Tag Archive | Napa Cabbage

Adventures in the Land of Kimchi

“The umami, spice, crunch, and sweetness of kimchi are the thread in which the lives of Koreans are woven.” Hannah Chung

Kim Chi in a Jar

I didn’t travel to the land of kimchi, but I have been exploring the world of microbes…specifically, the microbial world that thrives in a fermenting crock of kimchi. I got interested in learning more about making kimchi after reading Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked. In the book, he devotes a section entitled “Earth” to fermented foods. He traveled among the “fermentos”— explorers in the world of culinary microbes–to learn more about the benefits of fermentation. This led him to Sandor Katz, who has written two books about fermented foods, Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.

Katz writes that fermentation is an “everyday miracle, performed by microscopic bacteria and fungi—the “ubiquitous agents of transformation.” I discovered that the symbiotic relationship that microbes have with the human body is just as crucial and exciting as the relationship they have with plants and garden soil. Beneficial bacteria exist symbiotically in our digestive systems, where they break down foods into nutrients our bodies can absorb and help our immune systems function. Live, unpasteurized, fermented foods are the mode of delivery. Wow! Kimchi is compost for our guts.

Katz also explains that some cultures of microorganism are responsible for extraordinary culinary transformation. “Tiny beings, invisible to us, bring us compelling and varied flavors. Fermentation gives us many of our most basic staples, such as bread and cheese, and our most pleasurable treats, including chocolate, coffee, wine, and beer.” And kimchi!

Making Kimchi

I wasn’t always enamored of kimchi. Two things helped me become a born-again kimchi lover. One was the realization the kimchi is basically Korean salsa. To paraphrase John Willoughby, I had achieved the zen of kimchi and was at one with the little dishes of intense flavor. The second life-changing event was the arrival of a jar of kimchi made by Hannah Chung, owner of Simply Seoul Kitchen. She is known as the Atlanta Kimchi Queen. Friends Jim and Margaret handed me the jar and warned that it should only be opened while holding it over the sink. I followed their advice, and the kimchi erupted out of the jar with an explosion of chiles and garlic. That is live culture! I wanted to make kimchi that good.

So, what’s the difference between kimchi and sauerkraut? They are both made in low oxygen conditions by lactobacillus bacteria, which convert the sugars in cabbage or other vegetables to lactic acid. The fermentation helps preserve the vegetables and gives the finished product its tangy flavor. Sauerkraut is usually made with green cabbage, while kimchi is most commonly made with napa cabbage. Kimchi can include a variety of other vegetables or be made without cabbage at all, but is usually enhanced by modest-to-generous amounts of garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot red chiles.

Kimchi Ingredients

The Kimchi Queen’s website, simplyseoulkitchen.com, explains that the unique, tangy taste of kimchi comes from fermentation at low temperatures. In Korea, a winter’s supply of cabbage was traditionally fermented in large urns buried in the ground to maintain a steady, cool temperature. This method also represents the Korean belief that “Heaven, earth, and humanity are one.”

So…how to become one with kimchi? I looked around and found a wide variety of recipes with a confusing variation in ingredients. Some include apple or pear, anchovies and squid, fish sauce and shrimp, Korean chile flakes or “any form of hot pepper you like”, little ginger and garlic, lots of ginger and garlic, rice flour or cooked rice… Sandor Katz simply advises to “experiment with quantities and don’t worry too much about them.” But, I was a little worried about exploding jars or worse.

How to make Kimchi

Luckily, I discovered a Korean woman named Holly who blogs on a website www.beyondkimchee.com. I liked Holly immediately. She posted a photo of a bug-eaten cabbage leaf and said, “I like to see cabbage with holes in leaves…it means your cabbages are not overly pesticide.” She de-mystified the process of kimchi making with step-by-step photos and good advice, like “you need to wash the leaves to get rid of the bugs,” and you need good salt to make good kimchi—Korean sea salt, to be exact. She also explained why rice, rice flour, or even cooked potato appear in the list of ingredients for many recipes. The starch helps make the seasoning stick to the vegetables and aids the fermentation process by feeding the good bacteria. Apple and pear promote fermentation, as well. Holly fortifies her kimchi with a stock made from anchovies and shrimp heads and adds other seafood like salted shrimp, squid, or crab. “Adding extra sea flavor will make your kimchi so flavorful when fermented,” she says. “Hope you don’t skip it!”

