vegetarian kimchi recipe: too much of a good thing?

by Stacy

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I promised Korean food, and Korean food you shall have! What better introduction to Korean food is there than kimchi?

Kimchi (also spelled “kimchee”) is often referred to as “Korean sauerkraut.” Sauerkraut: a smelly mystery jar always lurking in the door of my childhood refrigerator. Kimchi: something I had never tried until recently.

They are similar in that both are cabbage-based, fermented foods. There is no single “right” way to make kimchi; recipes can vary dramatically. Some types of kimchi are not cabbage-centric, but I will generalize for now.

Many commercial varieties contain fish sauce or shrimp, so they are not vegetarian and can even contain gluten. Making it at home is cheaper and ensures a minimum of controlled ingredients.

The most well-known version of kimchi starts with an item I had in abundance, Napa cabbage.

chopped napa cabbage

Chopped cabbage is salted for 4-6 hours to draw out moisture. That may seem like a long time, but it gives you ample opportunity to prepare the rest of the ingredients, and even watch a few episodes of Dexter with your hubby. Because you’re salting and rinsing the cabbage, you don’t even have to wash it first. Score!

korean red pepper powder

One of the key ingredients is Korean hot pepper powder.

You can probably use Korean pepper paste (gochujang), but I was able to find this at my local Asian grocery. It was in the spice aisle in a one pound bag, not to be confused with red pepper flakes. I found various brands on different Asian grocery sites, but this is what my red pepper powder looks like:

korean red pepper powder

I can’t even say “hello” in Korean, but I can read the Japanese word for kimchi (“kimuchi”) on the bag.

Just add water for your own spicy paste, thusly:

red pepper paste

The recipe said to add garlic and ginger separately, but that seemed excessive. I just mixed them into the paste.

One reason I chose this recipe is that it uses fruit in lieu of refined sugar.

fruit puree

It calls for an apple and a(n Asian) pear, but I just used an apple. I even left the skin on because I hate peeling apples. The sky did not fall; I think we’re fine. The fruit is pureed with an onion and water to make the really boring photo above.

stirring the sauce

Because I’m lazy-yet-anal-retentive, I mixed the pepper paste and the fruit puree together for more even distribution. This is from a girl who used to bisect the sun so the rays were all evenly-spaced as early as kindergarten. My mother was so proud.

salted, drained cabbage

By this time the cabbage will have reduced in volume and your tiny kitchen may be a mess.

The wilted cabbage needs to be rinsed thoroughly, then drained, and the excess moisture squeezed out.

The recipe says scary things like, “Wear gloves because the pepper powder will burn your skin.” Instead, I put the cabbage in a giant stock pot and used my largest silicone spatula to mix it until evenly coated.

This is when I got a bit nervous.

mixing up kimchi

It didn’t seem like quite enough sauce. Curious.

I consulted the recipe again. The recipe I had started using over 4 hours ago. The recipe that was one of many I had viewed earlier that day. The recipe that called for one head of Napa cabbage (about one pound).

The reason I was making kimchi, of course, was to use up the monster Napa cabbage we had from the CSA. A four-pound behemoth.


mixing up kimchi

So I mixed up more pepper paste, added in more garlic and ginger, and pureed another apple. I was a little skimpy with the pepper because it looked so threateningly spicy, something I regretted later. I added more pepper to the jars a few days afterward and didn’t notice any deleterious effects.

After filling the jar(s) with cabbage and pressing it down to prevent air bubbles, the kimchi sits out at room temperature for a day to ferment before refrigeration. That also gives you a chance to figure out how to fit your accidental quadruple batch of food you don’t even know if you like let alone if it turned out into your fridge.

too much kimchi?

To be honest, I can’t tell you this tastes like authentic or awesome kimchi because it’s only the second kind I’ve had. But I like it and I’ve already used up a whole quart of it making mind-blowing lunches of kimchi fried rice (don’t worry, that recipe is next). But if you like kimchi and you make it, let me know how it rates!

Or if you live in San Diego, come on over and try some of mine. My cousin insists that it is not possible to have too much kimchi. I’m not convinced yet. Either way, I have four quarts to go.

Are you a Korean food fan? What’s your favorite way to eat kimchi? Have you ever accidentally made more food than you meant to?

Homemade Vegetarian Kimchi

Adapted from Dr. Ben Kim
Yields approximately one quart of kimchi

Notes: Korean red pepper powder (ko choo kah rhoo) can be found at Asian markets in the spice aisle. If you’re not vegetarian, you can add 2 tablespoons of anchovy paste or fish sauce to the kimchi. If you have allergies, check the fish sauce ingredients. The refrigerated kimchi will last about a month, though it will continue to ferment and develop a stronger, more sour flavor.


  • One head Napa cabbage — about one pound
  • 1/4 cup kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 cup red pepper powder (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1″ segments
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1 medium apple, or 1/2 an apple plus 1/2 an Asian pear


  1. Separate cabbage leaves and chop coarsely. Place in a large bowl or pot. Dissolve salt in 1-2 cups of warm water. Pour salt water over cabbage and toss to coat. Let sit 4-6 hours, tossing once.
  2. After 4-6 hours has passed and cabbage is wilted, rinse and drain the cabbage well. Let sit in a colander to drain while you mix up the spices.
  3. Add a scant 1/4 cup of water to the red pepper powder and stir into a paste. Add garlic and ginger.
  4. Chop onion and apple. Puree in a blender or food processor with a cup of water until smooth.
  5. Stir together fruit puree and pepper paste. In a large bowl, combine drained cabbage, scallions, and the puree. Using a large spatula or gloved hands, toss until evenly coated.
  6. Transfer kimchi to a glass jar. Pack tightly to prevent air bubbles between leaves. Leave 2 inches of headroom in the jar for the kimchi to expand.
  7. Put the lid on the jar and let the kimchi ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, store the jar in the refrigerator. It will continue to ferment and develop a stronger flavor. Eat kimchi within the month.

