sure to leave a couple of inches at the top. This is because the cabbage will expand slightly from the fermentation. 

Instead of a jar, you can use any other air-tight container.

Your napa cabbage kimchi is ready to enjoy immediately. However, it’s best to allow it to ferment first.

A jar with kimchi

Step 8: Ferment the cabbage kimchi

Leave the jar to ferment for several days at room temperature (2-3 at least, up to 5 days) away from direct sunlight. Burp the jar from time to time (open the lid just for a moment) to allow any built-up gases to release so the jar doesn’t shatter. I do this 1-2 times per day, pressing lightly on the fermenting cabbage to ensure it stays beneath the kimchi “brine.” 

You may start to notice bubbling inside the jar during this time – that is the gases from the fermentation building up and is completely normal. 

Kimchi in a jar

Once it’s ready, transfer the jar of cabbage kimchi to your fridge (this will slow down the fermentation process) – the flavors will continue to develop over time, but you’re ready to enjoy it! 

I actually recommend storing it in the refrigerator for another week at least (for further fermentation) before enjoying it!

Different containers with kimchi

How to Store Cabbage Kimchi

I recommend storing this cabbage kimchi in a large sterilized, airtight glass jar in the refrigerator. If stored correctly and clean utensils are used each time when serving, the cabbage kimchi will last several months this way! 

I prefer the flavor within the first 2-3 months best. After that, it becomes increasingly sour – though that kimchi can still be used in several dishes.

Plating kimchi

How to Eat Kimchi?

There are tons, and I mean tons, of ways to enjoy this Korean kimchi recipe, including:

  • With rice or noodles – served alongside or used to make stir-fried kimchi rice.
  • Mixed into Korean pancakes.
  • As part of a Korean BBQ.
  • Made into kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae).
  • With eggs – it tastes delicious with scrambled or poached eggs on toast.
  • With bibimbap. Or enjoy with donburi-style bowls.
  • Served over proteins – meat, fish, or tofu.
  • With dumplings/gyoza.
  • To serve over congee and savory oatmeal. Or add to an omelette.
  • Add to sandwiches and wraps. Add to burgers.
  • Added to tteobokki (spicy rice cakes).
  • Over pasta dishes – like mac n’ cheese! Or even to top pizza.

That’s when you’re not eating it directly from the jar with a spoon, of course! The sky is the limit. Let me know in the comments what your favorite way to enjoy this cabbage kimchi is!

Scooping out kimchi from a jar

FAQs

Do I have to keep the cabbage in quarters?

No, you could also chop those sections down into smaller pieces too. If you want to do so, I recommend chopping the cabbage in half lengthwise first (as in the directions). Then slice each piece of cabbage every 2-inches or so for little 2-inch sections of cabbage. 

Why salt the cabbage?

Not only does the salting help to wilt the cabbage leaves, but it also kills certain harmful bacterias, allowing the “good” ones to remain. 

Can I use other cabbage?

While napa cabbage is the traditional option, you could use regular green cabbage in a pinch. The flavors/textures will vary slightly, but it will still be delicious cabbage kimchi!
You could even use a combination of ingredients. For example, combine one napa cabbage with some bok choy for a mixture of crunchy and tender. You could also try the dish with baby napa cabbage (putbaechu kimchi) 

What does kimchi taste like?

As with any fermented dish, this cabbage kimchi is somewhat sour with definite “tang” and a pungency – similar to sauerkraut. However, the use of fishy ingredients and the chili makes for savory, umami, salty, spicy (how much depends on you) layers. 
The best thing about this kimchi recipe is that the flavors will continue to develop and change over time as it ferments. I prefer the flavor in the first two months; after that, it continues to become sourer. 

How can I make the cabbage kimchi less sour?

If you want your Korean kimchi to be less sour, then transfer it to the fridge earlier! I recommend fermenting it for a day at room temperature (in UK climate) before moving it to the refrigerator. 