With Holly’s enthusiastic guidance and a promising list of ingredients, I was ready to turn my bountiful harvest of Napa cabbages into kimchi.

The Basic Kimchi Process

Napa Cabbage

I followed directions for “quick kimchi,”which ferments faster and is ready to eat sooner than traditional kimchi made with whole cabbage leaves. I started with Napa cabbage, but then went on to “kimchi” almost every other vegetable in sight.

Ingredients: 2 lb head Napa cabbage, 1/2 cup coarse sea salt (preferred) or kosher salt, 2 quarts spring or filtered water (no chlorine), 1 bunch green onions (scallions)

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Trim away any tough stem or core. Cut each quarter into about 5 pieces. The leafy part should be larger than the white stem sections. Wash the leaves well and drain in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl.

Make a brine with the salt and water, stirring until the salt dissolves. Pour the brine over the cabbage and weight with a plate to keep the leaves submerged. Let the cabbage soak in the brine 1 to 2 hours. (Holly says one, Hannah says two)Turn the leaves so that the top goes to the bottom . Let it sit another 1 to 2 hours. The cabbage should be softened, but not limp. Take the cabbage out of the salt brine and rinse in a large bowl of water three times. Taste the cabbage. It should taste salty, but not overly so. Rinse again if necessary. Drain in a colander and press out excess water.

While the cabbage is soaking, make “sea stock” and seasoning paste. You can also prepare other vegetables you might want to add in to the kimchi.

Hannah’s Vegan Seasoning Paste

Fresh Ginger

This Simply Seoul Kitchen recipe was published in the Atlanta newspaper. I scaled it down for a single 2-pound head of Napa cabbage. I also reduced the chile flakes by half in my own batch of kimchi.

Ingredients: 1/2 small onion, 1/4 cup chopped garlic, 1 Tbs minced fresh ginger, 2 Tbs sweet rice flour, 3/4 cup water, 1/2 to 1 cup Korean chile flakes (gochugaru)

Use a food processor or blender to puree the onion, garlic, and ginger. Whisk the rice flour (I used toasted rice flour) into the water. Add the onion mixture and whisk to combine. Stir in the chile flakes.

Holly’s Seasoning Paste

I adapted this version from Holly, substituting dashi for her seafood stock made with anchovies and shrimp, and fish sauce for Korean anchovy sauce and salted shrimp. I wanted to use what I had on hand…or maybe I’m squeamish.

Ingredients: 1/2 onion, 1/2 apple, 1-inch piece peeled ginger, 5 large peeled garlic cloves, 1/3 cup cooked white rice, 1 cup dashi or sea stock, 2 Tbs fish sauce (Holly uses 3 Tbs anchovy sauce and 2 Tbs salted shrimp), 2/3 cup Korean chile flakes, 1 Tbs sugar

Sea Stock: Dissolve 1 tsp instant dashi in 1 cup water. Or simmer a small handful bonito flakes and one 5-inch piece kombu kelp in 1 1/2 cups water for 8 minutes. Let steep 8 minutes before straining. Holly simmers 5 to 6 anchovies and 3 or 4 shrimp in 2 cups water to make sea stock.

Put the onion, apple, ginger, garlic, rice, 1 cup sea stock(or water), and fish sauce in a blender. Blend to make a smooth puree. Pour into a bowl and stir in the chile flakes and sugar. Let sit 10 minutes.

Seasoning Paste 3

Spice Paste Ingredients

I made this paste with red-ripe, fresh serrano and jalapeno chiles Delicious! Use a blender to puree all the ingredients. Add more water if needed.

