Who knew you’d need so much courage just to accomplish things in the kitchen?
Forget worrying about whether you’re measuring flour correctly or cutting the cucumbers straight, we’re talking real danger here.
If we real foodies were on America’s Got Talent, the judges would be saying we bring an element of danger they’ve never seen before.
What you do is amazing.
We’ll call our act “American Food Preservation Team 101” and bring a different vegetable to the stage each week, revealing another method of preserving the harvest with a flourish.
Sharon Osbourne would be ducking in fear wondering if the pressure canner would explode or not.
Howie Mandel would cringe and practically faint at the very thought of growing bacteria, on purpose, as we try our hand at fermentation.
Howard Stern would comment grimly, “You’ve canned, you’ve fermented, but I’m not seeing vegetables I haven’t seen before. You’re going to have to step it up if America brings you back. I think you might be in trouble tonight. “
And then we could really bring it to the next level:
We would do it all…with tired and hungry toddlers roaming around the kitchen!
That’s got to win a prize for something, right?
Preserving Summer Produce
Let’s talk about summer produce and how to use it up or put it up before it shrivels up.
Because you know, it isn’t frugal if you have to throw it away.
I’m happy to take the fermenting bull by the horns today with a basic recipe that can capture a few things that are in season right now. Fermentation IS preserving, but it’s a little tricky because you still have to refrigerate the jars, which takes up valuable space that’s at a premium this time of year.
Why Ferment Vegetables?
Fermentation not only preserves the food in question, making it last longer in the refrigerator than it would in its fresh state, but it adds nutrition to already nutritious food, namely:
- Probiotics (healthy bacteria for digestion)
- Facilitates synthesis of Vitamin C and B12
- Facilitates breakdown of proteins
- Digestive enzymes
- Predigests vegetables so your digestive system has less work to do
- Sugar content of vegetables more easily assimilated in system
Having fermented vegetables on hand will also help you eat probiotics at every meal.
Grow Your Own Bacteria?
Even though I’ve made homemade yogurt successfully for years, the thought of growing bacteria – over a period of days on the countertop – still freaks me out a bit. I have a kitchen phobia such that when I first tried a sourdough starter, I was so sure I’d fail miserably that I didn’t even take “just in case” photos on the off chance I’d ever want to post about sourdough (and now I’m a guest teacher in the sourdough eCourse, see how far I’ve come!).
So you see, I understand when you say this is not for you.
I know you feel you can’t risk slime or mold or fuzz of any kind growing on your food, in case it gets contaminated or messed up in any way. (“Messed up” – that’s a technical fermenting term there.)
But if I can do this, you can do it.
Watch me Make Kimchi!
Can’t view the video? Watch on YouTube here.
How to Make This Fermented Kimchi Recipe
My favorite part about basic vegetable ferments is that they’re pretty darn easy. You really might be able to do it, even on your rookie debut, with a toddler bumbling around your kitchen or a baby in a sling.
Here’s what you’ll need (most of which was in my CSA box):
I prefer regular old cabbage even though the kimchi recipe I learned from in the Traditional Cooking School eCourse called for Napa cabbage. I had half a head of Chinese cabbage of some sort from the CSA, though, so I made two small batches, each using a few different ingredients:
- Napa or Chinese or green cabbage
- Green or Red onion
- Real Salt
- Crushed red pepper
- Food processor
I also skipped the fresh ginger (from the original recipe). It’s just not something I have on hand and didn’t care to change that.
The basic method for fermenting almost anything is to chop, shred, or food process said vegetable when as fresh as possible, then add some salt and whey and other spices, then allow to ferment on the countertop for days or weeks.
For the kimchi, I’m using a food processor, so I recommend starting with the garlic, since it’s so little and easy to get lost:
Then move onto the main cabbage:
This one may have gone a tad bit too long and gotten pulverized. As it turns out, I decided that if I’m just doing one cabbage, I’ll tend toward chopping by hand with a knife for larger, more substantial pieces:
Put a grater attachment on the food processor and knock out the carrots:
This part you really should do in a machine – at least a grater – even if you’re just knifing it for the other ingredients.
You’ll probably have some weird little carrot sticks left – feed the hungry toddlers and move on with the act.
