Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cabbage Kimchi

I am preparing a presentation on pickling for the local historical society and decided to extend my interest in sauerkraut into the realm of Koren Kimchi. Kimchi is to Koreans what tortillas are to Mexicans--something to be eaten at every meal. Kimchi is a little different, of course, in that it starts with fermented vegetables, usually with added heat from red peppers, garlic and ginger.

In the fall, kimchi becomes a national obsession in Korea with families focused on gathering vegetables to put up for the winter. Traditionally, big earthen pots were used to ferment and store batches of kimchi for the long term. Kimchi can be made out of almost anything--even fruit--but the usual suspects are hearty vegetables such as brassicas and roots. In this case, I'm using daikon radish and carrots to accompany the cabbage. I'm following a recipe in "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. It's a bit Americanized, in that it does not include some of the more exotic ingredients you might typically find in a Korean kimchi, such as dried shrimp or red pepper threads.

Like sauerkraut, kimchi involves a brine. To start the brining process, fresh vegetables are soaked in salted water 24 hours. Through osmosis, the salted water replaces the liquid in the vegetables, creating a friendly environment for beneficial microbes.

After the initial soak, the vegetables are bright and fresh looking and should have a lightly salted flavor.

The brine is drained off the vegetables, then the vegetables are tossed with a paste made of onion, garlic, ginger and red pepper. The mix then goes in a crock, canning jars, or, in my case, a heavy duty plastic bucket where I press everything firmly with my balled-up fist, then cover the vegetable mix with a ceramic plate and a plastic container full of water. The brine created by the vegetables should rise up over the plate. Here's the complete formula:

2 pounds roughly chopped Napa cabbage
1 large daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 quarts water
1/2 cup pickling or sea salt
6 cloves garlic
2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 red chili peppers (such as cherry peppers1 or red jalapenos)
1/3 cup grated ginger

In a large bowl or non-reactive bucket, soak vegetables overnight in brine made by dissolving salt in water. Drain vegetables, reserving brine, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a food processor, finely chop garlic. Add onions and process to a paste. Remove onion mix and process chili peppers until finely minced. Add ginger and process to a paste. Add onion mix back to process and combine.

Mix the onion paste thoroughly with the brined vegetables. Pack tightly into large jars, a crock or a bucket. Cover with a ceramic plate that just fits inside the container and weigh it down so that brine rises over the plate, completely submerging the vegetables. If needed, add some of the reserved brine to the container.

Cover the container with a tea towel and keep in a warm place. Taste daily until the kimchi has fermented to your taste. Refrigerated, it should keep for months.


Jenny said...

Kimchi is on my to-do list this week too! I'm looking forward to making it as there's little better than some kimchi on a bowl full of rice.

I Heart Kale said...

Mmm, kimchi! We make ours with half purple cabbage (turns everything a gorgeous shade of pink) and a little arame (not traditional, but still delicious!).

Becca said...

I love kimchi. Although when my family has attempted fermented cabbage things we have never actually gotten them to ferment. Probably because grocery store cabbage is washed with god-knows-what that kills of natural yeasts and bacteria.

What we started doing instead was using organic kimchi we had bought as a starter. That worked well. But using organic cabbage would also probably solve our problem.

becca (http://swampyankeesfromouterpace.blogspot.com)

Bob del Grosso said...

Damn, you beat me to it! I thought you were a slow cook?

I imagine that the fungicide used to treat store bought cabbage is the problem. I have heard that whey (which contains lactic acid forming and other fermenting bacteria) can be added to encourage fermentation, but have never tried it.

Meg Wolff said...

As another Kimchi lover thanks for posting this recipe.

Ed Bruske said...

Jenny, making kimchi is a snap once you get the basic process.

ILK, I could easily see kimchi from purple cabbage. It is said that you can make it from almost anything. The Koreans like all kinds of different greens in theirs.

Becca, your lack of success fermenting cabbage is odd. Bacteria are omnipresent, and I've never had a problem. Make sure you are using pickling or sea salt without any additives that might kill the bacteria. Or do you have a lot of chemicals in your water that might be killing the bacteria?

Bob, as you suggest, there probably are fermentation starters out there, but I've never had to use one and can't speak to it. But I suspect something else is at work here, as I cannot conceive of farmers so thoroughly spraying their cabbages that some bacteria would not survive.

Meg, I hope to be doing lots more with kimchi in the future.

Rayrena said...

Yum! I haven't had much success making my own kimchi (getting the salt ratio just right...) so thank you for the recipe!

Did you place something under your bucket to catch the overflow? My husband once watch in fascination as the jar of kimchi I bought bubbled and brewed (I like it very fermented so leave it out for several days to mature). Then he added that it didn't seem right to eat something that looked like it was boiling at room temperature :)

James said...

Can you make kimchi using normal cabbage? I can't find the napa cabbage here in Turkey.

Ed Bruske said...

Kimchi adapts to almost any vegetable. Use whatever cabbage you have.

Anonymous said...

I see you threw in "canning" it. I have never found a kimchi recipe that could be successfully canned...