Ingredients: 1/2 onion, 1/2 apple, 1/4 cup chopped garlic, 2 Tbs grated ginger, 4 Tbs cooked white rice, 2 Tbs fish sauce, 1 cup seeded fresh hot red chiles, 1 Tbs brown sugar, 1/2 cup water


Mix it Together: Chop the scallions into 1 1/2-inch pieces and mix them into the wilted cabbage. Pour 2/3 of the seasoning paste over the cabbage and mix it well. Use your hands, wearing plastic gloves to protect your skin from the chiles. Taste the kimchi and add more of the paste if needed. Any extra paste can be used to make small batches of kimchi experiments.

Put the kimchi in a glass container that has a lid. Let it ferment at room temperature for 24 hours, or longer if you prefer a more fermented taste. Store in the refrigerator, where it will continue to ferment slowly. It is best eaten within a month.

More Kimchi

Vegetable Medley

Adding chunks or slices of other vegetables into the cabbage kimchi provides more crunch and interest. Carrot, onion, radish, daikon, kohlrabi, bok choi, sweet potato, beet, and turnip all make good add-ins. They also make great kimchi individually or in various combinations.

Ingredients: 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 lbs vegetables, 1/3 cup coarse sea salt, 1 recipe seasoning paste

Method: Cut the vegetables into thin slices, chunks, or matchsticks. Cut bok choi in quarters. Sprinkle the cut vegetables with the salt. Toss and rub gently to coat all surfaces well. Let rest 1 hour, tossing gently 2 or 3 times. Rinse well and drain in a colander. Gently press out excess water. Toss vegetables with seasoning paste. Eat the kimchi fresh, or let ferment a day or two before storing in the refrigerator.


Nadine’s CSA Box of Cabbage

I got a desperate phone message from my niece Nadine recently, “My CSA box is full of cabbage, and I don’t know what to do with it. Quick, send me some recipes!”

Head of Cabbage

Cabbage is a humble vegetable, often in the background and overlooked–you don’t often hear cooks raving about their cabbage the way they swoon over heirloom tomatoes. But cabbages are as intriguing to me as tomato varieties are to some other gardeners. The most beautiful cabbage I ever saw–a Savoy cabbage in all its crinkled blue-green glory–was growing in the mist above the Pacific Ocean in the garden at Green Gulch in Marin County, CA, some time around 1972. It was love at first sight.

I also remember the most delicious cabbage I ever ate (or perhaps it was the most welcome…). We ate in a small town in Yugoslavia in 1971, and cabbage was the only vegetable in town. But what a cabbage! Its sweet, spicy flavor was enhanced only by salt, black pepper, and the freshly pressed local green olive oil. A revelation.

When we moved to Madison County in the mountains of North Carolina, I was introduced to our neighbors’ cabbage of choice, Early Jersey Wakefield–a pointy headed, sweet early cabbage. Shortly afterward, a friend who had been traveling in Japan brought me a box full of seed packages. The labels were all in Japanese, but I could tell they were Brassica seeds, and soon the garden was full of cabbages and mustard plants of all shapes and sizes.

I still grow Jersey Wakefield for an early crop, as well as a Savoy (“Deadon” is a current favorite), a red called “Ruby Perfection”, and “Stonehead” for fall harvest. The Asian varieties of Brassica rapa–both heading and non-heading types of Chinese cabbage– have proved extremely hardy and become the backbone of my winter salad garden. The heading varieties like “Blues” and “Optiko” are perfectly happy living under row covers in the garden until deep cold arrives. They also store well for weeks in the refrigerator or root cellar. The open-headed types like “Fun Jen” and “Tokyo Bekana” often make it through the whole winter with protection, regrowing from multiple cuttings. Their tender ruffled leaves and juicy white stalks are perfect for salads and quick stir-fries.

So…what to do with all this cabbage? The various types of cabbage have very different qualities, and those qualities change with the cooking method, as well. If you want the spicy, crunchy quality of cabbage to shine, eat it raw as salad or add to other dishes at the end of cooking. For mellower flavor, make a stir-fry or warm salad. To bring out the sweet nature of cabbage, try a slow braising or caramelizing with onions. Cabbage isn’t flashy, but it’s a star of the fall garden.


