DIY Kitchen: kimchi
You may enter cautiously into a relationship with fermented foods, tentatively cracking the lid on a jar of kraut only to have it overpower your house with its smell. But soon, you may find yourself so craving that salty sourness, that a swig from the sour pickle jar can set you right on a hot, frazzled afternoon.
And here’s the thing that I swear is true: there’s nothing scary about it. Canning a batch of peach barbecue sauce is fraught with the unknowns of acid content and faulty seals, but fermentation is really just a big party in a jar. Bring your fork. Fred Breidt, microbiologist for the USDA (who specializes in vegetable fermentation) says, “as far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food borne illness from fermented vegetables.”
My mommy! Rose asked recently why I call my mom, “mom,” as opposed to, “Nana.” “Well, because she’s my mom.” I told her. “She’s STILL your mom?” Rose asked.
I made a batch of kimchi recently with my mom, and when I asked her if I should pick more radishes, she shrugged and said, “if you have them.” And it’s true, when fermenting, you don’t have to be all finicky about things like recipes. It’s more about understanding a concept, and riffing off it like some inspired musician. And when you get the concept, it blows a door wide open, so that you can stroll through your garden like a talent scout, plucking and uprooting produce to star in the next fizzy ensemble.
Inspired fall garden ferment: radishes, carrots, green onion, parsley, garlic, dill seeds, salt and whey. Review coming.
Fermentation happens when, through the addition of salt (or bacterial cultures), the lactobacilli—a family of bacteria found on the surface of every living thing—is encouraged to proliferate while putrefying bacteria is shut out. Fermented foods are teeming with enzymes, vitamins, minerals and beneficial live cultures which replenish and diversify the bacteria in our digestive system. Through these bacteria and specialized micro-nutrients, fermented foods improve immune function while decreasing inflammation and preventing cancer and other diseases.
“Oh. Is that all?” I’m temped to say while spooning a heap of sauerkraut onto my plate. It’s not that healthful factoids don’t excite me, but I love fermented foods because they’re delicious, inexpensive and fun to make, and in a world of warp-speed techno-gadgetry, it’s comforting to use the same basic recipe for yogurt as say, Jesus.
~makes about 1/2 gallon~
1 large head chinese/napa cabbage
2 cloves garlic
2-4 tbsp ginger
1 bunch green onion
1 – 3 TBSP chile powder/cayenne pepper
2 TBSP salt
Chop all veggies (or whizz through food processor) fairly small and let sit in a large pot or bowl. Add cayenne and salt. Scrunch the salt into the veggies with your hands. Scrunch some more. Pound and press with a tool (potato masher/rolling pin/meat tenderizer/wooden spoon) or simply your own hands. The more you break the cell walls, the more juice will be released from from the vegetables, which is what you need for an effective ferment.
Next, leave your kimchi mix in the bowl/pot, put a lid on it and leave it alone for a few hours. When you come back it, more juice will have been released and you’ll feel like you’ve witnessed a miracle. Taste it now. Does it need more salt, more spice? If so, add and mix.
Next, pack the kimchi into a jar, pushing the vegetables down with a fork or wooden spoon so that the vegetables are below the liquid. (This is an anaerobic ferment, meaning the bacteria do their work in the absence of oxygen). Once your vegetables are covered with brine, they can float around the surface a little without spoiling. Leave 3 inches space at the top of your jar and cap it. Sometimes on a very vigorous ferment the liquid erupts past the threads of the jar lid. If this happens you can place your jar in a casserole dish to collect the spillover or divide the kimchi into another jar. Let sit on your counter for 5-10 days (taste as you go) and then in the fridge where it will last for 4-6 months.
Salted and scrunched and sitting.
After sitting for 3 hours: juicy! Let the salt do the work.
Kimchi after 7 days.
Keeping the vegetables submerged.
Go forth and ferment! And feel free to leave questions in the comments.
PS: Remember my new sponsor, Rebecca Mullen, who offered 2 spots in her upcoming class, A Soulful Cleanse? Well, those two spots were claimed before she opened her e-mail. But she’s offering the remaining spots in her class at 25% off until it fills. Go here to sign up. Notable: each participant gets a 30 minute one-on-one coaching session with Rebecca during the class, which is worth the price of the class. Also, as the class is conducted via phone and e-mail, anyone anywhere can take it.
PPS: I am teaching a fermentation class on Saturday, September 29th, 10 – 12. We’ll do lots of sampling and talking concepts. The cost is $30, which includes a pint of kimchi (that you make, I supply the ingredients) and the starter to make a gallon of fermented ginger ale. Save the date. More info to come.
PPPS: Not to be all End Of Times, but it is worth noting that fermentation is a way to preserve produce without refrigeration (if you have a basement/crawl space/cooler in a unheated shed) through the lean months.