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UPDATE 7/26/12: I no longer use whey as a starter for my ferments (learn why here). I also no longer use Mason jars for my ferments (learn why here). I use anaerobic fermenting jars exclusively and the improvement in the taste and texture of my ferments is unbelievable! I encourage everyone to take a look at the information regarding Mason jar ferments and come to a decision that best fits their family. I will be releasing updated versions of these recipes soon, as it applies to these jars. I recommend the anaerobic fermenting systems from my affiliate partner, The Probiotic Jar.
Kimchi is something I have been wanting to make for quite some time. This was the first time that I’ve made it and I am so happy with how it turned out. The awesome thing about kimchi is that you can flavor it however you want, and you can add whatever veggies you want to, so you can make it to suit your own tastes.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish, traditionally eaten in Korea. There is no standard recipe, and even in Korea, the recipes vary widely, depending on the vegetables and spices used. The main ingredients tend to always been cabbage, radish, and onion, but the rest of the ingredients are up to whoever is making it. It’s typically served as a side dish and most Koreans eat it with every meal. The oldest reference to kimchi was found in some text from nearly 3,000 years ago. It doesn’t get much more traditional than this dish!
There are many different varieties of this fermented vegetable mixture, depending on the region of Korea that you’re in. Because of the big differences in temperature between North Korea and South Korea, you end up with very different products. Kimchi from Korea’s northern areas tends to have less salt and less red chili. They also don’t typically use fish sauce as a seasoning and it will have a more watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern region of Korea will usually use a lot of salt, chili peppers and some sort of fermented fish sauce for flavoring.
Like other fermented vegetable mixtures, kimchi is highly nutritious. Not only are you getting probiotic benefits from the lactic acid bacteria, you’re also getting large doses of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, calcium, carotene, and iron. It has even been dubbed one of the “World’s Healthiest Foods” by Health.com.
Baechu (Cabbage) Kimchi – Inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation
The thing I love about Sandor’s recipe is that he has you soak the vegetables in brine overnight, which helps reduce some of the salt in the finished product and makes it a little more edible. Sally Fallon’s recipes all call for a minimum of 2 tbsps. of salt added to the whole mixture and that makes it inedible for some people. I personally don’t like super salty foods, so when I make one of her recipes, I decrease the salt. Careful when adding finely ground salt to ferments – you can very easily end up with WAY too much. I use course or medium gind for my ferments and it has seemed to help.
Baechu (Cabbage) Kimchi
Inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, page 47
Makes approx. 1 quart
1 pound Napa cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 daikon radish, sliced into 1/4″ slices
2 carrots, sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 large bunches scallions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
8 cloves fermented garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. red chili flakes (more or less depending on your spice tolerance)
3 tbsp. fresh, grated ginger
Fish sauce, optional
Any other veggies you might want to add
1. Prepare a brine of 1 quart of filtered water to 4 tablespoons sea salt. Set aside. The brine should taste very salty.
2. Chop the cabbage and slice the radish and carrots. You can also add any other veggies you want to this, like snow peas, Jerusalem artichokes, etc. I didn’t add anything new, since this was the first time making it.
3. Place the cabbage, carrots, and radish (and any additional veggies you like) in the brine and cover with a plate or some sort of weight to keep the veggies submerged. I used a big bowl with a plate that fit just inside the bowl and then I put my big Costco-sized jug of white vinegar in a clean glass bowl and placed those on top of the plate (see pic on right). I did that so that the bottom of the vinegar jug did not touch the brine or veggies. Let this sit overnight.
4. After your veggies have sat in the brine, it’s time to prepare your spice mixture. Chop your onions, scallions, garlic, cilantro, and grate the ginger. Next, I took half of the spice ingredients and whizzed them up in a food processor to make a paste, and I left the other half chopped. You don’t have to do it that way, but I think it helped develop the flavors a little more. Whichever way you do it, mix the onions, scallions, garlic, ginger, and cilantro with the red chili flakes and set aside. Traditional kimchi has fish sauce in it, so if you want to add a splash here, you can (just make sure it has no preservatives or chemicals). I didn’t add any fish sauce to this batch.
5. Drain off the brine from the vegetables that have been soaking and reserve the brine. Taste the veggies for saltiness. You want them to be strongly salty, but not so salty that they are difficult to eat. If they are too salty, you can rinse them with water, if they are not salty enough, then add a teaspoon of salt to the vegetables and stir them. Let them sit for a little bit and taste again.
6. Mix the spice mixture with your soaked veggies and stir well. Pack the mixture into a wide-mouth, quart jar. Really pack it down in there. I used my fist to get it as tightly packed as I could. You want to eliminate as much air space as possible. The juices will also rise to the top as you’re packing. If you don’t have enough juice to cover the veggies, then add some of your brine until they are covered by about an inch of liquid with about an inch of space between the top of the liquid and the lid. This recipe filled one quart jar and then I had about a cup leftover that I packed firmly in a pint jar and covered with brine.
7. Now, there are three ways to let them ferment:
(a) you can cover the kimchi with a tight-fitting lid, but you need to check it every day to make sure the veggies are still submerged. If they’re not, use clean hands and press them back down below the liquid.
(b) You can use something as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. In my pint jar, I used a water glass that just fit inside the pint jar, filled it with leftover brine, and used that as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. Get creative. Some people use sanitized rocks, some people fill baggies with brine, etc. If you use the weight method, cover everything with some cheesecloth or an old t-shirt, or something to keep the dust and bugs out. I did take a picture of my set up using this method, but I accidentally deleted it off my camera when I was transferring pics, so I have nothing to show you 🙁
(c) You can use an airlock (see pic at right). If you use an airlock, you want to make sure that there is at least one inch of space between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the airlock, otherwise, it will suck the brine up into the airlock and can increase the risk of harmful bacteria growth. For this recipe, if you want to use an airlock, I’d recommend only filling your quart jar three-quarters full, cover with an inch of brine, and then add the airlock. The airlock to the right was given to me by a friend and she made it using this tutorial from GNOWFGLINS. I found airlocks at a local home brew supply store for $1.49 each and they also had the food-safe rubber gaskets for $0.09 each.
6. Now that you’ve selected your method, leave at room temperature to ferment. You can taste the kimchi daily to see how the flavor develops, but if you use an airlock, this would defeat the purpose of that method. I used an airlock on my quart jar and the weighted method for my pint jar. I left mine out at room temperature for 5 days and then moved to the fridge.
7. Let the kimchi chill completely and then enjoy! I’ve been eating a little dish with each meal and I even got my hubby to eat some of the carrots out of it. We’re making progress!! 😉
So, Have you made kimchi? What other veggies or spices have you added? I am definitely going to make this again and experiment with more veggies, especially as we head into spring and summer when I’ll have more to choose from. I think I’d like to try using a red chili paste for more flavor. I love the rich red color of the kimchi pics in the Wikipedia article I read. I am assuming that color comes from red chili paste or sauce? Whatever it is makes it look yummy!
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