nightshade-free kimchi

I really love Korean food. Let me rephrase that: I really loved Korean food before I developed an intolerance for nightshades and could no longer eat many of my favorite Korean dishes. It's possible (and easy) to find nightshade-free vegan Korean food (like tofu bi bim bap, my favorite dish to order at Korean places), but I really miss the pungent, spicy hot sauces and condiments characteristic of Korean cuisine. In particular, I miss kimchi.

If you've had kimchi before, I don't need to explain; you understand how sad it is not to be able to have it. If you haven't had kimchi before, it's a standard--no, the standard Korean condiment or side dish. It is very spicy fermented/pickled cabbage, with other vegetables and seasonings thrown in. While many restaurants' kimchi has fish ingredients in it, all the Korean places I've been to have also had fish-free kimchi if you ask for it specifically. However, the point of kimchi is to be spicy, so while it can be easy to get vegan kimchi, nightshade-free kimchi has been a longtime unfulfilled fantasy of mine.

Well, readers, it is a fantasy NO LONGER! It is A REALITY. I am seriously excited about this, if you can't tell from all those capital letters. This recipe has been years in the making. Over the last three (almost four!) years, I've scoured cookbooks and the internet for dozens of kimchi recipes, and took a little from here, a little from there, picked and chose the methods I thought would work best, experimented with fermenting and pickling other foods, and brainstormed. When a big old napa cabbage came in my CSA order a couple weeks ago, I knew it was time.
Kimchi is very easy to make, but it sounds intimidating because 1.) it takes a lot of time, and 2.) you ferment stuff. Do not let this intimidate you! (It intimidated me, which is part of why it took me years to actually make some.) If you can have nightshades, feel free to add a diced hot pepper or two. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how spicy my nightshade-free version is, though! Raw garlic, ginger, scallions, and generous sprinklings of sichuan and black pepper give this version enough heat that even my pour-hot-sauce-on-everything boyfriend thought it had a good kick. We had some with dinner last night and my mouth burned a little and I was halfway through a spontaneous happy dance before I even registered I was dancing. That's how good kimchi is. And it's BACK IN MY LIFE.

Blog readers, I present to you my baby. Some notes before you get started:
  1. You don't need to have a large mason jar to make it, but you do want a large glass sealable container of some sort.
  2. Because you're fermenting things here, you're going to want to sterilizer said glass container. You can do this by submerging it in boiling water for 10 seconds.
  3. Use the freshest ingredients you can. Your tastebuds and stomach will thank you.
  4. Making the kimchi is a two-day process, then you store it for 4 days, so if you want a meal with kimchi, you'll have to plan ahead!
Vegan Nightshade-Free Kimchi
Makes a lot of servings.

1 large napa cabbage
4-5 scallions (I used a whole bunch but found this to be too many; I'd say half a bunch, which I estimate to be 4-5, will be best)
6 cloves of garlic
2-inch chunk or a little larger of ginger
2 (small) carrots or 1 large one
black pepper, and sichuan pepper, if you can get it, ground

Get a large bowl and fill it with very salty water--I'd say 1/2 cup of salt for 4-6 cups of water. Dissolve the salt in the water.

Wash your cabbage well, then chop into 2-inch chunks. Put the cabbage into the salt water. To stop it from floating, put a plate on top of it in the bowl,, then put something heavy on top of the plate. Like so:
Let this sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours. (I did it in the evening, then came back to it the next day after work.) Then drain the cabbage, but save some of the brine.
Rinse the cabbage really well under cold water.
If you're like me, you'll be shocked at how much it reduced. Now get all your other ingredients.
Grate the carrots into a large bowl, preferably glass. Then chop up the garlic and ginger as tiny as you can. A garlic crusher might be good in this situation if you have one (I don't), as would a ginger grater. Chop the scallions however you like; I did inch-long segments, split down the middle, but I think I'll do smaller next time.
To these ingredients, generously add freshly-ground black and sichuan pepper. Then add the napa cabbage, and mix it all up really well. It's easiest to do with your hands. This is kimchi! Or it's going to be soon. Put it into your glass container.
REALLY pack it in there. It's going to seem like it can't fit, but it can! There will be some juice in the jar; if it isn't enough to cover the top of the kimchi, add enough brine just to cover the top.

