Homemade Vegan Kimchi (Light and Refreshing)
Make your own homemade vegan kimchi with this simple recipe. Enjoy a light and refreshing taste that captures the authentic Korean flavors without using fish sauce. Learn the secrets to perfect fermentation, the best ingredients, and delicious substitutes. This recipe is a must-try for anyone on a plant-based diet!
Even though I’m not specifically looking for vegan or vegetarian options, I’ve really come to love kimchi that’s made without the usual fish sauce.
This easy vegan kimchi recipe is a favorite among Korean vegans and vegetarians. It’s also a key part of the authentic flavors found in Buddhist temple food, which is enjoyed by both locals and visitors in Korea.
I picked up some great tips on making vegan kimchi from a Buddhist temple’s head cook. These tips helped me make kimchi that’s just as rich in umami as the traditional kind, but with crispy and crunchy textures.
It’s light and refreshing, too. I can see why some people might even prefer this vegan version to the traditional fish sauce-based kimchi.
Is Kimchi Vegan?
Kimchi is a fermented food and a popular Korean dish known for its spicy and sour taste. However, not all kimchi is vegan because it often includes fish sauce or shrimp paste for flavor.
These ingredients are made from seafood, which isn’t suitable for a vegan diet. To make kimchi vegan, these animal-based ingredients can be replaced with vegan alternatives like soy sauce, miso paste, or seaweed to give it that umami flavor without using any animal products.
So, while traditional kimchi might not be vegan, there are definitely ways to make vegan kimchi that tastes just as good.
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Vegan Kimchi is Still Probiotic
Yes, this plant-based kimchi is still full of probiotics, just like the traditional kimchi. When kimchi ferments, it creates healthy bacteria called probiotics.
These are great for your gut health. The process of making kimchi involves salt and seasonings to ferment the vegetables, and this doesn’t change when you make it vegan.
So, even without fish sauce, vegan kimchi still helps with digestion and adds good bacteria to your diet, making it a probiotic-rich food. This kimchi recipe also happens to be gluten-free.
How is this recipe different?
Most vegan kimchi recipes use soy sauce or miso paste as a substitute for the fish sauce or they might even leave it out entirely. While this creates a tasty dish, it often lacks the deep umami flavor found in traditional kimchi, which has a light, refreshing taste with a crisp texture.
Traditional kimchi gets its unique flavor from fish sauce. But for a vegan version, just leaving out fish sauce isn’t enough; doing so might mean missing out on kimchi’s famous umami depth.
However, there’s a great solution. By using a mix of vegetable-fruit stock and Korean soup soy sauce, you can create vegan kimchi that tastes very close to the traditional version.
Korean Soup Soy Sauce:
Korean soup soy sauce, known as Guk-ganjang (국간장), is a fermented soybean sauce that captures the savory essence of fish sauce without the fishy smell. Its translucent nature keeps the kimchi retains its vibrant red color, making it even more appetizing.
A staple in vegan Korean cuisine and Buddhist temple recipes, substituting Korean soup soy sauce for fish sauce adds the umami flavor that gives the dish its deep and complex taste.
Recipe Ingredients & Alternatives
- Napa Cabbage: The foundation of this kimchi, often called Chinese cabbage. A 4.5 lb cabbage is ideal; however, if using a 2.2 lb variant, reduce the other ingredients by half.
- Can’t find Napa? Choose green cabbage instead as you seen on my green cabbage kimchi recipe.
- Salt: Korean coarse sea salt is best. If unavailable, use Kosher salt at 1/4 the quantity. Table salt isn’t recommended.
- Fresh Ingredients: Onion, garlic, and ginger form the trio for kimchi’s savory heart.
- Korean Pear & Apple: I blend half of each into the kimchi paste and use the rest for the vegetable-fruit stock. Their natural sweetness counters the kimchi’s salt and tang, eliminating sugar’s need.
- If Asian pear is not available, go for firm bosc pear. Persimmon is another great alternative as well.
- Fresh red chili: While optional, but it enhances flavor and vibrant color.
- Korean Red Chili Flakes (Gochugaru): Central to kimchi’s flavor profile. Its taste is irreplaceable.
- You can find gochugaru at any local Asian grocery store these days.
