moving into fall it’s time to think about preserving the harvest, and one of my favorite methods is kimchi
i’ve been making kimchi for a number of years, based mainly on a recipe from sandor’s wild fermentation book. while i enjoyed the results, i was really looking for something closer to the kimchi i had obtained from the korean grocery store and at korean restaurants. that kimchi was almost effervescent in its bubbling, and the amount of umami they pack made the mouth demand another bite.
with a couple of years of experimenting i’ve learned a few things and feel like i make a pretty good dish which resembles that which i’ve enjoyed from the store and at restaurants.
the first step is selecting what will work for kimchi, and while there are no hard and fast rules, the most common kimchi ingredients include cucumber, napa cabbage, radish, and turnip. i had a bunch of baby leeks, and a spicy stir fry mix with arugula, mustard, mizuna, and tatsoi that i thought would make great kimchi. use your imagination – i’ve even heard of fruit kimchi.
next step is to soak the veggies in salt water.
enough water to cover and enough salt to make the water salty tasting. how much salt? i don’t know, i just throw some in, mix it up and taste it. let this soak for a couple of hours.
while this is soaking make the paste up. you can vary this to suit your taste and dietary practices. i make it from a combination of red hot chilli pepper, garlic, ginger and fish sauce or shrimp sauce. i’m not really into measurements or following recipes, it might be helpful if i recorded what i did so i could make adjustments based on what i think worked versus what didn’t, but i just enjoy doing what makes sense at the moment. if i had to guess the ratio of what i was putting together i’d guess about one tablespoon fresh grated ginger, one table-spoon fresh grated garlic, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon shrimp sauce, and 3 tablespoons red hot chilli. a few additional notes – the shrimp sauce and fish sauce are both high in salt, so i don’t bother adding any additional salt, also the chilli i use is from the korean grocery store. it seems to be much less heat than the red chilli flakes we usually use – you can use much more and it adds plenty of flavor and color without adding as much heat. so if you are trying to keep this vegetarian or kosher, make sure to use some salt in the paste.
put this in the fridge until you have the veggies ready
after the veggies have soaked for at least 2 hours but no more than 12, squeeze as much moisture out of them as you can. this is easy on greens but a bit harder on radishes and the like.
this is the point at which ma left, and my hands got covered with kimchi paste so no photos of the mixing and packing process. the idea is to make sure that everything is getting nicely covered in the kimchi paste, with leafy greens this can be an especially tricky task. i usually take a small amount of of veggies and paste at a time and work the paste into the veggies crevices. once i have all the veggies covered i pack them into jars as tight as i can.
on the left is the mixed spicy greens and leeks on the right. you want to work to get as much air bubbles out as possible and get as much liquid covering them – but unlike sauerkraut you don’t really need to worry about making sure that liquid is covering them. with softer veggies like napa cabbage they will make plenty of liquid but others may not make all that much.
once it’s packed put it in a cool dark place – but not the fridge – you don’t want it that cold, think a cellar. during warm periods like we had a week this past week, i check it everyday, and press it down so as to try to cover it with liquid. i taste it after a couple of days – and it’s done when it taste the way you like.
it can be pretty hard to know how long the kimchi will take to finish, especially with variable weather. in the winter it can take months. in this case with 90 degree days the spicy greens were done in about 4 days. the leeks are still going, though depending on how funky you like your food some folks would say they are ready now.
ma tasted the greens and said it’s the best batch yet. now that i feel like i have a pretty good handle on making more traditional kimchi, i’m ready to start playing with the idea and making some other types of kimchi.