This easy vegan kimchi recipe will become your next back-pocket recipe addition. Not only is this vegan kimchi easy to make, it also tastes just as good as the real thing, just without the fish sauce and saeujeot.
We love our traditional napa cabbage kimchi recipe because there's something about Grandma's recipe that's just hard to compete with. But sometimes change and adaptation isn't such a bad thing.
About a year ago, Kyong and I developed a vegan kimchi recipe for our catering business because many of our clients were requesting. After many tweaks, we're proud to say that this easy vegan kimchi is just as good as the classic. I'm sure Kyong's grandma would be proud too!
Difference between traditional kimchi and vegetarian or vegan kimchi
Classic kimchi usually uses fish sauce and saeujeot (aka Korean small salted and fermented shrimps). This is the secret ingredient for all the umami and funk in traditional kimchi. It also provides kimchi with that satisfying saltiness and helps with kimchi's fermentation process, as saeujeot and fish sauce is already fermented.
In our vegan kimchi recipe, we omitted both the fish sauce and saeutjeot to make it vegan friendly. Instead, we opted for a little additional salt and our secret ingredient, mushroom powder. Mushrooms are packed with umami and flavor. In powered form, it's a beautiful substitute for the fermented shrimps. But be careful buying mushroom powers, as some are not vegan. We used Lee Kum Kee's mushroom powder, and it did not disappoint.
Health benefits of kimchi
As kimchi is a fermented product, it does not matter whether it's vegan or not for us to reap its benefits. Kimchi is packed with good bacterias that are great for our gut health and promotes better overall immunity. It's also naturally filled with vitamins and minerals from the marinade ingredients used, such as the abundance of garlic, ginger, and onion. If you're interested, here's an article from Healthline, elaborating on the many benefits of eating kimchi.
White rice substitute
Because we always have cooked white rice available, whether in our rice cooker, fridge, or freezer, we usually use white rice in our kimchi. However, we understand that it may not be so for you, our readers. So instead, you can substitute white rice in kimchi for a rice paste made with rice flour. You can use either regular or glutinous rice flour.
To make the rice flour paste for this vegan kimchi recipe, combine 3 Tablespoons of rice flour with 1 cup of water. Mix until no lumps remain and cook it over medium high heat. Cook until the paste turns kind of opaque, sticky, and thick. Let the paste cool until warm to the touch before blending with the marinade.
Substituting water for vegetable stock is a great way to add more flavor and nutrition. An easy way to make vegetable stock is by collecting vegetable scraps and peelings. For example, onion skin, green onion bottoms, carrot tops, etc are great for starting vegetable stocks. Thereafter, you can add aromatics such as shiitake mushrooms to the stock.
To make vegetable stocks, simmer the vegetable scraps in water for about 30 minutes. Use as instructed in the recipe and freeze any leftover for another use.
Alternative method to make this vegan kimchi
The vegan kimchi recipe features the classic quartered kimchi making method. It's a great method, especially if you enjoy fermented kimchi or plan on fermenting this vegan kimchi before eating. However, if you are looking for a quicker way to make this kimchi or will be consuming the batch of kimchi pretty quickly (within 1 month), you can use our fresh kimchi (geotjeori) method.
To start, quarter the napa cabbage, remove the core completely, and cut the napa cabbage into 1 inch pieces. Rinse and drain the cabbage to remove any dirt. Generously salt the cut cabbage and toss to disperse the salt evenly. Follow the remaining recipe for salting the napa cabbage. Because the napa cabbage is cut into smaller pieces, the salting process may be shorter. So check more frequently after flipping the cabbage to see if it's at your desired saltiness.
Once the cabbage have been properly salted, rinsed, and drained, add them straight into the marinade. Mix until everything is evenly coated. Serve immediately and store leftovers in an airtight container or mason jars. Make sure to leave about an inch gap between the kimchi and the lid to allow expansion during fermentation.
Optional vegetables to add to kimchi, but highly recommended
Although julienned carrots, radish, and green onion are optional vegetables in any kimchi recipes, we do highly recommend adding them. Both the carrots and Korean radish add natural sweetness to the kimchi, which helps with fermentation. If you have buchu (aka Asian chives) available, it's also a great addition to kimchi, especially vegan kimchi, since we are omitting saeujeot and fish sauce. Buchu and Korean radish both provides the funkiness you want in kimchi.
