What’s your favorite condiment?
If you hail from Korea, I can guess with one try.
Kimchi is so popular in Korea that it’s actually their national food. They eat the traditionally fermented condiment with nearly every meal, and they have been pretty much since mealtime became a thing.
Unlike a few of our American favorites (eh-hem, ketchup, ranch, bbq sauce..) kimchi is *hella* healthy. It’s basically a funky, spicy version of sauerkraut, and while the cabbage that goes into it starts out pretty healthy, it’s beneficial properties get multiplied after undergoing the process of fermentation.
According to a study done by the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, eating kimchi:
- reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, and digestive issues
- lowers cholesterol and promotes detoxification
- promotes brain and immune system health
- improves skin health AND contains anti-aging properties
In another study, participants who ate kimchi for just 7 days saw a significant decrease in blood glucose levels, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol.
If only ketchup could do all that!
The best things in life get better with age (and a little fermentation)
When food gets left to sit out for a bit (unrefrigerated) under the right conditions, it will undergo a process called lacto-fermentation, which not only preserves the available nutrients, but also makes them easier for our bodies to assimilate.
The results of fermenting are tasty for sure (think yogurt, wine, pickles, kimchi!..) but the process also creates probiotic rich foods, which do wonders for our insides, in case you haven’t heard the buzz yet.
If I had to recommend just one supplement, it would be probiotics (these are the ones I take). But the truth is that you can make your own at home.
After researching a ton of kimchi recipes, I stuck to what seemed to be the “classic” version, except I added in some shredded pear, which gives a slight sweetness, and also, a little bit of natural sugar for the good bacteria to chomp on.
Not all bacteria are bad guys
The thought of bacteria having a party in a jar of food you’ll soon be consuming might be unsettling to eaters that have been raised in our bleached, ultra-sanitized, double disinfected culture. But the reality is that we need bacteria in our lives to be healthy. In fact, our infatuation with annihilating bacteria is about as self-destructive as you can get.
Because our bodies house 10 times more bacteria than human cells. Which really poses an existential question–what are we, if not walking, talking, breathing shells of bacteria?
The millions of microbiotic tenants that call our bodies home aren’t just free loading.
We have a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria–we give them a warm place to live with 3 meals a day, and they return the gift of free room and board by cleaning up the place and carrying out an unending list of internal functions, everything from nutrient absorption to mood regulation.
So it’s in our own interest to keep them happy and make sure our bodies are the ideal environment for them to thrive in.
And adding fermented foods to our diets is a great way to do that.
Making your own kimchi
Kimchi starts out with with a base of sliced nappa cabbage. It gets tossed into a big pot or bowl along with some shredded carrots, and then it takes a bath in some super salty water.
You’ll want to give your soaking veg a little massage to get that salty brine working. Don’t hold back here- think deep tissue. It’s therapeutic for all parties involved.
The cabbage and carrots soak for 1-2 hours while you prepare the remaining ingredients and get some stuff done around the house. Then, you thoroughly rinse, let drain for a few minutes, and add all the rest of your sweet, spicy, umami flavors to the salted veggies (pear, daikon radish, scallions, garlic, ginger, crushed Korean red pepper, and fish sauce).
Once you’ve got all of those flavors together and happy, you pack them into a canning jar or glass container (with a plastic lidto avoid rust from the salt) and leave them to sit out for a few days before transferring your finished kimchi to the fridge, where it will keep for several months.
You’ll know you’ve successfully fermented when you can see, hear, and taste a fizzy, champagne-esque bubble action. That’s Lactobacillus bacteria acting all happy and excited in your jar of kimchi, as they do.
The result from all of your patience is a spicy, tangy relish that be eaten with rice, eggs, straight out of the jar…kimchi knows no limits.
And few other foods work so hard to keep you alive and kickin’ while spicing up your lunch.
*Recipe adapted from The Kitchn.
- 1 head nappa cabbage
- 1/4 cup real salt
- filtered water*
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 5 cloves of garlic, grated
- 2 tsp grated ginger (about 1 inch)
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 tbs fish sauce
- 1 pear, peeled and shredded
- 1.5 cups shredded daikon radish
- 3-5 tbs crushed Korean red pepper
- Quarter the nappa cabbage and remove the ends. Roughly slice each section crosswise. Add to a large bowl or stockpot along with 2 shredded carrots.
- Add a little bit of warm water to a bowl with salt and stir until salt dissolves. Pour over cabbage and carrots, and add more water until vegetables are covered. Squeeze cabbage and carrots to help the salt water begin to break them down. Cover the bowl or pot and keep in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
- In the meantime, peel, core, and shred the pear. Peel and shred the daikon radish, grate the ginger and garlic. Finely chop the scallions. Reserve.
- To a small bowl add crushed Korean red pepper, fish sauce, grated ginger and garlic, and stir to form a paste. (Add a bit of water if needed) Reserve.
- Once the cabbage and carrots have soaked for 1-2 hours, strain the water, rinsing several times (Don't skip this step or your kimchi will be very salty). Squeeze the liquid from the cabbage and carrots and allow to drain in a colander for a few minutes.
- Return drained cabbage and carrots to the pot along with the rest of the ingredients. Wearing a pair of plastic gloves, mix everything so that the paste is evenly distributed, massaging it into the vegetables.
- Pack mixture tightly into canning jars or glass jars with plastic lids, leaving about an inch and a half from the top. Really push down on the mixture so that the little bit of liquid present is covering the vegetables.
- Place jars in a warm spot on the kitchen (like on top of the refrigerator) and allow to ferment for 3-5 days. Each day, "burp" the jars by opening them to release gas and using a clean knife or chopstick, stir the kimchi a bit to allow oxygen to get to the lower layers. Pack down to keep covered in the liquid and return the lid.
- After 3-5 days, transfer kimchi to the refrigerator, where it will keep for several months.
*Water from the tap that contains chlorine and fluoride can interfere with the fermentation process. *While you let the kimchi ferment, it's a good idea to place the jars in a shallow container (like a pie pan) in case the liquid bubbles over the top.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.