Pickles and probiotics … four recipes in one

*Cabbage Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles and Hot Sauce

My apologies for not posting a new blog post in so long, as you can see I have been busy with experimenting.

A little over a year ago, I tried my hand at fermenting — my own homemade kimchi in a few different-sized mason jars. I adapted this recipe from Recipe for Disaster, using a mixture of pre-made, store-bought Thai curry/chili paste, and pureed fruits and vegetables, which I used to coat cabbage, fresh herbs and shredded carrot. I then put the kimchi in a few different jars and let each jar ferment for a different amount of time so I could determine which one I liked best.

In case you were wondering, the 10-day batch and the 14-day batch were the tastiest.

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In all honesty, the kimchi turned out very well and lasted me quite a while, but I was wary of making it at home again after making it in mason jars. If you recall (or read about it, link above), one of the glass jars of kimchi BURST and shards of glass went everywhere. In my zeal to have the tastiest kimchi, I neglected to read about how it actually works … that is, the gas has to escape as the kimchi is fermenting, and as it’s bubbling and getting happy in there, if the gas has nowhere to go, it apparently finds a way.

If you have a mason jar with a lid that is closed, the jar will go boom.

Ruh-roh.

Ruh-roh.

Luckily, I was shopping at a local Korean grocery store recently, and as I was perusing the store’s massive Kimchi Department (no joke, a full section of the store was devoted to nothing but freshly-packed kimchi of various types and flavorings), I noticed this beauty. She was just sitting there on a table full of pots and pans, just looking at me.

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She was about $25. I named her Peggy. Now I have no issues making any kind of fermented … anything.

Needless to say, I was inspired. I don’t know a whole lot about fermenting (although that’s starting to change), but I do know that a dark ceramic crock that can let gas escape while it keeps the goodness inside is what you use for pretty much all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Obviously it was designed for kimchi, but it can be used to ferment anything.

I did a little searching and pinning after I got home from Kimchi Land, and was amazed! I can make sauerkraut in there. Plus kimchi can be made from pretty much any type of vegetable, from ramps to cucumber to radishes to bok choy. Ooh then there’s fermented hot sauce and salsa, horseradish and miso, even fish sauce. And I can pickle turnips and beets, cherry tomatoes, even corn on the cob (!) and carrots and ginger for a healthy slaw.

Let me just say I was up late that night on Pinterest.

Had enough of the links? OK, I’ll continue with my experiments. Let’s roll.

Experiment No. 1: of course, I had to make kimchi.

I used the exact same recipe as before (see first link at the top), only I used chili paste from the Korean grocery instead of the Thai chili paste/red curry I used the last time. I pureed an apple and a pear, mixed it with salt and chili paste, and coated leaves of cabbage (Napa cabbage and regular green cabbage) and some shreds of carrot with the mixture.

Make sure every single bit of cabbage (or bok choy, radish, etc.) is thoroughly coated — I put gloves on and literally cover each cabbage leaf by hand to make sure. Then pack it tightly into the crock.

Before:

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After:

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Be sure to check it in the meantime — you will want to take a peek every couple of days to stir it up a little. After a few days, more liquid will form, and it’s important to keep everything mixed well, and as more liquid forms, keep the solid pieces of cabbage and whatnot underneath the liquid. This kimchi was perfect after exactly 14 days … a little soft but not soggy, and a little sweet but still spicy.

It was delicious.

Note: I should also mention at this juncture that the part between “before” and “after” was two whole weeks of fermenting. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. Of my whole house smelling like a spicy cabbage burp. I am the first to admit that my domicile is not conducive to many cooking experiments, in no small part because I have bad ventilation and no central air (I live on the beach in a cottage-style apartment). I also have no cellar or secure back porch. If you are trying to get started fermenting and you have a nice porch or a cellar, by all means, use it.  If you don’t, but there is a space in your kitchen next to an open window, that should be fine. Just make sure it’s not in the sun and is still in a relatively cool place. I had to make do with Peggy sitting on a kitchen counter in a stuffy apartment, so it was a little funky. It wasn’t much better with my next experiment …

Experiment No. 2: sauerkraut.

Talk about like, even easier than the kimchi. You basically have to measure salt and water (1 tablespoon salt to every 2 cups of filtered water), and shred the cabbage, and stuff it into your crock. That’s seriously all there is to it.

