Thursday, September 11, 2014

Red-Cabbage Kimchi (aka Beauty-Prize Kimchi)

“I dreamed that Birdy was sick,” I said to Michael last month, waking, and waking him, in a sweaty fright in the night in our little Wellfleet rental. He murmured something soothingly, sleepingly, and I went back to sleep only to wake again with a start an hour later. Birdy was standing by our bed with the pinky cheeks and the glassy eyes. “I don’t feel so good,” she said. And she had a 101.1 fever, and then a 103.3 fever. There was a visit to the Cape Cod clinic and a strep diagnosis and a not even wanting to eat warm buttered orzo, which is her number-one favorite food on the planet. It was all very sad and strange and, thankfully, brief. She was a lot better by the next day, and a lot more better by the day after that, and then fine. Plus, we had cable TV, and I’d be lying if I said I minded cozying on the couch with her to watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of House Hunters. Beach shmeach.

The daily miracle of wellness.
Oh, but the dream. Michael imagines that there was some tiny butterfly-wing shift in the air that I registered unconsciously: a few stray strep molecules, a nano-degree of raised heat, a way Birdy's skin felt when I touched my good-night kiss to it. Something. It puts me in awe of my own parental psychic process. And of antibiotics, to which I bow humbly down.
For you, amoxicillin, for I know it was never your intention that Birdy barf you out into a bucket.
Speaking of which: I wanted to make something for Birdy that might offer a little pro- to counter the anti-, biotics-wise, and I so I thought of kimchi. But I didn’t have napa cabbage, which is what I’ve always used when I've followed my usual recipe from the Momofuku Cookbook; I had a red cabbage. So I Googled “Red Cabbage Kimchi,” and found a whole new recipe and method that I loved. I used fresh jalapenos instead of the Korean chile powder that I usually use, that I insist on using even though it smells kind of dusty in the package and I’m never sure I like how it tastes. I didn’t use sugar, which I usually add, or fish sauce, which I am fanatical about, even though sometimes the funk is a little funkier than my mood requires. And, most differently, I followed the instructions on Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried (a new-to-me blog providentially named after my number-one favorite Maurice Sendak line of all time), where Naomi Devlin recommends using two probiotic capsules to get the fermentation started.
Imagine a scallion into this photograph.
I’m telling you. This is the best kimchi I’ve ever tasted, even though what it really is is a cross between kimchi and sauerkraut. It’s gorgeously pink and perfectly tinglingly tart, crisp and aromatic and just so utterly fresh-tasting. It is the brightest thing I’ve ever made, in all ways. Plus, I can’t even begin to imagine how healthsome it is. Red cabbage! Fermented! 
Ah, the lovely, lovely fermented foods. Also, artificially-flavored strawberry milk.
I mean, please. I eat it pretty much every day, either with a groovy frankfurter or on a rice cake that’s been slathered with almond butter. Oh, and Birdy loved it never ended up mustering the courage to try it. It does, I should mention "have a smell." [Catherine makes prissy, judgmental suit-yourself face.]

This is absurdly, tangily, addictively delicious, even though it smells and the hot-dog slices might give you a strange preschooly feeling.
Red-Cabbage Kimchi 
Adapted from this recipe at Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried. I added the scallions and upped the ginger, garlic, and chile, but feel free to omit/scale back as you prefer. I would describe this as fool-proof, but then next week I’d end up screwing it all up somehow. Still, it’s very easy and intuitive, and if you’re interested, it’s a great starter fermentation project because the probiotic capsules control it all.

1 red cabbage (I used half of a quite large one), cored and finely sliced or shredded (I used this)
2 carrots scrubbed or peeled and grated, shredded, or julienned (I used this)
1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped or grated ginger
1 large scallion, white and some of the green, finely slivered
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
½-1 hot pepper, seeded and slivered (make it however spicy you like)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
The powder from 2 probiotic capsules dissolved in 1 cup of spring/filtered/mineral water (I used water that I’d boiled for tea and left to cool. The issue is that you don’t want the chlorine, which is designed to stop bacterial growth, because you want to grow some bacteria! It boils off after a minute, though.)

