*Cabbage Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles and Hot Sauce
My apologies for not posting a new blog post in so long, as you can see I have been busy with experimenting.
A little over a year ago, I tried my hand at fermenting — my own homemade kimchi in a few different-sized mason jars. I adapted this recipe from Recipe for Disaster, using a mixture of pre-made, store-bought Thai curry/chili paste, and pureed fruits and vegetables, which I used to coat cabbage, fresh herbs and shredded carrot. I then put the kimchi in a few different jars and let each jar ferment for a different amount of time so I could determine which one I liked best.
In case you were wondering, the 10-day batch and the 14-day batch were the tastiest.
In all honesty, the kimchi turned out very well and lasted me quite a while, but I was wary of making it at home again after making it in mason jars. If you recall (or read about it, link above), one of the glass jars of kimchi BURST and shards of glass went everywhere. In my zeal to have the tastiest kimchi, I neglected to read about how it actually works … that is, the gas has to escape as the kimchi is fermenting, and as it’s bubbling and getting happy in there, if the gas has nowhere to go, it apparently finds a way.
If you have a mason jar with a lid that is closed, the jar will go boom.
Luckily, I was shopping at a local Korean grocery store recently, and as I was perusing the store’s massive Kimchi Department (no joke, a full section of the store was devoted to nothing but freshly-packed kimchi of various types and flavorings), I noticed this beauty. She was just sitting there on a table full of pots and pans, just looking at me.
She was about $25. I named her Peggy. Now I have no issues making any kind of fermented … anything.
Needless to say, I was inspired. I don’t know a whole lot about fermenting (although that’s starting to change), but I do know that a dark ceramic crock that can let gas escape while it keeps the goodness inside is what you use for pretty much all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Obviously it was designed for kimchi, but it can be used to ferment anything.
I did a little searching and pinning after I got home from Kimchi Land, and was amazed! I can make sauerkraut in there. Plus kimchi can be made from pretty much any type of vegetable, from ramps to cucumber to radishes to bok choy. Ooh then there’s fermented hot sauce and salsa, horseradish and miso, even fish sauce. And I can pickle turnips and beets, cherry tomatoes, even corn on the cob (!) and carrots and ginger for a healthy slaw.
Let me just say I was up late that night on Pinterest.
Had enough of the links? OK, I’ll continue with my experiments. Let’s roll.
Experiment No. 1: of course, I had to make kimchi.
I used the exact same recipe as before (see first link at the top), only I used chili paste from the Korean grocery instead of the Thai chili paste/red curry I used the last time. I pureed an apple and a pear, mixed it with salt and chili paste, and coated leaves of cabbage (Napa cabbage and regular green cabbage) and some shreds of carrot with the mixture.
Make sure every single bit of cabbage (or bok choy, radish, etc.) is thoroughly coated — I put gloves on and literally cover each cabbage leaf by hand to make sure. Then pack it tightly into the crock.
Be sure to check it in the meantime — you will want to take a peek every couple of days to stir it up a little. After a few days, more liquid will form, and it’s important to keep everything mixed well, and as more liquid forms, keep the solid pieces of cabbage and whatnot underneath the liquid. This kimchi was perfect after exactly 14 days … a little soft but not soggy, and a little sweet but still spicy.
It was delicious.
Note: I should also mention at this juncture that the part between “before” and “after” was two whole weeks of fermenting. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. Of my whole house smelling like a spicy cabbage burp. I am the first to admit that my domicile is not conducive to many cooking experiments, in no small part because I have bad ventilation and no central air (I live on the beach in a cottage-style apartment). I also have no cellar or secure back porch. If you are trying to get started fermenting and you have a nice porch or a cellar, by all means, use it. If you don’t, but there is a space in your kitchen next to an open window, that should be fine. Just make sure it’s not in the sun and is still in a relatively cool place. I had to make do with Peggy sitting on a kitchen counter in a stuffy apartment, so it was a little funky. It wasn’t much better with my next experiment …
Experiment No. 2: sauerkraut.
