Tag Archives: fermented foods

Making Kimchi and other fermented foods

Homemade KimchiHomemade Kimchi

Last summer we had the good fortune to visit relatives living in Japan. For ten days, we toured Tokyo and Kyoto together. We visited countless temples, restaurants. Saw amazing sites and ate some of the most amazing cuisine I’ve ever tasted! There are many reasons that Japanese live extraordinarily long healthy lives, not the least of which is the food they eat: Traditional Japanese meals heavy on the vegetables and are naturally gluten and dairy free. Another thing we noticed was a variety of fermented foods are usually present at EVERY meal, especially breakfast.

This ancient tradition seems likely to have come about as a means of preserving the harvest, but as many in modern times are beginning to realize, the bacterial cultures present in fermented foods have many benefits in terms of digestion, immune system health, detoxification and even increased mental clarity.

As soon as we got home, we began incorporating more fermented food into our diets – store-bought saurkraut, kimchi and pickled radishes.

A few months after we got home, we bought our first crock and began fermenting things for ourselves. Kimchi is my favorite because it’s spicy, but a nice bit of saurkraut is great as a side dish or in a sandwich as well.  I like that we can know where things came from, how they were handled and get to participate in this ancient, wise tradition from my heritage.

Traditional Korean kimchi can contain seafood or meat as well, but we decided to keep it simple. This batch is mostly napa cabbage mixed with some carrots, green onions, garlic and hot peppers allowed to ferment under a brine. Since the vegetables are kept completely covered with brine, not in contact with air, the usual mold and other bacteria that can appear on foods is not able to survive the saltiness and lack of oxygen of the brine, allowing lacto-fermentation to commence, which produces that healthy gut-flora bacteria we all need more of in our diets. (something the yogurt industry is trying to leverage as well, but be careful not to eat yogurt which has sugar added – it counteracts the health benefits of the lactobacillus bacteria by promoting unhealthy bacteria in your system instead!)

Now that our crock is empty again, my thoughts are turning to red onions. Who doesn’t love a nice dollop of pickled onions on their burger?




Fermented Kale Recipe

fermented kale


A recent trip to Japan has given us an even greater appreciation for fermented foods. In Japan, fermented foods are called:  “Tsukemono” or pickled vegetables. We knew from other reading on the subject that fermented foods are very beneficial because they provide the gut flora needed to break down nutrients more efficiently, which means we experience greater digestive health, immune health and even benefits in terms of cognition and energy; but Japan’s ancient lineage and the fact that Japanese people have the third longest life expectancy of any nation is enough to make us consider the deeper wisdom of their most obvious daily routines. In Japan, fermented foods are served at every meal, especially at breakfast.


Above is a lunch meal we had in old Kyoto – Ochazuke which means “soaked in tea.” This bowl starts with a bed of white rice made with green tea, and then any number of fermented veggies on top. In this picture: Lotus root, Mizuna, Daikon, Bamboo, Rhizome, Button mushroom. Despite the 100F heat and 85% humidity, it made m,e feel energetic and ready to take on bigger things. It’s worth noting that in Japan, when you eat with others, there is  also a deeper significance than just taking on nutrients in the same room. It’s hard to explain but the Japanese have discovered that not only are there tremendous health benefits to fermented foods, but there’s a social aspect to dining together; a resonance, that fills you in other ways.

Back to fermented kale. Here’s a recipe. Pretty basic with a bit of trickiness.  Ideal fermentation  varies based on conditions where you dwell.

Here in new england:


12 oz kale leaves, stems removed

2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed

2 tsp salt

Take a quart mason jar and put it in boiling water in a pan, enough to cover the jar. Boil the jar and lid for 10 minutes.

Wash the kale well in a salty bath and then strip the kale from it’s coarse stems, place the leaves in a very large bowl and sprinkle with the salt.

Put 2 quarts of water on to boil.

Massage the kale in the bowl with your hands 4 or 5 minutes. The kale will assume a color and texture like seaweed.

Scoop the kale into the jar and pack down lightly, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Using a ladle, fill the jar with boiling water until the kale is completely covered in liquid. Screw on the lid on loosely, just one turn or so, leaving room for the fermentation to push by the lid. As the kale ferments, it will bubble over. If you seal the jar tightly, it could explode.

Set the jar in a dish or something, to catch the overflow as it bubbles over. The fermented kale is ready to eat when you see some evidence of bubbling over, usually 3-5 days at room temperature.

This recipe is decidedly vague. It’s varies a bit depending on your climate. The cool thing is, with very little effort, you are developing a stronger digestive and immune system, time tested and proven,  using one of the oldest low tech means possible.

You could also add crushed red pepper or Toragashi (Japanese 7 spice). Your call. Experiment! Explore!