Recently my wife and I started revising the way we eat. We eat more organic food, search out meat from humanely raised animals, and cook more. We bought a half-share of Community Supported Agriculture produce from an organic farm that sells at our local farmer’s market. We did all this for two reasons. We remodeled our kitchen and now have more than six square feet of counter space and more room to move. We also read some of Michael Pollan’s books.
Pollan is a journalism professor at the University of California Berkeley who writes about food. The book of his that inspired me to go to work in the kitchen is Cooked, where he writes about food preparation and preservation. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about where our food comes from and if, indeed, it is truly food. Because of Michael Pollan’s books our food now costs more, but it tastes better and is from safe and humane sources. He also helped to get us using our new kitchen having fun cooking new things.
I have tried several cooking methods using Pollan’s suggestions, most successful, but I also turned a good pork roast into leather on the charcoal grill. I am shopping for a better grill. Now I am trying some food preservation, namely fermentation. My first effort is Kimchi.
Kimchi is the Korean national dish. It is spicy fermented Napa cabbage and other ingredients with lots of chile powder. Kimchi may be fermented cabbage, like sauerkraut, but the taste is not at all like sauerkraut.
Koreans use kimchi as a side dish and add it to many other foods. There are about as many recipes for kimchi as there are people making the stuff. Onions, daikon radishes, carrots, garlic, scallions, ginger, bok choy, and other vegetables go into the preparation. The big ingredient, Napa cabbage, is soaked in brine, mixed with a paste made from the other components, and allowed to ferment. The brine draws most of the water from two pounds of cabbage, yielding about three pints of finished kimchi.
The kimchi I made fermented for a week sitting on the kitchen counter. Next time, I will use less onion, but this batch is good on hamburgers and eggs. It also went well with some fried potatoes, is good as a dip, and will work on nachos. My wife won’t eat it. She won’t even try it.
Most of the recipes call for Korean chile powder from the Asian market. This is silly for us, living just north of the chile pepper world capital, New Mexico. I used my blend of Chimayo and Chile Molido Puro. Kimchi may be Korean, but chiles are a New World vegetable, unknown elsewhere before Columbus. Once discovered, they rapidly spread to the rest of the world, including Korea.
Besides the taste, kimchi is an excellent food. In Korea’s cold climate it keeps well, providing vitamin C, useful probiotics, and other important nutrients. The Koreans often make it in large stoneware crocks and bury them below the frost line to allow fermentation. I find the kitchen counter works fine. Fermentation makes delicate vegetables like cabbage available all winter, allowing us to eat locally after the growing season.
The preservation method, fermentation, is a bacterial process. In our germ-phobic culture this seems strange, but we need fermented foods. Beer! The bacteria that produce fermentation in any material containing sugars are everywhere. I didn’t use any kind of a starter culture, just letting the microbes in the kitchen’s air go to work. The salt water brine tends to eliminate any harmful bacteria, and once fermentation begins, the alcohol produced does the rest.
If you want to make your own kimchi, recipes abound online. Read several recipes and you will quickly learn the basics. Go to the market, get the cabbage and the other veggies you decide on and do it. I do suggest organic vegetables to eliminate the chance of including pesticides and herbicides in your recipe. Chlorine-free water is also a good idea. Chlorine kills bacteria. Use filtered or bottled water. I used the filtered water from our refrigerator water dispenser. Oh, and read Michael Pollan.