The November challenge was fermentation, and this one stymied me a little bit. My family is very German, but I can’t even stand the smell of sauerkraut – so that one was out. Yogurt seemed too easy; I have been making my own yogurt for months now in my InstantPot (it’s nearly the only thing I do with my InstantPot). What I really wanted to make was umeboshi, a Japanese pickled plum that my research suggests is actually a fermented product. However, both ume plums and shiso leaves are highly seasonal items. Maybe there are places where they can be acquired out-of-season, but Memphis, Tennessee is not one of those places.
I eventually settled on kimchi. I haven’t ever had a kimchi I just loved, but I haven’t tasted much kimchi, and I suspect what I’ve had in restaurants hasn’t been very representative of the variety of kimchi that actually exists. My ignorance lent kimchi the appeal of the unknown – which is always a pretty big selling point for me! It was also an excuse to dig into my copy of Asian Pickles by Karen Solomon – a book that has languished, neglected, on my shelf for far too long. I chose her recipe for water kimchi, primarily on the grounds that I liked all the ingredients, they seemed relatively easy to acquire, the fermentation period was relatively short, and the finished product looked beautiful.
My next challenge was to research Korean chile flakes, the only ingredient that I wasn’t familiar with. I read a (very) little Japanese, but I don’t read Korean at all, so I am eternally grateful to Maangchi’s primer on gochugaru for the uninitiated. I would have passed over these products in the store because the English on the package says “powder” rather than flakes. According to Maangchi, the package that actually look like flakes is the super-duper-spicy variant. I am a wimp when it comes to capsaicins, so I definitely, definitely wanted the milder pepper flakes. I think — but cannot be 100% sure — that that’s what I bought.
Everything else was easy to get, with the exception of — of all things — Napa cabbage. Stores carried it, but not in a well-ripened, good-looking state. After visiting three grocery stores, I finally gave up and took home a rather yellow, sad-looking Napa cabbage incorrectly labelled “bok choy” by the grocery store. Sigh. But with that, I had all my ingredients together!
I did a pretty good job thinly slicing the ingredients by hand, if I do say so myself! But if I find I like kimchi, I’m definitely investing in a mandoline (not to be confused with a mandolin, though I am a musician and would love to own one of those, too). I am also pleased to report that most of the daikon radish survived my nibbling during preparation. At last, I ended up with a nice-looking bowl of raw ingredients.
The recipe said to pack the vegetables into at least a 48-oz glass or ceramic container. I don’t own a fermenting crock, so I’d planned to use a large glass mixing bowl that has probably been in my family since my grandmother’s time. I bet she made sauerkraut in it. I was a little worried about keeping all the vegetables submerged in something so wide, though. If only I had a big glass container with tall sides, and some way to weight down the contents…!
It was a pretty tight squeeze, and I didn’t have much headspace left. I knew to expect bubbles, and during my failed attempt at salt-preserved citrus, I’d definitely had some overflow from the jar. So when I tucked my kimchi-to-be into the pantry to ferment, I put a high-sided baking pan underneath it. Within a few hours, I was glad I did: There was a good deal more liquid at the top of the jar, and a distinct puddle in the tray. A day and a half later, there isn’t much more overflow – but I can see air bubbles beginning to form among the vegetables. Fer-ment! Fer-ment! Go! Go! Go! I love watching chemistry in action.
The quality of my kimchi — and the reaction of my taste buds — is still TBD. It will be done on the 29th, though, and I’ll update here as soon as I’ve tasted it. I really hope I like it. I enjoyed making this, and though there isn’t much of an aroma yet, what I can smell is very appealing…. which already puts it well ahead of sauerkraut, at the very least.
UPDATE: Yep! That is definitely fermented. I have made kimchi!
UPDATE 2: Yep! I definitely dislike kimchi. Phooey. Well, I have a friend who is going to be very happy very soon with the large jar I’m about to deliver to her…