“A bomb of flavour. Pungent, piquant and powerful all at once.” – Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
We’ve been eating kimchi (fermented vegetables) in our family forever. Derived from the Korean word “shimchae” which means “salting of vegetables “ it most commonly features napa cabbage, radish, scallion (or cucumber) garlic, ginger and fiery red-hot pepper as starring ingredients.
My uncle made kimchi according to traditional Korean recipes in a big ceramic tub. Before refrigeration kimchi was preserved for months by burying the pot underground, but his was aged less exotically in the garage for about a month. And it was a treasured Christmas gift to my mother– of all things! When she cracked that tub open, well, let’s just say its pungent eye-watering aroma is forever blended in my mind with the many fragrances of Yuletide– and no, we are not Korean.
Later my brother took up the kimchi gift-giving mantle, and I relied on his provisions each birthday. But tired of wheedling to him to make more, I took control over my kimchi supply. Over the years I’ve transformed the recipe to suit my taste. I began to ferment my kimchi for less and less time (now it’s down to a week) mostly for more fresh, wonderful crunch, and later I began to add small cubes of white turnips and rutabaga in search of more bite.
So needless to say, it’s been wonderful to watch the popularity of kimchi flourish with our expanding passion for all things fermentable. Kimchis are served now in trendy restaurants, new and exciting recipes abound online, and kimchi workshops are springing up everywhere. This is no doubt due to our dawning realization that kimchi is amongst what Health Magazine calls the World’s Healthiest Foods. Loaded with vitamins A,B,C, the biggest benefit is that it’s naturally loaded with probiotics and the healthy bacteria (lactobacillus) that aid digestion and support immune function.
And if you’ve been reading Gather, you’ll also know that wild greens are also amongst the worlds most healthiest superfoods. So imagine the benefits of an entirely wild kimchi! Truly this dish deserves the appellation of the worlds premier superfood.
Different types of kimchi were traditionally made at different times of the year, based on which vegetables were in season, so my wild green kimchi blend followed suit. I started to experiment last fall with handfuls of miner’s lettuce, chickweed, nettles and tips of cleaver. All mild in flavour but super good for you, they provided a base. Then I added in medicinal herbs such as plantain and dock, which became much more palatable fermented, tender yet firm.
For tang I added in some sheep sorrel and wood sorrel, then came some dandelion and a few of the invigorating wild mustards like bittercress. Their tiny seed pods when young are excellent for nippy jolts of flavour. The unopened buds and greens of crow garlic went in too (they taste exactly like scallions or chives.) And finally I also threw in some sheep sorrel seeds, daisy buds and bright orange calendula petals for colour.
My first few attempts were a little lacklustre, but by the fourth batch, it was delicious. The main issue was the texture, the greens by themselves didn’t provide that crunchy zest I was so fond of. But soon I learned to chop in the large juicy stems of the dock, add the bulbs of crow garlic, mustard seed pods and flower-heads, burdock root and even fennel stalks. All these gave body, not to mention plenty of flavour.
Jennifer created a Spring Tonic Kimchi that we’ll serve at our next Urban Wild Food Walk & Tasting. Utilizing the same wild greens and crow garlic bulbs she also tossed in chopped organic daikon, apple and the following spring delicacies: tender young hawthorn leaves and crunchy buds, violet leaves, mint, English daisies, dandelion blossoms, forget-me-nots, spring-gold blossoms, flowering red currant and even lilac buds!
So who needs expensive green powders to mix into smoothies or expensive probiotic supplements – when it can all come in one dish, and mostly for free. A little serving of this daily is truly good medicine. This method takes about a week to make and is based on fermentation guru’s Sandor Katzs recipes. Kimchi can be fermented longer, and the above wild ingredients can be adapted for other fermentation methods.
Wild Green Kimchi
(An approximate recipe)
- Approx. 5 cups of wild greens. What you use is according to your taste. (And obviously, the selection will vary season to season.)
- 2-3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste or fish sauce (entirely optional)
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped ginger
- 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic
- 2-3 fresh red chillies (about 1/2 tablespoon if dried)
- 4-5 tablespoons of chopped scallions or chives (preferably crow garlic if you can get your hands on it)
- 1 1/2 litres of (preferably non-chlorinated) water
- Chop and/or slice a mix of wild greens. Thin slices allow the brine to better penetrate but chopping ingredients into different sizes also makes a more interesting mouthful.
- Mix water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt. Add veggies and brine to a large bowl or pot. Submerge the vegetables in the brine. Place a plate on top to cover, and then weight it down ( a large rock or stone works well) to ensure all the veggies are submerged. Let sit overnight.
- Next day, combine ginger, garlic, chillies and grind together to make a paste/sauce. Add in anchovy paste.
- Drain the kimchi liquid (brine) off the mixture into another container – do not throw away! Then taste vegetables to see if too salty (then rinse and squeeze the greens) or add more salt if you like.
- Then take a few tablespoons of brine, mix into your sauce and pour it back into the reserved brine. Stir well. Next, pack the greens into a large (1L) mason jar and pour the liquid over, completely submerging greens once again.
- Next, punch a few holes in the lid of your mason jar and you’re set to go. (Don’t forget this part, fermentation creates gases that expand). Stir once a day to make sure the top layer is swirled under into the brine.
- After three days or so, begin tasting. The kimchi will grow in pungency the longer it ferments. When it reaches a flavour that suits, pop it into the refrigerator. This slows the fermentation process.
Serve as condiment/side dish for meals, over rice, or throw into soup.