Take Two Bites of Kimchi and Call me in the Morning

Fermented foods have been around for ages and are a large part of the diet of Korean, Japanese and North and Central European people. Fermentation is used to enhance flavor, create new versions of food (think: yogurt) and preserve certain types of foods which would otherwise perish far quicker. Not to mention the fact that they are delicious and very nutritious for you. They are enzyme-rich, can act as antioxidants, and through the breakdown (or pre-digestion, if you will) of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, many nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and B12, and many different minerals are made more available for absorption into our digestive tracts. Fermentation is essentially encouraging the growth of "probiotics," or friendly bacteria, that are good for our immune system, digestive system and over-all health.

I've always been intrigued by the process of fermentation - maybe it's the scientist in me or just the numerous health benefits, but it's an amazing transformation of food that can take place right before your eyes - turning one type of food into another...milk into yogurt, yeast and flour into bread, and barley into beer. Bit I've also always been reluctant to try it, especially since I moved to Hawaii. It's so warm here...I had visions of strange bacterial cultures growing in anything I tried to make, things fermenting too fast and/or getting contaminated, making myself sick, or having whatever I made make someone else sick - all culminating in me never wanting to eat or make another fermented food in my life (how sad and awful would that be?).

Well, the time had come to set my fears to rest (or at least confirm them). The theme for September's HotM is "Preserving the Harvest." One useful reason to try fermentation is simply to extend the shelf life of certain foods - and then use them in different ways. So why not take some fresh Chinese (Napa) cabbage from the Farmer's Market, set it in a salty brine at room temperature for a few days - leaving it crunchy but soft at the same time and taking away the edge of the raw, green-ness of it (think: ruffage!) - and then pack it into jars with a solution of spicy, garlicky flavors for later use with LB's tofu burgers (coming soon!), stir fries and other rice dishes? In other words, for my entry this month, I wanted to make kimchi (kimchee).

Kimchi itself has been around since ancient times - references of the stuff date back all the way to 2600-3000 years ago. Traditionally considered a Korean condiment and side dish, the most common kimchi is made from Napa, or Chinese, cabbage and is called bechau kimchi (according to Wikipedia). It's fat free, has a high quotient of antioxidants (good for your heart!) and the particular recipe I tried has a lower amount of salt than most. Kimchi is also a great beginner's introduction to fermented foods: it's easy to make, has a simple ingredient list and it's got a short fermentation time. Even better? My neighbor offered to try it first if we were too scared (I was!)...and so far, he hasn't keeled over...

The verdict: You already know it's good for you and your heart, with all those probiotics and antioxidant leanings, but it's quite tasty - although this particular recipe tastes and looks nothing like the thickly-coated red kimchi you might be used to. I pretty much kept the recipe the same, only substituting fresh ingredients for the dried because it was all I had. It has a subtle sour flavor, with just a touch of heat from the cayenne and red peppers and a bit of saltiness to it that will compliment any sort of mild-flavored food you might wish to pair up with it. It stays crunchy, which I like, and the color is still fairly greenish, without being gray, which I guess can be a bit of a problem sometimes. The fermentation was easy, painless and only mildly stinky (also a consideration in deciding to make it). So, I think I'm ready for my next fermentation project: yogurt!

Kimchi, makes 2 half-quart jars
adapted slightly from RecipeZaar

2 medium-sized heads of Napa (Chinese) cabbage, sliced into 1" pieces
2 tbsp kosher salt
4 cups filtered water
1/2 tsp. honey
1 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp. chili pepper flakes, or Korean chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cups filtered water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp kosher salt

Clean all your jars and utensils prior to use! Dissolve 2 tbsp of salt in the filtered water...do not use tap water if your water is not filtered because the chlorine will inhibit the fermentation. Chop the cabbage and place it in a large ceramic or glass bowl, then pour the salt/water mixture over the top. Weight it down with a plate or something heavy to keep the cabbage submerged and then cover the whole thing so that no other "bad" bacteria will get in there. Leave for two days at room temperature...it should begin to bubble slightly. If it isn't, then let it go another day or two.

Combine the rest of the ingredients - honey through 1 tbsp. salt - and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let cool to 100F. Meanwhile, drain the cabbage and pack into two half-quart sized jars (it looks like it's too much, but once it's packed, it fits perfectly). Pour the liquid mixture over the cabbage, making sure it's all settled in and covered. Then cap, put in the fridge for a day, and eat to your health and heart's content!

7 comments from you:

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Since I've been blogging, I keep see this Kimchi popping up a lot. The only thing I know about it is what I read. I'm going to have to actively seek it out and try some.

Debinhawaii said...

Yippee--your first fermenting and you lived to tell the tale. After fermenting my "farmer's cheese" I am ready to do more too. it was fun wasn't it!?!

Christie @ fig&cherry said...

I loooove Kimchi! I'm very partial to sour things.

I've never made it myself before - very excited about trying your recipe.

You've inspired me again my friend!

Michelle said...

Tanna, I didn't really like it much before I moved here and now I love it. We have a place called Raw Essentials that makes a really mildly spicy version with cabbage, daikon, onions and carrots and I love it on everything!

Deb, It sure was! I'm still waiting to get sick though... ;)

Christie, Me too! Good luck with it - it's easy and I liked it, but I kind of like the milder, not so inundated with spices stuff too, which describes this one to a "T"!

Sortin'ItAllOut said...

Hi, My mother has been eating fermented foods for health reasons ,but so far I haven't made the plunge.

I am thinking you can't can kimchi in a canner or hot water bath because that would kill the friendly bacteria that we want. Is that correct?

If so, what is the shelf life of fermented veggies?

Thank-you for a great blog!

Sortin'ItAllOut said...

BTW: Homemade yogurt is awesome! My mother used to make it for us and I've always liked it better than store bought. Not too hard either, I just put it in the oven overnight, I think at about 100 degrees.. (that was during my dairy eating days)

I sure miss it. I will be watching for that post!


Michelle said...

Sortin': thanks for stopping by! I really wasn't a big fan of fermented foods like kimchi until I moved to Hawaii, but I really like the ones like this, not drowned in spices. I think you're right, it wouldn't be a good idea to can fermented foods because of the beneficial bacteria. They can last for a very long time in the fridge...they'll just keep fermenting, so the flavor will continue to develop and get stronger - it kind of depends, then, how strong you will eat it! I asked that same question and was told: "they'll outlast you or me!" I'll definitely be trying the yogurt, but it will have to be after October when I finish up this "eat local challenge" - no dairies = no yogurt ;) someday soon though!