Cabbage and Carrot Stir-fry with Indian Spices

This recipe makes a generous amount, but it can be used many ways. Serve it hot as part of a rice meal; have it cool for a lunch salad; wrap it up in a corn or flour tortilla with beans or shredded pork or chicken.

Ingredients: 1 Tbs whole cumin seed, 1 tsp whole coriander seed, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 2 Tbs canola or grapeseed oil, 1 finely chopped jalapeno, 1 small green cabbage (about 1 1/2 lb.), 2 or 3 carrots, 2/3 cup chopped coriander leaves (cilantro), 3 Tbs fresh lime juice

Cut the cabbage in quarters, remove the core, and slice thinly to make about 6 cups. Peel and cut the carrots into thin matchsticks. Toss the sliced cabbage and carrots with 1 tsp kosher salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Toast 1 tsp cumin seed, stirring frequently, until deep brown and fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar, cool, and grind to a powder. Set aside. Grind the coriander and peppercorns coarsely.

Warm the oil with 2 tsp whole cumin seed, the coriander seed, and black pepper in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Cook 1 or 2 minutes, until the cumin seed is browned and popping. Add the chopped jalapeno and stir 30 to 60 seconds. Add the cabbage and carrots and toss to mix with the seasonings. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes, until the cabbage is softened. Stir in the ground cumin, and additional salt, if needed. Cook 30 to 60 seconds longer. Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in the coriander leaves and lime juice.

 Spicy Napa Cabbage with Sesame Seeds

Cabbage with Sesame Seeds

This is a great salad on its own, but it’s also a perfect addition to an Asian burrito or Thai rice noodle salad. Wrap it up in a flour tortilla with stir-fried pork or chicken…tofu and mushrooms…or toss it with pile of boiled rice noodles or mung bean vermicelli..

Ingredients: 1 small Napa cabbage (about 6 cups chopped), 1 large carrot (about 1 cup grated), 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves, 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions, 1 Tbs oil (grapeseed, peanut, canola), 2 Tbs toasted sesame oil, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes (or 1or 2 minced small hot chiles), 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 finely chopped shallot, 1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, 2 Tbs rice vinegar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs mirin (sweet rice wine), and 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Cut the cabbage in quarters and slice thinly crosswise to make about 6 cups. Peel and shred the carrots. Put the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl with the coriander leaves and scallions.

Make the dressing: In a small skillet, dry roast the Sichuan peppercorns 2 or 3 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar, cool, and grind to a powder. Use the same skillet to warm the two oils with the red chile and ginger over medium heat, until small bubbles rise around the ginger. Turn off the heat. Add the scallions and ground Sichuan pepper; stir 1 minute. Stir in the soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning…add a bit of Asian chile sauce for more heat.

Pour the warm dressing over the salad and toss. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Add some zip with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

 Warm Red Cabbage Salad

Red Cabbage

Here is a delicious fall salad –lightly cooked cabbage tossed with slivers of apple, toasted walnuts, and a hint of sweet spice. Add some Gorgonzola or crumbled bacon, if you are so inclined.

Ingredients: 1 small red cabbage (1 pound or so), 1medium-small red onion, 1 large crisp apple, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 tsp sweet spice or 5-spice, 1/2 cup walnut pieces, 2 tsp walnut oil, 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper, 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley or mint.

Sweet Spice Mixture: 2 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp cardamom or nutmeg, pinch cloves. Or, substitute Chinese 5-spice (star anise, Sichuan pepper, fennel, clove, and cinnamon).

Toast the walnuts 5 to 7 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees F. Set aside to cool.

