Trendy pickling still requires a few traditions

Grandmothers everywhere may roll their eyes at the notion that preserving is trendy, as this week’s A la Carte story on pickling acknowledged.

But I’d like to think that grandmothers, including my own, are proud too see younger generations of cooks at least trying to emulate their efforts in the kitchen — and having fun experimenting with new flavor profiles while we’re at it. After all, there’s no better place to start than pickling. Make a brine with vinegar, salt, sugar and spices, and you’ve got a pickle.

As long as the acid is high enough, pickles are safe to can in boiling water, a fact I had to reinforce a few weeks ago when my sister — flush with success from pickling green beans — told me she hadn’t canned any “plain” green beans yet.

“In a pressure-canner, right?”

“I was just going to use boiling water,” she said. “I looked up a recipe on the Internet.”

“Whoa, back away from the computer,” I replied. “You can’t can vegetables without vinegar in boiling water — highly dangerous.”

“Omigosh, I’m glad I tried pickling first,” she said.

Me, too. Particularly when she brought me a jar of her canned green beans.

While recipes with this week’s story covered novice brine pickling, there’s an entirely different facet of preservation to be discovered through fermentation. A February story featured the topic as it related to local cooking classes and krauts available at local grocers and growers markets.

One factor driving the popularity of fermented foods is health. The process involves lactic acid, which causes bacteria to multiply as they feast on vegetables’ sugars. These live “probiotics” promote a healthy human digestive tract.

Now that Americans are reclaiming their taste for traditional sauerkrauts, kimchi is finding its way into the mainstream. The pungent, fermented cabbage vital to Korean culture is celebrated in Marja Vongerichten’s new cookbook and public television travel/culture/cooking series, which share the same name: “The Kimchi Chronicles.” Recipes and variations abound in new cookbooks, which aren’t necessarily Korean.

Although most Koreans buy it prepared at the market, kimchi (also spelled kimchee or kim chee) is a “fun and completely doable” project for the home kitchen, Vongerichten told the Chicago Tribune. So the newspaper tagged along while a second-generation Korean-American learned to make the iconic condiment.

Kimchi season in Korea is serious stuff, according to the Tribune. People work for days preparing and preserving scores of cabbages, radishes and other vegetables to last the winter. Napa cabbage and “moo,” the thick, roughly foot-long Korean version of the daikon radish, are traditional ingredients, although numerous variations abound depending on the season’s available produce.

Sliced onions and garlic cloves help season kimchi. Red chili powder, called “gochugaru,” gives kimchi its characteristic heat. After salting and spicing, kimchi is packed into earthenware pots known as “onggi” in Korea. These pots hold the kimchi as it begins its fermentation outdoors. In a couple of days, it goes into the refrigerator and continues to cure over the coming months.

If you’re up for trying it, large white radishes, sweet rice powder, red-pepper powder, Korean salted shrimp, Korean watercress and fish sauce are available at some Asian stores.

Or buy kimchi from Applegate’s Mellonia Farms, which attends Saturday sessions of the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market in Ashland and stocks Medford Food Co-op. Ashland’s Pickled Planet also sells kimchi at Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Markets and several local grocery stores, including Food 4 Less.

MCT photo

MCT photo

Whole Napa Cabbage Kimchi (‘Baechu Tong’)

4 large heads Napa cabbage, halved lengthwise

2 cups coarse salt, plus more to taste

3 cups water

1 cup sweet rice powder

2 cups Korean red-pepper powder (gochugaru), divided

1⁄2 cup fish sauce

10 cloves garlic, peeled, minced and divided

1 (2-inch-long) piece ginger, minced and divided

1 large white Korean radish, peeled and cut in thin strips

1 1⁄2 cups Korean watercress, cut in 2-inch lengths

1 1⁄2 cups red mustard leaves, cut in 2-inch lengths (optional)

8 green onions, cut in 2-inch lengths

1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1⁄4 cup Korean salted shrimp, minced

3 tablespoons sugar

Wash the cabbage well and repeatedly until all grit and dirt are removed; drain. Layer cabbage with the 2 cups salt. Let sit at room temperature until cabbage is wilted, 4 hours. Rinse to remove all salt and drain thoroughly.

Place 3 cups water in a saucepan. Whisk in the rice powder. Heat to a simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes; let cool.

Combine cooled rice-powder paste with 1 cup of the red-pepper powder, the fish sauce, half of the garlic, half of the ginger and salt to taste in a large bowl. Mix well. Dip or rub cabbage halves into mixture until well-coated. Transfer cabbage to another large bowl.

Put the radish in a large bowl and add remaining 1 cup red-pepper powder, the watercress, mustard leaves, green onions, yellow onion, shrimp, remaining garlic, remaining ginger and the sugar. Mix well.

Fill each cabbage half with radish mixture, working it in between leaves. Fold filled cabbages in half and place in a large glass or ceramic container. Press gently to remove any air pockets. Leave container, loosely covered, at room temperature. After 1 or 2 days, cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Kimchee is ready to eat in 2 to 3 weeks and will last refrigerated upward of 6 months.

Makes 6 quarts.

— Recipe from Suk Chung Lee, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

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