spicy silky fermented kim chi

IMG_7601I’ve been asked a few times to post a “normal” kim chi recipe, the ubiquitous kind at Korean restaurants, with napa cabbage and spicy sauce.  Your wish is my command.

The last time I made this recipe, I was teaching a demo on fermentation to the brand spankin’ new Master Food Preserver class of 2014, and I had the distinct pleasure of horrifying our eminent leader, Nellie Oehler of Dutch extraction, who likes her pickles sweet but still gamely tried a piece of my kim chi.  Her face reminded me that this is not a recipe for everyone.  But as she said, smiling as she grimaced, “I’ll try anything once!”  And so should we all.

I like this recipe because it retains the spiciness and color better and has a lovely silky texture, thanks to the porridge made of sweet rice powder that binds everything together. The porridge, I believe, is a style of the south.

I never hesitate to throw in seasonal vegetables: the last batch I made contained cubed tiny turnips and young daikon with their leaves from the farmers market (thanks, Groundwork Organics!) and strippings from the aging kale in my garden.  You might experiment with fresh new carrots, thinly sliced green garlic, garlic scapes, radishes…the list goes on.

If you’re a fan of kim chi or want to see more background on kim chi techniques, you might want to read my daikon cube kim chi and white kim chi with pear recipes, too.  Add some shiso pickle and salted cucumber slices with sesame seeds, and you’ll be well on your way to a fancy Korean banchan (set of kim chi dishes that accompany meals).

Spicy Silky Kim Chi

Yield: varies, about two quarts when finished.

  • 1 ½ lbs. white napa cabbage
  • 1 small Korean radish (“moo”) or enough daikon for 2-3 cups cubes
  • brine: 2 tablespoons salt plus 5 cups water
  • 3-4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup Korean salted shrimp, minced*
  • 1/3 cup fine (vs. coarse) Korean red pepper powder (“gochu karu”)
  • porridge: 1/2 cup water plus 1 tablespoon sweet rice powder**
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-2 cups shredded young kale, mustard, or turnip greens
  • 1 small Asian pear or green apple, thinly sliced into matchsticks

The night before you plan to make the kim chi, rinse and cut the cabbage into 2-inch square (no larger) pieces.  Peel and cut the radish into thinly sliced half-moons. Toss radish and cabbage, then add a brine made out the salt and water. Let mixture sit in bowl on counter for 8-12 hours.

Wash your hands, counter, and cooking equipment well. Drain the brine from the vegetables and prepare the kimchi souse and rice porridge.

For the porridge, add 1/2 cup of cold water to a saucepan, then add immediately the sweet rice powder. On medium low, whisk the powder into a solution, and cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, to create a sauce the texture of paste. Let cool on the stove.

For the souse, make a paste in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, sugar and shrimp.

Mix the souse, porridge, and the red pepper powder into the cabbage and radish mixture well with your hands (you might want to use gloves if your hands are sensitive to spice), massaging spices into the cabbage.  Add a little bit of water to ensure everything is nice and pasty, and the souse covers the cubes.  Add the scallions, greens, and Asian pear slivers, and mix well.

Place the kim chi in a half-gallon or larger-sized glass jar that has been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.  I use a 3L hinged jar without the rubber ring, so I can close the jar but not seal it.  It helps to use a canning funnel to get the stuff into the jar — you’ll get red pepper paste everywhere.

Let sit on the counter for about 2 days, mixing and pushing down the vegetables into the souse.  After it starts to bubble, let rest in the refrigerator for 5 days before eating.  You can actually eat the stuff at any point from right after you make it onward, but it tastes better after a few days.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or so, but the flavor will change over time.

*Purchase at an Asian grocery store like Sunrise, available in the refrigerated section. The shrimp should be tiny and bright pink and very salty.

**I use Mochiko, a Japanese brand, which is widely available, but you can buy it in bulk at Market of Choice.

fermented salsa party

IMG_4080IMG_4077Salsa is one of the preservationist’s most difficult challenges.  In terms of flavor, at least.  Canned salsa always tastes cooked and too lemony to me.  And there’s this odd insistence in adding cumin and garlic, two flavors that I just don’t like in salsa.  Or oregano, of all things.  Perhaps I’m being too fussy.  But I really want something like pico de gallo but all year round and without compromises.  Is that too much to ask?  Well, I suppose so.

I couldn’t find a trustworthy and delicious salsa recipe online, so I had to make one.  And to you, dear reader, I present it as my latest gift.  It’s superior to canned salsa in all ways but one: you need space in your refrigerator to hold two half-gallon jars.  I realize that’s sometimes difficult.  But if you can’t swing that, do try a half recipe.  This one really should be part of your repertoire.

