Yesterday I fell in love. My friend G and I took a little trip to Koreatown. After casing the area twice, and by “casing,” I mean creeping through multiple strip centers like vultures scanning for their spoils, we decided on this little, cute, yellow house called Korean Noodle House. To be fair, almost every restaurant we encountered on our adventure was either a noodle house or had the no-nonsense “Korean Restaurant” sign. I had tried Korean BBQ many eons ago but pretty much forgot everything about it. I will consider yesterday’s adventure my first Korean food experience. I am not discrediting my prior experience, but I truly do not remember much about it other than the location of the restaurant and who I was with.
So we are seated in this tiny dining area where everyone can hear everyone’s conversations, and this lovely pot of deliciousness is set on the table with two plates and some tongs. I have never had kimchi (haha, auto-correct wanted to make it “chichi”) before and couldn’t restrain myself. It was definitely one of the most delectable things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Now, that’s a strong statement.
The picture doesn’t do the chi pot justice. That thing was huge. Remember the giant coffee cups they had on “Friends”? Yeah, like that. Yours truly over here went to town on that and dumped the rest in my to-go cup with what was left of my jjigae or stew. The jjigae was good, and I would eat it again in a heartbeat, but the kimchi is what I’m here to tell y’all about. Most reviews that I read for that restaurant mentioned that their kimchi is some of the best they have ever had. Ugh, is it possible that my kimchi cherry was popped by the best and nothing will ever measure up? Let’s not think about that…
So like any obsessed maniac, I came home and immediately started to Google kimchi recipes. I already had a feeling I tasted animals of some sort in there, but instead of crying about it, I decided I must make a plant-based version. The cool thing about this dish is that everyone makes it a little differently, kind of like potato salad. I particularly enjoyed the green onions and carrots in there. Further reading informed me of the fact that carrots are a big no-no in some households. Well, not mine! I actually wanted to add spinach, too, but didn’t have any. I have a feeling mushrooms would probably be awesome as well. And shaved pear. And sesame seeds. Okay. This isn’t my last kimchi rodeo.
I am not going to lie, I feel like I did a lot of work today. I am actually exhausted from being in the kitchen for probably the first time since my days of working in commercial kitchens. That being said, I also made soy milk from scratch and some vegan herbed feta. And went to the local Asian supermarket, Indian supermarket, Kroger, went for a 2.5 mile walk, and the rest of my day was spent in the kitchen. Anyway, the soy milk was great. I will write all about that later. I’ll find out what’s up with the feta tomorrow when it’s fully set. Of course, the kimchi is (hopefully) fermenting away in jars. I ended up with four jars. Yes, four. This better be good!
I couldn’t find the quintessential Korean pepper at my local market, so I improvised with smoked paprika and cayenne. I also couldn’t find kelp flakes, so I made my own by crushing up about 1/4 of a nori sheet into a powder. I added about a teaspoon of white miso paste for extra umami. This was very simple to put together, or at least so far it’s been easy. I read about explosions and such during the fermentation process. Trust me, you will hear about this if it happens to me. As an insurance policy of sorts, I placed the jars in a box and covered it with a towel. Look, I was at a concert last Friday, and everyone had to evacuate the venue midconcert due to an ammonia leak. No joke. I am not taking any chances here!
I started out by pulling apart one medium head of Napa cabbage and rinsing it thoroughly. You want to use filtered water for everything in this recipe, including rinsing, because chlorine will inhibit the fermentation process, and that wonderful tangy taste won’t develop. I chopped the cabbage into pieces about 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches. Do whatever works for you. I also chopped one daikon into matchsticks. My knife skills are subpar, so they were more like parts to a Picasso painting, if you know what I mean. I cheated and bought matchstick carrots, so they look really pretty and perfect. I also cut about four green onions into 2 inch strips; reserve the white part. Dump all that in a giant bowl, salt generously with sea salt, and cover with water. Do not use iodized salt. I placed a medium-sized plate on top to keep everything submerged. Let this hang out in the brine for about two hours.
This is the point where things got a little creative. I really love garlic, like, love, love garlic, but loathe chopping it. I took one for the kimchi team and finely chopped six cloves. No vampires in my future. Actually, I probably won’t have anyone in my future with the way my fingers smell. I also finely chopped about an inch of peeled ginger, the whites of the green onions, and smashed a quarter of a nori sheet between my fingers.
Dump all that into a bowl or glass and add 1 teaspoon of white miso paste, a tablespoon of cayenne, and a tablespoon of smoked paprika. If you have the actual Korean peppers, 2-3 tablespoons of that should do the trick. I added just a splash of vegan Worcestershire and like half a teaspoon or less of sugar. You can use agave, coconut sugar, or just omit it. To that, 2 tablespoons of filtered water and a bunch of stirring to incorporate everything. Add more of whatever your heart desires. I ended up adding a little bit more paprika and water.
It should make a paste that you will massage all over and into the veggie mixture after you rinse it off and drain it really well. Seriously, though, wear gloves when you work the paste in. I have had pepper in my eye before. Learn from my mistake.
Once everything is thoroughly coated, pack the mixture into mason jars. Push as much of the air out as you can. This is an anaerobic fermentation process, so the less air, the better. Do, however, leave about an inch of space at the top to allow room for the gas that will be produced. I ended up with four jars, and so far, it smells phenomenal. I plan to “burp” these bad boys in the morning and probably two more times during the day. Just open the jar and push down on the kimchi with a clean spoon. Don’t forget to cover it back up. After about four or five days, it is ready for the fridge. Give it a taste every day. Decide when it’s where you want it to be then put it into the fridge. This is your masterpiece. Don’t be scared of experimenting. Some people have the patience to let it brew for over 30 days. I have four jars, so maybe one of them will surpass that mark. No promises, though.
- 1 medium head Napa cabbage, chopped
- 1 medium daikon, matchstick
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1 cup carrots, matchstick
- 1/4 cup sea salt
- filtered water
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 inch ginger, chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons cayenne
- 1-2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- splash Worcestershire
- 1/2 teaspoon sweetener of choice
- 1/4 sheet of nori, crushed into a powder
- 1 teaspoon white miso paste
Make a brine out of the salt and just enough water to submerge the cabbage, daikon, onions, and carrots. Place a plate on top to keep everything underwater. Soak for two hours.
Meanwhile, mix the garlic, ginger, cayenne, paprika, Worcestershire, sweetener, nori, miso paste, and just enough water to form a paste. Set aside.
After two hours of soaking in the brine, rinse the veggies a few times and place in a colander to drain. Rinse and dry the bowl they were soaking in, and once they are dry, return the veggies to the bowl.
Put on your gloves and massage the paste into the veggies really well. Stuff the kimchi into mason jars, pushing down to remove as much air as possible. Leave about an inch of space at the top. Seal and allow to sit at room temperature for several days. Check the jars daily by removing the lid, pushing down on the mixture with a clean spoon, and giving it a taste. When it is to your liking, move to the refrigerator. The flavor will continue to develop the longer it sits.
If you try this recipe out, let me know what you think!