Last weekend some friends and I went to Hongbeopsa Temple to learn how to make traditional Korean kimchi. Living in Korea I take for granted that not everyone has access to kimchi to eat at their disposal but if you haven’t tried it, boy oh boy are you missing out. Kimchi (김치 in Korean) is a traditional fermented vegetable dish made with cabbage, radish, cucumber or onion as the main vegetable and a sauce that contains hot chili flakes, scallions, garlic, ginger and rock salt. Kimchi is the most popular of all the Korean side dishes and is used as the main ingredient in many of their soups and rice dishes. You can’t move for kimchi in Korea, it’s literally in EVERYTHING!
When we arrived to the temple the first thing I noticed was a circle of white tables each covered with the kimchi making ingredients. Everything looked so fresh as you can see by the beautiful shades of green.
We even got to wear these fashionable aprons to keep the kimchi juice off our clothes.
The temple grounds were beautiful. The steps covered in once vibrant and alive mums and a very large Buddha rests on the roof over looking the entire park. It was the perfect location to make a traditional Korean dish.
We made two different types of kimchi: baechu kimchi which is the traditional kimchi made with napa cabbage and ggakdugi made with cubed radish. For sake of time I’m going to focus on making baechu kimchi. We started off putting on some freezing cold plastic gloves (making kimchi is messy biz) and were directed to start slicing one large radish into matchstick like pieces.
Followed by slicing three large onions diagonally and very fine to mix in with the sauce.
Every once and awhile we had to stop to take a warmth break in front of the fire.
After we regained feeling in our hands it was right back to slicing the lettuce which looked to be a mix of romaine and oak leaf. We mixed all the sliced veg into one bowl and then it was time to add the sauce. Usually when you make kimchi from scratch you make your own sauce but luckily for us the volunteers had already made it for us. It was a bit of a mystery finding out whether there was fish sauce in the mixture. Since we we’re making it in a temple traditionally no meat products are consumed on the grounds but another participant said there was most likely fish in the mix. But don’t worry I’ll provide a vegan recipe for kimchi below.
Once the sauce is fully blended it’s time to rub the mixture unto each individual cabbage leaf.
And then carefully wrap each leaf around one another to make a cabbage roll.
The final product was beautiful and boy was it delicious! We snuck a bite even though they said it would be best to keep it in the fridge for 4-5 days so it can properly ferment.
Usually people leave kimchi is a giant stone pot that is partially buried in the ground outside but nowadays Koreans buy a special expensive kimchi fridge that mimics the same temperature as the ground.
It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad that after nearly 3 1/2 years in Korea I finally made their most famous of dishes.
Easy Peasy Vegan Kimchi (Makes 1/2 gallon)
I made a modified version of the Vegan 8 Korean’s kimchi recipe. If you’re interested in vegan versions of Korean food you really need to check out Sunnie’s blog. It’s a wealth of information and so many delicious recipes to boot.
1 large head of napa cabbage
3/4 cup of coarse salt (approximately, preferably from an Asian grocery store)
1 bulbs of garlic
1/2 cup of red pepper powder (kochukaru)
¼ cup of ginger
1-2 chopped large green onions (or 2 bunches of small green onions)
1 medium Korean radish (cut into matchsticks)
1/4 cup of glutinous rice water (1 tablespoon of glutinous rice powder with 1/2 cup of water)
1 Tbs of Sugar (optional, to soften the flavor)
1. Wash the cabbage and cut in quarters lengthwise. If desired, cut into smaller chunks. Put cabbage in a large bowl of salted water (3/4 cup or more of salt) thoroughly and let it sit for around one hour or until you see the cabbage has wilted.
2. While your waiting on your cabbage finely dice the garlic and ginger and mix all the sauce ingredients together (I used a magic bullet). It shouldn’t be too dry, if so add a bit of water to a more sauce-like the consistency.
3. Mix it well with hand. You should use gloves or be prepared to feel a burning sensation from the pepper.
4. Have a taste and add more salt or sugar to your liking.
5. Drain the cabbage and squeeze out the water very well at least 2-3 times. The more times you squeeze it, the less overpowering the salty taste will be. You want a balance between being salted but not overdone. Obviously, the more salt you add when soaking will also impact how salty the kimchi is, so you can add more or less based on your preferred taste.
6. Use your hands to mix the paste in very well with the cabbage. It’s important that every piece be fully covered. The more paste to cabbage, the spicier/stronger flavor your kimchi will have.
7. Place your kimchi into a jar or tightly sealed tub. You can leave it out for about 40 hours but then it’s important to put it in the fridge. You can eat it immediately but the flavor really starts to come out after 4-5 days of fermenting.