June may not seem like the time to hop on the fermentation train. Salad greens, rhubarb, radishes, asparagus are all fresh and delicious reminders that we can put away the storage veggies (they’ve sprouted long ago anyway), Spring has sprung! Well … no one told Bellingham that – or most of the Pacific Northwest it seems. Rain continues to fall down from the sky with the persistence we’ve come to expect from our winter precipitation here, and occasionally the force I associate with Midwest downpours.
In any case, I saw a Napa cabbage the size of my head at the farmers’ market last weekend and got the urge to make my nose drip right along with the rains.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean pickle, made in an impressive variety of styles. It is prepared by fermenting Chinese cabbage, radishes or turnips, scallions, other vegetables, and often seafood, with ginger, hot red chili pepper, garlic, and often fish sauce.
Kimchi is a national passion in South and North Korea. The Korean Food Research Institute estimates that the average adult Korean consumes more than a quarter pound of kimchi every day. … Though factory-manufactured kimchi is gaining in popularity and making it at home is on the decline, according to the same source, three-quarters of all kimchi consumed in South Korea is still made in the home. It is customary practice for employers to give their employees an annual “kimchi bonus” in the autumn so they can purchase the ingredients to make their annual supply.
Sandor Ellix Katz, Wild Fermentation
has been my fermenting bible as of late – yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, mead, sourdough pancakes, you name it – there are great recipes and, like the one above, great backstories on the many intersections of food and culture (people cultures and microbial cultures alike).
I’ve been drawn to the process of fermentation because it makes food feel more alive, digest more easily, taste tangier, store for longer, and because it is just that – a process, a way to take time, more of a long-term relationship with food. And it’s a process that seems to be slipping away, particularly in the States. Whether that’s because we feel like we don’t have the time or have been persuaded to believe that there is no such thing as beneficial bacteria – especially in the kitchen – fermentation has largely gone by the wayside. But there’s no time like a rainy late-Spring day to reclaim it!
And kimchi is a really delicious and easy way to start:
Kimchi (Adapted from Wild Fermentation)
1 large head of Nappa cabbage
(Daikon Radishes, Bok Choi, Red Radishes, Snow Peas, etc)
Green Garlic (garlic pulled before it makes a full head) – 2+ stalks
Leeks/Onions/Scallions/Shallots – 1 to 2+
Hot Red Chilies – 5+
Grated Fresh Ginger – 3 to 4 inch piece
The HOW TO:
Kimchi is made up of 3 main parts: Brine, Veg, Spice Paste
- Mix a brine of about 5 cups of water and 5 tablespoons sea salt. Make sure the salt has really dissolved – the brine should taste good and salty.
- Coarsely chop the cabbage and slice up whatever other veggies you’re adding. Let them soak in the brine overnight, keeping them submerged with a plate or other weight. The veggies should feel softer – but still slightly crisp – in the morning.
- Get that spice paste together: grate the ginger, chop the garlic onions leeks etc, chop up the chilies or throw them in whole. The quantities on the spice paste are what I used on this most recent batch and are going to vary based on how spicy, garlic-y, tangy you want your kimchi to be. Experiment! Mix all of those flavoring ingredients together.
- Drain the brine off of the vegetables, reserving it for later. Taste your veggies to see if they’re at a pleasantly salty level – Too salty? Rinse them off a bit. Can’t taste the salt? Now’s a good time to add a couple extra teaspoons.
- Mix the veggies with the ginger-chili-garlic-etc paste and stuff it into a clean quart-size jar. Push it down pretty tightly so that more brine rises up to cover the vegetables. If the brine isn’t rising high enough, add some of the reserved brine to make sure everything is submerged. You can weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar, or a water-filled ziplock bag OR check in daily and push the veggies back down using your fingers. Whichever way you choose, make sure to keep the jar covered with a towel to keep out dust and bugs.
- Keep the jar in a warm place – your kitchen should be fine. Fermentation happens particularly fast in warm weather, so make sure to find time for a daily taste test – it’s amazing how much the flavor changes in 24 hours. And LISTEN – There’s auditory enjoyment to be found in food too, particularly fermented foods. I could definitely hear my batch of kimchi fizzing away with activity. When your batch reaches the level of sourness and flavor you like (for me this took 3 days or so), move it to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation process. ENJOY!
WARNING: Fermentation will cause shrinkage.
Sandor writes about a fruit kimchi which I may have to try when fruits start coming on (if I can get my mind around the idea of mixing cilantro grapes apples garlic and ginger together …) Right now I’ve got my eyes on a few more of those mondo Napas. Kimchi part deux.