Talk about like, even easier than the kimchi. You basically have to measure salt and water (1 tablespoon salt to every 2 cups of filtered water), and shred the cabbage, and stuff it into your crock. That’s seriously all there is to it.
I really loved reading the Spunky Coconut blog and her discovery of this awesome recipe … you seriously can’t compare the deliciousness of fresh, homemade sauerkraut to anything else. As a child, I hated sauerkraut because the only kind I had ever tasted was the horrible canned mess you get slathered on your who-knows-what-those-are-made-of hot dogs at school or a hot dog stand. I visited Germany as a teenager and for the first time, tasted some homemade kraut, made in a lovely German family’s ancient fermenting crock. It was divine. Used to top an authentic, spiced, meaty, German bratwurst, it’s simply magical.
I let my sauerkraut ferment for about three weeks … technically it was 25 days. However, as you can tell by the photo above, my cabbage was pretty chunky. I prefer it this way even though it takes a bit longer to ferment than it would if I had shredded it very finely with a mandolin or something. This way it was very flavorful and pungent, yet still nice and crunchy. Perfect!
Note: I should also add another tip here. Many of the fancier (ahem, pricier) fermenting crocks come with a nice weighted piece of split stone you can use to hold the cabbage under water during the fermenting process. These are usually the European-style (traditionally German and Russian) crocks, and they are lovely, but they are too expensive and way too large for my needs. Amazon has a comparatively very good price for a nice ceramic crock like this, but you can rarely find a similar one for less than $100. What’s more, they are usually upwards of 5 liters. I am a single girl, but I can’t imagine anyone needing 5 liters of sauerkraut or kimchi … and I bought Peggy for about $25. She holds about 2 liters.
But she didn’t come with a weight. I couldn’t find a plate that was small enough to fit into the crock yet wide enough to hold down the majority of the cabbage, so I improvised and took apart a pie gate, cross-crossing each piece (since it was nice and bend-y and plastic) to hold down the majority of the kraut and kimchi. After packing the mixture inside, I placed one or two whole leaves of cabbage on top, and then held them all underwater with the plastic. A few stragglers aside, it worked out perfectly.
Experiment No. 3: pickles.
I followed this recipe from My Simple Country Life, but it’s pretty basic: for the size of my crock (about 2 liters) I would need about 6 tablespoons of pickling salt for a good, salty pickle brine. Add some adorable Persian cucumbers, fresh or dried dill, a few cloves of garlic, and let it sit for about two weeks.
Just a couple of days later there were bubbles …
And after 10 days they were perfect.
Many recipes also call for grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves or some other leaf to add tannins to the mixture, but other recipes leave them out entirely. I made mine without any leaves and they turned out great.
Experiment No. 4: hot sauce/ sriracha
I used this recipe for sriracha from VietWorld Kitchen (by the way, a great blog for many other recipes and ideas, if you are trying to learn more about Asian cuisine and cooking), only I used brown sugar, and I used a variety of peppers that probably are milder than usually used in sriracha recipes.
I seriously can’t get over how easy each of these recipes are. I found a bunch of peppers and diced them, diced a few cloves of garlic, added a cup of whey I saved from the last time I made cheese, and a few teaspoons of salt (I ended up needing to add more salt later, but I didn’t want my sauce to be too salty). The VietWorld blog post also has an interesting discussion about using fish sauce or certain types of sugar to make your sriracha more authentic … feel free to experiment. This was just my first try so I am sure I will have to try more variations.
I checked it every day, giving it a little stir and checking to make sure no mold had formed (if some has formed, just skim it off). After just a few days, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and then used my immersion blender to puree the last little stragglers of chunks of pepper or garlic.
You can learn more about probiotics and all the awesome things they do here, at this great piece on the Kitchen Rag blog.
Great article! Thanks for sharing your fermenting experiences! I’m gonna make some sriracha!
Thanks Austin! It turned out great. I’m very happy with my first sriracha experiment. 🙂
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