Introduction: Making Kimchi
by Lauren Lewis and Molly Haviland
Kimchi is undoubtedly the most important food in the Korean culture. It is eaten with every meal, homemade by most people using local ingredients, and very nutritious. We are not Korean, but are part of a Permaculture class instructed to post about any element of a Permaculture site. We are very interested in the Zone 0 or the home aspect of being the center of activity after harvesting (right around now!) with drying, canning, pickling, and otherwise preparing foods from your gardens.
Kimchi is made using lactic acid fermentation, a process that kills pathogenic bacteria and cultivates beneficial bacteria. Check out this page to learn more about the process- kimchi is actually a spiced sauerkraut of sorts. It is a perfect way to preserve almost any firm vegetable from the garden, and also delicious!
Lets make some kimchi!
Step 1: Gather the Organic and Locally Grown Goods
Begin with a clean space. Make sure that your hands and utensils(knives, cutting board, storage vessels) are clean. The last thing you want to do is "cure" some illness into the goods.
It is advised to bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it into the jars or container that will hold the kimchi. While the water is cooling begin to wash/scrub your ingredients.
The staples of the recipe are Chinese cabbage, onions, garlic, ginger, and hot red peppers. Variations include other members of the onion family, fish and seafood, fish sauce, fruits, and other root vegetables such as burdock.
Our recipe reflects a more northern style kimchi because it uses a watery less-salty brine used to ferment in a cooler temperature for a longer period of time .It is a little less common to encounter in America, if only because we have more contact with South Korea. A southern style Korea has a distinct red color from the spice paste that is rubbed into the cabbage leaves.
Feel free to modify the recipe to suit seasonal and local produce, but cabbage must be the main vegetable you use as it's juices and leaves contain the beneficial bacteria that we are using to ferment the kimchi.
The following ingredients were used because we already had some, and the rest were easy to find locally and organically. We do not have an Asian grocery, and we also attend a vegetarian college, so our recipe might seem a bit bland to people used to Southern style kimchi. Remember to tailor the recipe to suit your tastes and availability of ingredients. It is possible to use canned or bottled spices like hot peppers but make sure they are not soaked in preservatives because that will prevent the fermentation process.
1 lb Napa Cabbage, cored, halved, and chopped
2 medium Daikon Radish, sliced 1/4"
2 medium Carrots, sliced 1/4"
2 Leeks, sliced 1/4" ( use only white and light green parts)
1/2 cup Jerusalem Artichokes, sliced 1/4"
2 Cucumbers, halved and quartered
7 -10 Scallions, chopped
1 head of Garlic, diced
3 Tbs grated ginger
1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded and chopped or sliced
3 Thai Green Chilies (whole)
1/4 cup raw Sesame Seeds
3-4 Tbs Sea Salt or Canning Salt- this is important because iodized salt or added anti-caking agents will darken your vegetables
All of these ingredients can be prepared in the size and shape of your preference. Other additions might include broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, green beans, bell peppers, radishes, apples, lemons, different kinds of hot peppers, or a few spoonfuls of sugar.
Step 2: Chop Chop
Core the Napa Cabbage and then cut it lengthwise. If extra washing is needed do so now, otherwise continue to chop into the size of your preference.
In a large bowl place a 1" layer of cabbage and sprinkle some salt over it, a decent sized pinch each time, perhaps totaling 1 1/2-2 tablespoons. Continue to layer cabbage, salt, cabbage, salt, until you run out of cabbage.
Here is where most kimchi recipes advise you to use 1/4-3/4 CUP of salt to soak the cabbage, which then has to be rinsed three or more times so that the kimchi is not too salty! We do not like extremely salty tastes, but it can be unsafe in some canning recipes to alter the amounts of salts, vinegars, and other preserving agents. We conferred with an expert who said that yes, most recipes use much more salt than is necessary for the fermentation to occur. The Korean FDA is also working on making a lower-sodium kimchi more popular because “In the old days they needed to put a great deal of salt in kimchi as a way of preservation. However, with the help of state-of-the-art refrigerators these days, we don’t need that much salt in kimchi".
Continue chopping the rest of your vegetable ingredients into bite size pieces, and your spices a bit smaller(minced garlic, grated ginger, etc.)
Mix all prepared ingredients together in a non-reactive (glass, plastic, ceramic) container.
NOTE: If you are not stoked about spice, place the Thai chilies in your vessel whole, otherwise remove the seeds and dividers and add to the mix.
Step 3: Time for Brine
Add purified water to the vegetables to within 2-4" of covering them, depending on how heavy the object will be weighing it down (we did not keep this in mind, and had quite a briney spill to clean up!). If you need to add a lot more water, add a bit more salt. We went a little lighter on the salt, using a total of 3 Tbs, and mixed everything all at once to consolidate the process.
You can also mix up the brine separately, using 1 Tbs of salt per cup of water (4 cups to a batch), and then cover your vegetables with it.
Use a clean plate, bowl, jar, or anything that fits into the top of your fermenting container to submerge all ingredients into the brine.
Note: It is better to have less salt than too much. You may always add more salt. If you add too much salt, strain the veggies and keep the brine. Rinse the vegetable in fresh water. Add the vegetable back to the brine mixture. Keep in mind, if you have to use this method later on, you may lose essential nutrients and beneficial bacteria.
Step 4: Check for Ripeness
Kimchi and sauerkraut have a very distinctive tart and tangy flavor when they are "done" so with clean fingers, dip into the brine and taste daily. It can take anywhere from 2-7 days in a warm environment like your kitchen, or weeks or months in a saltier brine in a cool place(underground, basement). Before modern technology, Korean families would typically make a huge batch in the fall, and bury it in an earthenware jar underground to ferment until spring.
After this date, move your jars (or whatever) to the refrigerator. We used one large crock to ferment, so this would be the point where we divide it into jars, making sure all ingredients are submerged and leaving a bit of air at the top so that the liquid is not flush with the lid. It is safe to eat an any time during the process so feel free to have a taste. Some even eat it fresh. It will continue to ferment in the refrigerator, but at a much slower pace. It should keep anywhere from weeks to decades, depending on who you ask...so to be safe we'll say a couple months.
Step 5: Enjoy!
Now you can dig in! Koreans eat kimchi with most meals...but they have different meal components than most Americans. I can't imagine it going too good on pancakes, but you never know! It is usually never eaten plain, but as a component or condiment to a meal. Traditionally used in soups, rice and noodles, and other main dishes, in modern Korea it is turning up as a pizza topping, and hamburger condiment.
Is important to be knowledgeable about these "permanent" cultural traditions as we embark to create a new perma-culture for ourselves. Our food should be woven into the very fabric of our social identity, as kimchi is for Koreans.
If you'd like to learn more before or after making your batch of kimchi, check out some of the links I used for this project. Enjoy!
the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elliot Katz, some of which is available free on Google books here. We based our recipe after this one, mainly because it was the least intimidating.