Kimchi is practically synonymous with Korea. Koreans would not consider it a meal without a few pieces of the firey red pickled cabbage. Yes, it is even eaten for breakfast!
I’ll admit, kimchi is an acquired taste. My first taste test at the age of 21 was less than favorable, but I have since grown a deep appreciation and love for every batch of kimchi and its pungent goodness.
Every batch of kimchi is unique (insert something cheesy relating to snowflakes here). The kimchi from school lunch was usually of poorer quality, but you can hardly ever go wrong in any Gwangju traditional restaurant. Kimchi is served for free at every meal. While kimchi is usually thought of as made from cabbage, nearly any vegetable can be kimchi-fied. Some common varieties include cucumber kimchi, radish kimchi, water kimchi, perilla leaf kimchi… oh now my stomach is rumbling!
I made kimchi a handful of times in a cultural workshop and with my birth mother, but this was my first time making it alone. I did a decent amount of research and watched videos on the best kimchi-making practices.
Since this batch was to be served at the (amazing!) ConFest, I made it vegan and gluten free to suit most people’s dietary needs. Usually, kimchi has fish sauce, salted shrimp, and soy sauce, so I abstained from the animal juice and used tamari instead of soy sauce. This kimchi does not taste the same as the real stuff, but I still like it. Instead of sugar, I used apple, though you could use Korean pear if available! Sugar is necessary for the microorganisms to slurp up to fuel up for the fermentation party.
I collected ingredients from the Preston market and a Korea mart in Melbourne’s CBD. Mikoto also gave me some green onions right from her garden as well as lots of garlic, ginger, onion, rice powder, apple from a nearby tree… she seems to have every kind of food! At the time, I was doing a HelpX at an intentional cohousing community, Murundaka (more on this incredible place later!). The shared common house has a large kitchen with nearly every piece of kitchen equipment imaginable, so it was a good place to make the kimchi. I want to say first how thankful I am for the opportunity to stay in this community and meet all of the wonderful residents.
I suited up in a wombat-print apron to combat inevitable red pepper powder smears and got to work. Not including salt water soaking and fermentation time, the process took about one hour of active time. The whole kitchen smelled delightfully of red pepper powder and garlic. Some residents popped in and peeked at my progress; a few never heard of kimchi before, so I was happy to share Korean food and culture.
When the kimchi was finally ready a few days later, I gave it a taste test and eventually served it at a pot luck as well as at the Korean cooking workshop I led at ConFest. It actually came out perfect! It was just as spicy as I’m accustomed to in Jeollanamdo, the southernmost province in Korea where I lived. Some workshop participants even told me it was the best kimchi they ever had! They asked for a recipe, so here it is as promised.
Note: Korean cooking relies on intuition and “eye-balling”, so these measurements may not be exact. You can adjust the spice factor to your taste as well — I tend to get fanatical about gochukaru (Korean red pepper powder), so use less if you’re more sensitive to spice.
INGREDIENTS for Vegan Kimchi
- 1 head of Chinese cabbage
- 1 cup of kosher salt
- 2 heads of garlic
- 3 tablespoons of grated ginger
- 1 cup of gochukaru (Korean red pepper powder – can be found at Asian grocery stores or online)
- 1 apple, sliced
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 1 onion, sliced
- 6 stalks of green onions, roughly chopped chopped
- 3 teaspoons of tamari/soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of rice powder plus water to make a paste (similar texture to toothpaste)
- Food processor
- Large mixing bowl
- Large sterilized glass jar that tightly seals
- Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters. Then slice across so you have bite-sized pieces.
- Rinse cabbage.
- Dissolve the 1 cup of kosher salt into cabbage into water in a big bowl. Submerge cabbage for at least two hours or overnight.
- Drain and rinse cabbage. Squeeze out as much excess water as possible. Use clean tea towels to squeeze excess water.
- Put garlic, ginger, rice powder paste, gochukaru, apple slices, tamari into food processor. Pulse until mixed well.
- Using gloves, mix the firey sauce in with cabbage, carrots, green onions, and onions until thoroughly mixed well. Give it a taste test. Add salt or gochukaru as you see fit.
- Put the mixture into the sterilized jar. Press the kimchi down firmly. Cover jar with tightly closed lid.
- Store in a cool, dark place (not a fridge!) to ferment. Leave it for at least two or three days. The longer you let it ferment, the more pungent it will taste. Look out for bubbles to show the fermentation process.
- Move to the fridge where it will continue to ferment.
- Eat and enjoy with rice!