Culture Club: Winter Radish and Root Kimchee

It was Farmer B’s idea to start a club for people to get together and share knowledge and skills about fermenting, pickling, canning, and preserving. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep I sat there thinking idly of potential names, getting nuttier and nuttier in my sleep-deprived brain, and ultimately decided it would be called “Culture Club” (y’know, like the bacterial and yeast cultures that ferment foods…). The basic idea is for people of varying degrees of skill and experience to get together and make stuff, share tips and ideas, and end up going home with delicious treats.

The club did our first project on Sunday, a kind of dry-run with friends before we try opening up to the community at large. FB (as club president and all around most-knowledgeable leader) chose winter-appropriate Radish and Root Kimchee from Sandor Katz’s great book about live-culture foods, Wild Fermentation. We had an amazing time, from the gorgeous abundance of the Berkeley Bowl produce section (where else can you reliably count on finding burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes, and fresh horseradish?) to the end of the long day when we revisited the wacky-name-game and brainstormed silly titles for our gorgeous jars of kimchee. (The winner: The Root of Passion, for its root veggie content, fiery color, and the fact that we made it on Valentine’s Day!)

There was a lot of chopping. We used turnips, daikon radish, carrot, red radish, burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), and leeks as the base veggies, and blended up red onion, garlic, ginger, and horseradish for the seasoning. Farmer B had acquired particular Korean chili flakes made especially for kimchee, and we learned how to use them on the fly. We each took home a couple of jars of our spicy concoction (there are mild, medium, and hot variations), and will patiently check them each day to make sure they are still covered in brine while we wait for the miracle of fermentation to work its magic.

The whole process is very straightforward but does take a long time (about 4-5 hours for us, not including shopping), which is why it’s great to do with friends! Especially when one of them baked gluten-free chocolate ginger torte and another one brought Cranium Hoopla and you can sit around stuffing your face and playing games while you wait for the veggies to brine.

Kimchee would be a great thing to do with any CSA veggies that are fermentable. (I don’t know enough about fermentation to know if some are and some aren’t, or if anything goes.) I definitely started fantasizing about kimchee green beans while we were making this batch, and of course I love the traditional napa cabbage version as well.

Some fermentation tips Farmer B shared with us beginners:

  • Never use chlorinated water, as it kills off the cultures necessary for fermentation. You can use distilled water or purified water or boil the water and cool it to room temperature or just leave the desired amount of water sitting in the open air for 24 hours. (Britta-style filters only remove the taste of chlorine, not the chemical itself.)
  • Never use iodized salt, for the same reason. Non-iodized sea salt is good to use.
  • Things to use as weights: best are glass bottles (in a smaller jar) filled with water or plates (in a big crock) weighted down with a heavy jar or can. You want your weight to be as wide as possible, it should be almost the size of the mouth of your container. Some people use ziploc bags filled with brine (you want brine, not water, in case it leaks), but FB and I feel sketchy about leaching plastic into our food.
  • Make sure to check your batch daily as it sits, as the brine can sometimes evaporate unexpectedly. Any of your mixture above the brine level is in danger of molding, rather than fermenting. If this happens, you can just scoop off the moldy part and toss it, but the stuff still below the brine level will not be contaminated. To add more brine, mix up very salty water – saltier than you would feel comfortable drinking, is a good rule of thumb – and add it to your jar until the brine covers the top of your veggies again.

Radish and Roots Kimchee
This recipe is from the amazing live-culture foods book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. And of course, though kimchee is traditionally made with fish sauce, this recipe is completely vegan (and naturally gluten-free).

INGREDIENTS (makes ~ 2 quarts – what you see in the photos above is many times the recipe)

2 clean, dry quart jars, or 1 gallon jar
sea salt
1-2 daikon radishes
1 small burdock root
1-2 turnips
a few Jerusalem artichokes
2 carrots
a few small red radishes
1 small fresh horseradish root (or a tablespoon of prepared horseradish, without preservatives)
3 tablespoons (or more!) fresh grated gingerroot
3-4 cloves garlic (or more!)
1-2 onions/leeks/shallots/scallions
3-4 hot red chilies (or more!), depending on how peppery-hot you like food, or any form of hot pepper, fresh, dried, or in a sauce (without chemical preservatives!). We used hot chili flakes from the Korean market in the Richmond, with a picture of a kimchee napa cabbage on the label. If you are using these flakes, start by mixing about 1/4 cup with warm water to make a paste, and then add to taste. Kimchee can take a LOT of heat before it gets too spicy, so don’t be shy!

