Swampfood: Making Kimchi!

So many beets and beet greens!

What to do when you have as many beet greens as we did?  Make kimchi!

After harvesting a delicious beet crop from our raised bed garden, the Starship was awash in beets.  We knew that the beets themselves would keep just fine for a while in the fridge, but the greens would quickly spoil…unless we took action to preserve them.  We chopped the leaves off our beets, shook the dirt off our beets, and threw the beets themselves in the fridge, leaving the greens out for our kimchi creation.

Jen and Sleepy C displaying our first beet harvest! Yum!

After sorting through the beet leaves and discarding the leaves (or parts of leaves) that looked a little funky – brown spots and the like – we were ready to begin our kimchi project.

Although much kimchi is traditionally made with cabbage, there are many other vegetables that can be used as a base ingredient for kimchi.  We were super psyched to try making it with beet greens, and excited to be making a fermented food, period!  Fermentation is one relatively low-key way to preserve foods.  You don’t have to do a whole lot besides put the right ingredients into a container, cover it, and let it sit for the right amount of time at the right temperature.  Wait a few days or weeks, and voila!  You have a tasty creation that will keep for months in the fridge.  Furthermore, fermented foods have a pretty good reputation as something healthy that you can put in your body.  The book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, gives excellent background info on the benefits of consuming fermented foods, as well as specific recipes and guidelines for making your own fermentations!  (Furthermore, Katz lives in a Radical Faerie off-the-grid community in Tennessee with a bunch of other rad queer folks who ferment stuff in the woods, constantly, and sometimes host workshops!!! How awesome is that?)

Jen found this recipe for beet green kimchi which we used to make our kimchi.  We put on some X Ray Spex and got to work.  First, we chopped up garlic, ginger, and radishes.  We altered the recipe slightly by adding the radish and substituting scallions for green onions, in order to use what we had lying around before it went bad (rather than run to the store to buy new ingredients.)  We threw the garlic, ginger, radishes, and scallions into a bowl and mixed them up with the red pepper flakes and some salt.

Next, we washed and chopped our mountain of beet greens.  We chopped the greens into smallish chunks and strips.  Stems of the greens, cut into small bite-sized pieces, were included in our kimchi.  As we chopped, we threw big handfuls of the beet greens into our mixture of radish and fresh spices.  We tossed the beet greens with the other veggies, making sure they were mixed in thoroughly.  This is what we would be packing into a jar for the fermentation process.

Next was the packing process.  Grabbing handfuls from our bowl of greens and other fresh ingredients, we stuffed the mixture handful by handful into a 24-oz wide-mouth mason jar.  We then forcefully pounded the mixture into the jar, in order to pack all of the greens mixture (there was a lot!) into the jar.  This was a two-person job: one person washed and chopped beet greens, adding them to our bowlful of kimchi mixture and mixing them in, while the other person mashed the soon-to-be kimchi into the jar.

Kimchi mixture in the jar!

Pounding the kimchi mixture into the jar with a wooden spoon. See how much more compacted the kim chi is at the bottom of the jar?

For the record, this was a time consuming process.  We had to force a lot of vegetable matter into a small space – at times, it seemed dubious that we would fit our mountain of beet greens into such a small jar.  We just had to keep pounding down on the greens mixture to pack all of the food into the jar.  We used a wooden spoon for this – an excellent implement for the job, although if we’d had something like a pestle, that probably would have worked better.  As we packed the food in, the kimchi mix became increasingly compact and a lot of liquid began to leave the greens.  As the jar got fuller and fuller, the mashing got a little messy and we were frequently splashed with green juice that flew out of the top of the jar during the packing/pounding/mashing process.  Somehow, despite our doubts, we managed to fit all of the beet green mixture into the jar….

Jar packed full of kimchi mixture, waiting to ferment!

Kimchi in the unlidded jar, soon to be weighted down, covered, and left to sit.

Now, our next step was simply to leave our kimchi-to-be in the jar, on the counter, for a while.  Leaving our jar of kimchi un-lidded, we placed a smaller, lidded glass jar that had some water inside it on top of the kimchi mixture itself, to weight down the kimchi mixture.  Then, we draped a towel over top of the whole thing, and secured the towel with a rubber band around the lower jar (the jar containing the kim chi mixture.)  The next day, some of the liquid that was released by the kim chi mixture had overflowed the kimchi jar, drenching the towel and flooding onto the counter.  The mess was quickly wiped up, and the kimchi remained essentially undisturbed on our countertop for about a week and a half, fermenting in its own juices.

About a week and a half later, we opened our kimchi to reveal a tasty and transformed creation.  Although our kimchi was ready relatively quickly, you can leave it to sit for considerably longer.  It was a hot week in Worcester, MA (and the US as a whole)…although the ideal temperature for fermenting things is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the considerably warmer temperatures in our second-floor kitchen where the kimchi was left to sit sped up the process.

Finished kimchi…yum!