Storage and fermentation for our vegan kimchi
Any kimchi is edible immediately after making, so feel free to cut up some of this vegan kimchi after you are done spreading the marinade. If you want to store it immediately or have leftovers, simply pack the kimchi into sanitized airtight containers such as mason jars. Do leave about an inch space between the kimchi and the lid to accommodate for any expansion during fermentation.
Because vegan kimchi doesn't have saeujeot and fish sauce in it to speed up fermentation, it'll take a bit longer than normal kimchi to ferment. We recommend leaving your vegan kimchi out at room temperature for a couple of days before refrigerating to help speed up the fermentation. You'll start to notice the tanginess in a week or two.
Happy kimchi making!
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Easy Vegan Kimchi Recipe
- 1 head napa cabbage , outer leaves removed (average 5 lb or 2000g)
- ¾ cup coarse salt , or as needed for salting (about 180g)
For the vegan kimchi marinade:
- ½ large apple , cored and large diced (fuji, honey crisp, or gala; about 80g)
- ½ medium yellow onion , peeled and large diced (about 85g)
- 20 cloves garlic cloves (about 100g)
- 1 inch knob of ginger , peeled and sliced (about 28g)
- 1 Tablespoon mushroom powder
- ½ Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cup gochugaru (coarse) , or more if your prefer your kimchi spicer (aka Korean red pepper flakes)
- ¼ cup cooked white rice (refer to post for alternative)
- 1¼ cup hot water , or vegetable stock
- 1 medium carrot , peeled and julienned
- ⅓ small radish , peeled and julienned
- 1 bunch green onion , only the green part cut into 1 inch pieces (you can substitute green onions for buchu/ Asian chives as well)
For the napa cabbage:
- Cut the napa cabbage into quarters, lengthwise. Trim off half of the root but making sure to keep the leaves intact. Rinse the cabbage with cold water to remove any dirt, especially the outer few leaves. Generously salt each leaf of the cabbage.
- Place the salted cabbage in a bowl and let it rest for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, flip the cabbage and let it salt for another 20 to 30 minutes. Take a piece of the salted cabbage. Rinse and firmly squeeze to remove excess salt and water. Taste for desirable saltiness. *We prefer well seasoned cabbage. After rinsing and squeezing excess water out of the cabbage, the cabbage should taste fresh with hints of sweetness while being nicely "seasoned."*
- Once the napa cabbage is salted to your preference, rinse the cabbage in cold water 2-3 times to remove excess salt. On the final rinse, firmly squeeze the cabbage to remove excess water. This will prevent your kimchi from becoming too watery.*If the cabbage is not salted enough, flip the cabbage once more and let it salt for another 10 to 30 minutes. Repeat tasting process.*
For the vegan kimchi marinade:
- Combine everything in a blender and blend until no more big chunks of ingredients are visible. Pause the blender and scrape the sides as necessary. Pour the marinade into a large mixing bowl.*Depending on the water content in the apple and onion, more water or vegetable stock may be needed to help blend the marinade. Add a little at a time until the marinade is well blended. The marinade does not have to be super smooth.*
- (If using) Add the julienned carrots, radish, and green onion to the marinade and mix until everything is evenly coated.
- Working with one quarter of a napa cabbage at a time, slather the marinade with the veggies in between each leaf of the cabbage. Wrap the cabbage around itself and pack into desired storage container. Repeat with remaining napa cabbage.*Keep about ½ inch space between the top of the kimchi and the lid to allow room for expansion during fermentation.*
- Cut and enjoy the kimchi immediately for fresher flavors or let the kimchi ferment at room temperature for 1 to 2 days then refrigerate for 1 week for the classic tangy, funky flavors.
- This homemade vegan kimchi is medium in spiciness. If you prefer milder heat, start with ½ cup of gochugaru and work your way up to your desired spiciness. Feel free to taste the marinade as you make it to adjust the saltiness to your preference as well.
- Refer to the post above for tips, substitution, and FAQs.