I’ve been wanting to try my hand at either sour kraut or kimchi for quite a while now, but my previous failed attempts at fermentation did not exactly boost my confidence. This past week we made kimchi, and it turned out pretty good. Here’s the recipe/methodology, from the book Wild Fermentation:
1 head napa cabbage
1 daikon radish or a few red radishes
1-2 onions or leeks or scallions
3-4 cloves garlic
3-4 hot red chilies, or chili pepper flakes, or hot chili sauce as long as it doesn’t have preservatives
3-5 T. fresh grated ginger
4 c. water mixed with 4 T. sea salt.
Place a heavy weight on it to hold the vegetables under the surface of the water overnight:
The next day, grate the ginger, chop the garlic, and mix together well with the red chili peppers. The book says “until it forms a paste” but I either lost patience or was using the wrong amount of ingredients because mine was just very finely minced stuff.
Drain the brine off the vegetables but save it for later. Taste a vegetable. If it tastes super salty, give them a little rinse. Ours tasted fine so we didn’t rinse. Mix vegetables with spices. Press into quart-size jar (wide mouth works better). Press down hard on the vegetable and some brine should seep out of them and rise up to the top of the jar. If they are a bit on the dry side, add a little reserved brine.
Now is the super confusing part. For the next few days, according to different books, you should:
a) seal with an airtight lid and leave it be
b) seal with a lid that lets air out but not in (like this)
c) just put some cheesecloth on it and if a yeast starts growing on the top, simply skim it off (it won’t kill you, apparently), and press down the veggies daily
I still find this all very confusing and so am taking a class in two weeks and hopefully some of my questions will be answered there. At any rate, we chose method C because that is the method that the book seems to use:
OK we didn’t have any cheesecloth on hand so I used a cut up piece of old floursack towel. No yeasty scum ever formed on mine, but I think results on that can vary widely just depending on where you live and ferment.
Every day, you’re supposed to check the kimchi. You take off your “lid” or whatever, push down the cabbage to release extra bubbles, then taste one of the vegetables. Katz says that when it tastes “ripe” it is done. What the heck does that mean, “ripe?”
Well by the 4th or 5th day our kimchi was definitely getting less salty and more sour tasting. We took that to mean ripeness. We called it done on Friday and put an air-tight lid on it and moved it to the fridge. Here’s the final product:
It’s not super pretty; the veggies don’t look super vibrant. Also, I didn’t like the way the napa cabbage held up. Most of the commercial kimchis that I’ve bought use regular head cabbage, and I think I would use that next time too. It stays crunchier.
Is this the weirdest recipe I’ve done yet? For sure. Fermentation is still very mysterious to me. I think part of the reason is that there are multiple right ways to do it, so it just depends on who you ask.
Our kimchi is EXTREMELY sour. I’m not really sure what that means. It’s maybe a little too sour for me, but I’m hoping it will mellow out over time. It’s very gingery (we used quite a bit) but it actually could be spicier.
So this brings me to the WHY. Why eat this stuff? I certainly did not grow up eating this stuff. The closest thing to it that I ever experienced was pickled herring at Christmas which I thought disgusting (now I’d like to try it again). It seems that fermented/pickled foods are something that adds quite a bit of nutritional value to your life, and it’s something we’ve really lost track of in the western/American diet.
What, you say? What about our beloved dill pickles? What of our canned kraut that we can pick up at any supermarket? Well, the problem is that industrialization demands a very long shelf life of most foods, so the pickles, kraut, etc. that you buy at most grocery stores have been pasteurized. All those nutritious enzymes, probiotics, etc. have been annhilated. Even most pickle recipes that you see call for vinegar instead of brine. Vinegar is not a hospitable environment for enzymes either. The one happy exception to all this is yogurt, which we all know and love (though I’d avoid the nonfat or lowfat stuff because your body can’t properly assimilate fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients without a little, duh, fat).
Wild Fermentation‘s author, Sandor Ellix Katz, lives with AIDS and one of the ways he manages his disease is through fermented foods. Fermented and cultured foods are also mentioned quite a bit in Nourishing Traditions (though I found Fallon’s recipes to be confusing).
What I’ve read has been enough to convince me that I ought to make more of an effort to include these foods in my diet. At Seward Co-op they have some unpasteurized artisan “raw” kimchis and saur krauts, but holy hanna are they expensive. I’ve tried them a couple times and really liked how they tasted and how they made my tummy feel. Apparently they are really a boon to digestion.
So I feel it is worth it to give this a shot on my own. Our kimchi was really inexpensive to make and it made a whole quart! We’re talking about less than 1/4 the cost of the artisan ones. Is it quite as good? Honestly, no. But hopefully with practice, it will get better.
(Update, early August 2009: I took a fermentation workshop last week and many of my questions were answered. Click here to read them. I also made my second batch of kimchi and it turned out great! I think with these things, practice is really the essential thing.)
Finally, I’m going to squeeze in a quick garden update: I picked our first round of green beans today:
We had them with supper, and they were “scrumdelicious” (I must lay off the danged Winnie-the-Pooh books). I also froze a quart bag of them.