Getting kimchi out of a jar

Recipe Notes & Variations

  • Use gloves: while this is optional, during the finals stages when you’re mixing up all the cabbage by hand, it’s a good idea to protect your hands from the spice (and smells) of the kimchi. 
  • Increase seasoning: you can increase the amount of shrimp/fish sauce or Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) for extra flavor. 
  • Vegan kimchi: to make vegan kimchi, omit the fish sauce/shrimp paste and instead use either Korean soup soy (“guk ganjang”) or kelp powder combined with water (to make up the same volume). 
  • Finding the ingredients: while many of the ingredients should be available in regular supermarkets, if you struggle to find anything, then I recommend a local Korean grocery market or turning to online sources if you don’t have a Korean (or Asian) store nearby. 
  • The fermentation period: the time needed to ferment the cabbage kimchi at room temperature will vary based on the temperature and humidity. If you live somewhere hot and are trying to make this during summer, even half a day can sometimes be more than enough before transferring it to the refrigerator. It’s ready once the fermentation has started; the mixture will have some bubbles and start to smell and taste slightly sour. 
A bowl with kimchi

This recipe was inspired by Maangchi’s YouTube video.

If you try this Korean kimchi recipe (cabbage kimchi), I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions below. Also, I’d appreciate a recipe card rating below, and feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

Napa Cabbage Kimchi (Korean Baechu-Kimchi)

5 from 7 votes
By: Samira
How to make classic napa cabbage kimchi (aka baechu-kimchi/pogi-kimchi) – a tangy, savory, spicy Korean fermented cabbage and ultimate side dish! This Korean kimchi recipe is simple to follow, naturally gluten-free, and the spice levels can be adapted!
Prep Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 days 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 40 servings of 2/3 cup each (100 g)

Ingredients 
 

For the cabbage

  • 7 pounds napa cabbage
  • 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt

For the porridge

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp rice glutinous flour or all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar white, brown, turbinado

Veggies

  • 1 Korean radish or daikon
  • 4 carrot medium-sized
  • 6 green onions

Seasoning

  • 12 Asian chives buchu, or 3 extra green onions
  • 15 garlic cloves
  • 2 inch ginger knob
  • 1 onion
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup shrimp paste
  • 1-2 cups Korean hot pepper flakes/powder more or less, depending on how spicy you want it

This will make about 9 pounds/4 kg of kimchi.

    Instructions 

    Step 1: Wash the vegetables

    • Wash all the vegetables (cabbage, radish, carrot, onion, green onion, chives, garlic, and ginger). I do this by soaking them in a large pot or directly in the kitchen sink.

    Step 2: Prepare the napa cabbage

    • Cut off the brown end of the "core" from the cabbage with a sharp knife.
    • Turn the cabbage so the core is upwards and the leaves are against your surface and use a sharp knife to make an incision a few inches down into the cabbage (just enough to grip both halves). Then, with your hands, gently pull the two halves apart.
    • Repeat this with the cabbage halves to create quarters – by separating the cabbage this way, the leaves remain attached.

    Step 3: Salt the cabbage

    • Dunk the cabbage sections into the water to get them wet, then liberally salt between each leaf, place the pieces in a large container, and then set aside.
      Wetting it first allows the salt to adhere better to the cabbage.
    • Every 30 minutes for 2 hours (so, repeated four times), turn it over – move the cabbage section on top of the container to the bottom. This will allow all the leaves to soften and release water.
      Optionally, you can scoop up some of the released water and spoon it over the cabbage to further encourage softening.
    • After two hours, wash the cabbage to remove excess salt and gently squeeze to remove the excess water. Let it drain well.

    Step 4: Prepare the kimchi ‘porridge’

    • Meanwhile, as the cabbage is being salted, you can prepare the porridge mixture.
      Add the water and flour to a small pot and heat over medium heat for around ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
    • Once the mixture begins to bubble, add the sugar, stir, and cook for a further minute or so until the sugar has dissolved.
      You can optionally sieve the mixture to remove any lumps. Otherwise, simply allow it to cool down completely before using it (this is why it’s great to cook this as soon as you’ve started the cabbage salting – to give it a chance to cool before the cabbage is ready).

    Step 5: Prepare the kimchi shrimp paste

    • Peel and roughly chop the onion, ginger, and garlic. Then transfer them to a food processor to process into a paste. Alternatively, mince the ingredients by hand – but you’ll save so much time using a machine.
    • Mix the processed ingredients with the porridge, fish sauce, shrimp paste, and Korean chili powder, and whisk well until thoroughly combined.

