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Kohlrabi Kimchi

Edward Lee

Lesson time 15 min

With just a few ingredients, you too can simply ferment foods at home. Edward shows how to make kimchi from kohlrabi, which is a dense vegetable that can hold up well through fermentation. While this vegetable is less traditional for kimchi, expect the usual elements like Korean chili flakes, scallions, garlic, and ginger to tantalize the taste buds.

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– If you think about it, fermentation is the most original, the most basic, the most natural form of cooking we know. You don’t need an oven, you don’t need any special equipment. I’m gonna make a beautiful kimchi today using a bowl and a box grater and a knife, and that’s it. To me, kimchi is less of a recipe and more of a lifestyle, if you will. Vegetables all can ferment, and they take on a really wonderful, crunchy, sour, beautiful notes. So really, fermentation is just about taking the vegetables we have, letting them sort of commune with nature with the microbes and the cultures and the air, the yeast and bacteria. And then they’re gonna create this whole other thing, it’s an amazing thing, and it’s something that we can all do. So the only thing really you need for fermentation is time, you need room temperature, you need a warm environment. And you need some kind of sugar and salt, that’s it, that’s the only thing you need. And really, the natural environment of where you are will do its thing. What I like to do always is to see what’s in season. So like today, going to the market, I found some incredible kohlrabi. And we’re going to make a nice kohlrabi kimchi. When you start to think about what vegetables you wanna ferment, you wanna start with something that’s a little bit hardy. So typically you think of cabbage, right? It’s got a real crispy crunch to it, it’s got structure to it, it’s gonna hold up over a long period of time. So kohlrabi makes a great kimchi because it’s a nice, hearty vegetable, it’s gonna stand up and it’s gonna keep its structure after a couple of weeks. So basically all I do is cut this down, peel the skin. Okay, and I’m gonna show you a little trick with this, so don’t throw away the skin. And the really amazing thing about fermentation is that it unlocks hidden flavors that you wouldn’t normally taste in your vegetable. So you take kohlrabi for example, it’s got a wonderful texture, but sort of a bland vegetable. Doesn’t have a lot of flavor to it. But, go ahead and ferment it for a week, and you’re gonna taste things in this kohlrabi that sort of exist inside this vegetable, but, you can’t taste it just yet. It almost needs time and fermentation to sort of unlock all these hidden flavors inside here. I can almost smell a little bit of it. So, we’re going to just some nice, basic cubes. Remember, precision here isn’t the most important thing. We wanna be careful about what we’re adding to it, but really, all of this is gonna ferment. So nice, bite-sized cubes is what I want. So if you haven’t had kohlrabi, it’s a bit of a fresh radish, if you will. It doesn’t have the spiciness quite that radish does. But it’s got a lot of water in there, it’s very refreshing, but a very simple flavor. All right. All right, beautiful. So we have our kohlrabi here. And this is gonna be the base of our kimchi. I’m gonna add a little bit of scallion to this. Try and get a nice, fine cut on the scallion. Scallion is always great in kimchi ’cause it’s gonna add a little bit of that sweet onion flavor, it has a little bit of a bite to it. But again, once scallion ferments, it really takes on this gorgeous sweetness. I’m gonna take these skins and just wash them. And you’ll see why in a moment why I do this. So now the fun part begins. We’re gonna throw different flavors into our kohlrabi. At this point, you can really add whatever you want. I always choose some kind of a fruit element. Fruit’s always gonna have more sugar in it. It’s gonna have more carbohydrates, and that’s gonna facilitate fermentation. So this is a great starter. Any sort of sweet fruit is gonna give it a little bit of that extra sugar, and that’s gonna help fermentation. So, I’m gonna start with one green apple, and I’m not even going to peel the skin. I want everything on there. And I’m just gonna grate it. All right. Now, I’m gonna see what other vegetables have. I’ve always loved radishes in kimchi. Red radishes, I’ve got some watermelon. I might go with just the watermelon radish. And again, these have been washed. I’m gonna go right with the skin right on there. I’ve made kimchi with everything from honeydew to fennel. There’s almost nothing that can’t be fermented. All right, so it’s almost one full watermelon radish. ‘Kay. So let’s grab some more flavors. I’m gonna do, of course my favorite thing, ginger. So kimchi obviously is a great side dish or a condiment for any rich dish. Really, it’s limitless. Meats, barbecues, noodle dishes, hot dogs, I put kimchi in my burger. All right. So I’m gonna do a good amount of ginger in this guy. You almost can’t have enough ginger. If you like lemongrass, you can throw lemongrass in there. If you can dream it up, it can become a kimchi. I always add garlic to my kimchi, and that’s the one thing you gotta be careful with. You don’t want to make it too garlicky. You don’t wanna overpower. So for like a big mix like this, I think two cloves of garlic will be plenty. If you notice, everything goes through the microplane. This slurry or this little microplane puree that you made is going to be your starter, it’s gonna ferment faster than like a big chuck of kohlrabi. So if you think about a fire, think about this as almost your tinder wood, right? It’s the little stuff that’s