How to Make Whole Cabbage Kimchi

Kimchi is a staple of Korean cuisine for a reason. It is perhaps an acquired taste, in that its fermented nature can make its flavour profile incredibly powerful. When made correctly, and fermented for the right amount of time, there are very few things that reach the same depth of flavour as kimchi, and very few side dishes that can steal the show from a main course either. The preparation time for kimchi is reasonably long, and if you don’t have a food processor handy, there is a lot of chopping involved, however the rewards you will reap are certainly worth it.

Note that this recipe is a culmination of several different kimchi recipes taken from the brilliant minds of a multitude of Korean grandmas, meaning that I have attempted to keep it as unwesternised as possible. There really is no substitute for gathering recipes from their original cultural source, and I’d always suggest skimming a selection of different recipes before committing to one in particular, especially if you have the opportunity to learn from someone who has a richer understanding of the culture of a dish.


 Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes 

  Fermentation Time 2-3 days

  Serves N/A


For the Cabbage

  • 2kg Napa Cabbage or Wombok 
  • 250g (1 cup) table salt

For the Vegetables:

  • 5 large spring onions
  • 2 large bunches garlic chives (Asian chives)
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 large bae pear (Korean pear)
  • 1 medium Daikon radish or 10 medium red radishes
  • 1 brown onion
  • 1 large bunch water spinach or equivalent
  • Half bunch fresh Coriander

For the Spice Mix

  • 1 cup Gochugaru chilli flakes
  • 100g salted shrimp (fermented shrimp,) juice squeeze out and finely chopped
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) fish sauce
  • 20 cloves garlic
  • ginger

For the Porridge

  • 500ml (2 cups) water
  • 2 tablespoons rice flour
  • 4 tbsp sugar


  • Large bowl
  • Large Tupperware container


  • Knife
  • Boning knife or equivalent for trimming meat

Salting the Cabbage

  1. Start by removing the hard part of the cabbage cores from the base of each cabbage, then thoroughly wash each one.
  2. Slice the cabbages in half length-ways and then make a cut from the centre of the base of the cabbage core approximately halfway up the cabbage. This slit allows access to each layer of the cabbage’s leaves without cutting the cabbage fully.
  3. To salt the cabbage, place it into a large bowl or container and use your hands to rub salt into each layer of the cabbage’s leaves. Ensure you rub the salt into each leaf while also keeping the cabbage whole.
  4. Leave the cabbage for 20 minutes, then come back and turn the cabbage over, pouring out any excess water, repeat this process 3 times for a total of 60 minutes (you can prep the other components while you wait.)

Prepping the Vegetables

  1. Start by peeling the garlic. I always dice it by hand, but if you have a food processor it is much faster to give the cloves a quick blitz in that.
  2. Finely chop the spring onions and chives and dice the brown onion.
  3. Cut the carrot, pear and radish into fine matchsticks. If you are using red radishes you can halve them and slice them instead if you want.
  4. Place all ingredients into a large bowl.

The Porridge

  1. Add the water and sugar together into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil
  2. Add the rice flour in all at once and reduce the heat immediately
  3. Continuously stir the mixture on a low heat until all lumps are worked out and the mixture is thick and runny
  4. If there are still lumps even after 10 minutes or so of mixing, use a fine strainer to pass the porridge into another bowl

Finishing the Kimchi

  1. Mix the chili flakes, garlic, ginger, fish sauce and shrimp together with the porridge until combined
  2. Now that the cabbage is ready, pour off whatever excess water remains, leaving a little bit to help season the kimchi
  3. Place the cabbage into a large Tupperware container, large enough that liquid can cover the kimchi. If you want your kimchi to be sliced into portions, do that before placing it in the Tupperware
  4. Pour the porridge/spice mix over the cabbage and, using disposable kitchen gloves, work the mixture into each leaf of the cabbage, ensuring as much coverage as possible
  5. Once the cabbage is fully covered in the mix, press the lid down tightly and leave the kimchi to sit out in a cool place for 24 hours. You can extend this period to 48 hours if you wish, as this will simply make the kimchi ferment faster and make it more sour
  6. After 24 hours, press the kimchi down, so the cabbage is fully-immersed in the liquid, and place the kimchi in the fridge. This will slow the fermentation process and stop the kimchi from getting too sour too fast

Wrapping Up

This recipe is incredibly versatile, in that you can use any number of substitutes for cabbage, and can alter it to be vegan reasonably easily. For a vegan version, simply substitute the fermented shrimp for red or white miso paste, and use soy sauce instead of fish sauce. This combination should still give the kimchi a wonderful umami flavour to help substitute for the lack of a seafood punch.

If you are looking to make some different types of kimchi, you can use radish leaf or any number of cresses. Kimchi cucumbers can also be delicious. I actually prefer the radish kimchi to standard kimchi, as the stems of the radish plant tend to soak up the juice nicely while still having a satisfying crunch to them. What’s nice about using other vegetables aside from cabbage is that it shortens the recipe time, as you can avoid the step of salting and soaking, instead getting right to putting everything together!

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