Today we present another article in our non-fiction writing contest – by Bam Bam
You don’t need a whole lot of stuff to start fermenting and I suspect that folks here have just about everything necessary already on hand. If you’ve got a well-stocked kitchen, you are set. You’ll need a vegetable peeler and some sharp knives, a couple of large bowls and the stuff you use for canning—mason jars, canning funnel, etc. I prefer to use the white plastic lids for many of my ferments.
Another nifty contraption is an airlock. (Airlocks are plastic devices that replace the lid of a canning jar. They allow carbon dioxide to be released without allowing oxygen in.) If you don’t have an airlock, you will have to burp your ferment every day–you will have to open the lid, and press down on the contents of the jar in order to release the bubbles. You can order an airlock on Ebay for a few bucks. But note you will still have to check your ferment everyday—the fermentation causes the chamber of the airlock to fill and sometimes overflow with brine. This needs to be emptied to the fill line.
Of course if you get serious about fermenting (and you’ve got the rest of your preps in order) you can have a bit of fun. I would love to have a boleslawiecs, an old-fashioned Polish sauerkraut fermentation crock, and an authentic Korean onggi for making kimchi. But canning jars with airlock lids will do for now.
In what follows I will discuss three different kinds of ferments: vegetable ferments, milk ferments and fermented family-friendly beverages such as kombucha, old-fashioned ginger ale and old-fashioned root beer. (The fermentation of alcoholic beverages is beyond the scope of this post. But do note that fermented drinks do contain a very small amount of alcohol, though you would have to drink gallons to feel a buzz.)
Now it’s time to have some fun. Unless otherwise noted, the recipes below make one quart. The recipe can be adjusted if you would like to make several quarts. But it’s best to start in small batches. That way if something goes astray, you’ve only lost a few dollars worth of produce.
Sauerkraut is one of the easiest ferments. In its most basic form, sauerkraut has only two ingredients: cabbage and canning salt. The fist step is to pick the freshest green cabbage you can find—one that is heavy for its size. To make a quart of sauerkraut you want about a 2 lb. cabbage.
Core the cabbage and remove the outer leaves. (Reserve the leaves, as they will be used later). Quarter and core the cabbage and then cut in ½ inch strips. Place in large bowl. Sprinkle 1 ¾ Tbs. of canning salt for a 2 pound of cabbage. (If your produce is very fresh and you are limiting your salt intake, the amount of salt can be reduced to 1 Tbs. per pound of cabbage.)
Massage the salt into the cabbage. Don’t forget to wash and salt the outer leaves of the cabbage. The idea here is to get the cabbage to release its liquid. That’s why you want to choose a cabbage that is heavy for its size—you want one that is fresh and hasn’t dried out. Massage in the salt very well and set aside until the cabbage has reduced in size by one half.
Taste the cabbage. It should have a nice flavor but shouldn’t be overly salty. Add more salt if necessary.
Pack the mixture in a clean (but not necessarily sterilized jar). As you fill the jar, press down the contents of the jar so the liquid rises. Continue to pack the jar leaving at least one inch of headspace. Make sure you get out all the air bubbles.
Take one of the reserved outer leaves and press into the jar so that the reserved cabbage leave acts as a barrier, preventing the shredded cabbage below from floating to the top of the jar. You want to make sure that the brine covers the cabbage at all times. Oxygen is the enemy of fermentation. That’s why the airlocks come in handy.
If you don’t have an airlock you will have to check your ferment everyday, making sure the contents of the jar are below the brine. If necessary, add more brine.
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and in traditional households it is eaten with every meal, even breakfast. (Having different kinds of food for breakfast is a distinctly Western tradition.) Kimchi is fermented cabbage in a chili pepper fish sauce. Traditionally, kimchi is made with napa cabbage, green onions, daikon radish, carrots and homemade chili paste. I will first give a traditional version of kimchi and then give an Americanized version.
To make “traditional” kimchi, select a 2 lb. napa cabbage. Remove the outer leaves. Cut cabbage into bite-sized pieces. Pour 2 Tbs. of salt over the cabbage, and massage thoroughly. Set aside for a few hours to allow the cabbage to expel its liquid. Cabbage is ready when it has reduced in volume by half. Drain brine using a colander and rinse cabbage thoroughly. Squeeze out excess liquid. (Do not reserve brine.)
While cabbage is draining prepare remaining ingredients. Cut daikon radish and carrots into matchsticks (use about 1/3 cup of each). Slice a handful of green onions. Some recipes call for an Asian pear or an apple, peeled and sliced. Most Koreans would add dried shrimp. Next, prepare the sauce. Mix fish sauce, Korean red chili flakes (also called Korean red chili powder), sugar, diced garlic and diced ginger in a blender or food processor. Add filtered water if necessary to form a sauce. Unless you are familiar with Korean cooking or are accustomed to spicy foods, I would suggest using no more than 2 Tbs. of hot pepper.
Next pour cabbage, remaining vegetables and hot pepper sauce into a large bowl. Put on a pair of surgical gloves and use your hands to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Pack into clean jars, taking care to remove any air pockets. (This recipe should make 2 quarts of kimchi.) Allow kimchi to ferment for five to seven days.