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I really loved reading the Spunky Coconut blog and her discovery of this awesome recipe … you seriously can’t compare the deliciousness of fresh, homemade sauerkraut to anything else. As a child, I hated sauerkraut because the only kind I had ever tasted was the horrible canned mess you get slathered on your who-knows-what-those-are-made-of hot dogs at school or a hot dog stand. I visited Germany as a teenager and for the first time, tasted some homemade kraut, made in a lovely German family’s ancient fermenting crock. It was divine. Used to top an authentic, spiced, meaty, German bratwurst, it’s simply magical.

I let my sauerkraut ferment for about three weeks … technically it was 25 days. However, as you can tell by the photo above, my cabbage was pretty chunky. I prefer it this way even though it takes a bit longer to ferment than it would if I had shredded it very finely with a mandolin or something. This way it was very flavorful and pungent, yet still nice and crunchy. Perfect!

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Note: I should also add another tip here. Many of the fancier (ahem, pricier) fermenting crocks come with a nice weighted piece of split stone you can use to hold the cabbage under water during the fermenting process. These are usually the European-style (traditionally German and Russian) crocks, and they are lovely, but they are too expensive and way too large for my needs. Amazon has a comparatively very good price for a nice ceramic crock like this, but you can rarely find a similar one for less than $100. What’s more, they are usually upwards of 5 liters. I am a single girl, but I can’t imagine anyone needing 5 liters of sauerkraut or kimchi … and I bought Peggy for about $25. She holds about 2 liters.

But she didn’t come with a weight. I couldn’t find a plate that was small enough to fit into the crock yet wide enough to hold down the majority of the cabbage, so I improvised and took apart a pie gate, cross-crossing each piece (since it was nice and bend-y and plastic) to hold down the majority of the kraut and kimchi. After packing the mixture inside, I placed one or two whole leaves of cabbage on top, and then held them all underwater with the plastic. A few stragglers aside, it worked out perfectly.

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Experiment No. 3: pickles.

I followed this recipe from My Simple Country Life, but it’s pretty basic: for the size of my crock (about 2 liters) I would need about 6 tablespoons of pickling salt for a good, salty pickle brine. Add some adorable Persian cucumbers, fresh or dried dill, a few cloves of garlic, and let it sit for about two weeks.

Before:

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Just a couple of days later there were bubbles …

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And after 10 days they were perfect.

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Many recipes also call for grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves or some other leaf to add tannins to the mixture, but other recipes leave them out entirely. I made mine without any leaves and they turned out great.

Experiment No. 4: hot sauce/ sriracha

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I used this recipe for sriracha from VietWorld Kitchen (by the way, a great blog for many other recipes and ideas, if you are trying to learn more about Asian cuisine and cooking), only I used brown sugar, and I used a variety of peppers that probably are milder than usually used in sriracha recipes.

010I seriously can’t get over how easy each of these recipes are. I found a bunch of peppers and diced them, diced a few cloves of garlic, added a cup of whey I saved from the last time I made cheese, and a few teaspoons of salt (I ended up needing to add more salt later, but I didn’t want my sauce to be too salty). The VietWorld blog post also has an interesting discussion about using fish sauce or certain types of sugar to make your sriracha more authentic … feel free to experiment. This was just my first try so I am sure I will have to try more variations.

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I checked it every day, giving it a little stir and checking to make sure no mold had formed (if some has formed, just skim it off). After just a few days, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and then used my immersion blender to puree the last little stragglers of chunks of pepper or garlic.

020You can learn more about probiotics and all the awesome things they do here, at this great piece on the Kitchen Rag blog.

Happy fermenting!

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My first time fermenting … Kimchi = rad

Ever since learning about fermenting and kimchi at a pickling class this summer, I have been wanting to try to make my own kimchi. I wanted to research what sorts of flavors and spices most people use, and then I realized … people don’t add tons of spices to kimchi. The best kimchi I ever had was a simple cabbage and broccoli mix with carrots and crisp, fresh-tasting herbs. The best chefs use fresh herbs, fresh ginger and garlic, wholesome vegetables like cucumber, cabbage, radish and green onions, and lots of peppers, both fresh and dried, both spicy and mild. Most recipes also incorporate something sweet like fruit, or even sweeter vegetables like carrots or beets, to balance out the heat of the peppers.

This pot of kimchi has a variety of delicious herbs and vegetables.

Kimchi is also very simple to make, and requires no fancy tools or expensive equipment. Knives to chop the veggies, a food processor to blend the paste, bowls to mix it, and a crock or jars to ferment the mixture. Although traditionally, Koreans put the kimchi in clay pots and bury them underground, sometimes for months or even years, and as you can see by the above photo, it’s made just as well in any non-reactive pot. I adapted Kate’s recipe for kimchi on Recipe for Disaster, because it looked pretty insanely easy, by using a storebought Thai curry paste I love instead of making my own chili paste from ginger and chili flakes…

Feel free to use any of the many kinds of premade paste, or make your own!

