KIMCHI – and a New Fermented Year!

Kimchi by Hash Brown

It’s the end of December – time for renewal and reflection and even more food. I like the sweet limbo right before New Years, knowing that nothing will actually change, but anticipating that the New Year might bring a little bit more something – joy, health, adventure… Who knows?! Not me – that’s for sure this year. Also, this time of year is fun because I love goals; I used to write down all of my New Year’s resolutions (only 10 or 12) and put them into my New Year’s resolution box I had fashioned from neon construction paper. Cute. They were usually idealistic things like ‘be a better friend’, or ‘don’t complain as much’. I had high standards back then.

Now, I’m striving for material things, so perhaps my standards are lower. Or maybe the right word is tactile: cutting, grating, straining, smelling, waiting… it’s KIMCHI! My 2015 resolution is to have a year of fermentation – and fun and adventure and blogging, of course.

Back in November I picked up Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation from the library, and couldn’t get my nose out of it. Fermentation is just TOO COOL! Fresh fruits and veggies and legumes sit around for a while, and magically (ok, bacteria helps) become preserved and even better for you. It’s healthy! It’s traditional! Also, I love tangy, salty things.

Kimchi was a good starting place for me, because all I needed was a liter jar. Easy. Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable medley, commonly made with cabbage, radishes, and other vegetables. Those veggies are combined with a spicy mix of ginger, garlic and chilies, and then traditionally left to ferment in the cool earth. According to my recipe, I left it in the kitchen, and it ferments in just about a week. Magic. Also, science.

In reading Wild Fermentation, I learned that so many everyday things are fermented, like coffee, tea, and chocolate. Also, pretty much every culture/society on earth ferments something or other, be it alcoholic or not. Usually, we develop a taste for fermented foods at a young age, after which point these tastes can be difficult to acquire. Case in point: my brother strongly dislikes kimchi. He can’t get over the fact that it smells like farts when you open the jar. Which it does. But it’s delicious!!! And beautiful. See below.

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With that in mind, I encourage everyone to try out this kimchi recipe! It’s fresh and delicious and you can tailor it to your own tastes and vegetable preferences. Also, it’s simple and easy. Fermentation does not need to be complicated at all, and it’s so easy (and inexpensive) to do it right on your kitchen countertop. So far, I’ve made four jars and they have not disappointed me or my friends and family – except for my brother. Sorry, Cam!

Sam loves it! I swear!
Sam loves it! I swear!

KIMCHI RECIPE (adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz)

Equipment:

  • One liter mason jar
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Microplane or fine grater
  • One week’s time

Ingredients:

  • Sea salt / Kosher salt
  • 1 pound green or savoy cabbage
  • 3-4 radishes
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 onion
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 hot chilies (dried or fresh)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

(variation is encouraged; these are all approximate measurements!)

Process:

  1. Mix a brine of 4 cup water and 4 tablespoons of sea salt (if using kosher salt like me, use 1/2 as much salt, AKA 6 T). Stir to dissolve the salt.
  2. Chop the cabbage, carrots, and radishes. Soak the vegetables in the brine, using a heavy plate as a weight to keep the vegetables under the surface of the brine. Soak until soft, for a few hours or overnight.
  3. Mince garlic, grate ginger, finely dice onions and scallions. Chop up the chilies, choosing to keep or discard the seeds depending on how spicy you like it – more seeds for more spice. Mix all together to form an aromatic paste.
  4. Drain the brine off the vegetables, and reserve the brine in another bowl or jar.
  5. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. They should be quite salty, but feel free to add more salt if necessary, or rinse under cold water if too salty. (So far, I have not had any trouble with salt quantity.)
  6. Mix the vegetables with the paste of ginger-garlic-chili-onion, until all veggies are thoroughly coated. Pack everything into the liter-sized jar and press down until the vegetables release some juice. Press down until nothing more comes out, and then add more reserved brine to the top if the vegetables are not covered. Press down the vegetables again.
    Mix the spicy paste with the veg... and then stuff it in a jar!!!IMG_1334
  7. Cover with a dish towel, and ferment in the kitchen or some other warm place. Now you have two options: you can either fashion a weight to keep the vegetables under the brine, like a smaller jar filled with water; or you can check the kimchi each day, and push it down under the brine with clean hands. I prefer the second option, but I have small hands that fit easily into a mason jar. Either way, just make sure things are clean, and that your vegetables stay more or less submerged in the brine! You want only good microorganisms in your kimchi. After a few days of fermenting, the kimchi will taste less salty and more tangy. Ferment for a week or more on the counter, and then move to the refrigerator when it’s nice and ripe. You’ll be able to taste it, I promise.
  8. Enjoy your homemade kimchi!!
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After one night of fermentation!
Before and After! From salty to tangy and ???
After a week of fermentation!

Happy almost 2015! More blogs to come full of my favorite things.

Peace and love always!