Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Kimchi Experiments

Kimchi paste with three kinds of brined veg
When we visited South Korea back in 2001 we loved the variety of little kimchi dishes that came with every meal. In fact, we didn't really care what the main course was (slight exaggeration, but you get the idea) - the highlight of our meals were all the side dishes. Unlike in the West, where kimchi is synonymous with Chinese cabbage, in Korea they preserve all kinds of vegetables in this way. We had fermented vegetables there that seemed like turnip, spinach and nettle, though they may have been some other local vegetables. So, since Chinese cabbage would only grow in a polytunnel here (and that would be a waste of space!), we've decided to experiment to see which of our abundant, easy-to-grow veg would make the best kimchi.

So far, we've kimchi'd the following:
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Oca
  • Swedes
  • Winter cabbage
  • Broccoli leaves
  • Kale
  • Mooli radish
  • Chard
  • And combinations thereof.
The all-important paste

We always follow the same method:
  1. Slice the vegetables with a mandolin or chop up finely.
  2. Brine them for a day (1 level tbsp sea salt per 250ml) - this helps preserve crunchiness.
  3. Make the spice paste, always to the same recipe, erring on the side of more garlic and ginger and using an MSG-free anchovy extract.
  4. Drain the veg and massage in the spice paste.
  5. Fill into preserving jars (we use Weck) and really pack down so that the liquid covers them and all air is excluded. Make sure to leave a good air space at the top (2.5cm/1 inch), to allow for expansion during fermentation, and put on a plastic lid (this is not totally air-tight, but I still lift the lids a couple of times a day to release any pressure).
  6. Leave for 5-7 days. Sample and put into the fridge when you're satisfied with the taste. The kimchis will continue maturing slowly in the fridge.
Swede and chard kimchi, a good combo

The results of our kimchi trials:
  1. All vegetables react differently to the fermentation. The smell and taste were different for each veg. The Jerusalem artichokes were the most vigorously fermenting.
  2. All kimchis were perfectly edible, though the broccoli leaves and kale were better for use in cooking than for eating straight-up.
  3. Mixtures of veg are a good idea, especially combining a sweet veg, like Jerusalem artichokes, with a green, such as kale, chard or cabbage.
  4. This could possibly be the best way to eat swedes.
  5. The nicest kimchi for straight-up eating was oca! Now that's what I call fusion - Korean recipe using South American tubers. Radish and swede/turnip were also extremely good, as was the winter cabbage.
  6. Greens, like chard and kale, are quite bitter on their own. They are best combined with another vegetable.
  7. Kimchi makes a great fast food. The quickest and easiest lunches in our house are now egg-fried kimchi rice and kimchi omelette. We also use our own kimchi to make Korean dumplings, mandu. For the filling, simply fry up some mince with the kimchi of your choice.
A portion of mooli radish kimchi

Since travelling can be a bit of a challenge when you're growing your own veg or running a smallholding, it's very reassuring that you can simply make these foods at home and have the taste of Korea without physically having to travel there. We now make all our favourite street foods from when we visited Korea, including mandu and hotteok. Thanks to the internet, the secrets of all international cuisines are at our fingertips. And they're great with home produce.

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