Next come the green onions, food processed quickly or sliced:
Or red onion (I kind of prefer this version):
Mix all the chopped vegetables together in a large bowl:
See that wasn’t so much chopping for a quart jar worth. You could do that without a food processor, but if you’re really preserving and doing multiple jars, break out the corded help!
Add 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or less, to taste – this is pretty spicy!!):
Add 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt:
And 1/4 cup whey (from yogurt or other cultured things, not just cheesemaking):
Stir everything together well. Cover with a tea towel (or lightly with the lid would work too) and let sit for 30 minutes as the salt pulls the juice out of the vegetables (over processing also helps do that!):
Then you get to bang on things. This is one of those food preparation techniques that can be pretty fun if you let it, kind of like rolling tortillas is good exercise and grinding beef heart tortures your husband.
You need to bang and smash your cabbage to get the juices to come out. You can use a potato masher, a meat hammer, or even the bottom of your measuring cup. Pretend you’re angry with the cabbage. It feels good to get your aggression out in an acceptable way!
I decided to use that Pampered Chef dealie that’s for cooking and breaking up ground meat, along with some pressure on the inside of the measuring cup, and I thought it worked pretty well.
You can let it go another 30 minutes, which I recommend, and then mash and smash once more. When you have some good juices seeping, it’s time to load into jars. One-half of a normal sized green cabbage or one whole Chinese cabbage tends to fill one quart jar, which is what this recipe is written for. Press the vegetables down with a spoon or your fist to try to keep them submersed in the liquid as much as possible, adding a bit of filtered water if necessary:
This is the Chinese cabbage with green onion version in a pint jar:
Cover your jars with clean lids and leave at room temperature to ferment 3-10 days. Check the contents and press down with a clean fist or utensil a few times during the first day especially to keep the veggies under the liquid.
Taste as you go to determine when to put the jars into the refrigerator to “finish.” I recommend writing the date you began on your jars.
I made a half batch of each kind, using red onion with the green cabbage, which I think I like better. Traditional sauerkraut, by the way, is pretty much this same thing minus all the ingredients other than cabbage, salt, and whey.
This was my first attempt at both, and I do like the knifed kimchi better than the food processed – those large chunks stay a bit crispy and crunchy.
I learned how to make the kimchi from the fermented foods eCourse at Traditional Cooking School – grab that fermented foods cheat sheet to try out the method!Print
Recipe: Spicy Kimchi (Kimchee)
- 1/2 head green cabbage or Chinese cabbage, shredded
- 1 bunch green onions or 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1 c. shredded carrots
- 3 cloves crushed garlic
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (dried)
- 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase)
- 1/4 c. whey
- Mince garlic (I use the food processor).
- Shred the cabbage or slice with a knife.
- Grate carrots.
- Slice green onions or red onion.
- Mix all the chopped vegetables together in a large bowl.
- Add the crushed red pepper and sea salt, and 1/4 cup whey (from yogurt or other cultured things, not just cheesemaking).
- Stir everything together well. Cover with a tea towel (or lightly with the lid would work too) and let sit for 30 minutes as the salt pulls the juice out of the vegetables (over processing also helps do that!).
- You need to bang and smash your cabbage to get the juices to come out. You can use a potato masher, a meat hammer, or even the bottom of your measuring cup. Pretend you’re angry with the cabbage. It feels good to get your aggression out in an acceptable way!
- You can let it go another 30 minutes, which I recommend, and then mash and smash once more. When you have some good juices seeping, it’s time to load into jars. One half of a normal sized green cabbage or one whole Chinese cabbage tends to fill one quart jar, which is what this recipe is written for. Press the vegetables down with a spoon or your fist to try to keep them submersed in the liquid as much as possible, adding a bit of filtered water if necessary.
- Cover your jars with clean lids and leave at room temperature to ferment 3-10 days. Check the contents and press down with a clean fist or utensil a few times during the first day especially to keep the veggies under the liquid.
- Taste as you go to determine when to put the jars into the refrigerator to “finish.” I recommend writing the date you began on your jars.
