[RECIPE] Vegetarian Kimchi

I’ve been dying to write a post on this ever since the idea of making the fermented stuff burrowed itself deep within my mind.

After all, I’ve been missing Korea and with Korea is its food. Now, what do we all think of when we ponder the topic of Korean cuisine? YES! Korean barbeque – but I won’t be making a post on that. Nope – next guess! EXACTLY. Kimchi.

KIMCHI! Oh, how I adore thee… most half most of the time.

**photo from seriouseats.com

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it when I first arrived in Korea. In all honestly, I only knew one thing: I would be encountering it a lot when I moved to Korea and it was true. I had it with every meal and not only that, but I soon learned to appreciate it and even love it because there were times when I only had kimchi to accompany my rice, and so we developed a love-hate and semi-symbiotic relationship.

I needed to eat (and I prefer to eat well when given the chance) and it needed to be eaten (as opposed to being thrown in the trash).

The flavors are complex although the ingredients simple. There’s the cabbage and there’s the intense punch in the mouth when the insanely spicy notes kick in – this is where I make a note on how my tolerance for spicy food usually lasted for no longer than the first 3 bites pre-Korea. Then the different voices start to call out: the slight ‘crisp’ give when you bite into it, the tangy-ness, the sour undertone (depending on how long it’s been left to ferment), the pure acidity of it. Absolutely magnificent! And what really takes the cake: there are hundreds of different kinds made from all kinds of vegetables!

Now, imagine my reaction when I found out that most kimchi isn’t vegetarian, as they may add in some fish sauce or something distinctly animal based. I went on a hunt, especially after I returned to the States and found myself craving the stuff – and I found one.

Then I made it.

[based on this vegan8korean recipe (vegetarian/vegan) and this one from gastronomy (not vegetarian/vegan) as well as my experience during a kimjang (김장) I participated in]

2.5 pounds of Napa Cabbage, washed and quartered
2 cups of Coarse Sea Salt
Water; about 9 cups per cup of salt

1 cup of Red Pepper Powder (gochugaru)
2-3 medium Carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 smallish-medium Radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 large Red Apple, minced/mashed/ground into ‘apple sauce’
1 small knob of Ginger, minced (the size of a ping pong ball)
1/2 cup of Water
2 tablespoons of Glutinous Rice Flour
3 tablespoons of Evaporated Cane Sugar
1 tablespoon of Salt, or to taste
1/2 tablespoon of Kelp Powder
1/2 tablespoon of Vegetarian Oyster Sauce, scant

*all measurements stated were the minimum we used other than the amount of cabbage, so adjust according to taste; specific changes will be noted on the bottom

Part 1: The Cabbage

Prepare a large container with a lid, preferably shallow, and fill it with enough water to cover the cabbage. Add roughly one cup of salt and stir to dissolve; it will taste like seawater. Place and submerge the quartered cabbage into the water and leave for approximately 20 minutes. They will feel slightly “rubbery”. Remove from water and, using the remaining cup of salt, sprinkle in between every leaf and place back into the salt water. Place something heavy on top to discourage floating and cover with the lid.

Soak the salted cabbage in the salt water for at least 4 to 6 hours until it’s wilted; I did it over night. The next day, uncover the cabbage and bathe the cabbage and rinse out the salt until the water is no longer salty. Carefully squeeze the cabbage of excess liquid and set aside.

Part 2: The Marinade
Get a large bowl and add the red pepper powder, carrot, radish, apple, ginger, sugar, kelp powder, and oyster sauce. In a small bowl, mix the 1/2 cup of water with the glutinous rice flour and pour the mixture with the rest of the ingredients.

With a gloved hand unless you want pepper burn – we used disposable food-safe ones – mix everything together until everything’s a shade of red. Taste to see if it’s too bland and add more condiments if desired (e.g. red pepper powder, salt, sugar..).

Take the cabbage and chop into roughly inch-wide squares and add to the thoroughly mixed marinade. Combine until all the cabbage has been covered with the spicy mixture.

Pack the kimchi into leak-proof, airtight containers, but be sure not to fill to the top. As it ferments, it expands and it might leak – you don’t want it to leak, trust me. Leave outside at room temperature for 24 hours and store in the refrigerator. Can be eaten as a side dish after the initial 24-hours of fermentation, but when it gets really sour (i.e. the older it gets), it can be used in kimchi fried rice (pictured below) or kimchi jjigae.



  • I had been waiting for this moment for the longest time – and once I made it, I had to wait for longer. Everything was done by taste and whim so things were added to the mixture; the measurements are just a rough guide. We used all 2 cups of salt at the beginning, 1.5 cups of gochu garu, and 3/4 cups of glutinous rice water. Asian Pears aren’t in season at the moment so we substituted it with a large Washington Apple. We used kelp flakes instead, because we could find any kelp powder in the bulk section of Whole Foods.
  • We used a large bucket that used to hold 25 pounds of strawberries, according to the outside label. It still worked, but it’s a little more work since you take the cabbage in and out twice before letting it soak. I still recommend a more shallow and wider container, but anything should work as long as there’s a lid. It wouldn’t do to ferment your vegetarian kimchi with a couple of bugs.
  • Traditionally, kimchi is cut into halves or 4 wedges if it’s a large cabbage – my mom pre-cut it while I was at work into eighths, but it still worked out. Traditionally, these cuts aren’t pre-cut into smaller bite-sized pieces until right before consumption, meaning they’re also packed as wedges in the containers after having the marinade rationed out between each leaf like I did with the sprinkling of salt. However, I decided to try this method out as some of those wedges were quite small and it worked fine. Summary: you can totally cheat and pre-cut it into bite-sized pieces; it still comes out tasting like kimchi.
  • I prefer more sour kimchi because though I enjoy cabbage kimchi as a side dish, I prefer it cooked in dishes like kimchi jjigae and kimchi bokkeumbap. We had our kimchi fermented a mere 3 days before it was eaten as a side dish. It was another day later that some was taken out for a mini kimchi party after a vegetarian friend found out I had made some. We made (cheese) kimchi fried rice because I’m a dairy addict. It was awesome. The kimchi could have been more sour, so I recommend a week of fermentation, but it was still good as there was some acidity present. The good thing was that as we only have one main fridge, the more you open it and the more cold air comes out, the fermentation process is faster than if we had, say, a kimchi fridge.

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