    Step 6: Prepare the vegetables

    • Peel the radish and carrots.
    • Use a vegetable peeler, mandoline, or knife, if your knife skills are good enough, to shred the radish and carrot into tin noodle-like julienned pieces (around ¼ inch/0.6 cm thin maximum). Alternatively, you can cut them into matchsticks.
    • Cut the green onions (scallions) and chives into small pieces. Mine were around ½-1 inch/1.3-2.5 cm each, but you could cut them even smaller.

    Step 7: Combine the Korean kimchi ingredients

    • In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables and kimchi paste and stir well. Because the radish contains a lot of water, this will naturally "thin" the paste over time.
    • Add the salted (and rinsed!) cabbage sections. Using one section at a time, fold some of the kimchi mixture into the cabbage, making sure to spread some of the paste over every leaf, so it’s thoroughly coated.
    • Roll the cabbage into a circle to fit your jar and lay it at the bottom of the jar and top with a few spoonfuls more of the kimchi paste.
      Instead of a jar, you can use any other air-tight container.
      You could also use a traditional onggi for the fermentation (a type of Korean earthenware crockpot dish).
    • Repeat this with the remaining cabbage and kimchi paste until the jar is ¾ full – making sure to leave a couple of inches at the top. This is because the cabbage will expand slightly from the fermentation.
      Your napa cabbage kimchi is ready to enjoy immediately. However, it’s best to allow it to ferment first.

    Step 8: Ferment the cabbage kimchi

    • Leave the jar to ferment for several days at room temperature (2-3 at least, up to 5 days) away from direct sunlight. Burp the jar from time to time (open the lid just for a moment) to allow any built-up gases to release so the jar doesn’t shatter. I do this 1-2 times per day, pressing lightly on the fermenting cabbage to ensure it stays beneath the kimchi "brine."
      You may start to notice bubbling inside the jar during this time – that is the gases from the fermentation building up and is completely normal.
    • Once it’s ready, transfer the jar of cabbage kimchi to your fridge (this will slow down the fermentation process) – the flavors will continue to develop over time, but you’re ready to enjoy it!
      I actually recommend storing it in the refrigerator for another week at least (for further fermentation) before enjoying it!

    How to Store Cabbage Kimchi

    • I recommend storing this cabbage kimchi in a large sterilized, airtight glass jar in the refrigerator. If stored correctly and clean utensils are used each time when serving, the cabbage kimchi will last several months this way!
      I prefer the flavor within the first 2-3 months best. After that, it becomes increasingly sour – though that kimchi can still be used in several dishes.

    Notes

    • Use gloves: while this is optional, during the finals stages when you’re mixing up all the cabbage by hand, it’s a good idea to protect your hands from the spice (and smells) of the kimchi. 
    • Increase seasoning: you can increase the amount of shrimp/fish sauce or Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) for extra flavor. 
    • Vegan kimchi: to make vegan kimchi, omit the fish sauce/shrimp paste and instead use either Korean soup soy (‘guk ganjang’) or kelp powder combined with water (to make up the same volume). 
    • Finding the ingredients: while many of the ingredients should be available in regular supermarkets, if you struggle to find anything, then I recommend a local Korean grocery market or turning to online sources if you don’t have a Korean (or Asian) store nearby.
    • The fermentation period: The time needed to ferment the cabbage kimchi at room temperature will vary based on the temperature and humidity. If you live somewhere hot and are trying to make this during summer, even half a day can sometimes be more than enough before transferring it to the refrigerator. It’s ready once the fermentation has started; the mixture will have some bubbles and start to smell and taste slightly sour.

    Read the blog post for the answer to tons more FAQs!
    Course: DIYs, Side
    Cuisine: Asian, Korean
    Freezer friendly: No
    Shelf life: 3-4 Months

    Nutrition

    Serving: 100g, Calories: 44kcal, Carbohydrates: 8g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 9mg, Sodium: 291mg, Potassium: 365mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 3057IU, Vitamin C: 25mg, Calcium: 94mg, Iron: 1mg

    Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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    Recipe Rating




    2 Comments

    1. 5 stars
      Just made this and OMG, perfect! I had to eye some of the recipe because I didn’t quite have 7lbs and I also made some cucumber and radish kimchi to fill in the gap lol. It all came out great! I had to salt it a little bit after, but I only let the cabbage salt for about an hour and 15 minutes and I rinsed it probably a bit too much. Anyhow, it came out SO good!