Fermenting is all the rage right now – and for good reason! It’s a great way to preserve excess veggies from the garden or CSA. Also, as we learn more and more about the microbiome (our gut bugs) and health, it makes sense to feed the ‘good guys’ in our bellies. Eating fermented foods helps ensure a diverse and healthy gut microbiome – and is the way people have been doing this for centuries before the advent of probiotics in capsules!
Some of the health benefits of fermenting cabbage include:
- High in probiotics, beneficial microbes that support proper immune function;
- Fiber and beneficial microbes improved digestion and nutrient absorption;
- Good source of antioxidants;
- High in B and C vitamins;
- Increases the availability of vitamins and minerals;
- May lower cholesterol;
- May reduce high blood pressure
- May reduce arthritis pain;
- May reduce food allergies and food sensitivities;
- May improve brain health.
Many people think of sauerkraut when the idea of fermenting cabbage comes up. But what about kimchi? Kimchi is the Korean way of fermenting cabbage, usually with a number of other veggies and maybe fruits, and usually with some spice! Red kimchi uses red chilis and is super-spicy, pungent, and can be very good. But I prefer the mellower, more delicate flavors of white kimchi.
I find that the flavor is perfect with fish sauce; however, if you want to make a vegetarian/vegan kimchi, you may substitute either soy sauce or coconut aminos for the fish sauce. If you decide to use coconut aminos, slightly decrease the sugar and increase the salt when you’re mixing the brine.
It can be difficult to find Asian pears, particularly if you’re making this when cabbage is at its peak (because Asian pears are not). A tart, firm apple, like a Granny Smith, is a good substitute.
- 7 Tbsp sea salt fine, divided
- 1 each Napa cabbage large head, outer leaves discarded, quartered (leave stems intact)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 each Asian pear peeled, cored, cut into matchstick-size strips
- 1/2 lb Daikon radish peeled, cut into matchstick-size strips
- 6 each green onions cut into matchstick-size strips
- 3 each garlic cloves minced
Mix 6 cups water and 6 Tbsp salt in a very large bowl, stirring to dissolve salt.
Place cabbage, cut side up, in water so that water almost covers the cabbage.
Put a heavy plate on top of cabbage, then top with something heavy (iron skillet, rock) to submerge the cabbage in the salt water.
Set aside at room temperature for 12 - 24 hours.
Drain cabbage; discard water.
Rinse cabbage well under cold water.
Mix 4 cups water, 1 Tbsp salt, sugar and fish sauce in the same bowl. Let brine stand until salt and sugar dissolve, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Mix pear, daikon, green onions, and garlic in medium bowl.
Lift each cabbage leaf and distribute some radish mixture between each leaf. It doesn't have to be perfect!
Nestle layered cabbage in the bowl of brine as tightly as possible.
Once all cabbage quarters are layered and place in the bowl, put a plate on top with weight, as before.
Set aside at room temperature. Note: if you're using the bowl recommended above, you shouldn't need to 'burp' it; however, if you end up putting in jars with lids, you will need to let the air out that's created by the fermentation. Try for twice a day, particularly at the start.
After 6 or 7 days, taste daily until you obtain the desired flavor. Note: fermentation depends on a lot of things, but the temperature is a big one. Fermentation will occur quickly if your house is warm and more slowly if your house is cool.
When ready, store in the refrigerator. You can transfer the cabbage and juices to lidded glass jars if you like. Note: always use glass, preferably with plastic caps or place a square of parchment paper under the lid if using a metal lid. Fermentation brine is very reactive.
When you're ready to serve, remove a full quarter of the cabbage. Place it on a work surface and cut crosswise into 1 to 1.5-inch slices.
Note: Fermentation will continue for as long as you have food for the healthy microbes to eat. However, putting your kimchi in the fridge will massively slow things down. Kimchi will keep a very long time (that's the point of fermentation) as long as you ensure the brine is always covering the cabbage.