I got up this morning and said “You know what sounds like a good project for today? Sauerkraut!” We got a head of cabbage in our CSA box this week and I don’t really love it cooked, so I’ve been struggling to find a use for it since my favorite cabbage roll recipe really let me down the last time I used it. Sauerkraut is always a good use for cabbage – aside from being delicious, it’s very nutritious: cabbage is high in Vitamin C and fermenting it gives an end product that’s full of beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus, among others, which is important for digestion).
You’ve noticed, though, that this post is titled “Kimchi” – in paging through my copy of Nourishing Traditions to see what they had to say about fermenting vegetables, I found the kimchi recipe, which sounded WAY better to me than sauerkraut. I don’t know about you, but to me garlic, ginger, and chilis > caraway pretty much every day. Plus, I had all the ingredients on hand! (Scroll down to the bottom for the TL;DR version)
The measurements on the vegetables are pretty flexible, but you’d be wise to use the amount of salt specified below. Everything gets shredded or grated or minced and mixed together, then squeezed or pounded to release the liquid from the veggies.
I started by grating the carrots and ginger. I peeled the ginger because it wasn’t organic and also because I rather enjoy peeling ginger. I did not peel the carrots because they’re organic and I’m selectively lazy. I grated both on the fine side of the box grater, but it would have been just fine to do it in the food processor instead.
Once you’ve got the carrots and ginger grated, it’s time to start on the cabbage. To start, cut the cabbage into quarters, then remove the core.
Just cut along that diagonal line from the center of the cabbage down to the base and either compost the core or save it for snacking. Once you’ve got the core out of there, cut the cabbage quarter in half from top to bottom. Technically this isn’t a necessary step, but since I don’t like long strands I cut the cabbage into eighths. Slice the cabbage as thinly as you possibly can. A good sharp knife helps with this, but mostly it just takes practice. They make special tools for this, which can be great if you’re doing a large quantity, but for just one head of cabbage I’m not going to the basement to dig that thing out.
Now, one head of cabbage takes up a lot of space once it’s shredded. In order to not have a huge mound of cabbage to work with at the end, I worked in batches. Shred a quarter of the cabbage, put it in the bowl with a quarter of the salt, and squeeze the heck out of it. Repeat three more times.
At this point, all that’s left to add is the garlic and chili.
You guessed it – throw it into the bowl and squeeze the veggies. You should have a noticeable amount of liquid collecting in the bottom of your bowl by this time – keep it all in there, because it’s going to cover your vegetables as they ferment!
Divide your vegetables and liquid between two clean and sanitized (either boiled or chemically sanitized) quart jars and press down on the veggies until they’re covered with liquid. Put a lid on the jar and set it aside for several days to ferment.
I posted about this project on Facebook this morning and several of my friends chimed in with suggestions based on their experience. One person suggested using white plastic reusable jar lids, of which I have an ample supply. Another friend shared a link to a DIY airlock lid project, which uses the regular two piece jar lids and an airlock (which you can get from a homebrew supply store, such as Northern Brewer). I was all set to use that when another friend commented that she ferments in regular Mason jars (as opposed to wide-mouth) and uses a #12 stopper and airlock to seal the jar. Since that was a bit easier than the DIY project, I stopped by Northern Brewer for some stoppers and airlocks. I’ll still try the DIY project, since NB didn’t have stoppers big enough for wide-mouth jars and I would like to ferment in half gallon jars, which of course only come in a wide-mouth version.
This really is simple – you just put a little water in the airlock and insert it into the stopper, then insert the stopper into the mouth of the jar. The airlock allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping outside air from entering the jar. You can absolutely ferment this in an unvented jar, but you may want to vent it once a day or so (more frequently if your house is warm) to avoid damaging the lid.
Nourishing Traditions suggests letting this ferment for 3 days, then transferring to cold storage. I’ll probably let it go until the airlock stops bubbling, and then it’ll either go in the back of the fridge or into the basement with the other canned goods. Our basement gets pretty chilly in the winter, so it’ll keep nicely down there. You could heat process this to seal the jars for longer-term storage, but that would kill all of the beneficial bacteria that developed during fermentation. Plus it would lose the great fresh crunch of a raw product.
Korean Sauerkraut, aka Kimchi (adapted from Nourishing Traditions)
- 1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1 TB grated ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 TB sea salt
- 1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes (I used some dried chili we had, about 2 peppers’ worth)
Combine all vegetables and salt and pound or squeeze until vegetables have released their liquid. Pack into sanitized quart jars and press down on vegetables until they are covered by their own juices. Cover (either with an unvented lid or a lid with an airlock as discussed above) and allow to sit at room temperature 3 days or until fermentation has slowed. If using lids with airlocks, replace with unvented lids. Move kimchi to cold storage until needed. Eat!