Vegan Napa Cabbage Kimchi

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Hello my dears!

I have a slight (big?) obsession for Asian food since a few months: I cannot have enough of Japanese rice bowls with plenty of toppings, okonomiyaki, sushi, ramen… If I had to name one side dish/ topping that combines perfectly with all these dishes, it would be Korean traditional napa cabbage kimchi, called tongbaechu-kimchi. This kimchi uses the whole cabbage leaf, which makes it more appetizing in my view. Indeed, I dislike in general foods that are too finely mashed/chopped, as I like being able to recognize the aspect and texture of vegetables, even after they are cooked.

This recipe really does the trick, as the cabbage keeps its crunch even after several week. It is the perfect “rescue food” to have in your fridge, as it will never go off, unless something wrong happened with the fermentation, but you will notice it before you store the batch in the fridge, as your kimchi will quickly start to smell and look bad. Indeed, the salt used in the recipe prevents rotting and pathogenic bacteria to develop, while good bacteria such as Lactobacillus bifermentous or Leconostoc lactis will convert glucose from veggies into CO2 and lactic acid, which also prevents nasty bacteria to develop, and gives their tanginess to fermented foods such as yogurt, pickles or kimchi. The other great thing about lactic acid fermentation is that it makes your veggies even healthier, as lactic acid allows the gut to absorb nutrients more efficiently.

The thrid amazing thing about fermented foods is they contain probiotics. These are bacteria that are beneficial to the gut, as they help keeping the intestinal flora in balance, preventing nasty bacteria and yeasts to make your gut their home. You can also find probiotics food supplements in drugstores, where find tons of different brands and types are available. However, the probiotics you get from a tablet are never as good as the ones from fermented foods because:

  1. Not sure the poor bacteria imprisoned in supplement pills are still alive the day you will eat them.
  2. Pills contain only 1-5 different types of bacteria, when fermented foods contain hundreds. Indeed, pharmaceutical labs must isolate and study the effect of every single type of bacteria before they can commercialize them. Although this process is totally rational on a health safety point of view, it somehow goes against the beneficial process of eating probiotics; indeed, studies have shown that people with a healthy gut have a broad range of bacteria and yeasts types in their intestinal flora, when people with unhealthy gut have a flora that is much smaller in terms of variety of ^bacteria and yeasts types.

This is why taking the habit of eating daily a serving of fermented veggies will do much better to your health than taking probiotics supplements, and it will do good to your wallet too, as good quality food supplements can be pricey.

Lets go back to my all favorite napa cabbage kimchi now. This recipe is inspired from Maangchi. She is a very talented Korean cook and food blogger. Unfortunately, many of her recipes are unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans, because of some ingredients that commonly used in Korean cuisine, such as fermented shrimps or fish sauce. I have substituted them with plant-based ingredients that still bring plenty of flavor to the recipe.

I have decided to veganise and simplify her tongbaechu-kimchi recipe, after seeing that my favorite Asian grocery store in Geneva was selling vegan kimchi at the price of… 5$/serving, when the regular one was only 3$/serving! I was so happy of my 1st attempt at doing my own tongbaechu-kimchi, that I ate the whole batch in less than 2 weeks and thought I had to share the recipe with you guys.

It is very easy to make, but it is time consuming, in the sense veggies have to rest for two hours and be flipped every 30 minutes. While I was through the process of making kimchi and waiting for the alarm clock to ring so I could start spreading the spicy paste on the cabbage leaves, the idea of organizing a kimchi & pickles workshop came to my mind, where pickled cucumbers and carrots jars would be made during the cabbage 2 hours resting time.

Pictures shared in this post are from the workshop organised on April 28th. Please let me know in the comments if you would be interested in attending a kimchi & pickles workshop, so I can organize another one later this year. I was also thinking of organizing a fermented veggies jars making weekend, where everyone would bring their own veggies and jars, and where people would be able to share their recipes and swap jars. What do you think about this? Let me know if it is something you would like to do!