…  and I added a red and a yellow bell pepper to the fruit blend, and some shredded carrots to the whole mix. Please don’t be shy about changing or adapting this recipe; there are as many kimchi recipes as there are kimchi eaters. This recipe is also comparatively mild … many Westerners probably couldn’t hand the most traditional Korean kimchis. Personally, I can’t handle a whole lot of heat and spice, although I am getting better at it; but Koreans never met a hot pepper they didn’t like.

Hillary’s Sweet ‘n’ Easy Kimchi

  • – 1 head of cabbage
  • – 2 onions, one white one red
  • – 2 cloves fresh garlic and 1 small fresh ginger root, diced
  • – 2 bell peppers, one yellow, one red
  • – 2 medium carrots
  • – 1 apple
  • – 1 pear
  • – 2-3 tablespoons Thai curry paste, dissolved in about 1/2 cup warm water
  • – 1 bunch fresh cilantro or other fresh herbs
  • – Sea salt
  • – Water

I chopped the cabbage and placed into a large bowl filled with warm water and kosher salt. Then I drained out most of the water and let it rest for a few hours, then rinsed off the salt and drained all the water out.  I chopped the pears, onions, bell peppers, ginger, garlic and herbs, put it all into the food processor, and pureed it into a paste, and I shredded two carrots into the cabbage.

I just shredded the carrots with a vegetable peeler.

After adding warm water to the Thai curry paste and dissolving it (and looking away so it didn’t burn my eyes … whew!), I added it with the fruit mixture and — after donning some plastic gloves — tossed the whole mixture with my hands to make sure every piece of cabbage and carrot was covered in the chili/fruit paste. Make sure it’s coated thoroughly.

It looks like this after all the cabbage is coated.

Then I packed the mixture into a few jars, making sure to pack the mixture very tightly and pack the cabbage firmly inside the jars.

Let it sit at room temperature (in a cool place) for at least 24 hours. Don’t process the jars ever, and don’t refrigerate them until you want the fermentation process to stop. After coating the cabbage completely, there’s a little liquid at the bottom of the bowl, so it just gets transferred to the jars, and even after just a couple of hours, a lot more liquid has accumulated. Since the cabbage leaves have been so totally well-coated with flavor, the more the cabbage ferments, the stronger the flavor of the kimchi will get.

Note: I cannot stress enough — be sure to wear gloves when you mix it up and when you cram it into the jars! You want to make sure it’s coated completely with the paste and packed very firmly into the jars, and the only way to do that is with your hands. But you DO NOT want to get this in your eyes!

I have to admit, I am a little nervous about this experiment. Most Americans like myself have a genuine fear of fermenting anything (that’s just a fancy word for “spoiling” or “rotting”) and the idea of putting a jar full of vegetables on a shelf somewhere and leaving it there until all of the natural chemicals in the foods make the whole mixture start to ferment and pickle itself … well, let’s just say it doesn’t come easy. But millions of Koreans can’t be wrong. It’s incredibly healthy and full of vitamins and all of the good natural acids your body and spirit needs. On the plus side, this is a quick-fermenting mix, so the vegetables will stay crisp and tasty, and I love the idea of a sweet and natural additive. Nothing in this recipe is processed or storebought except the chili paste, and only slightly, and you can adapt this recipe to suit your own tastes.

So, the jars are filled and in a dark spot. Let the experiment commence.

After 24 hours ….

… the mixture doesn’t look any different, although more liquid has accumulated in all of the jars — even the very small one.

After 48 hours …

… Dang. The largest jar has burst. I opened the cupboard where I was storing the jars (in the dark) and saw a shard of glass. It straight popped out by itself. I must have closed the lids too tight. So, please, when you store these, be sure to keep them in a dark place, and keep the lids as loose as possible. Although I understand that the process of fermentation means the release of gasses, somehow I didn’t put two and two together and realize that a closed mason jar would mean the gasses have nowhere to escape. Learn from my mistakes, kids. This could have been a giant mess.

I transferred the kimchi from the broken jar (it did pop out, not in) into a tupperware container and refrigerated it — this will be good for my experiment regardless, because when I eat this, I will be able to tell the difference between this batch and the remaining three jars that will keep fermenting. I am interested to find out the flavor difference between 2-day kimchi and others that ferment for a longer time. I am experimenting, after all.

