The popularity of kimchi is on the rise in the Western World, and with the nutrition it packs and it’s distinct sour flavour, it’s no surprise. Most Westerners know kimchi as the spicy, fermented cabbage side dish served with Korean BBQ. But in the same way that Indian curry is more than butter chicken, kimchi is a whole lot more than that.
There are over 200 types of kimchi. While napa cabbage kimchi is the most recognized outside Korea, kimchi is also made from daikon radish, cucumber, green onion, and other vegetables. The flavours vary from mildly sour, to crazy spicy. Essentially, kimchi refers to the fermentation process of vegetables rather than one particular dish.
Like other banchan (side dishes served with the main meal), kimchi is a particularly appealing part of Korean food for vegetarians and vegans. With main dishes frequently consisting of barbequed meat, banchan becomes a staple for meat-free diets, especially when eating out. To the surprise of many, kimchi is most often not vegetarian or vegan.
Fish and seafood are essential flavouring ingredients in most Korean food. Squid, anchovies, and fish sauce make frequent appearances in kimchi dishes, even if the flavour of these ingredients are barely noticeable in the final product.
That being said, it’s quite easy to make kimchi omitting these ingredients. Before coming to Korea, I was vegetarian for three years, and lived with a vegan family for one. We loved our kimchi in that house so we learned how to make it without compromising our diets.
For all my Korean cooking, I go to Maangchi. I use her Easy Kimchi recipe, but I’ve adapted it to be vegan-friendly. Despite cutting out a couple of the flavouring ingredients, this kimchi is still packed with flavour!
Easy Vegan Kimchi
Prep Time: 30 minutes + 1.5 hours salting time
Plastic gloves (for mixing with hands)
10 lbs napa cabbage (see maangchi page for visual instructions on how to prepare)
1 cup salt
1/3 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups Water
1 cup garlic, crushed
2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 cup onion, minched
1 cup soy sauce
2½ cups hot pepper flakes (adjust to spice preference)
2 cups leeks, chopped
10 green onions, diagonally sliced
½ cup carrots, julienned
2 cups radish, julienned
*The last 4 vegetable ingredients can easily be omitted, adjusted, or replaced without affecting the final outcome of the kimchi*
- Trim the discolored outer leaves of cabbage. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters and remove the core. Chop into desired size.
- Soak cabbage in cold water for 10 minutes.
- Drain and sprinkle with salt.
- Every 30 minutes, turn the cabbage over to salt evenly (for a total of 1½ hours).
- Rinse the cabbage in cold water 3 times to clean it thoroughly.
- Mix water and sweet rice flour (chapssal garu) in a pot. Bring to a boil and keep stirring until the porridge bubbles (about 5 minutes).
- Add sugar. Stir and cook until it’s translucent (2-3 minutes).
- Set aside to cool.
Make kimchi paste:
- Place cooled porridge in a large bowl.
- Add soy sauce, hot pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, and onion.
*The porridge, soy sauce, flakes, ginger, garlic, and onion can be ground in a food processor for an easier, faster kimchi.
- Add green onions, leeks, radish, and carrot. Mix well.
Mix paste and cabbage:
- Add all the cabbage to the porridge and mix with gloved hands.
- Put the kimchi into air-tight sealed plastic containers or glass jars. Don’t fill too much as the fermentation process can cause the jars to leak red juice all over the counter or fridge!
- Enjoy fresh or leave on the counter for a day or two to ferment. Once the kimchi has reached your desired level of sour, keep in the fridge to delay further fermentation.
- Check out maangchi for more fantastic, easy Korean cooking!
- For more information on being vegetarian in Korea, check out this post!