Just thinking about my bubbling buddies in the next room makes the salivary glands in the back of my jaw squirt.
I realized this month, when trying unsuccessfully to figure out menus for events next summer, that I had become tired of food. A crazy season of catering with every waking moment thinking about menus, figuring out amounts, ordering products, prepping food, storing food, serving food, cleaning up food, pricing food….that though I still loved all aspects of food, by the time Fall rolled around I had lost some spunk for my passion.
Then last week I fasted for a day.
Nothing amazing, just one day to see how it went. And what a surprise…I became very interested in food by the end of the day! It was the most luxurious treat to dream about the food I would eat the next morning. The one thing that nearly drove me to forfeit the day and gorge was the sight of my Amish-made sauerkraut in the refrigerator. Real sauerkraut, with real fermentation.
That same day my friend Gabi mentioned she had hosted a kimchi-making party to use up the mountains of Napa cabbage from her garden. Between the sight of the kraut and the stories of kimchi, the sourness of live active food was blossoming into an obsession for my emptying digestive system.
The next day I woke up early and immediately began chopping and shredding and soaking. Numerous times during the next four days I checked on the brew, and would of course snack to make sure everything was okay. Even I was beginning to think my enthusiasm was a little weird!
What is kimchi?
Kimchi (or kimchee) is Korean method of fermenting cabbage and other vegetables, and is often seasoned with garlic, ginger and hot chilis.
Why eat fermented foods?
Fermented foods are packed with vitamins A, B, and C, and the live “healthy bacteria” lactobacilli which assists digestive bacteria. There are numerous of articles about the health benefits, here are a few:
~This page from Life in Korea gets into the nitty gritty details
~Another article from the New York Times
You will need a non-reactive container for your fermentation fest. I used a Red Wing crockery bowl, but you could also use a stainless or glass bowl, or glass canning jars.
The vegetables need to stay below the surface of liquid so some kind of weight will be needed. I used a ceramic plate, then a bowl of rocks on top of it (rocks from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick). Then I covered the bowl with a towel to keep out the fruit flies. A baggie filled with water would work for the narrow opening of mason jars—some say it is best to not expose the mixture to oxygen.
This is a page from Nourishing Treasures that shows the result of 18 different methods of fermenting with mason jars and which are the safest—it is about sauerkraut which sits out for four weeks instead of one, but the information still applies.
The smell…well, yes, there will be a distinct pungent aroma…fermenting cabbage…it isn’t overwhelming but you might not want to store the crock in the living room.
I had thought this post was going to be about a dish for Thanksgiving, but I cannot stop thinking about kimchi so it seemed fitting to write about it. With the over-feasting that can happen on Turkey day, perhaps kimchi will be the perfect snack after the big meal to help with digestion.
There are hundreds of recipes out there, probably thousands. I followed the instructions from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (his new book is The Art of Fermentation) but used the vegetables and amounts that I had on hand. Sandor does a great job in his book of explaining the techniques but then giving you great freedoms in what you put in—much of what he learned was from experimenting with what he had at the time. Some of my batches have turned out better than others, it might take some experimenting on your part to figure out what you like best.
Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 3-6 hours of soaking Ferment Time: 4-10 days
In a non-reactive bowl (glass, stainless steel or ceramic), mix until dissolved:
8 cups Water
(Use filtered water, or if your water is chlorinated let it sit out for 6 hours to let the chlorine dissappate. Chlorine may inhibit the bacterial activity.)
8 tablespoons Sea Salt
1 medium Cabbage, shredded (Napa cabbage is most common, but I didn’t have any so I used green head cabbage and shredded it instead of coarse chopping it as you would do with Napa)
2 Carrots, grated
1 Beet, peeled and grated
1 Turnip, peeled and grated
1 Rutabaga, peeled and grated
3 cups Kale, chopped
Mix these vegetables into the salt water brine.
Set a plate on top to keep all of the vegetables submerged. If the vegetables are not below the surface of the brine, add more liquid with a 1 cup water to 1 Tablespoon salt ratio.
Let soak 3-6 hours.
Meanwhile prep the Seasonings Vegetables:
2 Leeks, sliced
1 onion, long thin sliced
1 bunch green onions, diced
1-3 teaspoons Ginger, grated
1 Chile Pepper, minced
1 teaspoon Korean chili powder, ground (I didn’t have any so I used Crushed Red Chilis and a little ground Cayenne—-if you use a chili paste just don’t use anything with preservatives or it will inhibit the fermentation activity)
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 Tablespoon Sugar or honey (optional—I did not use the sugar this time, but many recipes call for it)
Some recipes say to grind the seasonings into a paste or pulse chop with a food processor. I did not.
Drain the vegetables soaking in the salt brine.
Taste them—they should be salty but not unpleasant. If they are too salty, rinse them and drain.
Mix the Seasoning Veggies in with the drained cabbage mixture.
If using a bowl, cover with a plate and place a heavy object on top to press the vegetables down so the juices are released and they are submerged.
The vegetables need to be submerged in liquid. If there is not enough liquid to cover them, Sandor suggests pouring in a little water or water/brine mixture. This is different from other recipes—I did it, and it worked well.
Cover with a towel.
If using mason canning jars, spoon in the vegetables and pack them down with each spoonful.
Cram the jars as full as possible and the vegetables will release their juices. If needed, add a little water or water/brine mixture. Use a narrow glass filled with rocks or a baggie filled with water to weight the vegetables.
Put the lid on the jar or cover with a towel.
Let it ferment 4 to 10 days. The warmer the temperature of the surroundings, the faster it will brew.
Taste it every day!
When it tastes tangy and good, store in the refrigerator in a glass or stainless container—it will still continue to ferment but at a much slower rate.
Other kimchi possibilities:
Daikon Radish or Radish
Fish Sauce (no preservatives)