Kimchi in progress


So I uploaded that photo to Instagram over the weekend and set off quite a tizzy of social media activity. (I doubt the word “tizzy” has ever been used in a sentence with “social media” before – talk about a clash of eras.) A bunch of friends said that they’d always wanted to try making it, but, you know, life and recipes and ingredients like “fermented salty shrimp” and stuff. I’m getting on my little soap box now to tell you to drop your excuses and make a batch today! (Or actually, depending on your schedule, this weekend, cause it does sort of take a while…)

So yes, it does take an afternoon. Most of the prep work is in the chopping. I mean, I use six pounds of cabbage, a half pound of radishes, and another pound of carrots – that’s a lot of chopping. Plus, the spice mixture uses – no lie – 24 cloves of garlic, which of course means a solid 15 minutes of peeling cloves. But! A single batch lasts months. So four or five hours of work on a Saturday afternoon yields months and months of deliciously crunchy, spicy, oh-so-good-for-you kimchi.

I know I’ve talked about my strict lunch regimen around here before, but I left out the part about kimchi. I eat it every single day. Not mounds of it, probably only about 1/4 cup each day, but I am diligent about eating it every day because it helps me so much.

Now I’m gonna veer topics here and careen right through the TMI border and tell you that I’ve always been the type with digestive issues. I am always the first person out of a group, any given group, to get, as your grandma puts it, tummy troubles. Whenever we go on vacation I pack a veritable pharmacy in our suitcase, full of Immodium and Pepto-bismol and Alka-seltzer. (Even more telling, I did not have to google any of those to check the spelling…..) I have long since come to terms with the fact that my digestive system just seems a bit more fragile than most. (I married a man with a digestive system made of steel so I’m hoping to pass along his genes to our offspring. Fingers crossed!)

But about eight months ago, I got the idea to try fermented veggies. Luffy had been researching remedies after I complained for the upteenth million time that my stomach was upset after dinner and he came across a lot of anecdotal evidence pointing towards fermented veggies as the cure for, among other things, stomach ailments. Without anything to lose, I agreed to try and dove into the how-to’s.

The primary sources of fermented veggies are foods likes pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. The catch is that if you can buy it in a store, chances are it’s not actually fermented. Pickles are the perfect example. Your average dill pickle from the store has not been fermented to achieve the sourness, it’s been processed, so it has no more probiotic benefit than your average cucumber. So this means if you want to eat fermented veggies, you usually have to do the fermenting yourself. Luckily, it’s not hard at all. (I’ve been meaning to try my hand at pickles, but the kimchi comes out so well (and is spicy!).)

So, I made my first batch of kimchi. Within a week of eating it every day, I thought I could already tell that it had made a difference. And after a month of eating it? I could definitely tell. I didn’t have the same amount of stomach issues as I had previously had. More, I could actually start to tell when I wasn’t as diligent about eating it because my symptoms would return. I started lugging jars of it on our vacations instead of my pharmacy. It’s a life saver whenever I have to go on antibiotics (those used to wreak havoc on me) and nothing calms my system down faster after a spot of trouble. Even today, eight months later, whenever I start feeling off, I (1) usually realize that I’ve gone a few days without a dose of kimchi and (2) immediately eat a couple of helpings to get my system back on track.

Now, you’ll find sites out there touting fermented veggies as a cure-all for allergies and skin issues and other weird things like sharpening your memory and helping you shed pounds. I think a lot of that is BS, but it’s also helped me and my digestive system a lot. So if my situation sounds a bit familiar to you, maybe it’s worth trying? Worst case scenario, you have a batch of awesome homemade kimchi to impress your friends with.

My kimchi recipe is a cross between Maangchi’s easy-to-make kimchi and her napa cabbage kimchi. I prefer my cabbage chopped and I don’t have (or want to find) fermented shrimp or salty squid, so I just use some fish sauce instead. I do make the porridge she mentions in her napa cabbage recipe and I have to say that the results make it worth the extra effort. She does go into more detail about fermenting in a few of her posts, but it’s seriously not hard at all. Just mash out as many air bubbles as you can and leave the container out on a counter for a few days. You can also get little packs of starter from Amazon or use the fermented shrimp to jump start the process.