Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gifting Kimchi, Lacto-fermented

Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. – Terry Pratchett 

Truer words were never spoken, at least about kimchi. It can certainly light a fire in your mouth and belly. Kimchi is the scary stuff that you see in jars in Asian groceries. It’s the evil-looking orange/red one.

Korean red chillies – milder than the common chilli flakes.
This is number nine in the 12 Posts of Christmas, and once again I offer a very easy gourmet gift recipe. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and other vegetables that are laced with dried red chillies. A lot of chilli. 

Although I like kimchi, I don’t know what I would do with 2.5 L of the stuff. The answer to that is Christmas giving. For anyone who loves spicy Asian food, kimchi would be a most welcome, and unusual, gift.

Kimchi is most often pickled. This recipe is different (probably more historically accurate, too) because it’s lacto-fermented. Lacto-fermenting uses the natural lacto-bacillus on the vegetables to preserve themselves.

The process makes an environment where bacteria that cause decomposition are killed, but the good bacteria multiplies. That’s all done via the salt. It also means it won’t be ready to eat for 2-4 weeks after “putting up.”

Before kneading: full bowl
You can lacto-ferment pretty much any vegetable. Other good ones to do this way are jalapeños, cucumbers, beets and turnips, all traditional in certain cultures.

It’s quite an easy process. You simply slice or chop whatever you’re using and then knead with salt. Kneading is about the right description. Liquid "expresses" and the volume is reduced to about 1/3 to 1/4 of original.

You squeeze the vegetables with the salt, taking care to keep the pieces whole. In the process liquid exudes from the dry mixture and what started out dry becomes much reduced in volume and very wet.

Whatever liquid that comes out is what goes in the jar with the vegetables. The salt kills the bad bugs until the good ones take over. From there they do their magic converting the vegetables on the chemical level.

After kneading. The liquid has expressed
and the volume is reduced by about 2/3.
Lacto-fermentation has many advantages beyond just preservation. Lactobacilli in fermented vegetables improves their digestibility and increases vitamin availability. They also produce helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. 

Their main by-product, the preservative lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables in perfect preservation, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora in the intestines. This helps us digest everything else we eat more efficiently, too.

So there’s plenty of reasons to make, and give, lacto-fermented vegetables. It’s such an easy process too. You really should give this one a try.

You’ll note the recipe calls for “Korean” chillies. You can buy them, or whole dried ones, in Asian grocery stores. They’re not as strong as regular chilli flakes, so don’t be scared of the 1/2 cup used in the recipe!

I did 2 x 1L and 1 x 500lm jars, because my friends are pigs.
Korean Kimchi, Lacto-fermented
Prep: 35 min  |  Age: 2 weeks, min  |  Yield: 5 x 500ml
1 med nappa cabbage, chopped
1 bunch mustard greens
1 lg carrot, grated
1 medium daikon, cut in long matchsticks
1 bunch green onions, chopped in 1/2” pieces
2” piece ginger, grated
8 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup Korean red chilli flakes
2 tbsp sea salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
Special equipment:
rubber gloves
5 x 500ml Mason jars

Prepare all the vegetables and place them in a non-metallic bowl. This is important as the salt will react with the metal.

Grate the carrot and chop the ginger and add. Then add the red chilli flakes. Sprinkle the salt on top.

Wearing the gloves (also important) begin to gently squeeze the vegetables, similar to kneading. Do not break the vegetables up in the process.

“Knead” the salt into the mixture for 10 minutes. At the end of the time a fair amount of liquid will have leeched out of the Kimchi.

Pour the fish sauce over the top and stir in well. Let sit while you sterilize and dry the jars and tops.

Fill each jar, leaving about 1” from the top of each one. Divide any liquid remaining between the jars. Make sure the kimchi is below liquid level. Carefully clean the top of each jar and cover, tightening well.

Place in a cool spot to age for two to four weeks before use. Over this time the vegetables will lacto-ferment and gain a complex sweet/sour flavour.

Once opened, a jar of kimchi will last in the refrigerator for a very long time as long as the vegetables remain below the liquid line.


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