Korean food has turned from an upcoming food trend to having actually arrived, even my local Tesco now has a section devoted to it. My first Korean meal, two decades ago, was, bizarrely, in Ecuador. And while Korean food is predominantly meat-based, my enduring memory of the meal was the delicious kimchi, or fermented spicy cabbage.
Fermented foods are very good for the health, and Koreans do love a pickle. They put kimchi in everything, soups, broths, on rice and ramen. Any vegetables packed and seasoned with salt are called kimchi, whereas soy pickled vegetables are called jjang achi. The most well known kimchi is baechu, made with Chinese leaves, but there are usually a selection of pickles in a typical Banchan bar to accompany the Korean meal. Today I made cabbage, baechu, kimchi and cucumber and daikon kimchi.
Both are easy and quick, the basic ingredient, a Korean ground hot pepper is now easily obtainable in the UK. Traditionally the longer the kimchi has been fermented, the better tasting and the better for your health. I’m looking for a suitable clay pot in order to bury a batch in my garden over the winter. The frost will break it down even more. Burying food in the ground over winter is a traditional method of preservation in many cultures: think of gravad lax in Scandinavian food; bog butter in Celtic cuisine, burying cabbage by Appalachian homesteaders and a general fear of the apocalypse by some survivalists in Florida!
The expert on fermented foods is Sandor Ellix Katz, or as he is known on Twitter @sandorkraut. The food programme has interviewed him and I’ve recommended his book Wild Fermentation in the bibliography of my book. I’ve been mucking about with fermented foods, inspired by his book, for a few years now. I made sauerkraut which is like a Western version of kimchi. Forget the sauerkraut you buy in shops, homemade is the thing.
You can even feed the excess fermented juice to your plants, it’s a similar concept to Bokashi composting.
Recipe for Baechu Kimchi
2 heads of Chinese Leaves
2 litres of cold water
200 g of coarse sea salt
15g of finely chopped garlic
15g of finely minced ginger (I keep a stick in the freezer and grate it directly with a microplane)
75g Gochugaru Korean red chilli, ground. (You can order this from souschef.co.uk)
30g caster sugar
5 spring onions, chopped into 5mm slices
In a food grade plastic container or other non reactive container, mix the seasalt with the water.
I separated the leaves of the cabbage and placed them in the container. You could also put the whole heads in. Make sure it’s submerged, put a plate over the top and a glass jar filled with water.
I soaked the cabbage for 24 hours, so it was soft and pliable. (When you make sauerkraut, you ‘punch’ the cabbage to soften it).
Then draining the cabbage from the salt water, rinse it and squeeze it dry.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, ginger, chilli and sugar in a food processor.
Chop the spring onion.
I then placed the cabbage back into the plastic container in layers.
Onto each layer I spread the chilli mix and some spring onions.
I continued until I had used up all the cabbage.
Then I packed the seasoned cabbage, rolling it up, into a glass Le Parfait jar.
Let it ferment in a cool place for 3 days before eating.
If you want to try fermenting it for longer, check it every few days to make sure it isn’t building up too much gas in the jar. Just open the top of the jar a little.
Recipe for Cucumber and Daikon kimchi
1 litre or so of cold water
5 cucumbers, peeled, cut into thirds.
40g sea salt
4 cloves of garlic, minced
75g of Gochugaru Korean chilli
5 spring onions or Asian chives, cut into 5mm pieces
1 Daikon, peeled and grated
30g caster sugar
Optional: you could also add toasted sesame seeds either into the pickle or last minute, as it’s served.
Dissolve the seasalt in the water.
Take the thirds of cucumber and quarter them lengthways, taking care not to cut down to the bottom.
Submerge the cucumbers into the salty water and leave to soak for an hour.
Grate the daikon and cut the spring onions.
In the meantime, mix the garlic, chilli, sugar.
Then drain the cucumbers, reserving the brine and fill the split end with the chilli mixture.
In a sterilised glass container such as a Le Parfait jar, place each filled cucumber upright.
You can probably squeeze in 3 per layer. Feel free with both these recipes to squeeze them right in as the vegetables compress and later there is more room in the jar.
Between each layer dump a bunch of the grated daikon radish.
Keep filling all the jars, I filled 3 x 1 litre jars.
At the end, if the cucumbers are not submerged, add some of the briney water to each jar so that the cucumbers are covered.
Leave to ferment for a couple of days.
Afterwards keep in the fridge.