Kimchi is made through the process of lactic acid fermentation, which occurs when the bacterial species, Lactobacillus, turns the sugar found in vegetables or fruit to lactic acid. Lactobacilli are found on the surface of fruit and vegetables, thereby making lactic acid fermentation possible.
Sarah and I are somewhat new to the world of fermentation, and were grateful that Danya Smith, chef and owner of the catering company Lulu’s Apron, was willing to oversee our first experience making kimchi. She also graciously provided the recipe, and her chopping skills. It is always a lovely experience to cook with friends, but it felt particularly special to be making something that would grace many future meals. How nice it was to sit around, grate carrots, and peel garlic, snap pictures, and chat.
In addition to Danya, we found the Noma Guide to Fermentation full of incredibly helpful tips. When it comes to lactic acid fermentation, it is important to remove air as much as possible. Lactobacilli thrive in no oxygen environments, and mold and other unwanted pathogens require oxygen, so removing air helps to insure proper bacterial growth. In this recipe, we made sure that all vegetables were fully submerged in liquid by periodically pushing the kimchi back under the brine. Using enough salt is also important, because many pathogens cannot survive in a high salt environment, but Lactobacilli can. For this recipe, we used brine. Many brine recipes call for a ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water. If you want to be more exact, you could measure the weight of vegetables plus the amount of water it takes to submerge the vegetables, take 2% of that weight, and measure out that amount of salt. Then, make brine by pouring the water and salt into a mixing bowl, mixing until the salt is dissolved, and then pouring the resulting brine over the vegetables. The ideal temperature for lactic acid fermentation is between 20-25 C. Higher temperatures will make the fermentation process occur much quicker, while cooler temperatures will make it occur much more slowly. Make sure you taste the food throughout the fermentation process, as it will give you the best sense of when to stop fermenting. To learn more about fermentation and techniques, check out our Exploring Fermentation article.
This is certainly not the definitive recipe for kimchi. There are many different varieties and methods out there, which is part of the wonder of kimchi in particular, and fermented foods in general!
Makes approximately 1.5 litres
- Prepare all vegetables (except the garlic, ginger, shallots, and chilies) and add to a large mixing bowl. Remove any visible dirt by brushing it off, and consider not using the outer leaves of cabbage for this purpose. Remember, you don’t want to thoroughly wash the vegetables, as you are going to utilize the natural Lactobacilli found on the outside of the vegetables.
- In a blender or food processor, blend the garlic, ginger, shallots, chilies, and fish sauce to make a paste. Add this paste to the vegetables, and mix thoroughly.
- Loosely pack the vegetable mixture into a large, wide mouth glass jar.
- Make a brine solution using 1 cup filtered water to 1 tbsp sea salt ratio. We used 4 cups of water, and 4 tbsp of sea salt, but you may need to adjust depending on how much you need to fully submerge the vegetables in brine. If you want to be very exact, measure the weight of vegetables and the water it takes to submerge them first. Then calculate 2% of that weight, and add that amount of salt to a mixing bowl. Pour the water from the veggies into the bowl with salt to make brine, and then pour the brine over the vegetables.
- Add the brine solution to the jar with vegetables, ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged. Let the vegetables and brine sit for 2 hours, and then strain. Remember to keep a little of the brine.
- Pack the kimchi into a jar. Press down on the kimchi until the brine rises to cover all the vegetables. If there is not enough brine, use what was saved to top up the container until everything is submerged.
- Cover with a cloth or lightly screw on the lid, and leave to ferment in a cool, dry, dark place.
- Check the kimchi every couple of days, and use a non-metal utensil to push any vegetables back under the brine if needed. You could also place a weight on top of the kimchi to insure it remains submerged.
- Let it sit for 2-3 days, but you can leave it to ferment longer if you like. Just taste it throughout, and then halt the fermentation by putting it in the fridge when you are happy with the taste.
Further ideas and modifications
- You can use other vegetables, so be creative. Some options are: bok choi, other types of cabbage, yellow onion, cucumber, zucchini. Some recipes even call for apples or Asian pears.
- While you can use any chili you like, or pre-made chili paste, many kimchi recipes call for gochugaru, which is a Korean spicy chili powder.
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