Fermentation Prep: Vegan Kimchi

We were lucky enough to visit our lovely, generous friends in Vermont to ring in 2015 and I was inspired.  Living well just seems like less of a struggle in a place where your co-workers are more likely to trade pastured eggs from their chickens and bottles of oh-my-goodness local beers than horror stories about the subway and the latest underground show you didn’t know about at the coffee machine.

I tried my feet at cross country skiing for the first time (and managed to only fall twice), laughed deliriously through an icy-cold sleighride in the most extraordinary mountain light, and ate incredibly well.  Pretty much everything was local, not for bragging rights, but because that’s just how it is.  This included one of the most extraordinary kimchis I’ve had in quite some time – singing with textures, spice, and the haunting sour funk of lactic acid fermentation.

So – that’s what I’m going to try first to get this project rolling along.  I’m gathering my materials.  Sandor Katz notes that you shouldn’t let a lack of a dedicated fermentation vessel slow you down.  While I’ve got my heart set on getting a beautiful crock eventually (hopefully second hand), until I find it I think an old, glass, flip-top jug will have to do just fine.

As for ingredients, it seems like with some basic spices almost any vegetable (or fruit) is fair game.  While I hunt down gochugaru (the Korean smoky / spicy / sweet chili powder that is a common denominator for red kimchis) and mochiko (glutinous sweet rice flour for texture), I think I’ve settled on the following for my first batch (depending on availability):

  • Napa cabbage
  • Daikon radish
  • Carrots
  • Hijiki
  • Green Apple
  • Hot peppers
  • Dried wood ear mushrooms
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Scallions

It seems like a more traditional kimchi would include dried and salted shrimp.  I sincerely love this ingredient, and may or may not have snuck more than a few tiny, salty, fishy bits when I was experimenting with pad thai recipes a while ago.  But, for this first food fermentation, I wanted to make a vegan version of kimchi because (a) I would love to develop a version I can give as a gift and (b) I think I may stick to all vegetables until I get a bit more comfortable with what kinds of chemistry and temperature conditions are required for other organic materials.

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