As I prepare for the long trip to Asia, one of the things on my to-do list was to make a decent-sized batch of kimchi so it would have time to ferment by the time I return. Ever since I returned from my one-year stint there as an English teacher, I still miss good old Korean food from time to time, one of which is kimchi. While in Korea, I was lucky enough to get the chance to be invited over to a friend’s house whose mother-in-law showed me the basics of making kimchi during their kimjang, a get-together in the winter months (usually in November) where a family makes huge batches of kimchi for the following year. Although kimchi is usually eaten as a side dish for essentially every meal in Korea, I prefer cooking it in dishes like Kimchi Fried Rice and Kimchi Jjigae (Kimchi Stew), which requires sour kimchi. This requires a longer fermentation time so I don’t eat the kimchi I make until at least 2 or 3 months after I make it. I sometimes even wait for up to 5 months before I even think about opening the container. As I said, I like my kimchi really sour.
When I returned to the States, I found myself craving the stuff. Sure, you can find them in the refrigerated sections of the Asian market, but they were either (1) not vegetarian and/or (2) had loads of garlic in it. As such, I did some research, as all Asian mothers tend not to use measurements, and made up a recipe of my own for my Vegan Kimchi – sans the garlic. Since I’ve returned, I make around 2 batches a year.
2.5 to 3 lbs of Napa Cabbage, washed and quartered
2 cups of Coarse Sea Salt, divided
Water, about 9 cups per cup of Salt
1 to 1.5 cups of Korean Red Pepper Flakes/Powder (gochugaru)
2 to 3 medium Carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 small-medium Korean Radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 medium-large Apple or Asian Pear, minced/mashed
1 thumb-sized knob of Ginger, minced
3/4 cups of Water
2 tbsp of Glutinous Rice Flour
3 tbsp of Evaporated Cane Sugar
1 tbsp of Salt, or to taste
1/2 tbsp of Kelp Powder
1/2 tbsp of Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
*All ingredients are a rough guideline, due to the varying weights of cabbages and personal taste.
Part 1 – The Cabbage
Prepare a large container, preferably shallow and with a lid of some sort, and fill with enough water to cover the cabbage. Add in one cup of sea salt and stir to dissolve; it should taste like ocean water. If needed, add more salt. Submerge the quartered cabbage in the water, placing something heavy on top to keep them underneath, and leave for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the water; they should feel rubbery. Using the remaining cup of salt, sprinkle salt between every leaf of each cabbage wedge and place back into the salt water. Place something heavy on top to discourage floating and cover with a lid.
Soak the cabbage for at least 4 to 6 hours, or overnight if desired, until the cabbage leaves have wilted and are even more rubbery/pliable. Once this step is completed, thoroughly rinse the the cabbage, one leaf at a time, before placing into a bath of fresh water to wash them from the salt. Do this two to three times, or as needed, until the water no longer tastes salty. Carefully squeeze the cabbage of excess liquid and set aside for at least one to two hours to further “dry” the cabbage.
If any stray leaves are pulled or fall off, keep that as well. I have a small colander reserved just for them. Also, depending on the cabbage, some are quartered into 4 wedges if on the smaller side while larger ones are cut into 6 wedges or even 8. If desired, you can chop the wedges into bite-sized pieces before mixing them with the marinade. Traditionally, however, they are kept in these ‘wedges’ and cut prior to consumption.
Part 2 – The Marinade
Get a large container and add the red pepper powder, carrot, radish, apple, ginger, sugar, kelp powder, and vegetarian oyster sauce. In a small bowl, combine the water with the glutinous rice flour and pour with the rest of the ingredients. Put on food-grade gloves before proceeding.
Combine the marinade ingredients until homogeneous. If it’s too dry, mix a smaller batch of water and glutinous rice flour and add it to the mix. Taste it to make sure the seasonings are to your taste.
Take one of the cabbage wedges and, taking one leaf at a time, spread the marinade across each leaf, making sure everything is dyed a light red color and there are little bits of the vegetables in between each leaf. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Once done, smooth it out to your best ability, fold it in upon itself and wind the ends of the leaves around it before placing in an air-tight container. Repeat with the remaining wedges of cabbage. If you ended up chopping the cabbage after it’s been cured with salt, then just simply mix with the marinade and pack it in your air-tight container of choice. Be sure to fill it up around 1 inch shy from the top. As it ferments, it may expand and leak.
Once finished, leave it outside in the air-tight container(s) for at least 24 to 48 hours; if it’s warm in your house, leaving it out for just one day should be fine. The warmer it is, the faster it ferments. After this period, place it in the fridge for at least one week.
The kimchi is ready to eat within a week of storing it as a side dish. At this point, it shouldn’t be that sour, if at all. If cooking with the kimchi, leave it for at least a month, but the more sour, the better.
Also, if you didn’t believe me about making sure your hands are gloved, here are my hands after I finished dispersing the marinade throughout my cabbage wedges. As if you need another reason: you also really don’t want the pepper burn.
For this batch, we used about 8 lbs of fresh Napa Cabbage. It shrinks a lot after it soaks in the salt water.