I fell in love with kimchi at first bite. Salty, spicy, gingery and garlicky, its complex medley rounds off on a lively sour note. Kimchi is a Korean firework of flavour. It’s also exceptionally good for you. There are over 200 documented types of kimchi alone, so this crowning symbol of Korean culture and national pride is as much a living thing as the product itself.
Good things come to those who wait: real kimchi is a thing of delicious patience. It takes several days, can ferment for weeks, and lasts for months. Traditionally, it sits in a brine for 6-8 hours, but this recipe cuts prep in half—so, not a true kimchi but still with the benefits of fermentation. The shortcut allows you to enjoy the flavour right away as a quick pickle or quick-chi, within 48 hours. If you give it a week, you get both the full probiotic powerhouse and uniquely funky flavour.
“Funky goodness” is what I call all things fermented. It refers to that “going off” smell that to many might mean ‘toss that it’s gone bad!’ but to me says ‘yum, good stuff is happening.’ And it is. With care and attention to the process, the bacteria growing in fermented food is the best bacteria, the kind you want and NEED. Good digestion, weight loss, even depression are linked to poor gut flora and low beneficial bacteria populations. Repopulate for a happy gut with this delicious and quick vegetarian kimchi recipe.
Makes: 15 portions Time: 30 mins active, total 3 hours, including salting and draining the cabbage
1 large Chinese cabbage (about 1kg) 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks 3 spring onions (green and white), roughly chopped Optional: extra veg, 6 red radishes or ¼ long daikon radish, thinly sliced 4-5 big pinches sea salt
4.5cm/2in piece ginger, peeled and grated (yields about 3 Tbsp) 20-30g red chili flakes or gochugaru red pepper powder** 30g/2Tbsp nama shoyu, coconut aminos or soy sauce 30g/2Tbsp coconut sugar, palm sugar or maple syrup 40ml raw apple cider, coconut or rice vinegar 6 cloves garlic, peeled and grated Half a small yellow or white onion 1 fat pinch sea salt
1 large glass jar (about 750ml) or 2-3 smaller jars 1 large glass or wooden bowl, stainless steel 1 large strainer
Be sure your cabbage is clean and dry, but don’t use any antibacterial soap as this will kill the good guys. Prepare the cabbage by slicing off the base and chopping the rest into 2cm pieces, or the width of your index and middle finger. Toss the cabbage into a bowl and add the salt, mixing it in with your hands. This is to extract the water from the cabbage so you have a firmer end product and less water in your kimchi jar, which dilutes the flavours.
Set the cabbage aside for at least an hour, but ideally up to 2.5 hours, in a large strainer over a bowl.. When ready, rinse the cabbage and drain it, squeezing it with clean hands to extract more water. Set over a strainer while you make the flavour paste.
Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender until it is a well mixed paste. Don’t worry about the little bit of sugar in the recipe; it balances the flavours and is food for bacteria. You can also use some grated apple or pear if you prefer, about half of one medium-sized fruit. If you let your kimchi ferment for a week, the bacteria consume the sugar, resulting in very little net sugar. Set aside the chili paste and chop the other pickling vegetables.
Give the cabbage salting bowl a quick rinse and layer the pickling veg and flavour paste in. Mix with your hands, preferably with a glove so you don’t get chili deep under your nails, where it can later transfer somewhere you definitely don’t want it, like your eye, until all the cabbage is covered with the paste.
You can now enjoy the kimchi as is, or pack it tightly into your very clean glass jar and close the lid, leaving it at room temperature for at least 1 day but up to 7 days in colder weather, about 3 days in warmer weather. Ensure some liquid always covers the top layer by pressing it down with a plate or glass.
For quick-chi, , you can move it to the fridge after at least 24-48 hours then consume within a week. Bubbles may form, it may release more liquid and perhaps a funky smell. This is okay—so is even a little mold, which you can scrape off the top or you can discard the first layer if you feel squeamish about it. But if you see black, pink, or orange mold, then something went wrong and you should toss it.
Fermenting is gardening and cooking in one: sometimes forgiving and sometimes requiring forgiveness, either way it’s an experiment and usually a delicious process.
*To read more, check out GUT: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders, or the award winning book by Sandor Ellix Katz The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World
** You can find gochugaru red pepper powder at a Korean or Asian grocery store, but don’t buy the paste as it usually has bad preservatives and MSG. Basic red pepper flakes are a decent substitute and usually available at any supermarket, just check for added salt in the mix, which is common and might make your kimchi too salty.