Today we looked at how to make baechu kimchi, partly because I was running out, and partly generating a little inspiration to plant our own cabbages and other brassicas in the community gardens.
This recipe is adapted from Sandor Katz’s Baechu Kimchi, excellent instructions in his book Wild Fermentation. This jam-packed little guide to making fermented foods is the second most used book on my cooking bookshelf at home. While there are heaps of different kinds of Kimchi, mostly when people here talk about Kimchi they’re mostly talking about cabbage or Baechu Kimchi, so we’ll just call this Kimchi from here.
Kimchi can seem wildly exotic and complex in flavour, salty, sour, sweet and hot, so its a surprise that it’s quite simple to make. Microbes pretty much do all the work for us. The most we need to muster is the patience to wait until flavors develop to our liking. Getting the ferment happening is a two-part process, with a few hours between the two.
1 Chinese Cabbage/Wong bok
A couple of Carrots
1 Daikon or a few other Radishes
A Yacon root, Nashi pear or Apple
4 Tablespoons Sea-salt dissolved in 1 litre water
6+ Chillies, or Kimchi chilli powder**
4+ Garlic – peeled
Ginger – 2-3cm piece, peeled
You’ll also need a fermenting crock (or non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients with a plate which fits inside the bowl and something heavy to put on top), as well as a large non reactive mixing bowl, and clean hands to mix. The fermentation process is basically a lot of little microbes digesting and farting, which means you have to release the gas every so often. I use a giant 10L Gartopf, traditionally used for making sauerkraut, with a built-in moat, which when filled with water acts as a brilliantly simple air-lock. This makes it very useful for all kinds of fermenting.
Decant straight into jars instead and then just open the jars up every so often to release any build up.
I use the biggest firmest chinese cabbage, or wong bok I can find, Todarello’s in Katoomba often has fine specimens to chose from. Then I add fresh crunchy veg. The last batch I made contained daikon carrots and leek, this time it’s just the chinese cabbage and carrot. Cauliflower chopped into very small florets is also lovely.
Step one. I chop all the vegetables into chunky pieces, cabbage 2-2.5cm max, and slice carrots/yacon/radish/daikon medium thickness, leeks cut a little finer. Yacon, nashi pear and crunchy apples also add another sweeter dimension. Experiment and find variations that work for you. Add to fermenting crock. Other recipes have fish sauce, but I’m keeping this one vegan.
Dissolve 4 tablespoons sea salt (the cheapest Celtic salt from the food co-op works just fine) into some warm water, then top up to 1 litre in a measuring jug. Pour the lot in over the vegetables and give them a stir to mix through. At this stage the salted water may not cover the veg. Don’t worry about that yet. Put the weights for your fermenting crock over the top & pop the lid on, fill the moat with water. Or cover with a plate/lid which is small enough to make contact with the veg (we want to keep air out).
WAIT for 4-6 hours. I’m not good at this waiting part so I begin in the evening and leave overnight. The salt will draw moisture from vegetables over the soaking time, and all the veg suck in salt from the brine.
Next, test the veg. They should taste ‘salty but not too salty’* If not salty enough add more salt and mix through. If they’re good remove all the veg into a bowl, & pour away the brine (on some weeds you want to kill perhaps).
Blend chillies garlic and ginger with a blender or grate ginger chop fresh chillis/garlic or add chilli powder, then crush together with pestle and mortar. Sandor’s recipe suggests the quantities as a certain amount ‘or more’ and really only you know how hot you like your kimchi so follow your flavour passions!
Add the chilli ginger garlic paste to veg and mix together with your clean hands. Again it’s all a big experiment. The flavour will also depend on how long you leave the kimchi to mature, the longer you leave the more sour and complex character develops. This will also vary hugely in different weather too, so every kimchi will have its own personality, reflecting the conditions, the seasonal ingredients available and your mood as you slice and dice. I put everything back in the crock and mix inside because I find that easier.
A summer kimchi matures faster than one in winter. In Katoomba 3-5 days seems long enough for my taste. When it’s done bottle and store in the fridge.
Instructables have also posted a variation on Sandor’s recipe. Find more versions and heaps of kimchi making tips at Maangchi.com including different way of cutting up the cabbage for an impressive looking dish.
I love using Kimchi in a variety of meals, for breakfast: poached or fried eggs with a side of kimchi and Meredith dairy soft goat cheese might sound unusual, but it is really pretty special. Kimchi also transforms Japanese noodle soups made with a kaeshi base into an even deeper warming Winter soup.
*Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation
**buy Korean Kimchi Chilli at the Laughing Elephant, Wentworth Falls
Oh yes, and it’s super good for you too…More about Kimchi on the ever awesome wikipedia
Fermenting Crocks will be available for sale in the food co-op‘s new shop when it opens in a few weeks. Thanks to the co-op for garlic, chillis, carrots and daikon.
Next week: we taste test the latest batch, made with locally grown bell chillis, and last week’s batch which I used Korean chilli powder.