If you want to add garlic, you can, but just a few cloves.

The flavor of the salsa changes over the course of months in your refrigerator, becoming more and more sour.  It will still taste lively and fresh, regardless.  I find the extra sour flavor really refreshing on winter tacos and quesadillas, or stirred into beans.

Lacto-fermented Salsa

Yield: 1 gallon + another small jar for eating now.

  • 2 pounds white onions
  • 1 cup mixed fresh red frying peppers, green bell or long peppers, and/or hot peppers
  • 1 cup packed cilantro leaves
  • 6 pounds Roma or other paste tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice
  • For each cup of finished salsa: 1 tablespoon whey drained from live-culture yogurt or another fermented juice (I used tomato kvass and green bean ferment juice, but I doubt you’ll have that!) and 1 teaspoon kosher salt (approximately 2 cups of whey and about 3/4 cups of salt).

Wash two half-gallon jars or four quart jars.  Pour boiling water in jars to top and let sit in sink while you are prepping vegetables.

Clean, trim, and quarter tomatoes.

Coarsely chop onion, peppers, garlic, and cilantro to ease their way into the food processor.  Working in small batches, pulse all vegetables except the tomatoes three to five times, and set aside in bowl large enough to mix 1 gallon salsa.  If there are any large pieces remaining, hand chop so everything is roughly even.

Pulse the tomatoes in batches in a similar fashion.  Do not blend so much they become paste-like.  There should be pieces of tomato left.  Hand chop any large pieces remaining.

Mix the vegetables together in the bowl with the lime juice.  Set aside whey or other fermented juice and salt.

Ladle the salsa into jars using a liquid measuring cup and a wide-mouth funnel.  For every cup of salsa poured into the jar, add one tablespoon whey/other fermented juice and one teaspoon sea salt.  Important:  leave about 3 inches of head space to account for bubbling.  Do not (trust me) overfill the jars.  Any salsa left over can be enjoyed fresh.  Last time I had about a pint.

Mix well, screw on lids, and place each jar on a plate or tray for any leaks.  Leave at room temperature for 1-4 days until bubbly and fizzy and sour.

There will be separation issues (see above picture).  Stir every day to push down vegetables and more evenly ferment. I find it impossible to keep the salsa pieces submerged under liquid and the salsa has a tendency to pack itself up near the top, so I am more vigilant about stirring and examining for mold.  It’s a quick, already acidic ferment, so I have been 100% successful so far in fermenting, but I do want to issue a caution that this part should be monitored.  I also wipe down the rim of the jar to discourage mold growth each time I stir.

When is it done?  Taste it.  It should be sour and lively.  I find it is best around 3 days, and the longer you let it ferment and get sour and fizzy, the longer it will keep in the refrigerator.  Mine lasts for many months.

Once it tastes good to you, refrigerate.

fermented sichuan green beans or long beans

IMG_4042 IMG_5314Even the most stalwart food tinkerer can fixate on a single dish; indeed, it’s our calling card to cooking.  For me, it was fermented green beans.  I couldn’t resist the soured, greenbeany niblets of long beans in a Sichuan dish I had in Cambridge’s Kendall Square (the now sadly defunct Thailand Café) last spring.  Long beans are what string beans fantasize of being.  Sometimes called yard-long beans, they are good in Thai and Chinese stirfries.  I often use them in curries.

So sour grapes, er, rather, sour fermented beans were definitely a goal.  Minced pork with sour beans is a well known Sichuan dish, so as soon as I returned home, I made quicklike for my Fuchsia Dunlop library and immediately put up a quart of the beans in the manner she suggested: full of warm spices and punchiness like rice wine, ginger, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, etc.

Complete failure.

The alcohol inhibited the fermentation, so it turned olive grey and salty, but never achieved the sourness I was seeking. The ginger tasted weird.  The other spices were a distraction, but I wasn’t sure if they were the problem.

So I tried again without alcohol and ginger.  Still bad.

So I tried yet again, but this time sticking with the pure flavors of beans and salt.  Much better, but I had been keeping the beans whole, which created an odd, rubbery texture.  I had thought that it would help them stay intact and not quite so salty, but the tradeoff was not worth it.  And since Germans slice and pound beans in the fermentation process for sour string beans (and when have the Germans done anything wrong?), I thought I’d give it a try.

In the final batch, I chopped the beans into small pieces.  I added quite a bit of garlic, and there they were: delicious, sour, flavorful beans.  They were indeed a bit salty, so rinsing or soaking them before stirfrying them and declining any more salt or soy sauce in the dish is a good idea. The longer they sit in the refrigerator, the saltier they will get.  I ended up quickpickling more beans in the remaining brine, and they were good, too.