So this is the 2-day batch. It’s been sitting long enough to ferment (24 hours is the minimum) but lots of Koreans won’t touch a kimchi that has been fermenting for less than a week. I aim to find out the difference. There are four jars with an identical mixture. The first fermented for 48 hours before it was refrigerated, thus stopping the fermentation process.

By the way, when that jar burst at 48 hours, I also noticed that the lids on the other jars were sticking up, and when I loosened the lids on them, they each emitted a little noise. And a FANTASTIC smell. Oh, this will be so yummy.

After 5 days …

… I loosened the rings on the jars again and each one was still fermenting away, as evidenced by the pffftt noise that squeaked out. And honestly, I was still a little wigged out about the breaking glass a couple of days before, so I loosened each ring even more and wrapped each in a brown paper bag. This way the lid could stay loose and nothing will fall into the kimchi, and it would stay dark around the jars. I also put one more jar in the fridge, stopping the fermentation process. Now I have a 2-day jar and a 5-day jar.

After one week …

… Took one more jar out of the cupboard and stuck it in the fridge. I have the 2-day batch, a 5-day batch and a 7-day batch. I also have a tiny, 4-oz. jar that I will keep for as long as I can. Just to see what happens. Maybe one-month kimchi will be the best-tasting of them all.

Kimchi is generally used as a side dish with delicious Korean dishes like barbeque pork or chicken and marinated seafood, or in kimchi soup and kimchi fried rice. The natural fermenting process is very healthy and earthy, and it has a flavor you can’t duplicate anywhere else. I paired mine with an easy and slow-cooked Korean spicy BBQ pork and marinated grilled chicken.

I based the BBQ pork recipe on another ridiculously easy one – my favorite crock-pot recipe for wicked easy pork carnitas. Essentially I just changed the spices; instead of onions, cumin, ancho chiles, paprika, and oregano, I added to a couple of pounds of cut-up pork some good sesame oil, rice vinegar, sambal oelek (red chile pepper paste), fish sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder, ginger (you can use fresh or ground), and a nice squirt of sriracha sauce.

I used this recipe for about 2 lbs of pork. I placed the pork in a big freezer bags and mixed this marinade, then let it rest overnight. This is just as good with chicken, although I would recommend using a chicken thigh (with the skin and bone attached) if you’re going to cook it in the crock pot. If you’re using skinless and boneless chicken breasts, marinate them overnight and toss them on the grill or fry them.

Spicy Korean Pork (and/ or Chicken) Marinade

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 generous squirt of sriracha

Blend all of the ingredients together and place in a freezer bag with the pork or chicken. Refrigerate and let it marinate overnight.

I started the marinade the night before I planned to have people over to taste my attempts at recreating Korean specialties. The next morning, before I left for work, I put the pork and all the marinade into my crock pot and set it on “low.” I freaking love my crock pot – when I got home 9 hours later, my pork was perfectly cooked and ready. Picture me lifting the lid on the crock pot and shouting “Ooooh yeah” in my Kool-Aid guy voice.

This is so fragrant and awesome.

The kimchi is usually only one of many side dishes in Korean cuisine. Luckily, Koreans dig anything that has been fermented, pickled, or generously spiced. My kitchen never has a lack of delicious and spicy pickled things, so I included rice and a few different pickled sides, like my own pickled carrots and asparagus, my friend the Neighborhood Foodie’s beet-pickled eggs, sliced water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, and some sliced cucumbers.

As far as the taste of the kimchi, I think the batch that fermented the longest (7 days) was the spiciest, but all of them had deep and pungent flavors. If you’ve ever bought kimchi in a store, you literally can’t compare the two. The store-bought jar (at least in my experience) was the polar opposite of this homemade goodness — storebought tastes rancid and spoiled where this is naturally fermented and tastes crisp and fresh.

In a pickle down at the farm

This weekend, I attended a great pickling class at Wild Willow Farms outside of San Diego, a lovely organic farm and educational center.  I learned many things and will list them in no particular order of importance:

1. ) Refrigerator pickles are quite literally the easiest thing you can ever make. Ever. Period. If you don’t need to seal it in a mason jar and store it on a cupboard shelf, that means you don’t need to worry about the acid/pH levels, and you can simply make what tastes good to you, put it in the fridge, and eat it at your convenience.

Before: Cut up veggies and herbs, arrange artfully. Use whatever fresh herbs and spices you like.

After: Brine is one quart of water to 2 tbsp. kosher salt. (You can also do this brine with vinegar if you prefer a vinegar-y pickle to a salty one.) Refrigerate and enjoy. Keep it refrigerated. No really. That's it.

