I grew up eating homemade kimchi. When I was in kindergarten, my mom would send my lunches in the traditional Korean stainless steel bowls filled with rice, kimchi, and bulgogi. One of my earliest memories is being ostracized to a table all alone because the kids made fun of how stinky my lunch was. I cried to my mother to not give me Korean food anymore and I don’t remember it ever happening again. American lunch boxes soon followed.
All things Korean, including the cuisine, have only become “it” in pop culture in recent years. Now that non-Koreans have come to understand the joys of spicy, pickled vegetables, you are now on-trend if you eat the odoriferous food that, some assert, has been a part of the Korean kitchen for thousands of year.
For me, it was just “food”. The rice pot was always on the counter, the refrigerator always had several different types of kimchi, and the basement had the priceless jar of pickled garlic in the brown sauce that, even as an adult coming home to visit, would only allow you one or two pieces on your plate until the next visit.
I chose to become a pescatarian at 17 years old. This made my kimchi consumption drama-free. When I stopped eating fish altogether, vegan kimchi was certainly not something you could find at the Korean market and Whole Foods didn’t exist back then. I knew how to make kimchi from watching and helping my mom until I left home at 18. So I started making it again, just without the brine shrimp. Though there are recipes that require more ingredients and are more labor intensive, hopefully, this easy, simple recipe will inspire you to make your own kimchi, too!
As I mentioned, there are several ways to make the base for your cabbage kimchi. This recipe uses the minimum ingredients necessary to make this tasty delight.
2lbs Napa Cabbage
1/4c Sea Salt (if you’re using coarse Korean salt, you’ll need a bit more)
4 scallions (aka green onions)
6 - 8 cloves of garlic
A one-inch piece of ginger
1/4c Korean chili pepper (gochugaru) *If you’re spicy, use more. I use 1/2c.
Slice the cabbage into large pieces. Put a layer in the bottom of a bowl large enough to hold all of the cabbage. Sprinkle the layers with some of the sea salt. Continue to layer the cabbage and salt until you’ve used all of your cabbage.
Allow this to sit for several hours. Every 30 minutes or so, toss the cabbage. You’ll notice that it starts to shrink and water will begin to collect at the bottom of the bowl.
While the cabbage is being salted, cut the scallions into large pieces.
Place the garlic, ginger, and red chili pepper into a food processor and process, adding the water a little at a time until it becomes paste-like. If you don’t have a food processor, work your knife skills and chop the garlic and ginger until very fine and add the chili and water to create a paste.
Add this chili paste to the scallions.
After 2 - 3 hours, place the cabbage in a colander and rinse thoroughly. This may take several minutes of tossing the cabbage under the running water. Taste the cabbage. It should be somewhat salty. If it has no flavor, add a bit of salt to your mix after you incorporate your chili paste. We are not using brine shrimp or fish sauce, which add a salty flavor to the kimchi. So additional salt may be necessary. Use your taste buds!
You can either use your hands to mix in the cabbage or a utensil. If using your hands, USE GLOVES! That pepper is no joke and will burn you.
After incorporating and covering every single piece of cabbage in the spicy mix, press the kimchi tightly into a mason jar. Make sure to keep an inch of space on top, as it will begin to bubble during the fermentation process. Leave the jar out of the refrigerator for up to a several days and then place in the refrigerator when it has reached the sourness that you enjoy. Of course, it may not last that long. :)
As mentioned above, this is super basic. You can add julienned daikon and/or carrots into the scallions and proceed from there for added crunch and flavor.