Pickled cucumbers recipe will be posted soon. Meanwhile, you will be able to enjoy your tongbaechu-kimchi in so many ways you will never get tired of it. It is delicious when chopped in an omelet, added to broth to give your soups and exotic and spicy kick. It is also a perfect addition to fried rice or noodles, and will do wonders when added to okonomiyaki. Please let me know in the comments how you eat your kimchi! Cannot wait to get inspired by you 🙂

Before I share the recipe, here are a few recommendations to make your life easier and ensure your kimchi batch is perfectly fermented and tasty:

  • Salt: it is necessary to use salt that does not contain iodine, or you might prevent/slow down the fermenting process
  • Hot pepper: the quantity you are willing to use will depend on the quality of the pepper powder you have, and on how much you like your food to be spicy. If you don’t like food that is too hot, I would recommend either to use a milder pepper flakes blend, or to substitute half of the amount with mild paprika, so you will still have the same amount of paste and red color intensity with less hotness.
  • Process: I recommend you watch Maangchi’s video before you start making the kimchi, as it shows the different steps very clearly :), especially the way of splitting the cabbage in halves without damaging the small leaves in the center.
  • Flour: if you cannot get glutinous rice flour and gluten is not an issue for you, you can use white all-purpose wheat flour
  • Jars: As I don’t have an onggi (traditional Korean ceramic container for making fermented food), I use hermetic canning jars with a rubber seal, as these ensure there is no oxygen coming to the jars, which is essential to the fermenting process as the beneficial fermenting bacteria need an anaerobic environment to develop, but they still allow the CO2 produced during the fermentation process to escape. If you use a screw-on lid jar, you will need to open the lid everyday during the fermentation process to release the CO2. Last but not least: do not forget to sterilize your jars beforehand!

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Ingredients (yield 3 liter jars)

  • 1.5 kg napa cabbage / Chinese cabbage
  • 70 gr (1/4 cup) salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp glutinous rice flour
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 200 gr  (1 cup) white radish, grated
  • 100 gr (1/2 cup) carrot, grated
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 12 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup miso paste
  • 1 cup hot Korean pepper powder (gochugaru)

Kitchenware

  • 1 basin
  • 1 strainer
  • 1 knife
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 saucepan
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 high speed blender
  • 1 grater
  • 3 X 1 liter hermetic glass canning jars

Directions

  1. Split the cabbages in half by cutting a short slit in the base of the cabbage,  and then gently pulling the halves apart with your hands.
  2. Cut a slit through the core of each half, 2 inches above the stem. Make sure the cabbage leaves are loose but still attached to the core.
  3. Dunk the cabbage in water to get the leaves wet.
  4. Sprinkle salt on every leaf, by lifting the leaves up on by one. Use more salt on the stems.
  5. Allow the cabbages rest for 2 hours. Turn them over every 30 minutes to make sure all leaves are evenly salted.
  6. While the cabbage is resting, make a porridge by combining the water and glutinous rice flour in a saucepan. Mix well and let it cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Add the sugar and cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down.
  7. In a high speed blender, blend cooled porridge, garlic, ginger and chopped onion  (not the green ones!) until smooth
  8. In a bowl, combine porridge, soy sauce, miso paste and hot pepper flakes. Mix well until getting a thin paste texture.
  9. Add the grated carrot, radish and chopped green onions. Mix until homogeneous
  10. When the 2 hours resting time is over, wash the cabbages under cold running water, to remove the excess salt an any dirt. As you wash, split the halves into quarters along the slits cut earlier. Chop off the cores, and put cabbages in a strainer so they can drain well.
  11. Spread some kimchi paste on each cabbage leaf, using your hands. When every leaf in a quarter is covered with paste, wrap it around itself into a small packet, and put into your jar, or onggi.
  12. When filling up your jars, make sure you pack them well, so no air is left between the cabbage quarters. This will prevent nasty bacteria to develop because of the oxygen. You should also leave at least 1in empty space between the vegetables and the lid. This will prevent kimchi juice to overflow during the fermenting process .
  13. Close your jars and allow the kimchi to start fermenting in a dark place and at room temperature, for 1 to 3 days depending on the temperature and humidity of the room: the warmer and more humid, the faster. Once fermentation has started, kimchi will smell and taste sour, and pressing on the top of the kimchi with a spoon will release bubbles from beneath.
  14. After the 1 to 3 days are passed, store in the refrigerator to use as needed. Refrigeration slows down the fermentation process, which will make kimchi more and more sour as time goes on.

Have fun making your homemade kimchi jars, I cannot wait to read your impressions about this recipe! And do not forget to watch Maanchi’s video before you start!

Big hugs,

Eleonora

References

lanutrition.fr ; wikipedia.org ; maangchi.com

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