When we were in Kauai, we stopped for breakfast at the Ono Family Restaurant one morning in Kapa’a. In some sort of weak attempt to look like a local, I ordered the Local Girl Omelet. The Local Girl Omelet is not your ordinary omlet, for one it was filled with brown fried rice, but to top it off it was also filled with kimchi. I had never tasted kimchi but I’d heard a lot about it, so of course I had to try it. Kimchi, in case you haven’t heard of it is basically a type of Korean Sauerkraut. But as I found out kimchi is oh, so much more than sauerkraut. The omlet combination was fantastic. I’m not a huge omlet fan. They always are greasy and leave me feeling too full and icky feeling afterwards. But this omlet didn’t leave me feeling that way at all. Maybe we can attribute that to the kimchi. I don’t know. But I do know that that taste of the kimchi…that sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy taste haunted me for weeks afterwards. I wanted more!
Before we had left on our trip I received a copy of Nourishing Traditions from the library, so when we got home I started browsing through it. You can only imagine how happy I was to see a recipe for kimchi in the book and it was so easy to make! And lucky for us, Napa Cabbage everywhere in the Farmers Market right now, so we grabbed head and set home to give this kimchi recipe a go.
If you are used to canning, making kimchi is really going to throw you. Kimchi is made by a process of fermentation. A process that goes so against the process of sterilized canning that it will make you wince a little bit, as did we. You don’t sterilize the jar at all. You don’t boil anything, you don’t use a virgin can lid, you don’t wait for the top to pop. You just put a bunch of cabbage and other vegetables in a jar with some salt and some whey*, pound it down with a spoon handle and let it sit….at room temperature…for days. Are you scared yet? And it may bubble, but that’s okay. And some white film may form at the top (ours didn’t however) and that too is okay. After three days of sitting on your shelf you are ready to eat it and put it in the fridge. I won’t be ashamed to admit that we were a bit scared for our safety to try it. But try it we did and we’ve been adding it to everything now.
Lucky for us we came upon this recipe first because when you really start to research about how kimchi is actually made by the Koreans, the process becomes a lot more involved. So involved that we probably wouldn’t even have attempted it. But since we haven’t had much kimchi in its pure form, we are happy with our simplified method. What we did learn though that kimchi is one of the most healthy foods in the world! No really, many different people claim that.
The reason it is so good for you is because of all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) that proliferate when it is fermented. These lactobacilli are found on the surface of all living things but they are especially prolific on the leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. The by product of these lactobacilli is lactic acid which not only preserves vegetables and fruit perfectly, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines. Kind of like yogurt.
Back through history most cultures used some sort of fermentation to preserve their food. In fact anything that you hear of today as being pickled used to actually be a fermented item before mass production. Once industrialization took place and fermentation started to happen on a grand scale, they found that the results often varied. So they went in and used vinegar instead of letting the fermentation happen naturally and they also had to pasturize it, which like milk, kills all of the beneficial lactic-acid producing bacteria.
Luckily fermentation is really easy and fun to do at home. Basically you just put a bunch of vegetables or fruit in a jar, pound them for a few minutes, add in any herbs or spices you like and salt. Salt will preserve the produce until the lactic acid starts to get produced. If you add whey it will just guarantee your results.
So here is the recipe we used, again from Nourishing Traditions. It calls for Napa Cabbage, but I think on this next go around we might use regular cabbage since we have it growing. I’ll let you know how it goes. And I’m excited to learn about this fermentation method. In fact I might try more fermented or pickled veggies to preserve the summer harvest this year. In fact I might have to add this book to our bookshelf: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods
(makes 2 quarts)
1 head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, grated
1/2 cup daidon radish, grated
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 tablespoons whey* (or use additional 1 T salt instead)
Place vegetables, ginger, red chili flakes, salt and whey in a bowl and pound it with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer to release juices. Place them in two quart sized glass jars and press down firmly until all the juices come up to the top and cover the vegetables. The top of the vegetables should be at least an inch from the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days at which time you can put it in the fridge or cold storage.
*You can get whey by draining a quart of yogurt (make sure it contains the good bacteria-we use Pavels) through a clean dishtowel for a few hours. If you do this overnight you’ll end up with more than 4 tablespoons, but it will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. And you’ll also end up with yogurt cheese as a by product, which is delicious and makes a great alternative to cream cheese.
Are you a kimchi fan? Have you ever fermented anything? Do you have any tips for me and my new obsession?