If you’re new to preserving and fermenting at home, your mind will be blown at how easy it is! Today, I, and a bevy of curious food bloggers, had the opportunity to make our own kimchi (or kimchee) and curtido (or cortido), kimchi’s El Salvadoran counterpart, from master preserver Ernest Miller at Melissa’s Produce. The main ingredients in curtido are also cabbage and carrots, but with red onion instead of green, oregano and cumin vs. red chiles and ginger and the vegetables are julienned vs. coarsely chopped – although, as always, it’s your kitchen, so tailor the vegetables and spices to your taste.
Kimchi is literally the national dish of Korea – there is even a museum in Seoul where 187 distinct varieties of kimchi are recognized. Kimchi refers to the wide range of pickled Korean foods which is consumed at nearly every meal – the average Korean eats about ¼ pound of kimchi a day, and most of it is still made at home the old-fashioned way.
Fermented foods consist of three main ingredients: pure salt, purified water, and flavor – the vegetables, chiles and spices. The most common seasonings include brine (the salt + water), scallions, ginger, radish, garlic and fish or shrimp sauce. Thanks to Roy Choi and the era of Koji BBQ, Angelenos and West coasters have been all over the kimchi craze for some time now. But the history of kimchi goes back to the Mongols when fermented foods sustained early nomadic tribes through the long winters.
I’ve worked with Melissa’s Produce practically from day one of She’s Cookin’. They work closely with bloggers and know that even though we’re bent over our phones tweeting and posting to Instagram and Facebook, that we’re listening – because you know, we’re talented like that. Plus, their corporate chefs always make us a scrumptious lunch and we get to take home fresh produce that’s been featured in the dishes that day. This time, we had to chop and julienne and listen and post and then, eat. It’s all good! I was famished and couldn’t wait to bite into that muffaletta with giardiniera (pickled vegetables Italian style).
I chose to make curtido (cortido) because I love papusas from the El Salvadoran stand at Surf City Nights here in Huntington Beach, plus, almost everyone else was making kimchi. Once my curtido is fermented (it takes only about 5 days), it will last several months in the refrigerator. I’ll share the recipe for that as well and, just maybe, how to make papusas.
Did you know that fermented vegetables have all the nutrition of raw vegetables, but are actually safer and more nutritious because of the good bacteria and probiotics that are formed in the process? Yes, we learned all this and more in a brief 2 hours with Chef Miller who is also a historian, educator, consultant and speaker who teaches classes in museums, schools, kitchens and county fairs across Southern California. He is also the co-leader of Slow Food Los Angeles, on the speakers’ bureau for the Culinary Historians of Southern California, lead instructor for the Master Food Preservers of Los Angeles County and founder of Rancho La Merced Provisions – manufacturer of the best fermentation kits on the market.
Chef Ernest Miller
For Americans, kimchi is used more as a condiment and, like sriracha, it can be added to any food you like. But kimchi gives more, it not only amps the flavor with spice and heat, but also lends crisp texture, and the acid balances cheesy and rich foods – acting as a digestif, by aiding digestion. Let’s get to the recipe, it may seem long, but really it’s quite simple and you don’t have to sterilize the jars, just clean them with soap and hot water.
- 1 ounce pickling canning, kosher or sea salt for every 3 pounds of vegetables
- 3 pounds Napa Cabbage cored and coarsely chopped
- 8 ounces Daikon radish
- 8 ounces carrot julienned
- 4 green onions sliced on the bias (white and green parts)
- 3-4 cloves garlic chopped, minced or whole
- 2 teaspoons dried red pepper for kimchi*
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger grated or julienned
- 1 ounce of salt per quart of water
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and pack firmly into your clean jar. Be sure the jar is filled to the "max" line but no higher. Place our clean notched weighting jar on the kimchi. This weight is to force water out of the kimchi and keep the kimchi submerged under the brine.
Seal your jar, gently twist the airlock into place and fill with brine or distilled vinegar to the fill line.
Store at 70 - 80 degrees F. Kimchi will be fully fermented in about 1-2 weeks. At 60-65 degrees F, fermentation may take 3-4 weeks.
*Kimchi spice may be found in Korean markets. Substitute red pepper paste, 3-4 red chiles, or red pepper flakes if you can't find.
At temperatures lower than 60 degrees F, kimchi may not ferment. Above 80 degree, kimchi may become soft. Fully fermented kimchi may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months.
Recipe courtesy of Rancho La Merced Provisions. Click on the link to see their unique Air-Lock Lacto-Fermentation Kits shown here. We used the 1.5 liter and cut the recipe approximately in half.
Hungry for more?
Patricia from “Fresh Food in a Flash” served her curtido with Cajun-spiced fish tacos.
Mary at California Greek Girl shares her curtido and fun photos from the day.
Faye Levy wrote about fermenting vegetables for The Jerusalem Post magazine and included recipes for Kosher Dill Pickles and Preserved Lemons.
Valentina at “Cooking on the Weekends” shows off her fully fermented kimchi and more cute photos from our day at Melissa’s.