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Fermented foods are all the rage at the moment but have been around for thousands of years as fermentation was used to increase the shelf-life of foods before refrigeration.  They not only provide fibre to nourish the gut microbes you have, but they also introduce new microbes which increases the diversity of your tummy buddies.  Not only that, they taste delicious and are very versatile to cook with as well. 

Many supermarkets or specialist health and asian food shops stock common fermented foods like:

  • yoghurt, skyr, kefir (fermented milk foods/drinks)
  • kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage)
  • sauerkraut (European fermented cabbage)
  • kombucha (fermented drink based on tea)
  • water kefir (fermented water drink)

Most of these are very easy and cheap to make at home although some do require a little investment at the beginning to get the right equipment (e.g. kombucha).  I regularly make kimchi, sauerkraut and water kefir so thought I would share my kimchi recipe with you to inspire you to give it a go!  Note that it might not be a traditional recipe, but it works and is vegan (many recipes involve raw squid or fish sauce).

Equipment

You’ll need:

  • the largest bowl you have for mixing
  • glass jars for fermenting the kimchi in.  You need about 1.5l of wide-necked glass jar for this recipe (or 2 x 750ml or 3 x 500ml).  You’ll also need a food friendly weight to put on top to keep the food under the level of the liquid (e.g. glass or pyrex).  Avoid metal containers.  If it’s something you’re going to do regularly I’d recommend investing in some specialist jars – I have these and think they are great (and they are dishwasher friendly):  https://www.lekue.com/es/kit-pickles
  • chopping board and sharp knife 

Ingredients

  • 1 chinese leaf (napa) cabbage (about 850g)
  • 4 spring onions
  • 2 tbsps good sea salt (non-iodized)
  • 200g radishes
  • 1 green apple (more sour is better than sweet)
  • 1 big carrot, peeled
  • 1 tbsp white miso paste
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 tbsp korean chilli flakes (gochugaru – available at Asian stores or online e.g. Amazon)
  • large thumb of ginger, peeled

Method

  1. Makes sure your hands, chopping board and bowl are all very clean.  Pour just boiled water into your jars to sterilise them.  Leave them with the water in to cool.  If your jars will fit in the microwave you can put 100ml of water in them and then put them in the microwave on full for 5 minutes to sterilise them instead.  Don’t forget to sterilise the lids as well (don’t put metal lids in the microwave).  
  2. Coarsely slice the cabbage into 1.5-2cm wide pieces and put in the bowl.
  3. Finely slice the spring onions and add to the cabbage.
  4. Add the salt to the bowl and scrunch everything together with your hands for 5 minutes until the water starts to come out the cabbage.  Don’t be afraid to scrunch/squeeze quite hard.
  5. Cover with a plate or clean tea-towel and leave it for two hours, scrunching it twice more during this process (I usually do after 45 minutes and then at 1.5 hours).
  6. After the 1.5 hour scrunch, start preparing the other ingredients.
  7. Coarsely grate the ginger and put into a small bowl.
  8. Finely slice the garlic and add to the ginger.
  9. Coarsely grate the carrot and set aside.
  10. Top and tail the radishes, slice each in half and then slice the halves into thin semi-circles.  Set aside.
  11. Chop the apple into thin slices and then each slice into matchsticks about 2cm in length.  Set aside.
  12. Put the miso paste into the small bowl with the garlic and ginger.  Add the korean chilli flakes and 2 tbsp water.  Mix into a paste.  
  13. When the cabbage has finished it’s 2 hours put the miso/garlic/ginger/chilli paste, carrot, radish and apple in with the cabbage and give it a really good mix with your hands.
  14. Wash your hands and tip the sterilising water out of your jars.
  15. Now the tricky (messy!) bit, getting the mix into the jars!  I use my hands and have a small ladle handy.  Take a handful of mix and squeeze out most the liquid and then put into a jar, pushing it down, but not compressing it.  Fill each jar no more than 3/4 full.  Then use the ladle to share the liquid left in the bowl (there should be quite a lot) between the jars evenly.  Tap the jars on the worktop to encourage air bubbles to surface and make sure all the vegetables are firmly pressed under the surface of the brine.  Put your weight on top to ensure they stay there.
  16. Now you need to leave the vegetables to ferment.  In the summer here on the Costa del Sol, I leave mine for about 3-4 days in the summer and around a week in the winter and then put it in the fridge where it’ll last for weeks.  However, if you prefer it more sour leave it out longer and if you prefer it milder, shorten the ferment time.  It must have had some time when it’s producing lots of bubbles though, otherwise it won’t have fermented enough to keep spoilage yeasts and bacteria at bay.

Photos from left to right and top to bottom:

Cabbage after initial 5 minutes of scrunching.  Cabbage after 2 hours.  Cabbage with other ingredients.  Kimchi mixed and ready to go into jars.  Kimchi in jars and ready to ferment.

What to do with kimchi

  • Have it on the side of a lunch plate, like you would have chutney or sweet pickle
  • Add it to fried rice
  • Blitz it with mayo, cashew cream or tahini to make a creamy spicy dressing
  • Put in it a sandwich or burger like you would gherkins
  • Mix it through a salad to add a punch of flavour
  • Have it as part of a nourish bowl
  • Spoon a little on top of asian soups/ramen

Happy eating!

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