Before you begin: I recommend reading the “tips” section above if this is your first time fermenting!

1. Mix a brine of about 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons salt.

2. Slice daikons, burdock, turnip, Jerusalem artichokes, and carrots, and let them soak in the brine. If the roots are fresh and organic, leave the nutritious skins on. Slice the roots thin so the flavors will penetrate. I like to slice roots on a diagonal; you could also cut them into matchsticks. Leave the small red radishes whole, even with their greens attached, and soak them, too. Use a plate or other weight to keep the vegetables submerged until soft, a few hours or overnight.

3. Prepare the spices: If you are using chili flakes, mix with warm water sufficient to form a paste and set aside. Then grate the ginger; chop the garlic and onion; if you are using whole chilis, remove seeds from the chilies and chop or crush, or throw them in whole. Kimchi can absorb a lot of spice. Experiment with quantities and don’t worry too much about them. Mix spices into a paste, adding grated horseradish. (We prepped everything in a food processor, and if you are using chili paste, you actually will want to apply it separately from the other ginger/onion/etc paste.)

4. Drain brine off vegetables, reserving brine. Taste vegetables for saltiness. You want them to taste decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are too salty, rinse them. If you cannot taste salt, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of salt and mix.

5. (It’s best to mix and stuff jars with your hands here, but if you are using chili paste you probably want to wear gloves.) Mix the vegetables with the chili paste first, if you are using chili paste, until you reach your desired level of heat. Then mix in spice paste. Mix everything together thoroughly and stuff it into a clean quart jar. Pack it tightly into the jar, pressing down until brine rises. If necessary, add a little of the reserved vegetable-soaking brine to submerge the vegetables. Weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar, or with a zip-lock bag filled with some brine. Every day, use your (clean!) finger to push the vegetables back under the brine. Cover the jar with a clean dishtowel or other cloth to keep out dust and flies.

6. Ferment in your kitchen or other warm place. Taste the kimchi every day. After about a week of fermentation, when it tastes ripe, move it to the refrigerator.

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Stocking up, part I

Making ingredients is a funny thing. You put a lot of energy into preparing something, but you can’t eat it on its own. All that energy gets expended in the service of expending less energy in the future. (Or, sometimes, in order to have a version of some particular ingredient that you can actually eat, because dietary restrictions mean it’s not possible to buy it already prepared.)

The past few weeks I’ve prepped a lot of ingredients. Not because I’ve had extra energy (I almost never have extra energy) but because I’ve had a ton of produce that was just not getting eaten in time. And this is the other function of making ingredients, also known as “preserving,” because it gets your food into forms that don’t rot, or freeze easily, or will actually get eaten.

My stockpile has included:

* Scrap Stock, batch V, my first successful batch since May (I had a failed attempt in late June). Because I canceled several box deliveries this summer, and have been away a lot, my scrap stock production has really slowed down. Additionally, tomato and zucchini trimmings don’t work for scrap stock because they rot before I can collect a large enough batch of scraps, so the scrap box I keep in the fridge hasn’t been getting full as fast as it did in the winter and spring. But at last I produced 4 cups of lovely pink stock (due to the beet trimmings from the turnip pickles, see below). And just in the nick of time! I am now cooking with my stock faster than I am making it.

* Turnip pickles, which employed beets and vinegar solution to turn my four large bunches of uneaten turnips into yummy pink, Middle Eastern pickles. Now, of course, I have 5 jars of pickles. They’re refrigerator pickles, which means they’ll get too strong if I don’t eat them soon. What am I going to do with five jars of turnip pickles? Have a pickle party? If you live in SF, let me know if you want a jar of really tasty turnip pickles. The texture of these little guys is incredible! They go amazingly well with falafel, but are also a yummy snack all on their own.