Note that in warmer environments food ferments more quickly than in cooler environments. If your kitchen is very warm, your kimchi might be done in a day or two. You need to taste it to see if it suits you.
Americanized Kimchi Recipe
Koreans love fermented fish sauce and dried shrimp; many Americans do not. So I played around with the recipe just a bit. (Note: there is no such thing as “the” recipe for kimchi; every family has their own secret recipe—sort of like every cook has his or her own unique way of making chicken soup.) I prefer to use green cabbage instead of napa cabbage. I think it retrains its texture better and has a superior flavor. I also like to add red onion and more carrots. So here you go.
Take a 2-3 lb. head of green cabbage and cut into bite-sized pieces. Work in 2 Tbs. of salt per pound of cabbage. Set aside until cabbage reduces in volume by half. Meanwhile, cut carrots into matchsticks. I prefer to use a cup of sliced carrots. Slice a medium red onion and a handful of green onions. Peel, core and slice an apple. Meanwhile, mix the hot pepper paste. I prefer 3 Tbs. sugar, 1½ tsp. hot pepper, 2 Tbs. of grated ginger, 2 Tbs. minced garlic and ¼ cup fish sauce. Mix paste in blender. Add filtered water so that it forms a sauce. (You don’t want to use tap water in your ferments. Most tap water contains chlorine and other chemicals that kill bacteria. And fermentation is all about inviting the right kinds of bacteria in to do their jobs.)
As before, put on surgical gloves and mix all ingredients. Pack into ½ gallon or two quart-sized jars, being careful to remove air pockets. Allow to ferment for three to five days. Note: There’s no way to really mess up kimchi. Play around with the ingredients until you hit upon a mixture that is pleasing to you.
How to Use Kimchi
Traditionally kimchi is a side dish served at every meal. A traditional Korean meal would include rice and kimchi, along with some steamed vegetables and a small portion of meat, usually fish, pork of chicken. Still today, beef is expensive in Korea. Kimchi can also be used to make a stew.
To make kimchi stew, add oil to a skillet and brown some diced onion. Cook until softened, usually about five minutes. Add some salt and chili pepper, cook for another minute. Add additional vegetables, if desired. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add chicken broth, soy sauce and kimchi. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. Add tofu and an egg. Cover and simmer for another two minutes until the egg whites are set. Serve with rice and kimchi. (If you are not the tofu type, use cooked chicken instead.)
My own heritage is Polish. I grew up eating my grandmother’s golumpki, which is stuffed cabbage. To make this, core a large cabbage and boil for five minutes. Meanwhile, mix cooked rice and raw hamburger (or pork, if that’s what you have on hand) along with some garlic and diced onion. When cabbage is finished submerge into cold water to prevent the cabbage from becoming mushy. Remove cabbage leaves one at a time, and roll cabbage leaf around stuffing. Place in Dutch oven. Cover with a broth of diced canned tomato, beef broth and a can of tomato soup. My grandmother always served golumpki with homemade sauerkraut. Don’t tell my grandmother this, but golumpki is even better served with kimchi.
Kimchi also works well with most curry dishes. To make a basic curry, melt a few pats of butter in large skillet. Dice onion and add to skillet. Cook for five minutes. Add diced carrots and chopped celery. Add curry powder, garlic powder, turmeric, red chili powder and lots of cumin. Cook for about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth. Add a can of diced tomatoes, a can of chickpeas and ½ cup of lentils. Let cook for 30 minutes. Serve over rice with kimchi on the side.
Fermented carrots are just plain fun. Grate 2 lbs. of carrots. I own a Salad Shooter, which makes grating carrots (and bars of soap for laundry soup) a piece of cake. Work in 2 Tbs. of salt. (This can easily be reduced to 1 Tbs.) Once carrots have released their liquid (and reduced in volume by half), add 2 Tbs. grated ginger. Pack into a quart jar, being careful to remove air pockets.
Use an air lock or check jar every day to make sure carrots are below the brine. If you don’t have an airlock you will need some contraption to keep the carrots below the brine. You can use a sandwich-sized Ziplock bag partially filled with water. Let this ferment for one week.
Fermented carrots are great additions to stir-fry. They are also good on salads. You can also make a carrot-ginger salad dressing or dipping sauce. Combine ½ cup fermented carrots with a bit of rice vinegar (or vinegar of your choice), a neutral oil (olive oil works fine but sesame oil would be interesting) and some water. If you have some white miso on hand, throw that in as well. Mix well in a blender.
Prizes for this round (ends October 11 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – Two Just In Case… Essential Assortment Buckets courtesy of LPC Survival a $147 value, a Wonder Junior Deluxe Hand Grain Mill courtesy of FoodPrepper.com a $219 value, and a gift certificate for $150 off of Rifle Ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo… Total first place prize value over $516 dollars.
- Second Place Winner will receive – A case of Sopakco Sure-Pak MRE – 12 Meals and a Lifestraw Family Unit courtesy of Camping Survival.com, and a One Month Food Pack courtesy of Augason Farms.com
- Third place winner will receive – $50 cash.