Vegan Kimchi (From Scratch)
Kimchi seems to be “THE” thing to eat these days. I have been seeing it pop up in the most random places. I don’t blame people for falling in love with this Korean side dish! It’s filled with healthy probiotics because it is fermented, it is super low-calorie since the main vegetable is cabbage, it can be used in such a variety of recipes, and it’s really just plain delicious! I myself came to learn about kimchi in a rather different way. Even if kimchi had not become a recent fad, my interest in kimchi would have still been born. This past January, I introduced myself to the world of Korean Dramas. I know, I know, it sounds so random. I am not Korean, nor have I ever been to Korea, but after watching a few Japanese Drama’s on Netflix (after having watched many Anime’s (thanks to my husband’s introduction)) I suddenly found myself quite by accident in the world of Korean Dramas. It only took 2 dramas for the addiction to take hold. Since January (it is now May) I have not watched anything else in my free time. I have abandoned ALL of the English spoken shows that I used to watch and have been exclusively working my way through all of the top rated Korean Dramas with no foreseeable end in sight. (If you also watch K-Drama’s feel free to leave recommendations in the comments!)
Since starting my Korean Drama binge, I have learned SOOOO much about Korean culture and Korean food. This is where my interest in Kimchi was born. Korean people eat Kimchi with EVERYTHING. I cannot say if this is true outside of the drama world, but in EVERY drama I have watched, Kimchi is served on the side with every possible dish. Or like in Kimchi Ramen, or Kimchi Soup, or Kimchi Fried Rice, or Kimchi Pancakes it happens to also be the main star. I have come to accept this as a Korean reality. If you are Korean and I am wrong, please feel free to educate me in the comments. Having watched so many fictional characters eat Kimchi, I soon became obsessed with it myself. Obviously my first instinct was to see if Kimchi was readily available, but unfortunately I learned pretty quickly that most readily available kimchi has fish sauce in it, which is not compatible with my vegetarian diet. There was one brand that did sell vegan kimchi that also happened to be available in my local Whole Foods, but it was such a small jar, it was 7 dollars for such a small quantity, and it was only mildly spiced. I did buy it, but I finished it in 2 sittings. This was not sustainable. That is when I decided that I was going to make it myself. I had watched many Korean mothers make kimchi in the drama’s I watched, how hard could it be? Turns out not too hard, I learned pretty quickly that the most important and difficult to find ingredient in making Kimchi is patience.
I then proceeded to find 20-30 different kimchi recipes online. I didn’t really care if they used fish sauce or not, I was more looking to learn the technique of making kimchi. I read SO many recipes. Until one day, I closed my computer, got my butt to my local East Asian store, got the ingredients I could only find there, and just made it. I didn’t use any particular recipe, I just made it. After reading and watching so many people make Kimchi, it seemed to come so naturally to me to make. Eating with chopsticks happened that way for me too. I was never bad with chopsticks, but after watching so many Japanese and Korean dramas where people eat with chopsticks, my muscles seemed to have just learned by observation because now I can use chopsticks as if I’ve been eating with them my entire life. It’s weird how the brain works.
In terms of Kimchi, there is a lot of debate out there as to what the correct amount of time to ferment kimchi is. The woman at my local Asian grocery store, told me she will only eat fresh kimchi, she does not like it fermented at all. A lot of people online only ferment it for a couple of days. And then there are some people like me that like it really fermented. The key here is that the longer Kimchi ferments the more sour it will get. So less fermented kimchi has its place, and more fermented Kimchi has its own place. It really depends on what you plan to use it for, how long you should ferment it. There is no way to stop kimchi from fermenting, there is only the fridge which will slow the fermentation process down. So keep that in mind when you are making it. You can leave it out on the counter to accelerate the fermentation process, but even after it is sitting in the fridge it will continue to ferment, just at a slower rate. I LOVE really fermented kimchi, so I leave my kimchi out on the counter for 4-5 days, and then put it in the fridge to continue fermenting. If you are not sure how fermented you like your kimchi just taste it every morning and evening until its tasting the way you want, then just stick it in the fridge. It’s that simple. If you are planning to eat kimchi raw, less fermented is better, but if you are planning to put it into a soup, you want a more sour kimchi for that.
Side note: Kimchi has a rather pungent smell. If you live in a house with people who are sensitive to that particular smell, I recommend you not opening the jar when they are home or around the kitchen, or turning the vent fan on. My husband can smell from 2 rooms over whenever I open the kimchi jar. It is particularly pungent when it has been fermenting at room temperature, but the refrigerator making it colder will only mask the smell so much. So just be wary of that. The smell does not bother me at all, and I am sure that my husband would love the flavor of kimchi since he is obsessed with cabbage, but for some reason the smell that travels when it is in its raw form is not pleasant to him. To each their own. I have yet to share my kimchi with him, since I have just been hoarding it for myself =D.