Turnip pickles with grilled eggplant and quinoa pilaf

Turnip pickles with grilled eggplant and quinoa pilaf

* Mushroom gravy, following a vegan recipe from Veganomicon. I bought a big bag of mushrooms at the farmer’s market a while back, intending to make mushroom-walnut pate with them. (YUM!) But then our Cuisinart died, and I had to quickly figure out a new use for them before they turned to sludge in the fridge. Mushroom gravy is the kind of thing that always balks me. If I see a recipe, like the delicious Another Sheperd’s Pie from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites, that has a whole separate gravy-making component on top of the actual making of the dish, I will always skip it. (In previous, more energetic times I did occasionally take on these all-day projects, which is why I know how good that recipe tastes!) But now with several cups of delicious vegan, gluten-free mushroom gravy tucked away in my freezer, I have a leg up on all those hearty but time-consuming vegetarian classics.

There’s plenty more stocking up in this pile (including our new downstairs freezer finally getting put to use with all kind of grains and seeds and GF flours, courtesy of Rainbow Grocery and their 20% off coupons from the Yellow Pages). It does give me a secure feeling to have a little backstock of ingredients, and it gives me a happy feeling to know that they came from my own hands!

The fourth way

Back when I still thought my problem with turnips was not having found the right way to cook them (as opposed to simply disliking them in general), I tried them three different ways in one night. Of course I ended up not very satisfied with any of those (because I don’t like turnips). But after trying some raw turnip that evening, I thought they might make good pickles. This, I suggested while the turnip project still had appeal, would be the fourth way to try turnips.

A fresh batch of turnip pickles (with beet for color)

Fast forward many months. A new round of turnip delivery begins. Duck and I eat the yummy greens very happily (and for all the people who find this site by googling “turnip greens” or “how to cook turnip greens” I recommend preparing them, alone or with other greens, steamed and then topped with kale sauce or sauteed “Venice” style or Asian style with ginger and garlic). But the turnips themselves sit in the fridge, unloved.

Then I remembered a favorite culinary memory. In New York, all the falafel places give you these yummy pink pickles with your food. They always seemed like radishes to me, but with a more rubbery rather than crunchy texture. Finally I asked a falafel cook what they were, and he told me they were pickled turnips. As far as I know, these pickles were my main contact with turnips before the advent of the CSA, but I completely forgot about them. The memory returned in my time of need as I stood staring at several bags of turnips nestled amidst the lettuce graveyard in my fridge.

Turnips and beets awating their vinegar bath

But what turns white turnips into pink pickles? It turns out sliced beets do, and a bunch of beets arrived fortuitously in the next box. Google led me to a recipe on the madKnews blog, and I put my turnips in to pickle before leaving on my big Midwestern adventure. (These are “refrigerator pickles” so they don’t get canned, just stuck in the fridge to sit in a vinegar solution.)

Tonight the pickles had their grand unveiling. They’d been hanging out in their vinegar baths for thirteen days, several days more than the recipe recommended, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Duck and I wanted to showcase them in their optimal setting, so we made homemade falafel to put on fresh lavash bread with heirloom tomatoes, tender red leaf lettuce, a squeeze of meyer lemon and a generous spread of Haig’s baba ganoush, a local delicacy and one of my favorite things.

We tried the pickles straight first, and then rolled them into sandwiches with all the other goodies. The first pickle-only bite was so spicy, I felt like I’d licked the maror dish at Passover (that would be a bowl of horseradish for those of you who are seder-uninitiated). And Duck made a face when he tried his that made me certain I was going to be eating two jars of turnip pickles by my lonesome. But then his fingers kept sneaking back into the jar.

“You like them!,” I exclaimed.

“I don’t know if I like them,” he replied, “but I seem to be addicted to them.” At least that’s what I think he said – his mouth was full of turnip pickle at the time.

Subsequent bites proved a little more mellow. And the little guys were absolutely phenomenal in our falafel wraps. I’m having a hard time finding words to describe their flavor. Zesty, certainly. And so yummy I was stuffing another little slice into each bite of my wrap. It looks like, after what ended up being considerably more than four tries, I have at last found a way to enjoy my turnips! Continue reading

Rutabagas and their friends

Rutabaga fries

A long time ago (around Week 14, I believe) some rutabagas appeared at my home. I didn’t really know what to do with them, so I turned to that great vegetable bible, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Debbie had a recipe in the rutabaga section for rutabaga fries. I like snacks, more than the other wholesome sounding things on offer in rutabaga futures, so I made the fries. It involved cutting them up and baking them on a cookie sheet with olive oil, and then tossing them with with salt and pepper and minced fresh rosemary. Much like sweet potato fries, they didn’t get crispy or anything, but they are interesting. Weirdly, they kind of remind me of roasted garlic, in color and texture and even flavor. Odd. But nice.

