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I’ve been both infatuated and a little intimidated with the idea of making my own fermented foods for a few years now. The resurgence of this art as a home cook has me leafing through books about pickles and scrolling down internet articles for homemade sauerkraut recipes.
Of course I love that scientific research is helping us learn more about the human microbiome and how this centuries old practice of fermenting our foods supports our resident microbes. There has been a drastic decrease in the amount of live cultured foods we consume in the current standard American diet.
Ah America…. That leads me to this. I looked up the definition of ferment. It’s root is ‘fervere’ to boil, seethe.
As a verb, ferment refers to the natural process that creates alcohol. The fermentation of food is the result of the agitated development of bacteria (the good kind).
As a noun, ferment is a state of commotion or excitement, often used to describe a state of agitation among a group of people concerning turbulent change or development. For example: A state of ferment is experienced at a political rally where tempers run high.
Wow, I thought…America is actually fermenting right now! I should make kimchi.
So, I set about my trials and here is what I learned.
There’s an awesome winter farmers market here in Knoxville. I found local napa cabbage, watermelon radishes, scallions, ginger and garlic. Turns out it’s the perfect season to make kimchi.
If you don’t have access to local farm produce, you can find everything you need at most grocery stores. I’ve even been finding watermelon radish at our Whole Foods. You can also look for an Asian market in your area. Substitute daikon radish if needed, but it’s worth looking for the watermelon radish. It lends a rich color to the kimchi.
I used Himalayan pink salt to salt the cabbage in the first step. I love working with this salt because it’s beautiful, full of health benefits and brings forward flavor nicely. It’s available just about anywhere. You can use sea salt, but don’t use a refined table salt. The refining chemicals and added iodine can inhibit fermentation.
I found a really nice fish sauce at an Asian market. Turns out, not all fish sauce is created equal. I looked at all the labels and chose one without added MSG, artificial colors and flavors. Just anchovies, salt and sugar. If you want your kimchi to be vegan you can leave this out, but it really adds a special funky flavor.
Many kimchi recipes have a bit of sugar in them which make sense. Sweetness plays a role in the balance of savory flavors. I chose coconut sugar because it has a distinct flavor with caramel notes and is less refined. I used a very small amount (1 tsp) in this recipe, but if you avoid all sugar, you could leave it out.
The Korean chili flakes are called gochugaru. I had a hard time finding these and ended up ordering them on Amazon. I am really happy with the ones I got. The flavor is outstanding! Here’s a link to what I used.
After mixing everything up I packed the cabbage down into a crock and set ceramic pickling weights on top. You can make this just as well by using a glass jar with a wide opening. One big cabbage made about one and half quarts when finished. Next time I will definitely double this recipe.
Interested in making your own kimchi? Here is the recipe I used!