Kimchi this, kimchi that
You can make kimchi with almost anything. We were lucky to be able to pick a few bits and bobs from the global gardens at Eden to see what was suitable for the season.
Traditionally, it is a response to the seasons and regions, the best crops and the gluts. There are kimchis that preserve and store for deep winter and ones that are fermented quickly and eaten fresh in the spring and summer.
Recipes are good, but principles are better and there are only a few that you need to get to grips with so that you can make kimchi that fits your environment and season.
We salt the main vegetable to change its texture, remove some moisture, and to help it absorb the seasoning.
The longest we salt anything is napa cabbage, a large pak choy variety that has a high water content, which is salted for 6 to 8 hours. Anything else is usually under 4 hours. Dense vegetables such as squash or turnips are salted for around 2 hours, mainly to soften its texture, taking it from a crisp to an al dente crunch. Leafy greens such as chard, spinach, chives are salted briefly for 10 to 20 minutes to help it absorb the seasoning.
You can use table salt in a brine if salting very light, leafy greens. Flaked or rock salt is preferable for tougher veg to draw the moisture out slowly. You can also combine half the time in a 15% brine and half the time with flaked salt to save on money.
Sauce or brine
You can broadly group kimchi into a kimchi made with sauce and one made in brine. The latter is called ‘mul’ kimchi, literally meaning water kimchi.
The only ingredients to your sauce or brine that will affect the fermentation is its starch and salt content. With kimchi, you don’t need to worry about dechlorinating the water.
The starch is most commonly provided by water from cooking rice. You can also bring 1 part rice flour and 4 parts water to a simmer for the same effect. Some recipes call for wheat flour. Some people use water with a little sugar instead. It provides the anaerobic bacteria with food to multiply and stabilise your kimchi.
The salt content is generally to taste. Kimchi is a side dish and is usually slightly salty to accompany other dishes. When fermenting in a brine, you can follow a general rule of a 2 - 5% salinity. When fermenting in sauce, follow a basic rule of 5 - 10% salinity.
The final consideration is ripening and storing. Typically you ripen kimchi at room temperature for 24 hours, then in your fridge for 1 - 3 weeks. The kimchi will continue to ripen, sour and be delicious. Once it has ‘over-ripened’ and has become too sour, you can use it for cooking.
Typically you want the vegetable to be submerged under the sauce or the brine. A heavy weight will help release the carbon dioxide as the bacteria ferment. Due to the vegetable being salted and the sauce/brine having a relatively high salinity, you will find that kimchi is fairly robust and doesn’t require sterile caution.
With these principles in mind, here is a loose recipe.
Slice your carrot into chunky matchsticks and salt for 30 minutes to an hour, until they lose their firmness. Tear the tops and add in the last 10 minutes of salting. Rinse thoroughly and squeeze out any excess moisture.
Make your sauce with a general proportion of 200ml starchy rice water, 100g chilli flakes or powder (no seed), 20g salt (to taste), 8 garlic cloves and a thumb of ginger.
Mix through your sauce and pack into a suitable container. Cling film to the edges and place a suitable weight on top. Leave to ripen for 24 hours, then store in fridge for 2 weeks for optimal ripeness.
You can work a radish, mouli or squash in a similar way. Typically you can keep a radish slightly bulkier and squash is best to cut into bite size pieces, roughly 1cm thick. Aubergines can also be turned into kimchi, but require a quick blanch and the moisture squeeze out first.