It’s that time again… In case you’re just showing up to the party, this year a little group of us decided to tackle a different kitchen project every month. It began as a New Year’s Resolution, a decision to devote some time to learning new skills and having fun messing around in the kitchen. So far, we’ve made pasta from scratch, baked bread, made fresh butter and fresh cheese.
Now that the sun is out and the garden is starting to grow like crazy, I thought it would be a good idea to get away from dry goods and dairy and start doing something with all these veggies. Which brings me to the May resolution– to keep it really broad, let’s just say…. the goal is to ferment something. It could be something with vegetables, like sauerkraut or kimchi, or it could be wine, beer, kombucha, sourdough bread… whatever.
I haven’t done nearly enough projects involving fermentation and I wanted to devote some time to learning about this ancient method of food preservation. Wikipedia says that there’s evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon around 3000 B.C. (After doing manual farm labor in the sun all day, my brilliant insights regarding this are: Holy crap. That is a long time ago.) The whole concept of it is magical, that you can take some cabbage or cucumbers or whatever and combine them with salt and then wait awhile and *poof* the vegetables preserve themselves. I love the simplicity.
I’m also drawn to the fact that the produce isn’t really cooked, (unlike preservation via canning) so it will be higher in vitamins and minerals. And, as you may know, the process of fermentation also creates all of the beneficial microorganisms that make for healthy digestive systems.
— and that last phrase, right there, is why I think I haven’t bothered much with fermentation in the past. It wasn’t a conscious decision at all. I fell in love with jam-making and all those jewel-toned jars so easily. Discussions about jam usually mean talking about apricots and strawberries, and whether or not Weck jars are worth the price. It seems like chatting about fermentation, on the other hand, almost invariably fast forwards right to conversations about pooping. If you google kimchi and start researching health benefits, you get a couple sentences into the article and then hear about how eating kimchi helps prevent yeast infections — because really, nothing says “domestic goddess” like healthy girl parts.
So, yeah, health benefits aside, I’m really just doing this because I wanted a way to preserve all these spring vegetables.
The ferment that I made first this month is a traditional napa cabbage kimchi. Kimchi doesn’t have to be made with napa cabbage, but there’s something about the texture of the fermented cabbage that I really love. I started small with this project, doing a mini-batch since I don’t own any big fermenting crocks.
Small Batch Kimchi
This recipe is adapted from The Hungry Tigress’ Kimchi Primer, since I know absolutely nothing about making kimchi but she seems like she’s got it down pretty well. This version is (I think) somewhat traditional, but I used easter egg radishes from my garden instead of asian daikon radishes. It’s also a little heavy on the radish part since I had a lot of them and they needed preserving.
cook time: 25 minutes active cooking, and then a couple days to ferment
makes: about 2 quart jars
- 1 medium sized napa cabbage
- 1 bunch of radishes
- 1/2 c.green garlic tops, spring onion tops or scallions, diced
- 1 tbs. paprika
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 tbs. ginger, grated
- 1 tsp. sugar
- about 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
for the brine:
- 1/2 c. sea salt
- 2 quarts filtered water
Wash the cabbage and slice it into two inch squares. Wash the radishes, remove the tops, and slice them into very thin rounds. Combine the salt and water in a large nonreactive bowl and stir well to combine. Add the cabbage and radishes to the brine. To keep the veggies from floating, put a plate on top of them and then cover the whole thing with saran wrap. Leave it out at room temperature overnight to soak.
The next morning, drain the vegetables, reserving the brine. Mix together all of the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl (the minced garlic bulb and ginger, green garlic tops, paprika, sugar and cayenne). Pour this mixture over the cabbage and radishes. Give a few stirs to make sure everything’s nicely combined.
Transfer the seasoned vegetable mixture to two clean quart jars* and cover with the reserved brine. Screw on lids and set in a warm, dark corner somewhere in your house. For the next few days, you’ll need to open the jars and stir them with a clean wooden spoon or chopstick (to make sure everything is fully submerged in the brine). The kimchi takes anywhere from 3-6 days to ferment. It’s hard to describe exactly how you know that it’s fermented, but if you taste it every day, you’ll know when it’s there. How? Because it tastes awesome. You’ll know. Once it’s fermented, move it to the fridge. This will slow everything way down and keep the flavors and textures from changing too much. Once the kimchi is in the fridge, it will last for months and months.
*I like to sterilize my jars for fridge pickles and ferments because, I mean, it can’t hurt, right?
And then you can have stuff like this for breakfast. I was making a small bowl of basmati rice with some kimchi, and J. looked at it and said “you should put an egg on that” and man oh man oh man oh man was he right. Kimchi is good as it is, but it into rice with warm egg yolk it will definitely put a grin on your face. Salty, creamy, warm and spicy, it’s hard to beat as far as quick meals go.
Kimchi Breakfast Bowl
cook time: 5 minutes
- 1/2 c. steamed basmati rice
- a few tablespoons of kimchi
- 1 egg, cooked however you like, seasoned with fresh cracked black pepper (sunny side up or over easy works best for this)
- any of these: chopped fresh scallions, dried or fresh chilis, a tiny splash of ume plum vinegar or soy sauce, leftover chicken, some salted peanuts or cashews, fresh cilantro….. (whatever ya got)
Combine the kimchi and rice in a bowl. Top with the egg. Garnish with whatever toppings you have on hand and feel like eating.
To be included in the fermenting round-up, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the link to your post by June 15, 2012. If whatever you’re making hasn’t fully fermented yet, just tell us your plans and what you’ve done so far.