Cut the cabbage in quarters and remove the tough inner core. Cut the wedges into thin slices. Quarter the onion and cut lengthwise into thin slivers. Cut the apple into wedges, then into thin slices.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Stir in the onion and sauté 1 minute. Add the cabbage and sprinkle with a pinch or two salt. Cook, stirring often, 2 minutes, until the cabbage softens but retains some crunch. Stir in the spice and vinegar. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl, toss with the walnuts and herbs, and drizzle with walnut oil.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Take the ingredients for Warm Red Cabbage Salad, add some red wine and some cooking time, and you have a braise full of wonderful deep red flavor. Leftovers are delicious, so you may want to double the amount of cabbage and onions.

Cook the onions in the olive oil with a pinch of salt and 2 slices chopped smoked bacon (optional) until softened and slightly golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add 2 cloves slivered garlic, the sliced cabbage, and apple. Stir well to combine and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup dry red wine (3/4 cup if you are cooking 2 lbs cabbage) and 1 tsp salt; bring to a simmer. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer 35 to 45 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp spice mixture, if desired, and cook another 5 minutes. Season with balsamic vinegar, salt, and black pepper to taste.

Top with toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of chopped green herbs.

Eat your braised cabbage with roast chicken or turkey, lentil and wild rice salad, or roasted vegetables like parsnip, carrot, and fennel. It’s also great mixed with wedges of roasted beets, or added to borscht.

Chung Hua’s Stir-fried Pork and Cabbage

Cabbage Head Cut In Half

My sister’s husband Chung Hua made this dish for me as part of a memorable feast, and I’ve been making my version ever since. Prepare all the ingredients and set them out in small bowls. After all the chopping, it is ready very quickly.

Ingredients for the pork: 1/2 lb boneless pork chop or other lean pork, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs sake or Chinese rice wine, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp cornstarch

Slice the pork across the grain into 1/4-inch strips. Sprinkle with salt. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and toss with the pork. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 4 hours

Stir-fry ingredients: Vegetable oil, 2 Tbs minced ginger, 2 Tbs minced garlic, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, 5 to 6 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (toss with 1/2 tsp kosher salt), 2 thinly sliced medium hot green chiles (or substitute bell pepper), 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or green onion

Sauce: Whisk together 1 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs rice wine, and 2 tsp toasted sesame oil.

Heat 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering hot, put the pork into the pan in a single layer. Stir-fry about 2 minutes, until the pieces have lost their pinkness. Transfer to a warm plate and cover with foil. Heat about 2 tsp more oil in the pan. Stir-fry half the scallions, garlic, ginger, and chile flakes 20 to 30 seconds. Add the cabbage and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until the cabbage is wilted but still crunchy. Add the green pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the reserved pork and the sesame-soy sauce. Toss to combine.

Sprinkle the remaining scallions over the top and serve with hot rice.

Involtini Wrapped in Cabbage Leaves

Involtini are Italian meat rolls wrapped in thin slices of beef or pork, or in this case, cabbage leaves. I made these for Drew’s birthday feast with ground beef from our neighbor Rodney’s bull.

For the rolls: 1 lb ground beef (preferably lean grass-fed), 1/3 lb. lean ground pork), 1/3 lb ground chicken or turkey, 2 slices finely chopped bacon (or a bit of Rodney’s smoked sausage), 2 eggs, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, 1/4 cup finely chopped onion, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and shape into log-shaped rolls.

The cabbage leaves: Use large outer cabbage leaves. Remove heavy ribs and steam or blanch the leaves a few minutes until wilted and flexible. Drain and cool.

Wrap the meat rolls in the cabbage leaves (place the roll crossways, fold in the sides of the leaf, and roll it up).

The Braise: I used 2 cups wild mushroom soup, 1/2 cup red wine, and 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes. If you don’t have any spare soup on hand, warm 2 Tbs olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat with 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot, 1 finely chopped celery stalk, 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 2 bay leaves. Sauté a few minutes to soften the vegetables. Add 1/2 cup red wine, 2 cups broth, 1 1/2 cups tomato puree, and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a simmer.

Place the cabbage-wrapped rolls into the braising liquid, seam side down, in a single layer. Simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours.