Homemade kimchiPosted: March 13, 2013
I’m often amused at how the world works. A few weeks ago I tweeted, asking where I could find kimchi in Cape Town. I first tasted the Korean vegetable dish at Tokara last year. It had the most incredible tarty, pickled sweet taste and complimented the meat perfectly.
My kimchi prayer was answered when Kelly Schreuder, a Cape Town dietician replied to my tweet and offered to make me some! I was so touched by Kelly’s gesture that I asked her if she would consider doing a guest post. To my delight she obliged. We met up at &Union last night for the exchange of the magical jar of kimchi and ended up having a LOT to talk about.
So without further ado, Kelly – take it away!
– Making kimchi is one of the most satisfying culinary experiences you’ll ever have, I promise! It is easy and delicious and it takes very little time to make enough to last a few weeks or months, but has the same feel as something like gardening, or making marmalade with your grandmother – an old-world tradition or ritual where you just know that the benefits are far greater than the material results – and the best part is that it is really good for you too.
Kimchi is a Korean pickle or condiment made with cabbage as a base. Honestly I do not know much about the real Korean culture behind kimchi. I say that because I have never been to Korea and watched people make and eat it there, so I am no authority on those details. It was first introduced to me by Andrea Potter (a holistic nutritionist and chef ) when I lived in Vancouver in 2010 and the first time I tried it was the batch of homemade kimchi given to me by Kari – a friend of mine from culinary school.
For the uninitiated, kimchi is a delicious spicy pickle with the distinctive “Asian” character that comes from ingredients like chilli, ginger, spring onions and garlic. In the same way that a slice of pickle completes a burger, kimchi completes my noodles, miso soup, rice paper spring rolls, grilled fish, stir fry and anything else that I think needs a bit of life.
Kimchi is made by natural fermentation in a salty brine, so the vinegary acidity that you taste in the final product is not added, it is actually a by-product of lactic acid fermentation by the same probiotic bacteria that make yoghurt. Fresh kimchi (before fermentation) just tastes like salty, spicy coleslaw and it is left for a few days to allow the bacteria to work their magic.
Apart from being a source of probiotics, the fermentation process also results in higher levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C. There has been a study that showed the addition of fermented kimchi to the daily diet of 100 Korean men was associated with improvements in cholesterol levels, carbohydrate metabolism and weight loss.
The extra fibre from the vegetables and the potential metabolic-boosting effects of the chilli add to the appeal from a health perspective. The role of pickles is also to stimulate saliva production, which, along with the healthy bacteria, aids the digestion of whatever else is eaten with that meal.
The saltiness is the only downside to kimchi, so those with blood pressure concerns should be cautious about how much they eat. There is usually no need to add extra salt to a meal when you are eating kimchi.
Korean kimchi is made with Napa cabbage and daikon (a large white radish), both of which are difficult to find here in South Africa. I use local ingredients where possible, so the result is not traditional (the small red radishes we use are much hotter than daikon), but it is pretty close and it makes more sense to me to use what is available here. I chose to leave out ingredients like dried shrimp and fish sauce, so the version I make is raw, vegan and slightly less pungent than it would be with the shrimp.
2 kg cabbage – you do not need to weigh this before, just adjust the salt quantity if you have more or less cabbage. Use approximately 1 tablespoon of sea salt per ½ kg cabbage.
1 bunch small red radishes (about 10-12)
6 medium carrots
1 bunch spring onions
1 green apple
3-4 inch piece of ginger
6 medium garlic cloves
¼ – 1/3 chilli flakes
¼ cup good sea salt (or 1 tablespoon per ½ kg cabbage)
– Cutting board and knife
– Large bowl and/or ceramic or glass container for mixing and storage. I used a Le Creuset storage container. Do not use metallic containers.
OPTIONAL: Something to help with the initial breakdown of the cabbage in case you get tired of using your hands. I used a wooden rolling pin without handles to help with the “pounding” of the ingredients to draw more water out of them.
OPTIONAL: food processor for making a spice paste. This is traditional, but not essential – you still get a good result if you just finely chop the ginger the garlic.
Items for weighing down the ingredients during fermentation so they are always covered in the brine. I used a plate and a kilogram bag of salt as a weight.
1) Rinse all the vegetables. Chop cabbage into bite-sized pieces, and slice the radishes and carrots. Julienne the apple and slice the spring onions. Put all the prepared vegetables into the large bowl/container.
2) You can either use a food processor to make a paste with the garlic, ginger and chilli first, or you can just finely chop those ingredients and add them to the vegetables.
3) Add the salt and then use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. You have to work at squeezing everything and mixing vigorously for about 5 minutes to get the vegetables to release fluid. I use my hands at first to distribute the ingredients evenly and then I pound them with a wooden rolling pin for a few minutes to help to break them down further.
4) Taste the mixture – it should be pleasantly salty. If it does not taste salty like a pickle, add an extra pinch of salt until it tastes right.
5) When you can see some fluid is released, pack the vegetables neatly and weigh them down. They might not be fully covered at first, but check on them after about an hour or two and you will notice the water level rise as the salt draws more fluid out.
6) Cover the top of the container loosely with a cloth to prevent anything from getting inside, but not with a tight-fitting lid – you want carbon dioxide to escape.
7) Leave the jar on the counter for 2-5 days and taste it every day to see how it changes. You can leave it there for 2 weeks or more if you want a full fermentation and maximum benefits, but the first time you try this you might prefer a fresher taste. If the kimchi goes bad you will know immediately because it will look, smell or taste really terrible, so don’t worry, you will notice! If that happens, just throw it out and try again.
8) Once the kimchi has reached a stage of pickling that you like, you can transfer it to the fridge, either in the same container with a lid, or into closed glass jars, where it will keep for several months.
Kelly Schreuder – Registered Dietician & Private Chef
Combining her dietetics and professional culinary backgrounds, Kelly has a deep understanding of how to use food to enhance health and get the most from your body. She runs her dietetics practice at the Velocity Sports Lab in Hout Bay, Cape Town, and offers private or group cooking demonstrations.
Phone: 082 321 8463