OMG, I LOVE kimchi 😍! Kimchi is a truly addictive traditional Korean fermented side dish, mostly napa cabbage 💚. Buying kimchi in bulk can seem difficult. In Asian supermarkets it is usually sold in cans, and it is pretty pricy too!
You might be surprised though, because most restaurants that have kimchi on their menu will sell it “to go” and agree to put it into your container 😊💕! Do be warned though: traditionally, kimchi contains fish sauce, so it is not a vegetarian dish. However, some restaurants that make their own kimchi do not add fish sauce to make it vegetarian-friendly.
I have been making my own kimchi for a couple of years already, even before we went vegan and later zero waste. Initially, it was because kimchi is indeed very pricey when you buy it in stores or from restaurants, and as a college student on a budget with a fermentation-crazed mom it just made sense to make it myself.
I have been asked countless times to post my now vegan kimchi recipe, but to be honest, I don’t follow a strict recipe but rather put in what I feel like would be nice and what we can get (e.g. we ran out of chili flakes 🌶 so I put in pickles chilis instead), and I only eyeball 👀 portion sizes 🙈.
Since I went vegan, I went through many vegan kimchi recipes to get the right pungent and umami taste, and I do base my freestyle kimchi based on The Simple Veganista’s awesome vegan kimchi recipe, since it is straightforward, uses simple ingredients, and is just sooo delicious!
You only get the authentic Korean kimchi taste when you get the original, vibrant Korean chili flakes called gochugaru. Gochugaru is made from a special type of slightly sweeter Korean chili pepper. The peppers are sun-dried and the seeds are removed. Check out this video to learn more about gochugaru 🌶❤️:
Gochugaru is my favorite type of chili flakes, but good luck trying to find it in bulk or even plastic-free… You can just use fresh chili peppers, that’s fine too, but I find that you get better results with chili flakes.
So what I do is, I make my own chili flakes in the summer when I can sun-dry them. If you live somewhere warm and sunny all year long, well, lucky you (and I hate you 😝)!
I get different types of red chili peppers to get a more balanced flavor, and I try to add a good amount of sweet chili peppers. I remove the seeds after they are sun-dried. Then I just blend them and put them away in an airtight jar. Do make sure there is no moisture whatsoever left in your flakes or they will start to grow mold, which, unfortunately, happened to the batch I made this summer 😭… Since I wasn’t able to even get fresh chili peppers I used pickled chili peppers, which are flames-in-my-mouth hot, but do not give the kimchi the vibrant red color that always makes my mouth water.
1 kg (2 lbs or ~1 medium sized) napa cabbage [you can substitute parts of it with regular green cabbage, but don’t substitute all of it or it will not be as tasty imho]
3-4 tbsp of non-iodized salt [iodine can prevent fermentation; btw, we quit sea salt because it contains microplastics]
1-2 cups (1-2 handfuls) of diced cucumbers, radish, or even carrots [like I said, I like to add stuff we have on a whim]
1 medium-sized sweet apple
3-4 scallions (green onions)
1/2 small white onion
5 cm (1 1/2 inches) ginger
2 cloves of garlic [I like to put in even more, but some buzz kills had been complaining that I reek of garlic, tssss]
3 tbsp chili flakes (homemade), or whatever fresh red chili peppers you can get our hands on (do remember to remove the seeds though)
2 tbsp dark soy sauce [definitely add the soy sauce to get the lovely pungent flavor]
Prepare the veggies
I like to cut the napa cabbage into quarters and then into chunks.
Now we want to get some moisture out of the (napa) cabbage, much like wringing out a rag. You can either soak it in salt water, and place a plate plus some weight on it. I’m also lazy by nature, so I have never really made the effort to soak the cabbage (and other ingredients) in salt water. Instead, I just put the chunks in a colander, which I place in a big (mixing) bowl. I just add the salt and use my hands to mix it in.
I leave it for at least 2 hours. It does help to put a plate on top plus something to weigh the plate down, but, well, I cannot be bothered. Instead, I just put the other ingredients on top, push everything down with my hands, and trust in gravity to finish what I have started.
After about 2-3 hours there should be a puddle in your bowl when you lift the colander. Pour it into a jar and set aside. Do not throw it out, we might need it later! Transfer the veggies from the colander into the big bowl.
Clean and cut the apple, ginger, onion,
Now blend all of it with the soy sauce. Add the chilli flakes at the end and pulse once or twice.
Add the marinade to the veggies in the bowl and mix until well covered.
It would be so much prettier if I only had chilli flakes, sighs…
I usually devour a huge portion of unfermented kimchi at this point 😝. It doesn’t have the sour, fermented taste but is still to die for 😋💕!
Transfer the kimchi into jars, really pressing the kimchi down to prevent air pockets. Leave an inch at the top, because the kimchi will rise during the fermentation process due to the gas bubbles that will form. If the kimchi is not covered with the marinade, add a bit of the salty water the veggies lost after the salt treatment. Let the lid sit loose so the gas can escape.
Let sit on the countertop for 1-5 days, depending on the temperature. I like to check on the kimchi every morning (in the summer after a couple of hours) and press it down with a spoon. It’s done when it has a sour taste like pickled things. It keeps for months in the fridge. Do make sure to only use clean cutlery for the kimchi or it will spoil.
Kimchi is very pungent. Like, seriously smelly. If you use jars with screw top lids, chances are that you will not be able to get the strong odor out of the lids afterwards. You can try to put the lids into the sun to let the UV rays kill the smell, but depending on the lid this might not get rid of it completely. And if you, like me, live in a sun-neglected area, this might only be an option for what feels like a measly couple of minutes every year.
To precent that you can either reserve the jars for kimchi only, or use French canning or WECK jars and remove the rubber seals.