- How to serve:
- Usually these fermented vegs are eaten as a condiment, a little bit on the side of the plate to be eaten before a meal. Sometimes they’re mixed in with rice or on top of a soup or eggs, perhaps, but careful not to cook it or get over 116F so the enzymes and probiotics aren’t killed.
- If your home is warmer or cooler than 70F, the ferments will just move faster or slower. Watch more carefully at higher temps or find an alternate place to ferment (basement?).
- If you have to leave your ferments and go on vacation, you can refrigerate, then put back on the counter and it will continue fermenting after a break.
- Mold? I know, problem. Gross. BUT. You should be able to scoop the mold off the top, and as long as everything else is submerged, it’s likely ok to eat. Trust your nose.
- Lacto-fermented foods keep for months in cold storage. Make your best attempt to push the veggies back down into the liquid after serving each time.
- Bubbles? Yes! That’s normal and tells you your fermentation is working!
- If your lid is tight, open it every day to “burp” the air bubbles.
- Dairy free? Don’t have whey? Just double the salt, omit the whey, and you’re rocking and rolling again!
- Need a little help getting healthy food on the table every day? Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type, including GAPS, Paleo, AIP, Whole30, vegetarian and more! You remain totally in control: use your own recipes, accept theirs, and teach the system what your family likes…Check out how powerful it is here!
SaveUnless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.
41 thoughts on “Eat Well, Spend Less by Fermenting Your Own Vegetables (& a Kimchi Recipe)”
what can i use besides the whey and the red pepper flakes, I’m doing the AIP
You can omit the whey and use double the salt instead. You could just leave out the red pepper but then it won’t be spicy. I did a quick google search and it looks like AIP kimchi recipes are either not spicy or they use ginger to get some heat. Hope you’re able to find something that works for you!
Can I add more fresh vegetables to kimchi that has been fermenting for 10 days? My batch is ay too spicy!
I wish I was more of a fermentation expert, but I haven’t a clue on your question! I would check info from Sandor Katz online; he’s totally a guru of fermentation. Good luck! 🙂 Katie
I have a couple questions about how to consume the kimchi or fermented foods to keep the cultures active:
Does it kill the good bacteria if I mix it with something like salsa – only a portion and what I am right away going to eat – like I want to mix some kimchi with salsa to eat with my dinner – will the vinegar in the salsa kill the kimchi?
What about putting the kimchi on my just cooked scrambled eggs, or steak – does the heat kill the kimchi? I am assuming “kimchi fried rice” – cooking the kimchi in the fried rice DOES kill the good bacteria – yes?
Yikes, your comment got totally misplaced, sorry about that! If you still care about the answer, I’m just guessing, but I can’t imagine the vinegar in salsa would kill the probiotics, especially that quickly. The probiotics are pretty hardy, which is why they survive all the time fermenting.
As far as mixing with cooked foods, anytime food gets over 116F “wet heat” meaning in a pot/boiling or 150F “dry heat” like in the oven, the bacteria and enzymes die. So you can eat kimchi with your steak, but maybe just put it next to the steak and scoop it up on your fork together. Although actually anything over 116F is unpleasantly hot to eat – our body’s way of working with nature to help us eat living foods! If you cook the kimchi right in the rice, yes, dead good guys. 😉 So you just eat it with it afterward, scooping on the fork together or mixing it up after the rice is a bit less steamy and comfortable to eat.
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I’m new to fermenting but just wanted to share that you can use celery juice instead salt and whey. It is a natural source of sodium! I learned this from Caroline Barringer with immunutrtion on a Dr Mercola interview. My jars are fermenting along fabulously!
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Woke up grumpy this morning, but started smiling when I walked into the kitchen and saw all the stuff fermenting on the counter. Sourdough starter getting reading to bake bread today, ginger beer ready to be opened, and lacto cucumber pickles, just 2 days along. Burbling bliss!
I don’t know why the author of this kimchi recipe calls it “traditional”, as a native Korean who’s very proud of her native food culture, I can’t help getting frustrated when people present and distribute such misinformation. Traditionally, people would neither put carrots in their kimchi nor shred the cabbage. Some commenters mention Gochujang (Korean chili paste), but you NEVER put Gochujang in kimchi (Gochujang has a sweet taste). Traditionally, typical seasoning ingredients include coarse sea salt, fish sauce (shrimp or anchovy-based), ground ginger, minced garlic, ground sun-dried hot pepper.
My apologies! Believe me, I’ve never had kimchi outside my own kitchen, so I know zilch about “traditional.” I definitely tossed out that term glibly. Is there cabbage in it? I certainly meant no harm. If it makes you feel any better, you can pick on kielbasa and sauerkraut from my Polish heritage… 😉 Katie (the author)
Sorry if I sounded too upset. If you haven’t tried the real deal, you should definitely give it a try. If you have an Asian supermarket nearby, you can easily find Kimchi in glass jars. Korean kimchi the way we like it is very pungent and the garlic is absolutely potent (the reason why I don’t normally eat it raw). Kimchi is more than a side dish for Korean meal, more like basic condiment that accompanies every meal. Hope you try it soon!
If you buy “traditional” kimchi though – isn’t “not” traditional because it is no longer “living” – isn’t it processed and pasteurized? Can you get living kimchi? I think the point in the post, or “traditional” kimchi – is the actual fermenting of the veggies – that is what I think most people mean by “traditional”.
I hope your “kimchi” turned out well! This seems to be a spin on one particular type of kimchi, the baechu or cabbage kimchi. my favorite is with cucumbers! Also red pepper seeds are good, but it should be made with fermented sun dried red pepper paste, called gochu jang! this gives the mild but spicy flavor that can be kicked into too spicy with just the pepper seeds. it’s available pretty cheap at ethnic markets, one $5 container could last months and add a little extra fermentation and spice to a lot of different meals, not just kimchi! :]
Cucumbers! That sounds like something I would like too…
I love seeing all the different recipes for kimchi! Currently, our family lives in Korea and we can get our hands on hundreds of different kinds of kimchi every day. The kimchi here in Korea is a bit different from the recipes you find online…such as using fish oil or oysters or perhaps a red pepper paste. Super yum! Love kimchi! That is something I will surely miss when we move back home to the States.
I was thrilled to see this today (on twitter, I’m a new visitor) because I just picked up Nourishing Traditions from the library yesterday and was pouring over the fermenting recipes!
My big question is about the whey: we have MAJOR dairy allergies at my house. Will the recipe work without it?
If you use a pickl-it jar (google website), you do not need whey for fermenting at all. It is a good investment.
Great to have you here! YES you can ferment without whey and w/o any special equipment – you’ll need a recipe with salt only. Whey just kind of gives it a boost…you can just double the salt and delete the whey if you like. I made sauerkraut that way, but it was very salty, although that diminished with time. Perhaps it just needs longer to ferment, which would make sense as whey would get it started faster.
Good luck! 🙂 Katie
You can do it very easily without the whey. I make mine with out the whey and with out any special equipment. This is how I made mine: http://diligenthousewife.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/not-so-spicy-kimchi/
I read somewhere recently that you can find a glass that fits snugly into the top of your fermenting jar and it does double duty by keeping the food pressed below the surface of the liquid and serving as a cover for the jar.
Thank you for the recipe! I really need to try kimchi again, the last time I made it my taste buds hadn’t acclimated to fermented foods yet…. The GAPS diet sure changed that, now I take a shot glass of sauerkraut juice before every meal! Right now I always have some sauerkraut fermenting, and some already fermented, but I don’t keep it in the fridge. If you ferment it long enough (2-3 weeks) then it’s shelf stable (Says Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride), and mine hasn’t started tasting funky after 3 weeks in a jar on the counter, not including it’s time in the crock.
To Leann about fermented hot sauce: I would just make normal hot sauce, add some whey (one tbsp per cup of sauce?), leave it on the counter and taste it once or twice a day. The closest I’ve made is fermented salsa, and it was amazing! Left it on the counter for 2 days.
I am interested in making fermented hot sauce. Do you know about it? Or know of someone else taking it on?
that’s not one I’ve ever made from scratch, but if you have a recipe for hot sauce, you can just add a Tbs or so of whey and leave it on the counter for 7 hours to ferment. HeartlandRenaissance.com might have some pickled jalapeno recipes; worth searching there. Enjoy! 🙂 Katie
This is really a “cheat” but when I first started going “whole foods” my mentor suggested adding whey to store bought hot sauce and letting it ferment. Even though it was a half measure, only making the store bought not as bad, it was a way to get my family introduced but still giving them the flavors, brands and such that they were used to. It was great! We did it with catsup, mustard, bbq sauce, salsa and more.
