I have the same dilemma after every weekend trip to the farmers market. I arrive home with my tote bags bursting with fresh produce and ready to start a new week, feeling proud I got my act together. As I begin unpacking, I start stressing about how I’m going to fit it all into the fridge. I rummage through the back, pulling out forgotten bags and containers: a few bulbs of bruised fennel, a leftover half head of cauliflower, rubbery week-old radishes. There’s no way to make way for the new stuff when I have all of these leftovers cramping my style!
When I need to use up all these slightly-wilted-but-still-good veggie leftovers, this Clean-Out-the-Fridge Kimchi is my go-to solve. This small-batch kimchi recipe uses end-of-the week fridge scraps that some might consider garbage or compost, and instead transforms them into a versatile kitchen staple, giving you a spicy sidekick for grain bowls, eggs, and stews for weeks to come.
For the uninitiated, home fermentation can be intimidating, evocative of exploding jars and giant bubbling crocks. But this small-batch recipe is perfect for even the most inexperienced, and works in kitchens of any size—I made this in my tiny Brooklyn apartment. And you’ll be burping your kimchi daily—yes, like it’s your spicy baby—so there’s no chance it will explode. (Worried you’ll neglect your kimchi-burping duties? Feel free to use food-safe plastic containers instead of glass jars here, which are shatter-proof.)
Once your jars of homemade kimchi have reached a state of fizzy, funky perfection, here are a few dishes I suggest trying out. (And, obviously, these can all be made with store-bought kimchi if you don’t want to DIY, or run out of your own stash.) For a great appetizer or fun snack to share, fry up a batch of Spicy Kimchi Sweet Potato Fritters with Gochujang Yogurt. A twist on traditional potato fritters, with tangy, spicy gochujang yogurt offsetting the subtle sweetness of the potatoes, a dreamy marriage of crispy and creamy.
If you’re looking for indulgent comfort food, try this Inside-Out Kimchi Grilled Cheese, which harks back to my childhood love of Sizzler’s cheese toast. There are a few key elements to perfecting this crispy, gooey, spicy sandwich: a strong, sharp cheddar to play off the tangy kimchi, the patience to let the cheese fully melt, and, more important, a fast, confident flip. (Pro tip: The crispy shards of cheese left in the pan are the ultimate chef’s treat.)
Finally, for an easy weeknight dinner well-suited to brisk evenings, check out this Kimchi Lentil Stew with Poached Eggs. In this riff on traditional kimchi jjigae, green lentils add heartiness and bite while runny poached eggs add an irresistible ooziness to each serving. The flavors are as complex as this dish is simple to make.
Kimchi’s versatility comes from its ability to be eaten straight out of jars or used as an ingredient in cooking to give a flavorful kick to your meals. With all the inspiration in these dishes, it makes using up veggie scraps into something you can look forward to—and makes room for that next fresh farmers market haul in your fridge.