2) Classes are not enough — if you want to learn how to preserve, pickle, can, etc., learn the basics of pressure canning vs. hot-water bath canning, as well as acid and pH-levels. It’s not complicated to learn and misunderstanding the essentials may cause people who eat your food to get sick or your food to spoil before its time.

I do not claim to be an expert at … well, anything …. but I will refer you to the experts who can educate you better than I ever could. You can read the USDA guidelines for safe canning here and a great summary here. Basically, if something is high in acid (say, pickles, jellies, jams), they can be safely sealed in a hot water bath, which is literally placing the filled mason jar into a pot of water and boiling it. Things like tomatoes, soups, sauces, and other foods that are low in acid MUST BE sealed in a pressure canner. If you are unsure about the pH levels, err on the side of caution and pressure-seal the jars. Better to be safe than sorry, that’s my motto.

3.) I like pickled things way more than I ever thought I would. Maybe it’s because as I get older and my tastes change, I eat better food also. I still don’t care for a store-bought pickle, but the pickled green beans and garlic-dill refrigerator pickles I have tried lately are killer.

Nom nom nom.

4.) You would be (or at least, I was) surprised at how many things there are to be pickled. If you think about it in a historical sense, you know that before there was refrigeration, pretty much everything was either fresh or fermented/pickled in some way. (Think about it, when you can only grow vegetables for a few months out of the year, if that, you rely on preserving and saving your crops.) My favorite recipe from this class is for pickled figs, which make a delicious and fragrant treat.

Pickled Figs

Recipe courtesy of Mariah Gayler at Wild Willow Farms.

  • 3-4 lbs. fresh figs
  • 3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup sage honey (sage has the best flavor, but any honey works)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup shelled and halved walnuts (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. peppercorns
  • sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary
  • strips and/or pieces of orange zest

Cut the stem off of each fig, and prick each one with a fork or a toothpick (this helps the fruit to absorb the liquid and not float when you put it in a jar). Place figs in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Gently swish the figs around to clean, and drain the water out (note: sometimes homegrown figs can be extra sticky and may need two rinses). Combine vinegar, water, sugar and honey in a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully add the figs to the simmering syrup, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add walnuts.

And it smells delicious!

Arrange the figs in jars , and add the herbs and zest to the individual jars. (Make it look pretty.) Then carefully ladle the syrup into each jar, leaving about 1/2-inch of headroom. Seal the jars for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

5.) Kimchi is a mystery to me. I learned from “The Joy of Pickling,” a great primer on pickles by my home-canning heroine Linda Ziedrich, that Koreans eat more pickles per capita than any other nationality, mostly because of their love for kimchi. I know that kimchi is cabbage as well as generally anything from the Brassiceae family (think cabbage, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower), and that the elements of the food in this family create a bacteria that pickles the vegetables after fermenting over time. The instructor at my class had a pot of cabbage, kale, and a myraid of other veggies, kosher salt and spices, but no liquid, and as it gets pushed down the liquid comes out of the vegetables and ferments.

Kimchi, fermenting away.

It’s hard to reconcile the act of letting something sit at room temperature for a couple of days while (good) bacteria swishes around and reacts in there, but the spicy tang of kimchi is worth it. I have never made it but plan to do some recon and investigate what spices and flavors I want in my kimchi, then I will try some recipes and make some for myself. Stay tuned to find out what delicious shenanigans I come up with next.

Teeny little eggplants. Aren't they cute?

6.) In order to maintain the crisp deliciousness of a carrot, cucumber or green bean, most pickles are made with fresh and uncooked produce. There are a few exceptions, though, like eggplant — whose bitterness would make an icky pickle indeed if it weren’t blanched before pickling.

I got some flatbread and tabbouleh with your NAME on it.

 Quick Pickled Eggplant with Basil

Recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.” We used a lot of her recipes during this class. I highly recommend both of her books (she is also the author of “The Joys of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.”)

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 tbsp. plus one tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 medium eggplants (about 3 1/4 lbs.), cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh basil (frozen or refrigerated pesto also works)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

In a saucepan, bring the water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add half of the eggplant cubes and simmer them for about 5 minutes, until they are tender. Put them in a colander and cook the remaining eggplant cubes the same way. Add them to the colander and rinse and drain the eggplant. In a bowl, mix the cooked eggplant with the vinegar, basil, pepper, garlic, and remaining salt. Cover or place in jars and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Add the olive oil just before serving (although there will be some liquid in the mixture).