Fermented foods are fun. Seriously. You get to see this thing sit there and bubble away on your counter, and a few days later, it’s food! I used to make sourdough bread, but I havn’t figured out how to do it with gluten free grains yet. (ok ok.. I havn’t gotten around it it. It’ll be a post on here eventually)
Lacto-fermentation is one of the many preservation methods people used back before refridgeration. It’s a type of pickling that takes advantage of lactobacillus – a bacteria that you should get to know and love.
It used to be the ONLY pickling. Then around came vinegar and quick pickling processes with a waterbath and all that. Sure you can make it faster, but it doesn’t just doesn’t taste thesame, it doesn’t tingle. Fermenting food can also increase the availability of certain vitamins- kinda crazy, but makes sense since in essence the bacteria is predigesting foods for you.
The style of fermentation I did this time is from Korea, I copied a Kimchi recipe using a head of lettuce I had to get rid of. Traditionally this recipe uses Napa cabbabe, but you can really use any leafy green. Since you are depending on a bacteriological process, there is a chance that it’ll turn on you- but you’ll know. If it tastes bad, smells terrible or ends up slimy DON’T EAT IT! It’s that simple. If it smells sour and spicy and tastes good, go ahead. If you end up with a bit of mold on the surface of your liquid that’s normal – just skim it off. The liquid barrier will keep your vegetables safe.
1. Core and wash lettuce. Cut into bitesized pieces. Put in bowl, layering with sprinklings of sea salt and pounding down between layers. (Caking agents and iodine in table salt will discolour stuff when you are fermenting). Pound to release juices. I let mine sit in its brine for 2 hours, before pouring off and retaining the liquid. Rinse the lettuce thoroughly.
2. mix liberal amounts of chillipaste into your lettuce. Rub it into the leaves. Traditionally the paste would be a sort of dried bird chilli powder mixed with water and salt. I used the chillipowder I had on hand, and come commercial chillipaste(sambale oelek). Do not use one that has preservatives or anything like potassium sorbate that will prevent the growth of good bacteria. Add in ginger and garlic at this time. Same with onion if you have it. You can add a lot of other vegetables, it’ll just have to take longer. Lettuce and cabbage don’t take as long to ferment.
3. layer mixture in a mason jar, pounding with a wooden spoon and adding sprinkles of salt. I used about 3tablespoons of seasalt total – and thats between brining and the final process. The lettuce and chilli mixture should release a surprising amount of moisture – this is ok. Leave 3/4 inch of headspace in your jar (this will expand) and pound your lettuce in. You want it packed tightly. If the lettuce hasn’t released enough moisture by your pressing and pounding it, pour in the liquid you retained from when you brined it to ensure everything is covered. It really helps if you have something to hold the vegetables under the liquid, but I did mine in a mason a jar and it turned out fine. When I noticed things floating above the liquid, I pushed them down.
4. After packing, use a chopstick down the sides of the jar to release any air that you have trapped. You don’t want bubbles. Close your jar, not tightly as it will bubble and produce gas. Do not water bath process this, that will kill the lactobacillus you are culturing. Put this in a dark cupboard or on the counter for 3 days. I check it and taste it daily to make sure everything is under the liquid ( add brine if you have to to top things up). You should see bubbles by the second day, and start to taste the sour fairly quickly! I used a chopstick to release bubbles when I pushed things under the surface.
Once you’ve reached the third day, you can start considering moving your kimchi to the refridgerator. My lettuce was as sour as I wanted it after three days. Other vegetables will take longer. You may prefer a stronger sour flavour! If you start pushing the length of the process, the vegetables can lose crunch and become soft so it is important to taste it every day.
I packed my kimchi on a friday, and here is a photo of it on sunday:
and a close up of my homemade lettuce kimchi once it was finished on day 3:
Kimchi is very versitile. It’s a condiment and is added to a lot of dishes for spice. You can find everything from stir fry’s to kimchi pizza in korea!
Here is some of my lettuce kimchi on white rice. It turned out to be one of the spiciest things I have EVER cooked, so you are probably going to want to add it to other dishes instead of eating it straight like this :
I used some of the kimchi to make a hot and sour soup – it was easy and tasted great! I’ll post my recipe another day but here’s a photo. It was delicious! I only needed about 3 table spoons of kimchi to flavour a giant pot too- and it became something special with toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, and a dash of soy sauce alongside a handful of aromatics.
Hope I’ve at least encouraged you to try a new dish, even if you don’t make it yourself.