One food experiment I tried this winter is raw fermentation. Fermented foods are growing in popularity due to the belief that they aid in digestion, contain useful probiotics and vitamins, and support the immune system. While the nutritional merits of fermented foods are still being worked out, there is no doubt that they have long been a useful method of food storage as well as a beloved dietary tradition. I personally love the idea of making pickled foods with only the juices from the foods themselves, not by blanching and curing them in a strong vinegar solution (like quick pickles).
So far I have made only one attempt at fermentation (Korean kimchi) and found it easy, inexpensive, and quite tasty. Since I am highlighting Napa cabbage this week, I will share with you my kimchi recipe and method below. However, before you begin on a fermentation adventure, I highly recommend that you read over Sandor Katz’s (Fermentation guru) quick summary in his blog Wild Fermentation (click here). While the method is very easy and has been done for thousands of years, there are still important precautions to take to insure that your fermented foods are safe for consumption.
Featured Item—Napa Cabbage
It is amazing to me that in all the years I’ve been writing for the farm I have never before written about Napa cabbage. Napa cabbage is perhaps the most popular cabbage in the world owing to its relatively mild flavor and delicate, crisp texture. It has always reminded me of a cross between lettuce and cabbage, as its leaves are so tender, yet hold up well in salads and cooked dishes.
Even with their delicacy, Napa cabbage leaves can be used like any other kind of cabbage leaf. Napa cabbage lends itself well to raw preparations like salads, taco or soup toppings, coleslaw, fermented preparations, or as a wrap surrounding different fillings. Napa cabbage can also be baked, braised, stewed, steamed, stir fried, or grilled. I particularly love it as a nutritional add-in to fried rice or stir-fry, or as a topping for chili or tacos. Smaller or even medium leaves make a great base for Asian lettuce wraps. Larger leaves are wonderful substitutes for sandwich “wraps”, or if lightly blanched, can be stuffed and baked in a casserole-type dish (e.g. stuffed cabbage).
Napa cabbage is one healthful vegetable. It is low in calories and is very low in fat and cholesterol. Yet it contains significant amounts of vitamins A and C, is high in calcium and antioxidants, and is a good source of dietary fiber. Thus it is one of those filling, satisfying foods that doesn’t put on the pounds.
Choose bright, crisp bunches with compact, tightly closed leaves. Store whole cabbage, unwashed, in plastic in the refrigerator. Remember that cut cabbage quickly loses nutrients, so it is best to cut your cabbage just before preparing it.
This recipe was adapted from Eating Well Magazine, August 2013. If you prefer to wait until the pepper and snap peas are ready locally, you can substitute with other vegetables. For example, shredded carrots would work well.
Roasted Tofu & Peanut Noodle Salad w/ Napa Cabbage Serves 4
– 1/4 cup lime juice
– 1/4 cup reduce sodium soy sauce
– 1 tablespoon canola oil
– 1 14-16 ounce package extra-firm organic water packed tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes
– 6 ounces whole wheat spaghetti or pasta of choice, (can use rice or quinoa pasta)
– 1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
– 3 tablespoons water
– 3 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
– 2-3 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar or regular sugar (to taste)
– 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon Asian chile paste with garlic*, to taste
-2 tablespoons minced cilantro
– 6 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
– 1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
– 1 cup thinly sliced snap peas or snow peas
-rice wine vinegar (to taste)
1. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 450℉. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Put a large pot of water on to boil for pasta.
2. Combine lime juice, soy sauce, and oil in a large bowl. Stir in tofu; marinate, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tofu to the prepared baking sheet; reserve the marinade. Roast the tofu, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown, 16-18 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
5. Whisk peanut butter (it helps if you warm a bit in the microwave first) 3 tablespoons water, garlic, ginger, sugar, chile paste, and cilantro into reserved marinade. Mix pasta, cabbage, bell pepper, snow peas and dressing until vegetables are well coated. Taste. Add salt and rice vinegar to taste. Top with tofu and serve.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean condiment. It is delicious served with eggs for breakfast, as an accompaniment to meats, in tacos/sandwiches/wraps, or served with rice. I have included a simple version here, as I have not been able to find Korean staple ingredients like Gochujang chile paste.
Please read Sandor Katz’s primer on fermentation before trying this recipe. If you prefer not to ferment your kimchi, but would still like to make it, try this quick kimchi recipe from Eating Well (click here)
Kimchi Makes 5 ½ quart jars
– 1 large head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
– 14-16 small carrots, shredded
– 2 bunches scallions, thinly sliced, including light green parts
– 2-3 tablespoons sea salt
– 1 tablespoon chile garlic sauce
– 3 tablespoons grated ginger
– 2 tablespoons grated garlic
1. Prepare quart sized mason jars. Boil jars and allow to air dry and cool completely.
2. Mix ingredients into a very large bowl. If you do not have that big of a bowl, evenly mix ingredients and spread between 2-3 bowls. Using a sturdy potato masher, press down on vegetables to “bruise” them and begin to release their juices. Allow to sit for 45 minutes to 1 hour, repeating the bruising a couple of times, until maximum juices are released. Taste mixture. It should taste salty but not too spicy (flavors will develop and become stronger over time). If mixture does not taste salty, add more salt (salt is important for ultimate taste and texture, for releasing the vegetable’s juices, and for inhibiting the growth of unwanted bacteria ).
Divide cabbage mixture and juices evenly between clean mason jars. Using a fork, push down cabbage mixture into the juices to see how far the juices rise. If there is not enough juice to cover the cabbage mixture completely add water until it does.
The cabbage mixture needs to be weighted so that the vegetables stay completely submerged during fermentation. This prevents mold and “bad bacteria” from developing in your fermentation. I use inexpensive glass weights I bought online (click here). I have also tried placing a de-ribbed cabbage leaf over the top and then pressing down a double layer of plastic baggies filled with water on top. To use this method, push gently down on the baggies until the pressure of the water submerges the vegetables competely in the liquid (the leaf on top is only to protect your kimchi from the plastic). You can also use a small plate if it fits the opening.
Once the vegetables are weighted down and liquid completely covers them, place jars in a cool, dark place (I use my basement) covered with a clean towel.
Check your jars the following day. If any liquid has absorbed and the level of liquid is no longer high enough to cover the surface of the vegetables, add water until they are covered. Taste your kimchi daily (using a clean fork) and allow to ferment until it reaches your preferred level of tang (acidity)(the higher the acidity, the more fermentation has occurred). Fermentation occurs more quickly in warm, humid conditions. Kimchi can be ready in as early as 3-4 days, or can take 1-2 weeks, depending upon storage conditions.
Once kimchi has reached the desired degree of fermentation, tightly place lids on the jars and refrigerate (remove baggies).