Monday, July 18, 2011

Kimchi, Sauerkraut and other Fermented Veggies

Some time ago, when everyone was afraid of the bird flu, it was discovered that eating kimchi could prevent and even cure the flu. It was all the rage for a while, but then, as with many health food fads, faded from mass market view. Preserved vegetables, however, are very healthy, indeed. They contain vitamins and fiber and also happy, healthy bacteria that's great for your digestion and general gut health. A healthy gut is important for your general health and immune system. The typical American diet is a gut-buster in more ways than one! Here's a good background article, but I'm going to focus on the way I make fermented vegetables. The easiest, cheapest way I found to ferment vegetables I found in a wonderful book by Sally Fallon called Nourishing Traditions.

Kimchi Tools

These are my basic kimchi/sauerkraut-making tools. Nothing fancy or expensive. If I ever have money to burn, I may get one of these, but my $3 craft store bowl and plastic potato masher work just fine for me!  I used small, new canning jars for this batch, because I plan to give these away, but I also use repurposed jars that were around. Fermenting isn't as fussy as canning, so the jars need to be clean, but not fresh from boiling water!

These are the basic kimchi ingredients:
  • one medium head of Napa cabbage (I like to use organic wherever possible) 
  • one bunch green onions
  • one tablespoon grated ginger
  • one cup grated carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper (or more, if you like it hot)
  • 1 tablespoons sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whey, if using, otherwise, add another tablespoon salt
A note about whey: Whey is a dairy product that accelerates the lacto-fermentation process. I make mine by draining whole, plain yogurt in a tea towel. If you have plain yogurt, you may have enough whey on top of your yogurt if you've had it a couple days. I use it also for soaking grains, so I make a batch of it. More on that another time! This is what it looks like. It keeps in the fridge a long time!


The first step is to shred the veggies. I like to use a knife for Napa cabbage and a mandolin for green cabbage. Napa cabbage I find too big for my mandolin. I have a lovely Chinese knife that was a gift from a friend, so I use that, but any large knife will do. Make your slices as thin as possible.

Napa cabbage varies in size, so I usually fill this bowl. Next, I grate the carrot using a box grater and for the ginger, I use a microplaner.  Feel free to peel your ginger, I don't.
Shredded Cabbage
Grated Ginger

Ready to Pound

Chop the green onions and garlic, sprinkle on the salt, red pepper and whey (if using) and toss everything in the bowl together. Now comes the fun part! The vegetables  need to be pounded to start them releasing their juices. You're not mashing them into a pulp, just whacking at them for about 10 minutes. I usually set my kitchen timer for 10 minutes and start pounding.
After 4 minutes of pounding
After 7 minutes of pounding
After 10 minutes of pounding

Packing into Jars

The kimchi is now ready to pack into jars. I place some into the jars and pack in tight with a wooden pestle from a Japanese grinding bowl I have around. Use whatever you have, but you want to pack the veggies down, so the liquid come up to the top of the veggies.

Finished Jars

WARNING: Be sure to leave about an inch of head space on top of your jars. Pressure from the fermentation will build up, otherwise, and cause your jars to start leaking (don't ask how I know this!). 

In the Pantry

After screwing on the lids tightly, I put them in my pantry for 3-4 days (shown here with a batch of sauerkraut made the same day), then transfer to the fridge. You can eat it after 4 days, but it gets better as it ages and will keep for months, if it lasts that long. I eat a bit usually every day!

Finished Kimchi

The recipe for sauerkraut is made the same way, and contains:
  • one head green cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 tabelspoons whey, or an additional tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seed (I use less for a less strong caraway taste)
Pound and pack into jars the same as for kimchi.
Enjoy some kimchi on scrambled eggs, or with rice and fish. We like rice, fish, eggs and kimchi for breakfast! Gets your day off to a great start!

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