Ok enough talk, let me show you how to make it! I know this is what you have been waiting for! Be sure to read through all of my steps as I will be sharing a bunch of tips and tricks that I learned/discovered… but if you are looking for a quick ingredients list and cliff-notes version, you can check out the recipe card at the bottom of the page. =)
First things first, we have to gather all of our ingredients. I have only made this with Napa Cabbage which seems to be the more traditional cabbage to use for kimchi. I was not able to find a good sized Napa cabbage anywhere but my local East Asian market, but they did sell smaller ones at whole foods and the regular grocery store. You can adjust your recipe based on the size of your cabbage. You will also be needing Daikon (which is an asian radish) I found this at Whole Foods. The most difficult to find ingredient will be the Korean Chili Flakes. There is no substitution for this. You must use Korean chili flakes for making Kimchi. They are super red, and look super spicy, but they are not. In fact you can really control the spice level with them, while still making a beautiful looking kimchi. If you do not have a local East Asian grocery store, luckily you can find them on Amazon here: Korean Chili Powder. The other thing you will need is coarse sea salt. Regular sea salt is too small and will react too quickly with the cabbage. And then you will also need garlic, ginger, scallions, soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free, rice vinegar, and the last and secret ingredient at least for me is Vegan Worcestershire Sauce. The Vegan Worcestershire Sauce is not required, but highly recommended. I use it to help provide an umami flavor that fish sauce normally would, but it would still be delicious without it.
We have to prepare our station, and for that we will need to set up 2 Cooling Racks with paper towels underneath them.
Next take out your cabbage, and remove the outer leaves. (I always do that since the most outer leaves always seem to be the dirtiest).
Next we will cut the cabbage. First cut it in half, and then cut each half in half. You want each quarter to still maintain its connection the the stem, so it all stays together, this will make the next few steps easier.
You will want to pour a bunch of your coarse sea salt out into a bowl or place where you can easily reach it.
Now you will want to place a quarter cabbage into a bowl, and slowly layer by layer sprinkle salt in between. It’s not going to stick much, thats okay. You just want to sprinkle a teaspoon between each layer, it will work its magic. Making Kimchi is not hard, but its also not neat. You will most likely have a very salty mess, you should expect this. Luckily, its not hard to clean up.
After salting the cabbage quarters, place them on cooling racks face up for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes flip the cabbage over to the side sprinkling some more salt on the outside. Let it sit there for another 30 minutes. The paper towels should be pretty soaked by this time, by collecting all the salty water from the cabbage that the salt helped release.
The goal for the cabbage is to get it to the point where you can very easily flex the entire quarter like this. (Normally I would use both my hands to do this test, but since I was holding the camera with one hand I did it against the cooling rack). It’s possible that your cabbage can reach this point after the first 30 minutes of rest. Be sure to do this test at that time too. The first time I made Kimchi it reached this point after the first 30 minutes, but this time it took an hour, so each cabbage is different.
While your cabbage is salting you will want to prepare your other ingredients. Peel your daikon and cut them into approximately 2 in matchsticks.
The way you cut vegetables like daikon into matchsticks is like this. See photos.
After getting them the right thickness and shape, you will want to cut them to the appropriate length.
You will also want to prepare your scallions and cut them into 2in length pieces. I washed my scallions before cutting, but there was dirt on the cutting board after I cut them, so I washed them again after they were cut. (extra washing never hurts, but dirt really hurts the flavor).
Keep all of your cut veggies on the side. (The cabbage should still be salting).
Now we will make the kimchi paste. Where all the flavor comes from! You will start with an entire head of garlic. and a couple large chunks of ginger.
Be sure to peel everything properly.
Next, add all of your garlic and ginger to your blender or food processor. I used the Dry Container for my Vitamix. Then add Korean chili flakes, soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free, rice vinegar, Vegan Worcestershire Sauce (if you are using it), salt and water to the jar. Blend it or process it until everything is completely smooth. The amount of kimchi flakes you use will determine how spicy the kimchi comes out. I used 1/2 cup of kimchi flakes and I would say my kimchi came out medium spicy. Use 1/4 cup for mild kimchi or 1 full cup for really spicy kimchi.
Once the cabbage is done salting, place it in a large bowl one by one and wash the salt off. You will want to remove as much salt as possible.
