As more and more research discovers the benefits of fermented foods, more people look to consume them. Traditional fermented foods had fallen by the wayside for years but they’re now making a comeback. Many of them can be made easily at home too, making them perfect means not only of staying healthy but also of preserving food in a survival situation. Today we’ll deal with two traditional cabbage-based fermented foods that can help you develop good gut bacteria: sauerkraut and kimchi.
Sauerkraut is simple to make. Make sure you have a clean head of cabbage, clean hands, a clean mixing bowl, and clean jars for fermentation. Quarter the cabbage and remove the cores, then chop or shred the leaves. Put the leaves in the mixing bowl, add salt, and allow the salt to get absorbed by the leaves. You’ll end up with leaves that start to shrink and liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
The amount of salt you need depends on how large your head of cabbage is. Start with at least 2 teaspoons, and make sure that you’re not using iodized salt since iodine will inhibit fermentation. Once the leaves have started to wilt, taste them. If it doesn’t taste salty enough then there’s not enough salt to inhibit the growth of spoilage bacteria. If there’s too much salt, you could end up inhibiting fermentation altogether.
You can pack the cabbage into ball jars or other similar fermentation vessels, cover the top with a clean piece of saran wrap and hold it in place with a rubber band. You don’t want a hard seal because the gases from fermentation will build up pressure and need to escape. Make sure that the cabbage is covered with liquid, otherwise exposed pieces might get moldy. You can add water or brine to top up if you need to.
Within a day or two you should start seeing bubbles. That lets you know that fermentation has started. After a few days you can sneak a quick taste using a clean fork. Once your sauerkraut has reached the optimal taste for you, put it in the refrigerator to keep it from fermenting any further.
If your sauerkraut has gotten too sour (or salty), you can always mix it with freshly shredded cabbage and cook the two together for a sauerkraut side to a pork roast, duck roast, bratwurst, or other similar food.
Kimchi is a fermented Korean cabbage product that has become incredibly popular in recent years. There are other types of kimchi too, using radishes, cucumbers, etc., but cabbage kimchi is the best-known one. It’s incredibly simple to make, just like sauerkraut, and there are numerous recipes out there if you want to try it.
The basics of making kimchi are chopping up cabbage (normally Napa cabbage), salting the leaves, and adding gochugaru, Korean red pepper flakes. Most recipes will call for adding scallions (green onions), radish, garlic, sugar, rice flour, fermented shrimp or fish sauce, etc. There really is no fixed recipe, it’s up to your taste. But here’s one way of making it.
Quarter a head of Napa cabbage and remove the cores. You can either leave the quarters whole or chop the leaves further. Add non-iodized salt to the leaves, put them in a mixing bowl, and let them sit. Mix a tablespoon or two of rice flour with several ounces of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring until you get a porridge-like consistency. The rice starch will help feed lactobacillus bacteria. Add a teaspoon of sugar, which will also aid fermentation. Stir in at least a tablespoon of gochugaru and a couple teaspoons of fish sauce. You want a nice paste-like consistency with a good bright red color. Remove from the heat and cool.
Toss 3-4 cloves of garlic into a food processor along with a thumb-sized piece of peeled garlic. Mince well and add to the gochugaru paste. Peel a daikon radish and chop it into matchstick-sized pieces. Chop a bundle of scallions into inch-long sections.
Check your cabbage to make sure that it is softening. It might take an hour or two to get the right softness. Reserve any liquid and put the cabbage into another mixing bowl along with the radish and scallions. Add the gochugaru paste, making sure that all the vegetables are well-coated. Pack the kimchi into your fermentation jars, top up with your brine or water if you need to in order to keep the veggies covered, and seal the top with saran wrap. As with sauerkraut, you should see bubbles within a day or two. You can let the kimchi ferment for up to two weeks, although it might get very sour by that point.
Once the kimchi has reached its desired flavor, put it in the fridge to stop fermentation. It’s best to consume within a month of making it. And, as with sauerkraut, if you see any mold starting to form on top, always err on the safe side and throw it away. Kimchi’s ingredients are cheap, it’s easy to make, and the benefits of fermented foods aren’t worth possibly getting yourself sick if you have to question whether your food is safe to eat.