Skip to main content

Kimchi Back in the Bathtub

Last year a friend taught us how to make kimchi for the first time. The haksai (Chinese cabbage) was finishing up in the farmer's field, and as usual we were pressed for time. We spent a late night chopping cabbage, carrots, komatsuna, and daikon only to massage them by hand with salt, garlic, ginger, and crushed red peppers until the skin on our arms tingled. Then it fermented (and overflowed a bit, hence the time in the bathtub) for about a week before our munching commenced.

Seeing haksai available again at a nearby vegetable stand, I decided to give it a go on my own this year. There's plenty of komatsuna rolling in these days, along with carrots, daikon, and other assorted vegetables that usually end up in our salad. Inspired as well by the large amounts of fresh ginger available at stalls and farmer's markets of late as well as my own balcony and garden harvest of hot peppers, it seemed like the time was ripe.

Late November Friday Night Kimchi
2 heads of haksai (Chinese cabbage) chopped into bite size pieces
Hot peppers, a goodly handful depending on your heat tolerance.
6 large cloves of garlic, minced
3 medium pieces of ginger, grated
6-8 inch daikon, cubed
3 bunches of komatsuna, roughly chopped

Chop the cabbage and sprinkle it with a goodly amount of salt.* Massage the salt around on the cabbage to encourage wilting. The salt is drawing fluid out of the cabbage, so the bowl should begin to fill with fluid or brine. Keep adding cabbage and salt* and massaging. When the leaves are fairly soft and a firm press puts them under about a half inch to an inch of brine let them rest while working on the rest.

Mix the daikon, carrots, and komatsuna together with salt and start the same wilting and massaging process. Meanwhile, mince the garlic, grate the ginger, and chop the peppers all into the same bowl. Throw everything in with the cabbage and start mixing and massaging again for a good 20 minutes. This ensures solid mixing of all the ingredients, and encourages further brining.

Press the mixture down firmly until a couple inches of brine stand above it. The kimchi needs to stay below the brine, so I used the old plastic-bag-with-water-inside technique from the umeboshi days. It creates a firm seal all the way around, but still lets any fluid that needs to sneak up above it. Loosely cap and set in the bathtub for at least five days.

The Usual Caveats
I love spicy food, and will say that I used a boatload of my hot peppers. Japanese peppers - togarashi - aren't super spicy, so I went ahead and used a bundle of them. I do wish I'd taken the time to crush them, though, for better mixing.

I do wish I'd used more komatsuna. I'd like it to have a little more green mixed in, but I think it's going to be fine. My advice would be to not chop it too fine as kimchi always has big chunks of things sort of straggling off chopsticks as you eat it. I think other greens - spinach, kale, pak choi, whatever - would be good to try as well. I also think the yacon might be a fun addition, too. I didn't have any carrots in the drawer, but I be the purple ones would have been cool. Maybe next time sliced in narrow one inch long strips.

*This caveat gets a star because salt can be dangerous. Not just for bloodpressure and bloating, but because too much can ruin the taste. Start with some and remember more can always get added later if necessary. The trick here is to use enough to start the wilting process, encourage fermentation, and preserve the kimchi without overwhelming the flavor of everything else with salt. My solution is to keep sampling as I go to monitor the taste, and take notes of what I do. I don't measure the salt, which I would actually recommend, too.


Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro