living proof

I’m busy. Have I mentioned that? I have temporarily bitten off way more than I can chew. I’m not complaining – there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s dim, but if I squint, it’s there.

My primary source of entertainment for the last 2 months has come in random 28 minute snippets when I sneak off to stream old Office episodes. I’m pretty sure I’ve subconsciously started channeling Dwight Shrute. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I am considering painting my office walls black to intimidate my subordinates. Wait. I don’t have any subordinates. Damn. Maybe I’ll just put a bouncy castle outside my office instead.
The other night I put on a pot of brown rice, sauteed up some garlic and kale, fried a few eggs, piled it all together and topped the whole shebang with a mound of spicy kimchi. I was so pleased with my accomplishment, I thought I was worthy of a James Beard award. That’s how much cooking I’ve been doing lately. The kimchi was homemade though. It was my last kitchen fun before all hell broke loose. I often find myself going to the fridge mid-day for a forkful, dreamily recalling the days when the produce was plentiful and I had time to spend in the kitchen.
Last night I bundled up at dusk to harvest the last of the kale, chard, and brussel sprouts. I’ve kept them covered with tattered bed sheets, but the jig is finally up. The temperature has been hovering at 26º F for the last few days and the skies have been grey and laden with snow flurries. I’m pretty sure I audibly sighed as I put the last of our bounty into the crisper drawer. It’s not that I don’t appreciate winter and everything it brings, it’s just so hard to say good-bye to the garden. On the most basic level it’s like my own little convenience mart, ready to serve me 24/7. But on a deeper level, it’s my place to go. My reprieve.
But still, I guess I have the crock pickles, the kraut, and the kimchi. Actual living proof of the garden. Sure, there’s squash, potatoes, and beets too. But somehow those seem less dramatic. Less zingy. My foray into fermentation as a preservation method is relatively new one, but I couldn’t be more excited about it. First off, it’s easy. Way less fuss than canning. But more importantly, the food tastes different. It tastes, well, alive. Because it is. And it fills that deep craving I have for fresh, home-grown food.
This wasn’t always the case, mind you. For the first half of my life, I wouldn’t go near sauerkraut. And kimch? Never heard of it. When I eventually did, I didn’t really want to know anymore. At some point I got radical and granted them “condiment status” on my plate. And luckily, somewhere in there, I was treated to tasting real, home-made versions. They were like completely different foods. And now – now I generously pile them onto sandwiches, stir them into rice, mash ’em into potatoes, top off meat dishes, and stand at the the open fridge door for a quick forkful.
My go to fermentation book is Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before, but one of the things I appreciate is his simplistic, small scale approach. I can crank out a quart of kraut or kimchi in less than a half hour of real work, and even then, my Cuisnart does most of it. There is some checking and periodic tasting involved, but if you forget about it for a few days, it doesn’t matter. For the most part, it just sits inconspicuously in the corner while the fermentation does all of the real work.

Spicy Cabbage Kimchi 
(adapted from Wild Fermentation)

1 pound napa cabbage
a handful of red radishes
2 carrots
sea salt and water

Grate or chop the vegetables. I think kimchi is traditionally pretty coarse, but I prefer a finer version (a Cuisnart does a marvelous job at this – especially if you happen to be busy!) Mix up a brine by combining about 4 cups cold water and 4 tablespoons salt water. Make sure all the salt dissolves and then taste it. It should taste like the sea. Put your vegetables in a large ceramic bowl and pour the brine over them. Use a plate with a weight on it to completely submerse the vegetable. Cover with a clean dish towel and let soak over night.

Next you need a spice mix. Definitely tailor this to your taste buds. This is my latest favorite combination.

1 small onion plus a handful of shallots, chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped
4 hot chilies (in my last batch I used Chillipeños, but use whatever you have, fresh, or dried, seeded or not)
2-3 tablespoons fresh gingeroot, grated
a splash of fish sauce

You want everything in the spice mix all pretty finally minced and mixed together into a paste. Again, the Cuisnart is invaluable for this.

Drain the brine from the veggies, reserving it. Taste the vegetables for saltiness. You want them to be decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If the seem way too salty, give them a rinse under cold water. If they don’t seem quite salty enough, sprinkle a few teaspoons of sea alt on them.

Mix the spice paste in to the veggies and work it in so everything is combined. pack the mixture tightly into a quart jar, pressing down on it as you go so that the brine begins to rise above the vegetables. And that’s it, your work is basically done. Now the jar sits in a quiet, out of the way place in your kitchen for 1 to 3 weeks. The only ting you have to be sure of is that the vegetables stay below the brine. You can do this by just plunging them down back into the brine every day with your hands, or use a weight – like a smaller jar or ziplock filled with some of the reserved brine. Cover the jar with a clean towel and check it every few days to see how it is progressing. Over the corse of a week or more (depending on temperature) the kimchi will start to ripen and get that nice little zing. When it gets to tasting how you like it, cap the jar with a lid and store it in the fridge.

4 Responses to “living proof”

  1. 1 Carol Sowl November 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Just finished harvesting my brussel sprouts. They were frozen so they snapped right off of the stalks!

  2. 3 Ella Jo Thayer January 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Yahoo!!! I figured out how to print the recipe. Jill, I’m loving your blog.

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