The soured beans were stirfried with some fresh green beans, ripe red pepper, and a beautiful variety of burgundy leafy greens sourced from Good Food Easy and Adaptive Seeds along with the minced pork.  No other seasonings needed except for a cube of frozen chicken stock for sauciness. Delicious.

Fermented Green Beans

  • Enough beans to fill a quart jar half to 2/3 full when chopped into small pieces
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of whey, sauerkraut juice, kimchi juice, or any other similiar live ferment to help along the process (optional)

Chop beans and peel and smash garlic.  Add to jar.  Mix up a brine with one quart of hot water and sea salt, stirring to dissolve salt.  Pour brine over beans, add optional fermented juice, weigh down beans with a weight or similar so they are submerged in brine, and let sit on the counter for 5-7 days.  Taste for sourness.  When they are sour enough for you (I probably went for 9-10 days, in all honesty), refrigerate and let cure for a week before enjoying.  Rinse or soak beans to remove some of the salt before using in a stirfry.

mouse melon cornichons

IMG_5395I snapped a shot of these quick pickles the other day because they were so cute. Made with tiny mouse melons, a.k.a. Mexican sour gherkins, a.k.a. cucamelons, a.k.a. Melothria scabra, I just cracked them open and lo and behold, these might be the best cornichons I’ve ever had, so I had to jot down the recipe.

The natural lemony tang in the mouse melons goes wonderfully with the tarragon, and the little guys stay crisp after a day or two in the brine.  If you’re growing these, you are sure to have tons of them like I do, so definitely put up a jar or two.  I simply used leftover brine from making dilly beans and two fresh sprigs of tarragon.

If I had had more, I would have tried lacto-fermenting mouse melon cornichons.  I made some really excellent ones with small pickling cucumbers this year, so I was kind of already full up anyway.

Edited to add:  The lacto-fermented cornichons were great.  A different taste — more deeply sour and less sharp, with a pronounced mouse melon flavor that’s hidden by the vinegar in the quick pickle.  They are holding up nicely with a couple of grape leaves in the single half-pint jar I put up.  Alas, the quick pickles turned mushy after a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, so be advised that you want to stick with the idea of “quick” with these guys.  A friend processed the quick pickle recipe at around 7 minutes, and his are holding up, though, so more experiments are in order if we want a shelf-stable vinegar pickle version.

Mouse Melon Cornichons

Makes 1 half-pint.

  • 1/8 cup canning salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon pickling spices
  • 2 sprigs tarragon
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced in half
  • 2/3 cup mouse melons, blossom end scraped off with your nail

Heat salt, water, and wine vinegar to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan.  It will make too much brine, so use the rest for quick pickled cucumbers or cauliflower or peppers. Remove from heat.  To your jar, add the mustard seeds, pickling spices, tarragon, and garlic, then add the mouse melons.  Top with hot brine and seal.  Let cool on the counter, then refrigerate. Serve with sliced meats or cheeses and your guests will die of cuteness.

salt and shiso

IMG_3859One wouldn’t think an herb so fragile and leafy as shiso (aojiso or ohba, sometimes labeled as perilla or beefsteak) would take kindly to salt, but it does.  If you grew a plant or two this year, consider making the traditional salted pickle from Japan, or a shiso kimchi from Korea.  Personally, I’m partial to the clean, simple flavor of the salted shiso, but have enjoyed both.  Either lasts for several weeks to months in the refrigerator, but quality is best after at least a few days of curing.

In Japan, red shiso (akajiso) is used as a dye for umeboshi, pickled plums, and a delicious addition to pickled cucumber or eggplant.  It’s also dried and used as a furikake, or crumbly delicious crunchy topping for morning rice.  Mmmm.

Why don’t I eat more Japanese breakfasts?

Because I don’t have a Japanese wife to make them, duh.

Ah, right.

Green shiso leaves are chiffonaded and mixed in with rice, or used to wrap bits of ground chicken breast and pork and grilled.  I often pick a few leaves and eat them with rice, using them like those little nori strips that are now popular with the nutritionist crowd.  The basil-anise-Thai basily green flavor is exquisite, and again I urge you to grow your own, as the stuff in the market is rare, expensive, and fades quickly. I’ve grown two kinds of the green shiso: one that has a purple underleaf, and one that doesn’t.

It is also preserved, most successfully with salt, but sometimes with soy and a little garlic. One can also use the seeds fresh or salted, but I scatter them in my herb bed for another crop.

