California Kimchi

The distinctive taste of kimchi can wake you up, give you energy and get you brain going all at once.  As a fermented food, its effect on your 'gut' will kick-start your digestion and get your system into gear.  Chinese medicine views the gut as the main organ, being responsible for 80% of your health.  For those who have tried making it a part of their diet, this will not seem like crazy talk: the term superfood applies. 

Kimchi is a common dish of Korea, with thousands of varieties, and it grew out of a tradition of salted, preserved vegetables in Northern China.  A huge subject which we don't mean to cover exhaustively, Kimchi can be thought of as a mixture of fermented cabbages, hot peppers, ginger, and almost anything else: garlic, dried shrimp, burdock root, radish, mushrooms of all kinds, scallions, pumpkin, soybean sprouts, anchovy sauce, carrots, daikon... etc. 

Like all the recipes on our site, California Kimchi is a simple method that is meant to be adopted and made your own.  We keep a crock going year-round, and there's always something that wants to go in, like some good-looking daikon from our friends garden, or some tired-looking radishes on sale at the market.  Whats cool about all this?  You can make it yourself, its really good for you, its like the definition of recycling, its fun to make, its a fantastic form of self-reliance, and it tastes amazing.  You are embarking on a twelve thousand year old culinary adventure.  cool.

The Basic Ingredients: Crock or Jar, Cabbage, Chiles, Scallions, Daikon, Garlic, Ginger, Onions, Salt.

Ratios: 1 cabbage to a handful of chiles, a bunch of green onions, a head of garlic, an onion, a big carrot, 6 inches of daikon, a handful of grated ginger, and 2 tablespoons of salt.  Dont wear yourself worrying about the ratios: close is good enough. 

Get your hands on a really big jar: at least a half-gallon.  If you already know you're going to the olympics with this, you probably want a large fermentation crock.  Start by slicing the cabbage as thin as you want it and placing it in a very large bowl.  after every half-cabbage, sprinkle in a half-tablespoon of salt over the cabbage.  Continue with this process, slicing the cabbage and sprinkling salt over the top, until the bowl is full.  Now transfer the salty cabbage to the crock or jar.  Then, grate the ginger and set it aside.  Next make with the garlic, chiles and onions, carrots, whatever else you have.  Remove the seeds from the chiles, and chip-chop them up with the garlic and everything else.  If you are using a jar, the next step is to pound the cabbage a bit.  Use a wooden mallet, the bottom of a coffee cup, or anything handy and spend about five minutes lightly pounding it.  This step is to loosen up the cabbage so that the salt can leach out all of the water.  If youre using a crock, the stone weight takes care of this when you press down on it.  Now mix everything with the cabbage and get it all into the jar or crock.  Pour a little water in so that when you press down on the whole mixture, the water level is close to your hand.  The salt will cause the cabbage to give up almost all of the water it has, so don't overdo it.  Now put in your stone weights if you have a crock, and then cover it, or cap it tightly if you are using a jar.  Put your kimchi in a cool, out-of-the-way spot.  The fermentation process will start to take hold within a few months, but once you get it going you can take some out to eat and also add ingredients whenever you like.  The beneficial bacteria keep harmful bacteria from colonizing your kimchi, so don't worry about it going bad.  Check on your crock or jar every week or so and make friends with it, pull some out with your fingers and taste it, notice how the flavor changes as time goes by.   Thats the basics, now here are the special moves: 

fish sauce: this is a quick way of getting that really dank seafood tinge going.  Chose a fish or anchovy sauce that is free of preservatives.  Preservatives will work against the fermentation process.

chile powder: if you dont have fresh chiles, this is what youll have to use.  Get something organic and non-irradiated, youre going to eat this!

whey: adding whey will cause lacto-fermentation to take place, which is not the traditional method.  whey fermentation is much faster and perfectly fine if thats what youre into.  its just different.

fruit: youre on your own since fruit will ferment much faster than vegetables, but try adding pineapple or asian pears somewhere after the fermentation halfway point.

You can put almost anything in your kimchi.  Its your very own piece soft technology working away while you sleep.  We just put some cucumbers in ours yesterday, what were we thinking?  who cares.  Its hard to mess this up, as long as you have enough salt, enough chile, and you keep checking on it.  email us if you have questions.  The best links or resources to consult: the book or website wild fermentation, the cookbook nourishing traditions, and the Saveur page on kimchi.