Homemade Vegetarian Won Bok Kimchi

I‘ve resisted making my own fermented foods for, well, decades at this point. I’m not sure exactly why – maybe a little fear that they might not be safe, or that the smell would be overpowering, or just a lack of patience to wait for them to mature. But lately I’ve fallen more and more in love with fermented vegetables in particular, and I finally took the plunge with this kimchi. One of my coworkers at ChefSteps, development chef Nick Gavin, was psyched to work on it too, so we made a rather enormous 10-liter batch last week and it is happily fermenting away in the back of our office space. Yes, I’m tasting it every day.

Let me just say this: making kimchi really is very easy, not at all scary, and the results are quite delicious so far. Although I started with a rather traditional Napa cabbage kimchi (won bok kimchi), I’ve got a long list of experiments in mind. Preserved lemon / kimchi hybrid. Smoked kimchi. Red radish kimchi. Fermented harissa. Fermented ketchup. Etc, etc.

Nick and I came up with our recipe for this first batch by watching a bunch of videos and reading recipes all over the web, and then combining what seemed to us like the best ideas, ratios, and methods. Obviously one batch doesn’t make me an expert, so you’ll definitely want to experiment and adjust as well, and the book that has become more or less the bible on the subject is The Art of Fermentation. Sandor Katz’s book is full of useful information about safety, equipment and styles of fermentation (but a little light on actionable recipes).

Most (but not all) kimchi that you find at a store will have some kind of seafood product in it – anchovy sauce, fish sauce, dried shrimp and so forth. The purpose of these ingredients is to add umami (savoriness) to complement the lactic fermented tang, salt, and spicy heat. In the recipe below, we’ve just omitted them. The only source of umami is a small amount of soy sauce. I’ve done a few tests mixing either MSG or yeast extracts into some of the already partially fermented kimchi and they tasted quite good. I’ll probably put them right in the spice mixture next time – if you want to experiment, try them at about 0.5% of the total weight (0.1% for pure MSG). (If the mention of MSG has sent you into a tizzy, you should go read the Wikipedia article for references on its safety.) Kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms also have lots of free glutamates, so I want to try them in the future as well.

Once you’ve got some kimchi (homemade or bought), here are some of my favorite dishes to serve it in or with: Kimchi fried rice, Tofu and Kimchi Dinner for One, Bibim Naengmyeon, and the kimchi jigae (kimchi stew) in my book.

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Homemade Kimchi

This content was originally published here.