Here at Esalen, we’re really into wild fermentation. We love to take freshly harvested vegetables from our farm and garden (before they ever go into the fridge), apply sea salt, and let them turn into deliciously sour pickled vegetables.
The end result is live food that is highly flavorful, super healthy, shelf stable, and ready to eat. There’s a huge array of techniques from nearly every culture that can be applied to almost any vegetable!
If you’re new to fermentation, there are many good books and online resources that can get you started. I recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
You’ll notice there are few precise amounts listed here for ingredients, and that’s because kimchi is very versatile. It can take a lot of spice, so play around with the flavor profiles and ingredients that you like. You may like more ginger and less garlic, or the opposite. Almost any hearty greens will work, including kale, collards, green or red cabbage, or bok choi. Dried and/or fermented fish and shellfish products, and prepared chili pastes and sauces are also very popular additions and add new depths of savory complexity to the finished product. (I suggest confirming that they don’t have chemical preservatives, which can inhibit wild fermentation).
- 1 large head of Napa cabbage, whole or sliced into ½ inch slices
- 1 large bunch of scallions, cut into 1 inch lengths
- 1 cup of sea salt
- 1 gallon of filtered water
- 1 large handful of shallots
- 1 large piece of ginger, peeled
- Several cloves of garlic
- Lots of Korean red chili powder
- Gently rinse the cabbage clean in cold water. Don’t wash it too vigorously, or you’ll lose the yeast that’s naturally occurring on the surface and necessary for fermentation.
- Make a brine solution by dissolving the sea salt in the water, with enough water to eventually cover the cabbage and scallions. It should taste salty like sea water. A good starting point is 1 tbsp of salt to 1 cup of water, or 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water.
- Cover the cabbage and scallions in the brine solution and let it sit for 3 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
- Drain the brine from the cabbage and scallions, reserving ½ cup, and taste them for salt. They should taste pleasantly salty. If they’re too salty, rinse them in fresh water until the salt is to taste.
- Put the spice paste ingredients in a blender, add a small amount of the reserved brine liquid to get it moving, and blend the mixture into a smooth puree.
- Rub the spice paste all over the cabbage and scallions. If the cabbage is whole, be sure to smear the spice paste all around and between the interior leaves.
- Pack the vegetables in a non-reactive container (e.g., glass or ceramic crock, food-grade plastic container) and press down until the liquid starts to rise and covers the vegetables. If there’s not enough liquid to cover the vegetables, add a little more.
- Weigh down the vegetables with a plate and a weight, so that they stay submerged under the liquid. Cover the container with a cloth, and leave in a cool, dark place to ferment. Within 7 days, the kimchi should be sour, and will continue to ripen for months, gaining complexity of aromas and flavors. When the kimchi tastes the way you like it, remove the plate and weight, cover the container with a lid, and store in the fridge. This will slow the fermentation almost to a stop, and the kimchi will stay the way you like it for a very long time.