We were eating better, not throwing out the stuff I already had on hand and I wasn’t slaving away in the kitchen to homemake every little thing that we used!
Now for things we use infrequently, I purchase the item with the fewest/ most acceptable ingredients and then I either add whey or fish sauce to get some fermenting going. Like I said before, it’s a half-measure but better than nothing.
This is my second season of fermenting. Instead of whey, I use a pickl-it jar. The jar is designed to keep some gases in, while allowing others to escape. It’s practically fool-proof.
I laughed when I saw today was about kimchi because I pulled up your blog after putting my first batch of vegetables in their brine for kimchi. A friend gave me her recipe to try last week and I just got around to starting it today. I’m very excited to see the results. This is quite an experiment for me because I’ve never even tasted kimchi before.
I haven’t tasted it either, but with my CSA box every week I’m really wanting to try it! I hope yours turns out great!
Thanks for this post! I’m looking forward to trying my hand at fermenting this fall when I stay home with our new baby on the way :-). Quick question: my husband is sensitive to dairy, most likely the casein, and mostly from cow’s milk. Would goat’s milk whey be ok to use? Would it taste different? Or am I worrying about nothing? Does whey have casein in it? I’m very new to the whole thing. 🙂
Great questions! I’m not sure if the casein remains in the whey, but any yogurt whey would work, so if you have goat’s milk yogurt (which I am nearly certain is casein-free), that will do nicely. Also, you can ferment with just salt and no whey, but I would seek out an official recipe to find out how much to use.
Good luck (and congrats on baby!) – Katie
You can ferment without the whey. I do it all the time for my kim chi. For a big head of cabbage that will make 2 quarts of kim chi, I add a scant tablespoon of FISH SAUCE. I follow the same basic recipe posted above for the rest of the ingredients and method. I find my kimchi is fermented and ready for the fridge on days 3-5, reliably every time. I have also never had a batch not turn out with fish sauce but I lost about every 5th batch when I was using whey.
Fish sauce is a mostly clear, amber to brown colored liquid that is itself a ferment. It will last a year or more on the refrigerator door, too. I have found that I prefer fish sauce to whey because it seems with whey the vegetables get almost slimy whereas the fish sauce fermented veggies retain a crispness and not as strong of a scent.
Fish sauce can also be used in stir fries, massaman curries and a host of other vegetable dishes.
I did not use whey because I didn’t have enough. I read through some other blogs on fermenting – especially without whey – but I used this recipe and did as she suggested with just salt – my first time and it turned out fabulous! I cannot tell you the joy I had and have in eating my own fermented kimchi/veggies. I am going to try a fruit fermented chutney next. I truly feel my digestive system is happier too. Even if that is “psychological” it’s working! I am looking forward to playing with different combinations of veggies.
I tried to lacto-ferment some radishes last summer. I just got the book “The Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods” by Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS and she says that one of the best ways to tell that a ferment has gone awry is the smell. That is so true! When I opened my jar of radishes, the pressure had built up, so it sprayed everywhere and it smelled terrible! I’m pretty sure my roomate thought I was crazy! Now that I know a little more, I’m looking forward to experimenting with veggie ferments this summer.
I added radishes when I did a multi-veggie ferment a few years ago. Something about radishes always (in my experience) makes a lot of gas! It also has a unique smell that I attributed to radishes themselves. Despite the smell, they were really good!
You said optimal fermenting temp is 70 degrees…my kitchen swings from upper sixties to high eighties/low nineties every day. Do you think that would work, or would it be too hot during the day? I tried to lacto-ferment some beets last week but they molded after bubbling/ looking promising for a couple of days. Any ideas? thanks!!
Great question! Basically, the warmer the temsp, the faster fermentation will go, so maybe 3 days will do it. OR try fermenting in your basement with a “note to self” to remind yourself to go down and peek at them every day. Also, Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS says that you just scoop the mold off the top and anything underneath should still be okay…