(I use these probiotic capsules. I think as long as you get capsules (not tablets) it should be fine. Actually, you could probably dissolve tablets no problem, so that should be fine too! There.)

Put everything into a (strong) ceramic or stainless steel bowl and pound with a meat mallet or pestle or wooden spoon until the juices start to flow. (This is an inexact science. Just make sure to give it a decent bashing or even a good squeezing with your strong fingers and all will be well.)

Now pile the mixture into a very clean 1- or 2-quart jar (or multiple smaller jars—just try to distribute the liquid evenly) and push it down with your clean fingers until the juices rise to the top of the cabbage. Close with a lid. 

Set the jar aside at room temperature for 3-4 days until the pickle tastes good and sour. (Unscrew the lid every day, if you think to, just to make sure no gasses are building up pressure in there.) You’ll see it, though: once the cabbage starts to ferment, it will go from looking purple and white to looking a uniform bright pink, the way it would if you added vinegar to it. Bingo! Once it’s as sour as you like, keep it in the fridge, where it seems to keep well. I mean, it’s already spoiled, so what more could really happen to it? 


  1. On my first day of full-time work after being home for ten years as a stay-at-home mom, I had a premonition at around 11 a.m. that my youngest was sick with a stomachache. At noon on my lunch break, I spoke to my husband and found out my youngest was sick with a stomachache. So....moms' intuition is a real thing!

  2. Paula1:08 PM

    Gorgeous photo of Birdy!

  3. Anonymous12:35 PM

    I made sauerkraut for the first time this weekend, and found that the muddler I bought for making caipirinhas and never used was perfect for the mashing--I did it directly in the jar. I love homemade kimchi and will try this as soon as I get some more cabbage in my CSA.

    1. What a good idea! I was thinking of using my pestle, but it smells so strongly of cumin.

  4. Not that the kimchi doesn't look divine, but oh that Little Sumpin' Sumpin' - mmmmm.

  5. My 11 yr old daughter has type 1 diabetes and I often get those mommy-sense tingles as well. My husband believes in absolutely zero supernatural=y things but finds it uncanny how I can come running from another room where I was sleeping and go "Angelina's blood sugar is low. Right now. She needs to check her blood sugar." Lo and behold my mommy-sense tingles are 99% accurate.

  6. Just a report on the fridge Kimchi/Kraut- it will last a while in the fridge, like months! My bestest is a wellness practitioner and recently helped herself rebuild her probiotics in her gut using LOADS of fermented foods, namely homemade Kimchi. She made it in a large crock and literally made gallons. We had a girls trip to the beach and ate it for every meal like you described because I can never get enough. She made that batch months ago- just kept it sealed and in jars in the fridge and we ate it with only the best of effects. I think your nose will know on matters like this.
    Thanks for a new recipe for this most favorite food. For all the wonders of antibiotics, I have probably taken way too many in my life and any help in the gut that tastes that great is wonderful!

  7. Anonymous2:01 PM

    A cross between kraut and kimchi? It might be time to hurl myself into fusion fermentation methinks. My last batch of kimchi was pure chaos. As a vegan I found myself lamenting the lack of little fish. The Koreans swear by their inclusion (I am assured by Maddy and Beenz, my daughters who make and eat Kimchi daily) and apparently my kimchi just wasn't kimchi, it was Korean what's a (vegan) girl to do but add that delicious fishy flavour via sea veggies. It worked. Fish AHOY but it also got my kimchi relegated to the shed by my sternly pointing partner who refused to share a kitchen with it's bubbling deceased fish scented persona. Never mind...all the more for me ;)

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  10. What happens when you forgo the probiotic capsules? Is the result still the same (as in, does the fermentation process still take place)? Thanks :-)