Every so often, health food trends and utterly amazing dishes line up perfectly, leading to triumphant seraphic choruses and a sense of inner contentment and peace. Or a happy mouth, either/or...
The latest trend that seems to be pervading our internets and grocers is fermented food and drink. The health benefits of fermented foodstuffs (and no, that unfortunately doesn't include booze) are mainly focused on the probiotic whatchamahoozits that help your gut bacteria or somesuch. I dunno, it's supposed to be good for you... Which I guess is why people are suddenly drinking kombucha like it's going out of style, which is pretty crazy when you consider that it's fermented tea and is basically like drinking vinegar...
In this fermented craze, you'll find two different (usually) cabbage-based items that are turning into all the rage. One is good old-fashioned sauerkraut, just begging to be slathered all over a hot bratwurst... and now this post sounds slightly naughty... Um, anyhoo, the other is Korea's national dish: Kimchi.
Kimchi represents a rather interesting dovetailing of two food trends, fermented and Korean. Korean food has not had much prominence in Canada's food scene until the past few years or so. It's existed, there have been Korean restaurants and grocers for many years, but certainly none had any sort of prominence. I had almost zero experience with Korean cuisine until 3 years ago when Raon Kitchen opened a food cart around the corner from my office, serving Bibimbap to the masses (with a healthy side of Kimchi to boot). Now, it's blowing up worldwide (just google "Korean food trends" and you'll see what I mean) with Bulgogi, Kalbi, Bibimbap and Kimchi all becoming fairly common on diverse high end menus and new Korean restaurants popping up here and there (although not with the baffling frequency of pho, sushi or burger joints, thankfully). Having enjoyed Kimchi like a fiend numerous times, I found myself face-to-face with a hunk of aging green cabbage one day and wondered if one could make green cabbage Kimchi. Turns out you can.... Now, if you look through these recipes, you'll notice a common thread of ingredients, specifically gochugaru, which is a coarse chili flake that I've only seen used in Korean cooking. It's an essential part of making authentic Kimchi. But I didn't have any... I made due with Sambal Oelek instead in the hopes I didn't piss the Korean culinary gods off too much...
It's always a bit of a pickle playing with culinary projects from a cuisine and culture that isn't familiar. With little experience with Korean food or culture, I would be remiss going all crazy with a blog post on Kimchi without doing a bit of research beforehand. I did some reading but didn't really get a sense of exactly *what* makes Kimchi worthy of the name. Is it the spices used? Is it primarily a cabbage dish that has been adapted countless ways while still keeping the name? In a turn of good luck, I ran into one of the kind folks from Raon Kitchen recently and asked her what makes Kimchi Kimchi from a Korean perspective and she informed me it simply means "fermented vegetables". So there you go! Not quite the great debate over champagne and so forth...
So, in this post I'm going to present two variations of Kimchi that I've made in recent months, both with delicious results: the first is the totally inauthentic, use-what-you-have version, while the second is a much more traditional version using Korean ingredients and methods.
Kimchi #1 - Half-Assed Green Cabbage Kimchi
- 1 small head or 1/2 large head green cabbage (you can use any kind of cabbage, really, but be warned that red cabbage gets soft quickly)
- 2-3 tbsp. coarse salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
- 1 small piece of ginger (about 1 square inch), minced or julienned
- 4-8 cloves garlic, minced (how much is up to you)
- 4-6 green onions, sliced
- 1-2 carrots, julienned
- 1 tsp sugar (white or brown)
- 2 tbsp Sambal Oelek (adjust to taste and heat)
- 4 tsp fish sauce
- Cut cabbages in half and remove cores. Wash thoroughly.
- Dice into 1/2 inch/1 cm pieces and salt liberally in a flat receptacle (I usually do this in a lasagna pan). You essentially want to make sure there's a good layer of salt on all pieces of cabbage. This helps the fermenting process and absorbs excess moisture. Let sit for 1-2 hours, mixing occasionally to keep distributing salt. There will be water that leaks out, keep this, the salty water helps make the Kimchi brine.