Now this part that sounds tricky, but isn't really. Because everything's fermenting, any bits of vegetable that are floating above the liquid could end up with mold on them, so you want everything to be submerged. Easier said than done though, right? A simple way to keep things from being exposed to air is to stuff a ziplock bag in on top of the kimchi. Fill the ziplock bag with water until the water-filled ziplock bag fills the empty space in the kimchi jar. Fold the sides of the plastic bag over the sides of the glass container, and close the lid, around the plastic bag.

Voila! Refrigerate for 4-6 days. If your place is cool, you can leave it in a cool, dark place out for a day first, to speed along fermentation, but since it's June in Boston, that was not an option for me.

After 4-6 days, remove the zip lock bag and enjoy!

Kimchi with tofu fishsticks (the boyfriend says I make this dish more often than any other. If this is a bad thing, I don't want to be good), wasabi sauce, greens, and miso-sesame mashed sweet potatoes.
Kimchi is good as a side for many Asian-themed meals. It is also delicious as a topping for plain rice, a last minute stir-in for stir-fries, over noodles, and in soups and stews.


panda with cookie said... Best Blogger Tips

I salute your dedication and excitement!

Lori4squaremom said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and method. My 18 year old daughter just went off of nightshades a couple of weeks ago to see if it would help with debilitating joint pain. It is helping to keep the pain at a minimal level, and she is able to function at a relatively normal level now. She is really struggling with what she calls bland foods (we use a lot of chilis, peppers, salsa, pepper sauces, etc). Yesterday she wanted to have an egg sandwich for lunch, and she normally would put ketchup on that....well, she can't "do" ketchup anymore.....I'm planning on perusing your blog (and having her peruse it as well), but would love as many tips as you can share with us. THANKs!!!

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

@Lori4squaremom Thanks for your comment! Good luck to your daughter; I hope it works out for her. Ketchup is a hard thing to give up, since even the Nomato nightshade-free ketchup (link here) doesn't taste quite the same. I have a few blog entries on replacing nightshades in cooking, check them out:
replacing eggplant
replacing peppers
replacing potatoes
replacing tomatoes
And feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

McKayGreenFamily said... Best Blogger Tips

OMG I am SO excited!! (can you tell? Haha) i've been dying to make kimichi! I got Sandor Kratz's Wild Fermentation book for Xmas but thought I couldn't do that one since I'm nightshade free. I'm going to start some today now! I already have sauerkraut on the go, and this is basically the same steps, but now I know I CAN have spicy kimichi too!!! Yeah!!!

Elizabeth D'Arcy said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm really glad I found this blog. I just became night shade free about 9 months ago. Thank you for sharing :) is sichuan pepper nightshade free?

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

Yes, Sichuan pepper is neither a nightshade or pepper! It's actually in the citrus family! I'm glad you found the blog!

Suzi Sunshine said... Best Blogger Tips

The only time you need to sterile your jar is if the ingredients you are putting in the jar is sterilized or going to be sterilized. Since you are not cooking your veggies, your jar doesn't need to be sterilized either, just really clean. Think about it...if you are using you hands to mix the recipe and to load the jar, sterilizing the jar is just too much. There is enough salt in the recipe to kill any bad bacteria from your hands or the jar that might get in the recipe.

Also, you can start eating the kimchi right away, there's no need to wait. It's more sour after 3-4 days but there's no reason to wait. Many Asians (my family included) eat fresh kimchi... It's all in what you like. Also if you like the crunchy bits cut the core up into 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices. They ferment just the same. No need to waste it.

Some thing you didn't mention is pack the kimchi down once a day... I use a heavy, clean wooden spoon. As the veggies ferment they produce bubbles and you need to press those bubbles from between the veggies. P.s. If you don't have bubbles you aren't fermenting... You need more salt or you rinsed too much. If your kimchi is too salty for your taste, give it a quick rinse before serving, but you've got to have those bubbles.