Kimchi is a fermented salty, mildly sweet, sour and spicy Korean condiment. The most common kind of Kimchi is made with salted Chinese cabbage, white radish, carrot, spring onion greens and a variety of seasonings. This condiment can be made with other vegetables too. While Kimchi tends to have non-vegetarian ingredients traditionally, it can be made vegetarian too. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a vegetarian/ vegan Easy Kimchi. Since it is fermented, it is a gut healthy food.
Kimchi is believed to have originated in Korea over 3000 years ago as a way to preserve summer produce for the extremely cold winters. Originally Kimchi was made only with radish. Increased trade with other countries during the Goryeo period meant other vegetables were grown and used in Kimchi. There also very many different ways of making and seasoning Kimchi. I believe Koreans make about 200 different kinds of Kimchi!
I discovered Kimchi thanks to Korean dramas! Sometime towards the end of the pandemic, I discovered the world of Korean drama thanks to my daughter. It showed me a people and culture I found interesting. While television drama isn’t the best source of authentic information, it can be an introduction to many things. So I learnt that Koreans seem to love alcohol (beer and soju especially), pork any which way, Korean beef, takeaway food, tteokbokki, rameyon, kimbap, kimchi, and rice among other things.
Korean meals typically are centred on cooked rice or rice porridge, and a broth/ soup or stew or both. You may also find noodles and/ or dumplings. These come with a variety of “banchan” or side dishes, one of which Kimchi is generally a given. These vegetable, seafood and meat side dishes will vary in number and help balance out the meal nutritionally.
My Easy Kimchi is not made the traditional way, so it isn’t authentic in that sense. I have made adjustments based on ingredient availability and personal taste preferences. Let’s start with the ingredients for Kimchi. While Kimchi is not really difficult to make, it does involve a number of ingredients.
Chinese cabbage, Napa or Savoy cabbage is the best cabbage to use for Kimchi. The Koreans use a different variety of radish in Kimchi, but regular white (Indian mooli) or Daikon radish works well. You can make Kimchi without it too. Other vegetables in Kimchi include carrot, spring onion greens and chives. These have to be cut wuite thin and long about the length of matchsticks. The spiralizing blade on my peeler does a perfect job of this.
The first step to making this dish is to clean and salt the Chinese cabbage. In my shorter Kimchi recipe, the salted cabbage is allowed to sit for a couple of hours. The slat draws out the water in cabbage. The cabbage is then rinsed well with water before proceeding further. Cabbage is not cut but brined and salted leaf by leaf for traditional Kimchi. My easy version calls for cutting the cabbage into chunks and tossing in salt.
The next important step is make the cooked Kimchi paste. For this a little bit of rice flour is cooked into a slurry with stock or water. I prefer to use brown rice flour and water. Vegetable stock will give a more umami flavor. This slurry is blended into a smooth paste with ginger, garlic, onion, sugar (I prefer jaggery), soy sauce, and soaked red chillies/ red chilli powder or Gochu-jang paste. Gochu-jang is a Korean fermented spicy red chilli paste. You can buy it or make your own using one of the many recipes on the net.
Koreans generally love spicy food. The fire and deep red colour in this Korean condiment comes from Gochu-garu (Korean red chilli flakes/ powder) or Gochu-jang (red chilli paste). I used ready made Gochu-jang. Dried red Byadgi chillis work well too. Soak them in a little water and add while grinding the Kimchi paste.
Sugar is added to sweeten the cooked paste that makes this condiment, but I have come to prefer powdered jaggery. That’s not traditional at all but I like it like that. The sour taste or tang in Kimchi comes from fermentation. I like a slight tang in my Kimchi, but do not like it very fermented. I have worked around this by adding a little tamarind pulp to the Kimchi paste. This gives this condiment a slight tang without the fermentation normally needed to produce it. You can leave it out if you prefer.
What can you do with Kimchi? Eat it as a side dish with rice, noodles, dumplings, rice porridge/ kanji or even with bread. It’s a really good ingredient to use in a sandwich. So here is my version of Kimchi. Please feel free to adjust quantities of the ingredients to suit your taste.
- 1/2 kg Chinese cabbage
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp brown or white rice flour
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp tamarind extract
- 2 tbsp powdered jaggery or sugar
- 1 tsp minced garlic or garlic paste
- 1 1/2 tsp minced ginger or ginger paste
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1/4 cup Gochujang or Korean red chilli paste
- 1/2 cup thinly slivered white radish
- 3/4 cup diagonally sliced spring onion greens
- 2/3 cup thinly slivered carrot
- 2 to 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds optional
Salt the Cabbage:
- Chop off the bottom of the cabbage and discard. Wash the cabbage well, then halve the cabbage lengthwise and then chop into about 1 1/2 –inch bite sized pieces. Transfer to a large bowl and add the salt. Toss to mix well with the salt. Cover and let it stand for about an hour to an hour and a half. Toss the cabbage pieces every half hour.
Make the Kimchi Paste:
- Combine the Mix together the rice flour and water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture starts bubbling and thickening, stir in the powdered jaggery/ sugar and the tamarind pulp. Remove from the heat and let cool thoroughly.
- Blend the cooled rice flour paste, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and onion to a smooth paste. If using soaked red chillies, add them as well while blending. Add a little salt as well. Be careful while doing this as the cabbage will be salty too. Taste and adjust according to preference. This paste should be slightly salty and sweet, tangy and spicy if adding red chillies. Keep aside.
Make the Kimchi:
- Now rinse the salted cabbage with water 3 times, discarding the water each time. After the final rinse, squeeze out remaining moisture from the cabbage and put it in a large bowl.
- Add the radish, carrots and spring onion greens to the cabbage. Add the blended paste and the Gochujang if using this instead of red chillies. Mix well with gloved hands or using a spoon, till well mixed.
- Transfer the Kimchi to airtight glass containers or jars. Press down the on the kimchi so it’s well packed, then put the lid on. This is important so very little air can get inside.
- If you like freshly made Kimchi, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve right away. Leave it at room temperature for a couple of days and then refrigerate it for about a week or two for fermentation, depending on how sour you like it.
- I like my Kimchi less fermented and not too sour. I love freshly made Kimchi with hot rice. I typically leave it at room temperature on my kitchen counter for a day, then refrigerate it. I tend to make smaller batches that will last me a couple of months.