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Kimchi recipe

After making kimchi (or kimchee if you prefer) as a group with our Fairytale Farm interns, I got asked by one of them for the recipe. As is my standard mode, I want to release my recipes as free content, so I’m writing it up here first, then will link it out to All The Places. (I have to recommend working with a group or at least one other person, when you can — we did more massaging of the ingredients than I usually do, and it gave out almost enough liquid that I only had to add one-plus cup of water to each gallon.)

You may want to read more about sauerkraut and lactic-acid fermentation, as well as about kimchi itself. It’s really fascinating. One tip I have is that I choose not to “backsplash”, which is the term I’ve heard for the practice of pouring some of the liquid from an existing fermentation in to the new fermentation. Some people do this by using the fermented whey they get from hanging yogurt. I’ve found that I don’t like the texture and flavor when the fermentation is cut short in that way. In lactic-acid fermentation, there are several stages of fermentation that can only occur when you work up from just raw vegetables and salt. Backsplashing results in jumping ahead to the later fermentation stages. However, I often to backslpash after the fermentation is complete, so as to carry on the microbiotic benefits of the previous generation.

In this recipe I’m going to specify things by a single unit — one head of cabbage, one carrot, etc. My usual recipe would be about a 4x to 6x of the below, which would make about 1.5 or 2 gallons. The challenge is that a cabbage head or an onion is not a consistent size, so you have to gird your loins a bit and make some guesstimates in the end. That is, it’s not a cake recipe measured by weight at sea level in the south of France.

  • One tablespoon of salt.
    • I use Himalayan pink salt because
  • One medium to large head of napa cabbage
  • One medium carrot [per head of cabbage]
  • One-half to a whole a medium yellow onion (you may use more onion) [per head of cabbage]
  • One chunk of ginger the size of two cloves of garlic [per head of cabbage]
  • Two cloves of garlic [per head of cabbage]
  • One chunk of fresh turmeric the size of one clove of garlic [per head of cabbage]
  • Ground sweet to hot peppers of various types (paprika, mild chili, chipotle, and cayenne/african bird pepper/etc.) — adjust amount to taste but don’t put too much overpowering hot peppers in, unless you like that sort of thing
    • Per head of cabbage try a mix such as this:
      • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
      • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle
      • 1/2 teaspoon mild chili
      • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne or hotter
  • Fresh ground black pepper (just keep grinding, but if you want an amount, at least 1/8 teaspoon per head of cabbage)
  • One teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce (wheat free tamari is what I use) or neither
    • I usually make mine without fish or soy sauce so that it appeals to the widest diets, but for my own personal kimchi I put in lots of fish sauce.
    • Tip: wait to put these ingredients in until after the main lactic-acid fermentation is pretty complete, as fish and soy sauce are both fermentations and may change the fermentation process.

Start by cutting napa cabbage into squares roughly 1/2″ x 1/2″ (1cm x 1cm), larger for the greener parts is fine. Put in large stainless steel or glass bowl. Throw in salt, mix and mash and squeeze and mix to get the salt to integrate with the cabbage and start pulling water from the cabbage. Let sit while you work the rest of the ingredients.

Smash the ginger with the side of a knife to pound the fibers flat, then coarsely chop and put in a food processor. Do the same with the garlic and turmeric. There is no need to peel the ginger or turmeric (but definitely peel the garlic.) Pulse in the food processor until finely chopped. (You can do all this by hand if you prefer … sore hands.) Dump contents in to the bowl of cabbage, scraping the food processor with a rubber/silicone spatula.

Grate carrot on largest setting. I actually prefer a fine matchstick size from a vegetable mandoline, but you may use a cheese grater as long as you get the size up to pretty big. If your carrot is shredded fine it will dissolve too easily, become mushy quickly, and never be a nice crunchy pickle texture.

Cut both ends off the onion and peel, then slice in half from one end to the other. This leaves the fibers mainly intact so the juices remain in each sliver. Set the onion cut-side down, then cut half moon slivers working over the arc of the onion. (This WikiHow onion cutting techniques article has a good example as method one “Slice”.) Put the slices in the bowl with the cabbage. Don’t worry if you cut the wrong way or too large, it will work fine just be crunchier or softer in the end depending.

Toss in the chili powder mix.

Mix and smash and squeeze and pound and mix and mix. Mix some more. The more work you do here, the faster it will give out liquid, which helps you get a more compact (less dilute) brine.

You can let this sit in the bowl from 1 to 24 hours. When you are ready to set things up for proper fermentation, stuff the ingredients in to one or more quart-size wide mouth canning jar(s). Push contents down tightly, trying to cover with the liquid. If there is not enough liquid, which is common, add filtered (non-chlorinated) water to just cover the vegetables. (Chlorine in the water will kill some of the bacteria and other microbes you want to be present for flavor and pickling.)

Sit the jar on the counter in your kitchen, it doesn’t need to be in the dark. You can leave it uncovered (which may introduce other microbiotics that can improve or change the flavor or texture. Experiment with loosely covering if you want to see the difference.) If you have very active fermentation it might bubble over, so you can put a plate or tray underneath the jar(s). Taste and chew a piece of cabbage each day so you can experience the transformation. Use a the flat-side of a fork or spoon to push the vegetables back in to the liquid once or twice a day — you want the vegetables to pickle rather than ‘rot’ in the air (i.e. be broken down by enzymatic action instead of lactic fermentation.)

It should be ready to put in the fridge between day 4 and day 7, depending on your weather conditions. I’ve never found that I need to “bury it in the ground for six months”, but I can see how letting it ferment more slowly (such as in a cool basement/cellar) would help it keep longer without refrigeration.

Try variations of adding in about 20% other leafy green, such as kale or my favorite, Chinese mustard greens.