gonna start the fermentation process going, especially since you’ve got that sweet apple in there. That’s gonna start to ferment, and then it gets everything going. Once fermentation starts, it’s like one big moving train, you can’t stop it and it’s gonna keep on going. So you want this to start it really quickly. All right, now, the most important part, salt. You can’t have fermentation without salt. Got some fish sauce as well. And because we’re making a Korean kimchi, some Korean chili flakes. For this, you wanna use a natural a salt as you can. A natural mine salt or sea salt works best. And nice, flakey. You’re going to add quite a bit of salt to it, really depends what kind of kimchi you’re making, and also how salty you want your kimchi. There’s not rule of thumb when it comes to how much or how little, but you can always taste it once you mix everything together. And you wanna be able to taste that salt. And then the last ingredient is Korean chili flakes. You don’t even have to use the Korean chili flakes, it’s really as little or as much as you want. I love spice, so I’m gonna do that and that and that. And maybe even one more little pinch. That’s your kimchi. What’s gonna happen now is I’m gonna take my hands and I’m gonna start to work all of these things together. You can’t just mix it with a spoon, use your hands. And water is also an essential ingredient to kimchi. And always use tap water. Tap water has a lot of natural microbes in it, versus a bottled water or purified water. And all those microbes, as well as all the microbes in your hands, are gonna start this fermentation process. All those people that tell you not to play with your food, well guess what? Now is your chance to play all you want with your food. And really get in there and kind of squeeze and massage and batter these vegetables, because the more you do that, the more liquid is being released. Now, remember, we added salt to this, so the salt is already starting to draw out some of the moisture from the kohlrabi and all the other vegetables. So all those natural juices from the kohlrabi and the apple and the radishes are starting to go. In this country and as well abroad, we went through this period of sort of food industrialization, where it became a sort of a commercial message to be afraid of your food, to not handle, to not touch things. We, for thousands of years, we would just touch salt with our hands, and all of a sudden we needed a salt shaker instead of actually grabbing the salt with our fingers. If you think about that as a overall philosophy, there’s an entire generation of people that were taught to be afraid of food. We’re in this age right now where we’re sort of taking it back, we’re owning it back that food is dirty, food comes from soil, food is natural, playing with your food is natural. This is all stuff that needs to happen for food. And so once we get over this fear of food, we can start eating again. All right. And that’s it. We’re ready to jar it up. At this point I always take a small piece and I pop it mouth to taste it. It should taste salty, but not too salty. It’s not gonna have any sourness ’cause fermentation hasn’t started yet. But all the flavors should feel nice in your mouth. You can almost eat it now as a very fresh kimchi, but what we want is to add sourness to it. So, that goes there. I’ve got a very clean jar. And we’re just gonna start packing this in. Now, when we talk about kimchi, yeast is good, mold is not. And those are all things that are floating around us. So, air is our enemy. And so what we do is when we pack these jars in, you wanna pack it as much as possible, there is no air. And you’d be amazed at how much you can fit into a jar. All these little air pockets here, you want that to be filled with liquid. And now, what you have is all this leftover slurry in your bowl. All goes in there. That’s the good stuff. The whole jar is filled up with liquid. Now, remember those peels that we saved from earlier? If there’s any space leftover in the top of your jar, you just take your skins and you cover it. It’s almost like a little netting on top. And ideally when you squeeze it, there should be some liquid coming over the top of it. And that’s when you know the entire jar is filled up. That’s gonna make a beautiful kimchi. But that’s basically it. Because of all that massaging and mixing I did, the kimchi’s already been exposed to enough microbes. If you want to expedite your kimchi, you can leave the top open and let it continue to mix with the air. But at this point, you can also just jar it up. And that’s it, you got a nice jar of kimchi going. There’s many ways you can do this. You can leave this out at room temperature for a week, and it should be perfect. If you don’t feel safe about that, you can leave it at room temperature for about two days minimum. And then you can put it in your fridge at that point. It’ll still continue to ferment, but it will ferment a lot slower. If you’re not eating kimchi that much or that often, you may wanna, after two days, just leave it in your fridge, it’ll be good up to a month. So you’re fine with that. The light’s really not gonna have that much effect on it, but you don’t want direct heat. You don’t want it too hot. You want a nice, even temperature. Be creative, have fun with it. It’s a great way to sort of introduce yourself to this wonderful of fermentation.

About the Instructor

James Beard Award winning writer and best-selling cookbook author Edward Lee takes viewers from the farm to his restaurants and home in Louisville, Kentucky and teaches lessons on his beloved dishes including Fried Chicken with Gochujang Sauce, Oysters and Grits, Cabbage-Steamed Fish, and more.

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