Hmmm…what did I get myself into?

by mkriegh

Napa Cabbage heads being prepared for Kimchi

I received a couple of heads of Napa Cabbage in my CSA share. As I always do with any vegetable I bring home, I looked for recipes on Epicurious. What came up most prevalently was kimchi. So I resolved that I would make it. I had some idea that it was a preservation technique, but had no idea what kimchi was all about. Then I ran into a chef friend at the grocery store. When I told her I was making kimchi she replied “how funny we are both doing lactofermentation, I am making sauerkraut!” Lactofermentation? Hmmm…I was vaguely aware that it was part of this process but when she mentioned sauerkraut it began to dawn on me what I might be getting into. I had read about sauerkraut which ferments for long periods of time and had not ventured to undertake it because of the amount of labor it appeared to entail. My chef friend further informed me that cabbage was one of the few vegetables that had enough of its own lactobacillium (the bacteria that drives the fermentation process) to not need any kind of bacterial boost. For a basic kimchi recipe, though, its a little prep, throw it in a jar to ferment in its juices, leave at room temp for a few days and then toss in the refrigerator.

A blog entitled “A Sanoma Garden” had this to say about Kimchi production:

If you are used to canning, making kimchi is really going to throw you. Kimchi is made by a process of fermentation. A process that goes so against the process of sterilized canning that it will make you wince a little bit, as did we. You don’t sterilize the jar at all. You don’t boil anything, you don’t use a virgin can lid, you don’t wait for the top to pop. You just put a bunch of cabbage and other vegetables in a jar with some salt and some whey*, pound it down with a spoon handle and let it sit….at room temperature…for days. Are you scared yet? And it may bubble, but that’s okay. And some white film may form at the top (ours didn’t however) and that too is okay. After three days of sitting on your shelf you are ready to eat it and put it in the fridge. I won’t be ashamed to admit that we were a bit scared for our safety to try it. But try it we did and we’ve been adding it to everything now.

The average Korean apparently eats 40 lbs of Kimchi a year. Though they used to bury it under ground to help keep a constant storage temperature, the Koreans have the possibility of purpose built refrigerators these days to store their Kimchi in. There are at least 189 documented variations of Kimchi. There is spring, summer, fall and winter Kimchi. There is Kimchi from the north, and from the south of Korea. Apparently, latitude matters which should not be surprising to foodies who are becoming increasingly familiar with terroir, or the influence of the place of growth.

Kimchi is an ancient food preparation process. There is even a museum, The Kimchi Field Museum, dedicated to its history in Korea.

Kimchi, as it turns out, is considered a super food. It is packed with vitamines and a variety of cultures of  lactobacilli. Health studies have produced evidence that several strains of this bacteria are highly beneficial. They have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer characteristics. Health Magazine, according to Wikipedia, named Kimchi as one of the top five health foods in the world.

Woah Babby! All that from some fermented cabbage!

The recipe I used was pretty straight forward. You can find it here.

Here is a photograph of the finished product:

The fermentation process is in progress. Note the dampness in the paper towel at the base. Fermentation is forcing liquid out of the jar. I guess I won’t fill them so much next time. Also, I went to bed with lids fairly tightly sealed. In the morning pressure had built up and liquid had been forced out. I recommend not sealing tightly. Nobody wants a Kimchi explosion;-)

…or should I say, the work in progress as the room temperature fermentation process is not even 24 hours underway. I am to leave it out for a total of three days. Then in the refrigerator. Apparently it is at its best for the next six days after it is refrigerated. I am going to have to take it with us on the short vacation we are about to take. We leave before it gets refrigerated and we want to sample it at its peak. Its more than we will probably eat during vacation, unless the rest of the family gets into it, but Kimchi that has passed its peak is apparently desirable for certain recipes created to use it. If we have any left I will look into that.

When I am back from vacation I will let you know how it tasted.