- Korean Soup Soy Sauce (Guk-ganjang): Boosts kimchi’s umami.
- Find it at Korean markets or online.
- Starchy Base: The starch from the cooked potato or white rice is vital for fermentation, nourishing the beneficial bacteria.
- Vegetable-Fruit Stock: The key to kimchi’s lightness. It’s crafted from Korean pear, red apple, onion or leek, radish (Korean or daikon), and dried sea kelp, offering a burst of flavor.
How to Make Vegan Kimchi, Step-by-Step
Preparing the cabbage
Step 1. Prep the cabbage
- Cut the cabbage into quarters, removing the tough core at the bottom.
- Wash the quarters thoroughly, then chop them into 2-inch pieces for manageable bites.
Step 2. Salting the cabbage
- Place a layer of cabbage pieces in a big bowl and evenly sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of coarse salt over them (use 1 tablespoon if it’s kosher salt). Add more cabbage and salt in layers until all the cabbage is in the bowl.
- If the cabbage looks a bit dry, sprinkle some water on top and press down gently with your hands to help it absorb the salt.
- Let the cabbage rest with the salt for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, flipping it over halfway through so it salts evenly. This is a good time to get your other kimchi ingredients ready.
Step 3. Rinsing the cabbage
- Test if the cabbage is ready by bending a piece of the stem. If it bends without breaking, it’s done.
- Rinse the salted cabbage under cold water three times to remove excess salt, then let it drain in a large colander to get rid of any leftover water.
Step 4. Make vegetable-fruit stock
- While the cabbage is soaking in salt, start making the vegetable-fruit stock. Take a pear, an apple, some radish, and an onion. Add these to a pot with dried sea kelp and water.
- Bring everything to a boil, then let it simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes. Remember to take out the sea kelp after the first 5 minutes.
- After simmering, remove all the solid ingredients from the pot and keep aside 1 1/2 cups of the liquid stock. Allow this stock to cool down before using.
Step 5. Creating the flavor base
- Blend together an onion, some garlic, a bit of ginger, pieces of pear and apple, and a cooked potato (or you can use cooked white rice) with 1/2 cup of the cooled stock until everything is smooth.
- If you’re adding fresh red chili for extra spice, put it in at the end and give the blender a few quick pulses.
Step 6. Finishing the paste
- Move the blended mixture into a large mixing bowl. Now, stir in Korean chili flakes and Korean soup soy sauce. Mix everything well.
- Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes. This waiting time helps the chili flakes to soak up the flavors and rehydrate.
- In a separate large bowl, mix the prepared cabbage and some sliced green onions together. Then, add the kimchi paste to this mixture.
A handy tip: To keep your hands clean and free from chili stains, consider wearing kitchen rubber glovesor disposable plastic gloves while mixing.
Step 7. Mixing and starting fermentation
- Mix the cabbage thoroughly with the spicy kimchi paste until every piece is well coated.
- Next, move the kimchi to a clean, sterilized jar or container, setting the stage for fermentation to work its wonders.
- If you find the kimchi a bit dry and prefer it juicier, take the leftover 1 cup of vegetable-fruit stock. Pour this into the bowl where you mixed the kimchi, swirling it around to pick up any leftover paste, and then add this liquid to your kimchi container.
Keep in mind that as the kimchi ferments, the cabbage will naturally release more liquid, creating more brine. So, it’s best to be cautious with how much extra stock you add to avoid making your kimchi too watery.
Fermentation and Storage Tips
Once you’ve made your kimchi, leave it out at room temperature for 1 to 2 days. The exact time depends on how warm your kitchen is. This step kicks off the fermentation process, which is crucial for getting that signature kimchi flavor.
After that initial fermentation period, put the kimchi in the fridge. Let it chill and continue to ferment slowly for about 5 to 7 days. This extra time helps the flavors blend together and deepen.
If you’re eager to try your kimchi, you don’t have to wait; it’s perfectly fine to eat it right after making it. Freshly made kimchi has a crisp texture and a lighter taste.
If you let it ferment, it will keep well in the fridge for several weeks, even up to 2 months. Over time, your kimchi will get sourer and develop a stronger flavor, making it perfect for cooking dishes like kimchi stew or kimchi pancakes.
