We’re getting hard frosts now and the chickens got into my cabbage anyway, so I decided to harvest all remaining brassicas (mustard and cabbage family) and make kimchee. If you haven’t tried kimchee, you are missing out. Describing it as Korean sauerkraut is not doing it justice. Sauerkraut is usually made of cabbage, although some regions add shredded carrots, beets, or cranberries with few spicing options. Don’t get me wrong, sauerkraut can have a robust, sharp flavor (we had a surprisingly flavorful venison sauerkraut soup the other night using some of my aunt’s sauerkraut). But kimchee has a wider variety of flavor additives, everything from radishes, cucumbers, mustard leaves, and chili peppers, to fish sauce and shrimp.
The point of fermenting cabbage is to preserve it for the winter and also give people a greater variety of flavors in the otherwise dull winter months of stored food. The sour flavor comes from a buildup of lactic acid (similar to some types of pickles). Kimchee was traditionally made in the fall and buried in the back garden in large earthen jars to ferment and keep from freezing. I’m not going that far this year, but perhaps it is worth a try in a coming season.
I combined these two recipes for making our kimchee (one and two), which is a pretty standard one: cabbage, raddish, carrot, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chili powder, chili pepper, and salt. Our radishes and carrots have been all eaten at this point, so I substituted kohl rabi, of which we still have plenty.
The basic process is to wash and shred the leafy greens (the red cabbage added a nice dark undertone to the other greens). Salt the greens and massage them until water begins to be drawn out of them. Let them sit while the rest of the vegetables are shredded and mixed in. Finally the sauce is made by grinding the peppers, garlic, ginger, and fish powder together. Mine came out quite spicy but the fish sauce gave it a deeper flavor than just sharp spice. After the sauce is mixed in, the mixture is jammed into a jar. It reduces down to about a quarter of its uncompressed volume. Now it sits on the shelf and each day I “burp” it by opening the lid to let out build up pressure.