After it is done being washed leave it back on the cooling rack to drain for another 10 minutes.
Once a majority of the water has drained out, it is time to cut up the cabbage.
I like to cut mine into bite-size squares. you can see how I achieve this in the photos above.
Now all your ingredients should be prepared. Your cabbage should be cut to size, along with your daikon and scallions. And your kimchi paste should be made. Now you need to wear gloves for the rest of the process. This is not optional. You could burn your skin. Make sure you get some food-safe gloves. Now you will want to mix everything together. This is a messy process, I needed both of my hands, so I couldn’t take a picture of it. But essentially you will just massage the kimchi paste into the cabbage and other veggies, making sure everything is thoroughly coated.
Eventually you will end up with a really beautiful bowl of kimchi!
The next step is to store the kimchi. I like to use Wide Mouth Mason Jars. When you fill the jars, you will want to tightly pack it with each handful. Squish as much as you can down every time you add more to the jar. Don’t do what I did and stuff the containers all the way to the top. You probably want to leave about an inch and a half of space at least.
If you stuff it too high up, the vegetables will expand and the gasses will build up, more than what the jar can handle and after a couple days when you try to open it to taste it, you will end up with a mess similar to this. Learn from me. Do not make the same mistake that I did. I just only happened to have 3 clean jars available so I improvised. I would probably recommend using 4 quart jars. or 3 quart and 1 pint.
This was taken after they were sitting on my counter for 5 days. After this picture I put 2 of the jars in the fridge and left the third one out for an additional day.
The only thing left is to enjoy it! Be sure to taste the kimchi every day in the morning and again at night so that you can control just how much fermentation happens and stick it in the fridge whenever it reaches a point you are happy with! =) I will soon be sharing all sorts of ways that I use my kimchi! For the price of 1 small readymade jar, I was able to get 10x the quantity =) I think thats a good afternoon spent. =)
I hope you give this recipe a try for yourself! Please be sure to let me know in the comments if you do! I would love to hear what you thought of it! Be sure to subscribe so that you can be notified when I post new recipes! (link in the sidebar). Follow me on Instagram @saltyoversweet (I also post a lot of Instagram stories of what I am making that day) and find me on Facebook (the link is in the sidebar).
- 1 Large - Napa Cabbage - mine was 3lb 9oz
- 1 cup - Coarse Sea Salt (For salting)
- 2 large - Daikon Radish - mine added up to be 1lb 13oz
- 1 bunch - Scallion/Green Onions
- 1/2 cup - Korean Chili Flakes - Adjust this based on your spice preference (see notes)
- 2 Tbsp - Soy Sauce/Tamari
- 1 Tbsp - Vegan Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 - Head of Garlic - Approximately 10 cloves
- 2 large nubs - Ginger - Approximately 65 grams
- 1/4 cup - Coarse Sea Salt
- 2 Tablespoons - Rice Vinegar
- 3/4 Cup - Water
- Peel garlic and ginger.
- Place all other ingredients into blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth. Leave on side until needed.
- Cut your Napa cabbage into quarters, making sure base is present on each quarter.
- Sprinkle salt in between every layer, and let sit on cooling rack to drain for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes flip over and let it drain for another 30 minutes.
- While Cabbage is salting, prepare daikon by peeling and cutting into 2in length matchsticks.
- Also wash and cut scallion into 2 in length pieces. Leave on side until needed.
- When Cabbage is pliable enough to be folded in half without breaking, wash all of the salt off of the cabbage quarters in a bowl in the sink.
- Place cabbage quarters back onto cooling racks to drain for another 10 minutes.
- After draining, cut cabbage into bite size squares, place everything in a large bowl.
- Mix cut cabbage with your cut daikon and scallions. Put some food-safe gloves on, and add in the kimchi paste you made and massage it into the cabbage and veggies.
- Make sure everything it thoroughly coated.
- You can eat immediately for "fresh kimchi".
- To ferment, distribute Kimchi into air tight mason jars. Let sit on counter for 4-5 days. Taste every morning and every night until it reaches a fermentation you are happy with. Once you determine it is ready, put it into the fridge. Let it sit in the fridge overnight and enjoy any way you wish the next day! =)
- *This recipe yields around 3 quarts worth of kimchi
- *This recipe is inherently vegan
- *If you use tamari and gluten-free/vegan worcestershire sauce it will also be gluten-free =)
- *Kimchi is a great source of probiotics, which means it's really good for gut-health
- *You can adjust the korean chili flakes based on your spice preference. 1/4 cup for mild, 1/2 cup for medium, and 1 cup for spicy.
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