The Korean form of shiso (kkaenip, sometimes called ‘sesame leaf’, Perilla frutescens var. frutescens) is a different strain of the Japanese perilla (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) and the ornamental perilla (coleus).  See a good picture in the LA Times here.  If you can find it, use it for kimchi.

IMG_2339Salted Shiso Pickle

The recipe couldn’t be easier.  Pick the largest leaves of your fresh green shiso, then sprinkle a little sea salt on each leaf, stacking leaves in a container. You might weigh them down (as I did above, with ocean beach stones) or not.  Let cure in the refrigerator for a few days, then enjoy for months.

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Shiso Kim Chi

You will need to make a souse, but this recipe doesn’t ferment the kim chi like cabbage or radishes.  It’s milder and softer, perfect for summer.

  • 3 cups medium to large shiso leaves
  • 3 tablespoons very thinly sliced red onion
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions
  • 3 tablespoons julienne carrot
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon powdered Korean red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Prepare the shiso leaves by rinsing them, if necessary.  Prepare the vegetables for the souse.  Thinly slice the red onion and mince the garlic; thinly slice the whites and greens of the green onion; julienne the carrot. Toss the vegetables with the sugar, fish sauce, red pepper, and sesame seeds.

Layer every two shiso leaves with a bit of the sauce, gently rubbing it into the leaves evenly.  Leave some souse for the top of the pile, press down gently, cover, and refrigerate for at least a week.

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

marcel duchamp, a barrel, and dutch pickles on npr

IMG_2797

I am reminded of Marcel Duchamp: a readymade.  You know the story of the most famous one, right?  To make a point about art and modern culture in 1917, he acquired an ordinary porcelain urinal, placed it business end up, signed it R. Mutt, and declared it art.  Art not just for the eyes; instead, it was meant to question the very notion of seeing art, to stimulate the senses with a much wider range of stimuli — even repugnance and a reminder of unpleasant, necessary truths.

How is a herring barrel in a history museum similar?  This one, the preserver preserved at Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum, is quite handsome, actually: sturdy, rotund, golden brown, made antiseptic in its lit vitrine, but grimed and bumped and nicked as it traveled around the globe.  Who knows: did it go from the Baltic seaboard to the New World, filled with the salted herring that nourished the sailors and enriched the burghers? Did a slave from Ghana scratch a doodle into the side during a moment’s rest, or was it kicked by an angry Chinese tradesman upon a sour deal with an unscrupulous VOC rep? Or did it get rolled around the streets of the Albert Cuyp market by Jewish vendors eking out a living in fishy carts circling the city?

And how did this ordinary, workaday object become extraordinary?  Survival alone? (Hey, who could knock THAT.) Or did the herring work some artistic magic?  Did the salt slowly, batch after batch, mellow out the rough-hewn lumber planed and strapped into barrel shape?  Did the artiste (or machine?) who penned the flourishing ‘H’ of ‘Haring Ton’ feel pride in that specimen?  Did he (it) squint with a critical assessment, cough to clear some inky dust out of his (its) throat?  When we ask these types of questions, we don’t just see it as a barrel, or even just as a historical artifact.  We appreciate it for its singularity, beauty even.  And then we think gosh, it must

herring with pickle and onion
Herring with pickle and onion at the Vlaardingse Haringhandel stand, Albert Cuyp Market, Amsterdam

…smell.  I’ve got good news and bad news today.  The good news is that my piece for NPR’s The Salt appeared this morning on a topic very much related to this herring barrel: Dutch pickles and trade.  See it here!

The bad news is that something weird happened with my images, and the resolution is too poor to accompany the article.  I’ll figure out what went wrong, but in the meanwhile, I wanted to share some of the wonderful pickles I captured in Amsterdam at fourth generation pickler Fred Ooms’ de Leeuw Pickles and renowned Dutch-Surinamese caterer Mavis Hofwijk’s Surinaams Buffet Catering.  I’m so thrilled to have met Fred and his wife Monique, and their charming son, and Mavis and her charming daughter Candice, all thanks to artist and scholar Karin Vaneker.

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Amsterdam onions at de Leeuw Pickles, Amsterdam
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The beautiful colors that inspired Vincent van Gogh at de Leeuw Pickles
Mavis
Mavis Hofwijk macerates a genoise cake at Surinaams Buffet Catering
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Mavis’ mixed pickles
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Mavis’ marvelous brew (all the vegetables spend time in this spa to become pickles)
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Special spiced grape pickles for the holidays at de Leeuw Pickles
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Rollmops at de Leeuw Pickles — herring wrapped around a pickle? No complaints here