I have been making vegan cabbage kimchi with a non-vegan recipe from the very popular Korean food cooking site Maangchi. While the flavor is uniquely complex, the method is definitely not. Just mix everything together and …. wait. A day on the counter at room temperature is enough for the lactic acid bacteria (the good guys) fermentation process to create that pungent/tangy flavor of a classic kimchi.
I went through a phase when there was always cabbage kimchi in my refrigerator until I ran out of Korean red pepper flakes. It was a good few months before I got my hands on this crucial ingredient again. I found myself fumbling through a few sites just to recall the modifications and pointers that I so often referred to during the beginning of my kimchi making days. It’s easy to take them for granted so here’s a list of them put down for future references.
+ How to make Kimchi Vegan?
Simply replace the fish sauce with light soy sauce and omit the fermented shrimp from the seasoning ingredients. I came across this vegan fish sauce recipe from Vegan Miam that was used by Minimalist Baker for her easy kimchi recipe. I decided to stick to the light soy sauce since I think the fermentation process will probably make the difference too subtle to be noticed anyway. But the vegan fish sauce recipe will be very handy when making Pad Thai.
+ What about Buddhist Vegetarian?
Before I tried out vegan temple meals in Korea, I always thought vegetarian kimchi comes in white color, form of pickled cabbage in vinegar with a piece of red chili as garnish. I have no idea who gave me this concept. By now I know that kimchi dishes made without the garlic, chives, and scallions in fact come with red pepper flakes, looking just like traditional kimchi. This is the only recipe I can find online to make kimchi without Osinchae, and this link briefly mentioned fermented soy bean paste and mushrooms.
+ Cabbage : to chop or not to chop
When it comes to the prepping the cabbage for kimchi, there are two ways:
One, for Pogi Kimchi/Traditional Kimchi, you can divide a big head of cabbage into quarter chunks by making a few slits at the base where the core is and tear the cabbage apart by hand, then sprinkle coarse sea salt in between the leaves and leave them aside for 2 hours to let it sweat or,
Two, you can chop the leaves into bite-size pieces and soak them in a pot of brine for 1 hour. This is the method for Mak-Kimchi /Fast Kimchi.
For both methods, I like to press the leaves with a heavy pot (photo below), this helps to squeeze out water from the whole cabbage or to keep the chopped leaves fully immerse in the water instead of floating. The cabbage is ready when the white stems turn soft and you can bend them without breaking. The important thing is to rinse the leaves thoroughly to remove the salt and then drain the cabbage well. What you are left with is a pile of limp leaves which you can then proceed to spread with the kimchi sauce. A detailed salting process is documented here with lots of photos and lots of cabbages, which brings me to the next point.
+ How many heads of cabbage do you use?
I don’t make cabbage kimchi in bulk due to the lack of storage space in the refrigerator and I can’t leave them on the counter forever at room temperature as they need to be stored under cold temperature to slow down the fermentation process. Otherwise, they will become too sour for my liking. Since the kimchi continues to ferment in the refrigerator, I also can’t leave them there forever. So I use at most 1 large size napa cabbage, which seems a lot at first but not so after the salting process when water is drawn out from the leaves.
Since Maangchi’s recipe is suited for 3 to 4 heads of cabbages, I will always have leftover kimchi sauce. The good news is that the sauce keeps well refrigerated for up to 3 months. Sometimes, I’ll even double the sauce recipe and freeze it in freezer safe containers so that come next kimchi-making session, I only need to thaw the sauce and do the soak-cabbage-in-brine step for a quick kimchi fix.
+ How to store Kimchi?
After mixing, the head of cabbage fits perfectly into my 23cm glass casserole for its first day of fermentation at room temperature (28C-30C), or 2 airtight containers that I transfer to store in the refrigerator subsequently to slow down the fermentation process. Keep an open box of baking soda inside the refrigerator to absorb the smell of kimchi before it gets absorb by other food.
+ Can Kimchi go bad?
I personally don’t enjoy overly-fermented kimchi where sourness overpowers everything. I can usually finish mine within a month, given how little I make in the first place (by Korean’s standard of course.) According to here, Kimchi can turn bad, although it’s rare, that’s why the Koreans have their kimchi refrigerators.
Besides eating cabbage kimchi as a side dish, it can be used to make other dishes such as this soba, this sandwich, this pancake, etc.
Here is the recipe I modified from Maangchi’s. I drastically reduce the amount red pepper flakes (she used 2 cups) so that my kids can enjoy this wonderful treat as much as I do.
coarse sea salt
2 cups water
2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour
2 tablespoons raw sugar
24 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 cup + 1 heap tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped chives
5 stalks green onions, chopped
If making quick kimchi, chop the cabbage into bite-size pieces and soak in water mixed with sea salt. The brine should be really salty to taste. Soak for 1 hour.
If you like to have kimchi with whole leaves intact, make a cross slit at the base of the cabbage, and tear the cabbage apart with hands from the core, you will have 4 portions of cabbage complete with green leaves and white stem. If the head of cabbage is really huge, I will divide it into 6 sections. Rub coarse sea salt in between the leaves, paying more attention at the thicker white stem portion. Leave the cabbage in a shallow pail/pot. Optional: place a heavy cast iron pot on the vegetables to squeeze out the liquid in the cabbage. Leave this aside for 2 hours, turning the cabbage over once or twice in between.
In the meantime, prepare the kimchi sauce. In a saucepan, add water and glutinous rice flour to form a uniform mixture. Bring to boil while stirring the whole time. Once the mixture starts to boil and thicken, add sugar and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off heat and let porridge cool completely.
To make seasoning sauce, mix cooled porridge, minced garlic, grated ginger, red pepper flakes, soy sauce and stir well. Add chopped chives and green onions next to mix.
When the cabbage is ready, rinse the leaves 3 times to thoroughly to remove salt. Drain well.
To make mak kimchi with chopped cabbage leave, toss the leaves with half of the kimchi sauce prepared earlier in a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a clean container.
To make kimchi with whole cabbage leaves, scoop some kimchi sauce with a clean tablespoon and drop it on the cabbage, spread the sauce evenly on each leaf with hands (gloves optional), roll it into a tight ball and place it in a clean pot/container. Repeat with the rest.
Cover the container and leave it on the counter to ferment for one day at room temperature. Taste test, if the fermented flavor is to your liking, you can then transfer the kimchi to be chilled in the refrigerator where fermentation will slow down.