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I calculated I’ve been a food fermenter for roughly six years now. For some time, I’ve had my thrifting eye on the lookout for a ceramic crock for making sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha or anything else you can ferment in a large ceramic vat. I’ve spotted them at antique stores, for which they charge a pretty penny, much out the range of my frugal budget. Well, my maternal grandma came for a visit last weekend, and what did she bring but the most perfect crock ever for me! I tried to contain my excitement as I helped unload it from her car, not wanting to assume that it was for me. As an “Oooh” came from my mom, my grandma told me she had found it for me.
After visiting the huge Asian market in Orlando Monday night, I was equipped to make some traditional kimchi, a first for me. I usually make a “kraut-chi,” a term coined by fermentation author, Sandor Katz, which is a blend of whatever vegetables and spices you desire and have available. It doesn’t have to “fit any homogeneous traditional ideal of either German sauerkraut or Korean kimchi… my practice is a rather free-form application of these basic techniques rather than an attempt to reproduce any particular notion of authenticity,” says Katz in his new book The Art of Fermentation.
So, on a very hungry aforementioned trip to the Asian market, I saw these beautiful jars of colorful kimchi, remembered a Richmond friend’s tasty recipe, and decided I needed to get the ingredients to make my own. I bought Napa cabbage, a daikon radish, two onions, and fresh ginger. I already had at home the other ingredients: garlic, hot chili peppers from the garden, carros, and sea salt. I followed the recipe in Sandor’s first book Wild Fermentation. First I made a brine of four cups water and four tablespoons salt. I washed and pulled apart the cabbage, used the mandolin to slice the daikon, carrot and onions and put them in the brine to soak overnight. Then this morning, I drained off the brine and added the ginger, garlic and chili peppers, all finely sliced. I transferred the whole mixture to the crock and added some of the extra brine to bring the liquid level up to the surface.
You want enough liquid so that when you push a plate into the crock, the brine rises above the surface. See photo below:
I draped a dish towel over it all to keep out dust, kitty hair or any interested flying things. Now, as Tom Petty says, is the hardest part, waiting. The yummy fermentation smells coming from the kitchen already make it difficult. Luckily we still have about half of the kraut-chi left!