Saturday, February 5, 2011


" Pretty much any vegetable can be fermented. Use what is abundantly available and be bold in your experimentation." Sandor Katz

 Our latest favorite food is among the oldest of recipes - that of lacto-fermented vegetables. According to Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, there are records of the Ancient Romans finding fermented cabbage to be among the easiest foods to digest, carrying barrels full of sauerkraut with them on long journeys to keep their immune system healthy.  There is so much to be said about the process, the history and, of particular interest to me, the health benefits of eating fermented foods daily, that I won't try to summarize it all here, but share our baby steps into making and enjoying this fabulous food.
A friend gave us our first jar of homemade kimchi for Winter Solstice, and I was hooked. I have recently started making yogurt from our raw farm milk, (yogurt is also a great source of beneficial micro-organisms!) and I was excited to find another food that is easily made at home, and from local ingredients that we can find at the farmer's market in the middle of winter!
Eliza cutting red radishes
I have to confess that I have never eaten traditional Korean kimchi.  I would imagine that kimchi varies as much as its makers, and I have started a kimchi log to keep track of what variations I liked and want to replicate, and which were not so successful.
A friend gifted me a bowl of garlic not suitable for planting
Ani modeling a bunch of radishes and one huge daikon
The most consistent ingredients, most of which I can find every Saturday at market, are daikon radishes, red radishes, red and white turnips, and my newest favorite vegetable, the sunchoke.  I can't believe I never had one before! If you have these roots at your local market, but have never tried them please do! They are crunchy and bright, mild tasting, slightly sweet, and I have used them for everything from kimchi to pizza, to fried rice, or just eaten them raw. So good.
Eliza's photo of sunchokes
In addition to these veggies I have also used beets, carrots, nappa cabbage, green onions, yellow onions, hot peppers, red pepper flakes, and lots of garlic and ginger.
Ani cutting red turnips
Cut vegetables soaking in the brine
The jury (Eliza) is out on the batches we've made with the beets; the color is fantastic, but she is not fond of the flavor.
 Both girls enjoy making the kimchi with me, but Eliza is the biggest champion, besides myself, of eating it! We love to put it on bread with hummous, and jazzed up some rather boring noodles and cheese with large forks full.  It is delicious with grilled cheese sandwiches, on pizza, on top of fresh greens...The smell is rather strong, which can be challenging for someone who doesn't care for it, but around here the sniffers find their way to the kitchen when the jar has been opened, saying, "Oooh, something smells good in here!"

Right before I had tried kimchi for the first time, I had read an article in The New Yorker magazine - Nature's Spoils by Burkhrd Bilger - about fermentation.  The author traveled around the country with fermentation guru and all-round social activist, Sandor Katz, who talks about his love of bacteria: "We have to let go of the idea that they're our enemies." His book, Wild Fermentation is on my wish-list, but for now I have a copy of his basic kimchi recipe to follow. Here it is, somewhat paraphrased by me:

Basic Kimchi

Ingredients:  (for one quart jar)
4 TBS sea salt dissolved in 4 cups of water to make a brine
1 pound Chinese cabbage (napa or bok choi)
1 daikon radish or a few red radishes
1 to 2 carrots
1 to 2 onions and/or leeks and/or a few scallions and/or shallots (or more!)
3 to 4 cloves garlic (or more!)
3 to 4 hot red chilies (or more!), depending on how hot-peppery you like food, or any form of hot pepper, fresh, dried, or in a sauce (without chemical preservatives!)
3 TBS fresh grated gingerroot (or more!)

I have loosely followed this, which seems to be encouraged. I am not fond of the texture of the napa cabbage mixed with the other crisper veggies, so I have left it out and added turnips and sunchokes. 

Slice the root veggies and coarsely cut the cabbage. Let them soak in the brine - I usually leave them overnight. Drain brine off of the vegetables  - reserve the brine - and try a sample for saltiness. If they taste too salty (you want them salty, but not unpleasantly so), rinse them off. If you can't taste the salt, add some teaspoons and mix in.

Mix the spices: ginger, garlic, onions, chilis. Kimchi can absorb a lot of spice. Experiment with quantities and don't worry too much about them.  Mix the spice paste/mixture in with the vegetables. Stuff this all into a quart jar, and pack down until brine rises. If necessary, add some of the reserved brine to submerge the vegetables.

You want to either weigh the vegetables down so they remain submerged (you can use a zip-lock back filled with brine or a smaller jar) or you can check it every day, pressing the veggies back under the brine with clean fingers. Cover the jar to keep out the dust and flies.

Ferment in your kitchen in a warm place. Taste every day. After about a week of fermentation, when it tastes ripe, move it to the fridge. An alternative and more traditional method is to ferment kimchi more slowly and with more salt in a cool spot, such as a hole in the ground, or a cellar or other cool place.
Two very different batches of kimchi

 I like this method of food preparation!  If you haven't tried this incredible food, which is becoming a staple in our kitchen, I hope this encourages you to make your own, or seek some out to try!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is something I've read about in lots of different places but here is the first place I've read about it where I thought, "hmmm...tell me more." You've peaked my interest. I'm going to give this ago...and let you know what I think. Thanks for the always. xo