Monday, April 23, 2012

Sauerkraut for the Skeptical

Copyright Diane Dew

I feel a little bit like I've been having an out-of-body experience for the last year or so.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I've been having an intensely in-my-body experience during that time, as opposed to living in my head the way I usually do. I've been pregnant or nursing a newborn during all of that time, and just haven't had the mental space or energy to focus on writing or homesteading.

But now it's springtime, our baby boy M is already six months old, and I can feel myself coming back to me.  I feel intensely reinvigorated to write, create, cook, ferment.

I just finished reading Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, which had been on my list for years. I think I'd been subconsciously resisting it because I know quite a few people for whom fermentation is a religion, and Katz's book is their Bible.  Don't get me wrong, I'd done a little fermentation here and there -- I went on a lacto-fermented soda kick a while ago, and done a fair bit of cheesemaking -- but I just couldn't embrace the sauerkraut. Most of the homemade kraut I've tasted just wasn't that delicious when it comes down to it. Also, when I am told over and over about the magical health-giving properties of kombucha and kefir and kraut my skeptical Midwestern hackles rise.  I smelled some hippie magical thinking bullshit.

Copyright Diane Dew
But pregnancy increased my love of the sour and the salty, which was already well-developed, and what sold me was how cool it is that fermentation needs so few inputs.  No need for insane amounts of sugar, pressure canners, long boiling times.  Most fermentation requires nothing other than perhaps a starter culture, and often you don't even need those.

So I finally picked up Wild Fermentation and literally read it cover to cover.  How many cookbooks inspire that sort of sustained attention? Much to my chagrin, I think my phalanx of friends in the fermentation lobby may be right; I'm a convert after tasting this kimchi.

My neighbor had already been infected with kraut fervor six months or so ago, so we decided to collaborate. We started gathering ingredients, and I was extremely pleased to be able to "forage" most of them.  A house down the street gets the leftovers from several farmer's markets dropped off on their front porch on Sunday afternoons, available for anyone to use.  They just happened to have cabbage, both standard and the frillier Napa type, bunches of red radishes and Daikon radishes, and tons of carrots, all organic. The perfect ingredients for sauerkraut and kimchi.

The sauerkraut was extremely simple - just chopped cabbage and grated carrot, mixed together, and then packed tightly into a crock, each layer pounded and sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds and dried dill.

The kimchi is definitely a bastardized version.  Apologies in advance to any Korean friends and relatives.  No points for "authenticity" here, but I'm telling you, it is delicious.  So here goes.

"Kimchi" makings. Copyright Diane Dew
Bastardized Kimchi

3 heads Napa cabbage, sliced thinly
3 Daikon radishes, grated
Red radishes, one bunch, sliced thinly
Carrots, grated

Mix cabbage and root vegetables, pack into a crock (or any non metallic container) and cover with salt water that's been treated to remove the chlorine (I use AmQuel). The treatment is important - otherwise the microorganisms won't be able to live.  The salt to water ratio should be 1 T salt per 1 quart water.  Use enough to cover the veggies with an inch or so of water, and weight the vegetable mix down with a plate or a heavy, flat object. Soak overnight.

1 1/2 heads garlic (yes, heads), chopped  
Chiles - to your taste.  Use fresh or dried.  We used one fiery, medium chile from our garden, which didn't turn out to be nearly spicy enough.  Elsewhere I saw 3 heaping tablespoons of dried chiles recommended.
Ginger, several inches, grated
Scallions, one bunch, plus a leek

A few tablespoons whey (full of Lactobacillus, essentially speeding up the fermentation process - a trick from Nourishing Traditions)

Blend the spices to make a paste. Drain the cabbage and root vegetables, reserving the broth, just in case.  Mix the cabbage with the spice paste, and pack it back into jars, pushing down to dislodge any air bubbles.  The juice should rise to cover the cabbage (if not, add a little of the reserved liquid).  Weight the mixture again, and wait several days for your kimchi to ripen.

Once the kimchi tastes the way you like, repack in smaller jars and store in your refrigerator.  Use as a side dish with everything! 

Copyright Diane Dew

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