- While cabbage is "salt-bathing", cut vegetables and prepare seasonings. To prepare seasoning, simply stir together sugar, fish sauce and Sambal Oelek into a thin paste. If it's a bit too thick, thin it out with water (a little at a time).
- Mix seasoning paste with vegetables and cabbage and pack into an airtight container (big-ass mason jars are a Kimchi-maker's best friend). You may have to use a small wooden spoon or other implement to pack down the Kimchi, but you want it packed tight in the container.
- Place lid loosely on top of container and let sit out for a day or two at room temperature. This is the beginning of the fermentation process and you can seal the lid if you like, but I've heard too many horror stories of air pressure building in the jar and causing the container to explode. Is it true? Dunno, but this means you don't have to find out!
- The next day or two days later, use spoon to press down on cabbage mixture. There should be bubbles coming up through the jar. These bubbles are a sign that the vegetables have begun to ferment. At this point, seal you lid and put in the fridge. You've got Kimchi!
NOTE: At this point you'll be able to taste the sour flavour of fermentation, but it won't be very strong. If you like your Kimchi more fermented (but generally less fresh and crunchy), keep it out another day or two. Otherwise, have at 'er! I like to have it on toast or mixed into any rice or noodle dish or stir fry. I also top my burgers with Kimchi.
|A jar of goodness!|
Kimchi #2 - Authentic Napa Cabbage Kimchi (adapted from Maangchi)
- 1-2 large heads napa cabbage (2-3 pounds)
- 1/4 cup coarse salt
- 3-4 tbsp sweet rice flour (available at Korean markets or Asian grocers)
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 8-10 green onions, sliced thin
- 1 medium red onion, sliced thin or minced
- 1-2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1/2 to 1 daikon or lo bok radish, peeled and julienned
- 1 cucumber, julienned (optional)
- 2 tbsp cilantro stems, chopped (optional)
- 2 inch piece of ginger, minced or julienned
- 1 head of garlic, sliced or minced
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup hot pepper flakes (Gochugaru)
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar (optional)
- handful of dried lime leaves (optional)
- juice of half a lime (optional)
- Cut cabbages in quarters and cut out cores, loosely separating all the leaves. Rinse thoroughly to clear any dirt from leaves and drain. Leave a little bit of moisture on leaves to hold salt.
- Salt the cabbage leaves liberally with the coarse salt in a lasagna-style pan. Leave for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes to mix the salt around. There'll be salty water in the pan, keep that for the brine. Rinse cabbage under cold water to remove any remaining salt or dirt.
- While cabbage is "salt-bathing", cut vegetables and prepare porridge. To make the porridge, bring water to a boil, then stir in rice flour and sugar and allow to boil for a minute or so until it thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Pour cooled porridge into a large mixing bowl. Add garlic, ginger, fish sauce, hot pepper flakes, rice vinegar, lime leaves and lime juice . Mix well with the wooden spoon until the mixture turns into a paste.
- Mix the paste with the veggies (not including the cabbage) until everything is well coated. Now, here's the great possibility of divergence that your authentic Kimchi making path can take.
- Option 1: Take the seasoned veggie/paste and spread it on a cabbage leaf, wrap the leaf tightly and put in a large mason jar. Do this until you've wrapped all the cabbage and packed tightly them in the jar. Cover loosely with a lid and allow to ferment. This is how Maangchi says to do it, but I'm not a fan since I like my cabbage pieces bite-sized. Bringing us to...
- Option 2: Dice the cabbage into 1-2 inch pieces and toss with the veggie-paste mix until everything is well coated. Using a wide-mouth funnel or your ninja hand-eye coordination, and a spoon, pack everything into the jar tightly. Cover loosely with a lid and allow to ferment.
- Leave your Kimchi out to ferment for a day if you want it more crunchy and fresh, two to four if you want it a little more sour tasting. Serve with sesame seeds over rice for a pretty typical Kimchi-centric Korean dish.
And there it is folks! Just remember that you can use this methodology with just about any veggies you can think of. There are even fruit-based Kimchis! So, get out there and get freaky with your Kimchi! (or go out to your local Korean shop and buy a metric butt-ton of it)