Today I decided to post something a little different…
Because my friend Tara who has Multiple Sclerosis, recently told me how much she has benefitted by eating this calcium, protein, pro-biotic rich food.
Tara can no longer walk without assistance, she uses a cane or wheelchair for mobility. When she said, “I use to be so addicted to sugar. And so tired all the time. Since I started eating kimchee I am less tired, don’t have sugar cravings and have even lost 16 pounds! And I am in much less pain with the MS.”
Her words fueled my curiosity, if kimchee helped her MS it must have some very good health benefits. I have eaten kimchee in Korean restaurants and really liked it, now I wanted to learn how to make it!
I have long heard about the positive affects of fermented foods for digestion and over all health – they are a staple in many Asian cultures. Kimchee is eaten by Koreans in their daily meals. Because many people from Asian countries do not have the enzymes people from other countries do for digesting lactose, they get those good intestinal bacteria through fermented foods, and….they have a practical way to preserve food that can be kept in jars or ceramic containers. They last a long time and taste delicious with rice or noodle dishes.
Avi, another friend’s son who lives in Fairfield, was our kimchee guru. Although only 29, he has acquired a vast knowledge through hands-on experience with wild foods and other eatables – in addition to the wide range of gardening and sustainable skills he already embodies. If you ever need to live off the land, you’d want someone like Avi around!
One recent night, my friend Radhika, Tara and me entered the mysterious world of kimchee with Avi as our guide – in the warm surroundings of his mom’s kitchen.
First Avi pulled out his pukka Japanese Super Blue Steel Knife, hardened to a 64 – a number that determines how well a knife holds its edge. “Harder steel can make a thinner edge” he said, “this knife is made like a Samurai sword.” I felt it’s fine crafted SHARP edge. Seemed like a fine Samurai chef’s knife to me. Watch those fingers!
He said, “When you cut through food using this, it breaks the suction so things don’t stick to the knife.”
Now that sounded like something I could use, considering how often I’ve had to wipe the edge of a knife off when preparing food. It was a temptation until I learned of the $300 price-tag. My Japanese $1.50 special I decided, suits my non-gourmet cooking style just fine.
Okay, so now we get down to business, knives ready, bowls out, food washed and on the counter ready for chopping! Hai-ya!
I asked about using anchovies, because vegetarians of course would not add fish. Avi said, “If you add dried anchovies (or you can substitute dried shrimp), it makes it calcium rich, you get the highest amount of calcium this way, much more than dairy, it also adds a lot of protein. You can leave it out of course, but if you eat fish, it’s a big plus and adds a nice flavor.”
First Avi soaked and peeled the garlic cloves. Then he took about 3 inches of ginger and put this is the grinder along with the garlic and chopped both into fine bits. The anchovies went into the mortar and pestle for hand-grinding.
Carrots were cut into strips, Napa cabbage cut into thick about 4″ wide long sections, green onions with stems cut into strips or rings, red radish the same, radish leaves also chopped rough and big.
First the cabbage leaves were put in a large bowl and about 1/2 cup of salt was sprinkled on top, then Avi mixed the salt around to cover the leaves. After five to ten minutes Avi pushed the leaves down in the bowl, already the quantity had reduced its size, due to the water leaching from the cabbage leaves.
Radhika and I helped with chopping the vegetables until we were both disabled by nicking our fingers on the samurai knife! Blood was not a protein we wanted in the kimchee!
The rest of the vegetables were then thrown in, on top of that mix went the chopped anchovies, ginger and cloves bits, a spoonful of chili powder and more salt was added. All this was then mixed together creating an ideal environment for fermentation.
This mixture sat for a while (mostly due to our hanging around and chatting). Again it was pushed down and reduced in size as the water was released. A clear golden-red liquid revealed itself.
At that point, although not fermented yet, I tasted bits of the vegetables. Delicious! Avi seemed to have a knack for throwing things together without really measuring – eyes, sight and taste – the intuitive chef’s main tools!
We then put the vegetables into glass jars along with the liquid and left 2-3 inches of space at the top to allow for expansion.
We loosely put the lids on top to allow a little oxygen to enter. In about 2 days the lids would then be tightened.
Depending on the outside temperature, the kimchee should be ready to eat in about a week. Some people (like Tara) can’t wait and start eating it within a few days. It can sit out for six weeks continuing to brew and ferment, then must be kept in the fridge. The longer the food ferments, the more beneficial organisms thrive, and food value increases in available vitamins and proteins.
We actually had doubled the recipe and kept some in a crock pot to add to jars in a few days.
Kimchee – I felt like I was being introduced to an ancient, mysterious alchemical process – the deep, dark brewing of micro-organisms – transformation. The continuous flux and movement of all manifestation.
Avi’s Kimchee Ingredients
1. 4 cups vegetables (mix of red radish including leaves or can replace with daikon), carrots, spring or green onions, and/or beets can also be used. Plus: one large cabbage, either Napa cabbage or white cabbage
2. 1/2 – 1 cup dried anchovies or dried shrimp (or leave out if vegetarian)
3. 2-3 inches ginger, cut or chopped in grinder into small pieces
4. 3-4 pieces garlic cloves, cut or chopped in grinder with ginger
4. 1/2 cup salt, more added as needed (do not use pink sulphur smelling salt)
5. 1/4 -1/2 chili powder (Korean red pepper chili powder is mild and works well)