Kimchi is one of my favorite foods on the planet. It's spicy, salty, tangy, and oh-so-addictively fermented. Eating it regularly might give you the worst breath in the world, but you know what? That's what toothpaste and breath mints are for.
|This is what a gallon of homemade kimchi looks like. Awwww yeah.
Storebought kimchi often contains shrimp or anchovy paste, creating a problem for vegans and vegetarians. One can occasionally find vegetarian kimchi in natural foods markets and places like that, but it tends to be quite expensive (up to $10 for a 16oz jar).
But, I have good news! Making your own kimchi isn't difficult at all. I won't lie - it is time-consuming, but it doesn't require any special skill other than knowing how to chop and grind up and rinse vegetables. You also don't need to bury your kimchi in the ground in late autumn or get a special kimchi fridge... leaving it on your kitchen counter for a day or two to start the fermentation process and then putting it in your normal fridge works fine. Though you might want to wrap a plastic bag around the container so the odor doesn't contaminate the other stuff in your fridge.
Vegan8Korean has a truly excellent vegan recipe and tutorial on their blog, so I'm not even going to bother typing up my own. But I would like to talk briefly about some of the more "unusual" ingredients often called for in kimchi recipes and whether or not they can be substituted:
Korean radish (mu): Korean radishes look similar to daikon radishes but they are not exactly the same. In general, the radishes add a bit of bitterness/spiciness and crunch to kimchi, and I think daikon works fine for that purpose, plus it's easier to find. I've never tried kimchi with the regular red garden radishes you find easily in America, but it might be a little too bitter?
Glutinous rice powder/water: Glutinous rice powder is not the same as regular rice flour. It's... glutinous. The purpose of this ingredient in kimchi is to thicken and help adhere the sauce to the cabbage/vegetables, which is especially important with whole cabbage kimchi. If you're making cut (mat) cabbage kimchi it won't be terrible if you skip it, but honestly, if you have any sort of Asian market in your town you should be able to find glutinous rice powder for cheap. I get mine at a local Chinese market for $1 a bag and it's white and labelled "rice glue", lolz.
Asian pear: Asian pears tend to be much rounder that the average supermarket pears we get here in America. The purpose of this ingredient is to "soften" the flavor of the kimchi a bit, and I think it's absolutely worth including for that reason. You know what though, regular supermarket pears work fine for this! Just make sure they're very ripe so you can grind them up easily.
Gochugaru: AKA kochukaru or Korean red pepper powder. This is the one thing you really can't substitute, as it's not the same as other types of pepper powder and really instrumental in making kimchi taste like kimchi. If you don't have a Korean market in your town but do have a Chinese one there's a chance you'll find it there - many Chinese markets around these parts carry a small selection of Korean basics. You can also get it on Amazon if all else fails. Do pay attention to what type you get though! I use medium to coarse pepper powder for kimchi, as I think the very fine type would be too spicy and is better suited to making things like pepper paste.
Most recipes don't include kelp powder, but Vegan8Korean uses it in theirs and I think it adds something. You could leave it out, but I don't think it's too difficult to find - I get mine off iHerb.
Do you like kimchi? Have you ever tried making your own?