If I fit cleanly into one foodie cliché, it would be that I LOVE kale. Love love love, lovelovelove. “Love” as in I eat, and crave, kale year-round—quite the statement for a locavore. It’s to the point where I help people remember my name by asking them to simply recall “kale-y”. So when I dreamt up the beautiful dream of kale kimchi, I knew I wouldn’t look back.
I hesitate to call this a “recipe” because fermentation is much more than just a recipe. For starters, ferments are actually alive. Ferments are the art of introducing or supporting controlled bacterial and/or fungal growth in food to induce specific, desired chemical changes. To put it more simply, how does milk become yogurt? How do hops become beer? How does grape juice turn into wine? Via the wonderful world of fermentation, my friends! And because this process is so very alive, it is more like having a temporary pet that you plan to devour voraciously than just a simple recipe.
Why ferment? Well, back in the days fermentation was a way of preserving food. Fermentation can also improve flavors, such as in tea, chocolate, and coffee (yep— some of our favorite foods are products of fermentation!). Another one of my top reasons to ferment is because it is technically a method of cooking, just like baking, sautéing, or steaming. In this way fermentation helps break down the nutrients into more absorbable forms, rendering a food more nutritious than before. Although there are many other reasons to ferment, my final favorite reason is the probiotics. Fermentation encourages the growth of bacteria and fungi that are beneficial to our bodies and helpful to our guts and even our brains—some bacterial fermenting strains have even evolved due to human intervention! Us science nerds call this “symbiosis” or “mutualism” — or “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” — and it is indeed a glorious thing.
Without further ado, here’s the low-down on our up-and-coming fermentation nation:
- 1-2 bunches of kale, washed and chopped or ripped into bite-size pieces.
- Use organic if possible
- 10 red radishes, thinly sliced
- Feel free to substitute with spring radish, 1-2 daikon radish, 5-8 black radish, or any other radish.
- 2 onions or 8 shallots, chunked into quarters
- 5-10 cloves of garlic, whole with paper skin removed
- 3-5 spicy peppers, with stems removed and chunked into quarters, seeds removed if desired
- Such as: jalapeños, Serrano peppers, chile de árbol peppers, hot sauce (with no preservatives – I like Frank’s), red pepper flakes, or anything similar.
- About 4 tablespoons of ginger
- about 4 tablespoons of sea salt
- 4 cups of filtered water
Prep the veggies ~
- Place the shredded kale and radish slices together into a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix together 4 cups of filtered water with 4 tablespoons of sea salt.
- Then, add the saltwater mixture to the kale and radish. Set a plate on top of the saltwater and vegetables, and place a weigh on top of that (like a closed jar filled with water) in order to submerge all the veggies completely. Add more salt water with a ratio of 1 cup water to 1 tablespoon salt if needed.
- Allow the mixture to sit for a few hours or overnight. The veggies should be soft when they’re done soaking. Taste them —you’re looking for a taste that is not too salty, but definitely still salty. If they’re too salty, rinse the veggies. If you need more salt, then add in a few more teaspoons!
- Drain the saltwater, reserving 1-2 cups. Set the veggies aside.
- In a blender or food processor, blend the shallots/onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies into a paste. Add some of the saltwater if the blender needs helps blending.
- Mix the paste into the veggies.
Packing and patience ~
- Pack the mixture of veggies and spices into a large jar or sauerkraut crock if available. Pack it tightly. Add some veggies to the jar, then put your fist into the jar and smash it all down continually.
- Once the mixture is nice and tightly packed down, its necessary to weight it all down with something. You may be able to fit a smaller jar into the opening of your larger container (see the top photo). You can also fill a Ziploc baggie with water and set that on top. You can use a cabbage leaf with some boiled stones on top (common when making sauerkraut). You can also just push the kimchi down under the saltwater each day with your clean hands. No matter which method you choose, always cover your jar with a clean cloth (a dish rag, a tea towel, a hand towel, whatever) to keep bugs and dust out.
- Leave the covered kimchi container on your kitchen table or counter, and let it ferment! Watch your kimchi change shape and colors as the days go by. Leaving your kimchi in a warm spot will encourage the desired fermentation. If a bloom of white yeast that bursts into pieces when its disturbed forms on top, don’t worry. Just scoop out as much as you can, as soon as you can. Try setting the bottom of an empty cup, right side up, into the kimchi so the yeast particles stick to the cup and are easily washed off.
- Keep tasting your kimchi for the next 1-2 weeks. Whenever you like the taste the most, slow down the fermentation process by placing that bad boy straight into the fridge.
- Refrigerate! The kimchi will continue to ferment in the fridge, but not much. At this point, it’s a good idea to remove the cloth and weight, and replace them with a proper lid. I find that my kimchi loses a lot of its moisture once its been in the fridge for a bit, so I like to reserve some of the original saltwater to add on top later.
Recipe adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.