Delicious Ways to Enjoy Vegan Kimchi
Try new things with your vegan kimchi! Add it to a quick ramen fix for a burst of flavor, or mix it with tofu for a filling meal. See on my tofu kimchi stir-fry recipe. You can also stir it into spicy kimchi fried rice. Just make sure to leave out the meat for a vegan dish.
Explore other easy dishes like bibim guksu (Korean spicy cold noodles), add it to kimchi pasta with olives for a twist, or try it in kimchi tomato spaghetti. There are so many tasty ways to enjoy it in your meals!
Homemade Vegan Kimchi (Light and Refreshing)
- 4 1/2 lb (2 kg) napa cabbage
- 1 1/2 cup (360 ml) Korean coarse sea salt, or 1/3 cup kosher salt
For vegetable-fruit stock
- 1/2 large onion, or leek, sliced
- 1/4 lb (113 g) Korean radish, or daikon radish, diced
- 2 large pieces dried sea kelp (dashima)
- 1/2 Asian pear or Bosc pear
- 1/2 sweet red apple
- 6 cups (1.4 liter) water
For kimchi paste
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 10 cloves garlic
- 1-2 inch ginger, peeled and diced
- 1/2 Asian pear or Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and diced
- 1/2 sweet red apple, cored, and diced
- 4 tbsp cooked plain potato, or white rice
- 4-5 fresh red fingerlong chilies, diced, optional
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) Korean chili flakes (gochugaru)
- 4 tbsp Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang)
- 1 bunch green onion , sliced
To salt the cabbage
- Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, leaving about 3-4 inches of the stem intact. Separate the halves by hand and then repeat the process to make quarters. Rinse the cabbage and chop it into 2-inch pieces.
- Spread a small portion of cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of coarse salt (1 tablespoon for kosher salt) evenly, and repeat until all the cabbage is used. Sprinkle with water occasionally if the cabbage seems dry and push it down with your hands. Let it soak for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning it around halfway through.
- One way to check the status of cabbage brining is done is by bending the white stem piece. If it bends without breaking, it is ready. Rinse the cabbage thoroughly 3 times and drain well in a colander.
To make the vegetable stock
- While the cabbage is brining, make the vegetable-fruit stock by combining pear, apple, radish, onion, dried sea kelp, and water in a pot. Boil and then simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, removing the sea kelp after 5 minutes. Discard the ingredients and reserve 1-1/2 cups of stock. Let it cool.
To make kimchi paste
- Make the kimchi paste by blending onion, garlic, ginger, pear, apple, cooked potato (or white rice), and 1/2 cup of stock until smooth. If using fresh red chili, add the slices at the end and pulse a few times.
- Pour the puree into a mixing bowl and add Korean chili flakes, Korean soup soy sauce, and mix well. Let it sit for 5 minutes so that the chili flakes can absorb the seasoning and rehydrate.
To assemble kimchi
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cabbage and sliced green onion, add the kimchi paste, and toss well to coat all the cabbage pieces.Note: To avoid chili stains on your hands, it is recommended to wear kitchen gloves or disposable plastic gloves.
- Transfer the kimchi into a storage container. If you want extra kimchi brine, add the remaining 1 cup of stock to the mixing bowl you assembled the kimchi in. Rinse the bowl to collect all the residue of kimchi paste and pour it over the kimchi. Note: Remember, the cabbage will continue to yield more brine naturally as it ferments, so avoid adding too much stock.
- After preparing the kimchi, let it sit at room temperature for 1-2 days (depending on the temperature) to allow the fermentation process to start. Then, transfer the kimchi to the refrigerator and store it for 5-7 days to let the flavors develop fully. Note: You can also enjoy the kimchi immediately after making it if you prefer a fresh taste. This vegan kimchi can maintain its texture and flavor for several weeks up to 2 months.
- To preserve the flavor of your kimchi, use an airtight container.
- Do not fill the container to the top, but leave at least 1/5 of the container empty to allow the kimchi to expand during fermentation.
- Allow the kimchi to sit at room temperature for 1-2 days, depending on the temperature, and then store it in the refrigerator for an additional 5-7 days for ideal fermentation.
- As kimchi ferments, it creates an odor. To prevent the spread of the odor, keep 1-2 boxes of fridge baking soda in your refrigerator.