Why make your own kimchi at home?
When you become a vegan/vegetarian, you realize that so many things you thought were vegan/vegetarian are actually not! Kimchi is definitely one of those things. I mean, I thought it was just picked cabbages?!
Actually, for regular kimchi, usually fermented shrimp or squid is added for extra flavor or umami. And in Japan, a lot of the store-bought kimchi doesn’t taste quite authentic because it’s not aged right or the amount of heat is not right (either too much or too little…). Plus, store-bought kimchi has various chemicals and preservatives, so I decided to make my own!
Knowing kimchi was a fermented food, I thought I needed to get a kimchi starter (like when I make yogurt) but interestingly, none of the recipes I saw called for such, which made me very curious… What makes kimchi what it is??? I did some research and found out that what causes kimchi’s fermentation is the lactobacillus (bacteria) on vegetables – something that’s on there naturally. Some people (Koreans, of course!) even claim that you can never make real authentic kimchi outside of Korea because the bacteria that live on the vegetables are not the same elsewhere. Intriguing!
Anyways, so very basic ingredients needed to make kimchi are just vegetables, salt to pickle the vegetables and something sweet to feed the bacteria. This explains why there are so many types of “kimchi” with different vegetables and ones even without chili!
After satisfying my curiousity, I was finally ready to proceed to making homemade kimchi:)
So far I have made kimchi two times and both were successful, but the second method was slightly easier. For both times, I used the same recipe adapted from Peaceful Cuisine.
Nappa cabbage – one quarter of whole, about 600g
Salt – as needed
Apple (peeled and ground) – 25g
Garlic (ground) – 8g
Ginger (ground) – 8g
Kombu (dry, cut into strings) – 5cm x 5cm piece
Korean chili powder – 38g
Sweetner – 13g
Chinese chives (chopped) – 10g (optional – I used it for the second time)
For chili powder, there are various various types – some are sweet, some contain a lot of heat… You can try different ones to see which one you absolutely like, but make sure you buy chili powder from Korea, because chili powder used in other cuisines like Mexican or Japanese can be super super hot.
For sweetner, you can use what you like, such as honey (not for strict vegans, I think), maple syrup, agave syrup etc. but I used homemade amazake.
First step is to pickle the cabbage with salt, and press it with some heavy object for 2-3 hours. For the first time (in the video), I left the cabbage unchopped.
While the cabbage is being pressed, prepare the chili mixture. You want the consistency to be pasty so you can coat the cabbage really well.
One piece of advice here, make sure you use a stainless steel or glass bowl (rather than plastic container) when you do this step because the smell and color will not go away on plastic even after washing dozen times!
After 2-3 hours of pressing, the cabbage should be soft and soggy. Wash it with water to remove residual salt and squeeze the water out. Place in the same bowl as the chili mixture.
Mix very well, coating each cabbage piece with chili mixture. So for the first time, I didn’t chop up the cabbage and found it very cumbersome to put the mixture in each cabbage layer and also difficult to coat evenly. I like the easier method:)
Put the mixture in a glass container with a lid. Here also, you shouldn’t use a plastic container if you want to use it again for something other than kimchi!
It already looks very much like kimchi but it hasn’t gone through any aging or fermentation so it would just taste like pickled vegetable with chili. Leave it in room temperature (preferably somewhere dark and not too hot) for 2 full days.
You can see that the moisture came out and volume went down. It’s ready to be eaten, but it will taste even better if you let it age a bit more in the fridge for about a week.
Kimchi is a staple food in Korea and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it makes its appearance on the table for almost every meal (yes, breakfast, lunch and dinner!). As a Japanese, I like to have my kimchi on rice or mix it with things like tofu or avocado for a quick salad. It also makes great soup after it’s aged for few weeks in the fridge and gets a bit sour. Bon appétit!