Other kimchi recipes I found:

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn April 28, 2011 at 5:52 am

Great post! I’ve had kimchi before but never knew how to even approach making it at home – now I will have to go look for some of that red pepper powder :)
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Stacy April 28, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thank you! I expected it to be more complicated, but the major steps really boil down to: chop, drain, stir, wait. If I had any suggestions on finding the pepper in Europe, I would share them. Alas…


Kate April 28, 2011 at 5:58 am

I’m so happy to see this post! It’s been a long time since I’ve had kimchi but my husband and I have wanted to make it for a long time. I had a good friend who lived in South Korea for 2 years and would occasionally come home with her friends who made big Korean meals for everyone.
I never make things to put into mason jars, do you need to sterilize them first or anything?


Stacy April 28, 2011 at 8:27 am

Good point — I ran mine through the dishwasher and called it a day. It’s not actually canning since the jars aren’t meant to be shelf-stable, but a clean jar wouldn’t hurt. You could even just use an old pickle jar or two since they don’t have to seal, or the ones with rubber gaskets that aren’t for “real” canning are totally acceptable here, too.


Angela April 28, 2011 at 9:07 am

Hmm. I want to try, but I don’t think I could use an apple or pear… I assume the other recipes you’ve linked have a different kind of sweetener? Silly boyfriend and his silly allergies!


Stacy April 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

Yep, you can use sugar. Or you can keep it all to yourself. Muhahahaw.


Bridget April 28, 2011 at 9:47 am

I feel like “lazy yet anal retentive” sums me up perfectly as well. I’ve never made kimchi, but I’ve kind of been wanting to. And yes – yes I have accidentally made way too much of something before. Like a huge vat of vegetarian chili that ended up not being all that great – that was fun!
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Stacy May 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I don’t know if anyone who does comparison posts like yours can really claim to be lazy.

Since I’m not a real canner, it was satisfying to end up with tidy little jars of stuff! So many jars….


Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator April 28, 2011 at 10:20 am

I have been wanting to make kimchee and your step-by-step directions are just perfect. I too suffer from an over-abundance of CSA cabbage. I’ll be trying this soon. If you do want me to take a jar off your hands, of course just send me an email. :)


Stacy May 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Absolutely! =)


Amy May 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Mmm… I starred that one to make later, either when our cabbages are in season, or if I cave and have to try before then. Our CSA starts this week, but it might be a while until the Napa starts coming!

And kimchi fried rice is amazing. I’d have suggested it if you hadn’t already mentioned it!


Stacy May 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

Yay for the beginning of CSA season for you! Let me know how it turns out when you do get around to it. =)

P.S. I am trying to send my friend to your show that I wish I could see.


leaf (the indolent cook) May 3, 2011 at 3:17 am

Oh yes – I enjoy Korean food and kimchi is so good. Such punchy flavour, I can add it to just about anything!
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Sarah May 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

This looks just perfect to satisfy my new-found kimchi obsession!
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karen May 4, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I don’t know how I got here but I am glad I found your post on Kimchi making adventure. And so delighted that a non-Korean is making Kimchi – a dish even a modern day Korean chick wouldn’t attempt. Kudos to you! And your Kimchi Fried Rice looks awesome too. Here is my recipe that I use and it does not call for sugar – don’t need it – and shrimp or fish sauce. (Oh, and there’s some nutritional info on Kimchi there too.)

If your kimchi gets sour from fermenting too long, try stir frying it in sesame oil + sesame seeds, over high heat, until kimchi get soft. Pair that with some tofu slices and you have a meal!! (Maybe I shout post that recipe on mine. Hmmm….) Anyway, enjoy your Kimchi!


Stacy May 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

No matter the route you took, I’m glad you found it!

Thanks for the link and tips. I just got another ginormous Napa cabbage in this week’s CSA share, so I could make another batch!


Randy May 25, 2012 at 5:58 am

Started making kimchi in February this year. Fun adventure. Been using more elaborate chilli paste recipe with cane sugar, using a light chickpea miso. I like the flavor it adds, but want to to try yours. I also use alot of veggies. Carrot, dikon radish, kale onions, red and green cabbage, sweet red peppers, even colliflower. All good. Also try commercial kimchi when I find new ones. thanks for your insights.


Stacy May 25, 2012 at 7:57 am

Wow, those are quite the adventures in fermentation! Thanks for stopping by, and let me know how your next batch goes. =)


Dave Smith November 29, 2014 at 8:48 am


Although I know nothing about kimchi, I am trying to find a source for the lactobacillus sakei used to ferment it. I am recovering from a long term sinus infection and believe that the introduction of l. sakei would create a better microbiome to resist reinfection.

I live in east San Diego county, Descanso, and wondered if you could help me find some l. sakei?

thank you for any help,



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