In other news, I think I hate turnips. I’ve had many, many bunches now from my box. I’ve tried them in a souffle. I’ve tried them roasted. I’ve tried them raw. I made an Indian curry with a recipe from the Eatwell newsletter. And finally I made them into a turnip-sweet potato bisque everyone in my Eatwell Yahoo group has been raving about. (Yes, my CSA box has its own Yahoo group – isn’t that the greatest?)

Now I have never met a vegetable I didn’t like (with the sole exception of cooked bell peppers – blech), and I am especially a great friend and lover to all root vegetables. So I kept doggedly plugging along with the turnips, trying recipe after recipe, figuring I must not have found the right showcase for these lovely white roots. And while the turnip souffle was lovely, tinged with pink, and the curry was gorgeous, the fiery colors of a sunset, and the bisque was universally liked by my dinner guests, each dish has ended up tasting somewhat… wrong.

I am the type of person who scoffs at people who don’t like a certain vegetable. Hate brussel sprouts? I am convinced you’ve always had them either over- or undercooked. Refuse to eat beets? Perhaps if you tried them not from a can… So I know, intellectually, that turnips are one of those frequently reviled foods, foods that people complain about having been forced to eat as a child. But I always considered myself to be immune, above that, even. But I think that now, after many weeks, I must at last concede. The turnip, and possibly even its friend and companion the rutabaga, is just not for me.

The root of things

I love roasted root vegetables. I have ever since I lived with my sister/best-friend in Providence and she would fortify us with enormous batches of that earthy, savory, caramelized winter delight. The kitchen chemistry behind roasting eludes me, however, and thus every batch I make is an experiment in faith.

Tonight I cut up most of the remainder of the past weeks’ boxes: roasting turnips, Nantes carrots, Rome Beauty apples, and some beets and garlic cloves that were not of box origin. I tossed them all with olive oil, salt, pepper, and an incredibly luxurious mountain of fresh rosemary and thyme from my last box. I lined a dish with parchment (this new-to-me miracle discovery for roasted roots turns cleaning up from a carpal-tunnel-inducing chore to just barely more than a rinse) and heated the oven to 425.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Apples and Thyme and Rosemary

I put the little fellows into the oven and checked in on them about 45 minutes later. And yes, of course, being small pieces of vegetable matter who had just spent a very long time in a very hot oven, they were cooked. Tender on my fork, and all that. But they weren’t delicious.

But they’re cooked! Take them out!, my suspicious brain cried, perhaps still mourning over the blackened husks of the Week 6 tomatillos I forgetfully abandoned in the oven for a good 3 hours. Have faith! These are merely steamed!, rejoined my stomach, remembering the almost crispy, sugary texture and flavor of those Providence roots.

So back in they went, for another 45 minutes at least – I lose track after a while and the time elapsed is at last labeled simply “a very long time in which I nervously check the oven every ten minutes lest everything burn and be horribly ruined.” In the end I simply took them out – I had lost all perspective. Were they roasted? Were they ruined?

Finally I put a forkful in my mouth. That bite had a piece of apple in it, and the apple was like sin. Like a caramel apple that’s been grilled and seared and melted and oiled and herbed until it has transcended apple, fallen from apple, into some place extraordinary. And from there, from extraordinary, into my waiting mouth.

Turnips, Three Ways

Tonight it was time to tackle the turnips. I still had the white “Tokyo” turnips from Week 4 and the “Red Scarlet” turnips from Week 6.

I was especially curious about the unusual red scarlet turnips, although I’m pretty unfamiliar with turnips in general. I googled about and checked out turnip recipes, and ended up with a kind of turnip souffle, which was basically mashed turnips mixed with roux, soymilk, a little sugar, and egg yolks, with beaten egg whites folded in. I left the skins on the turnips, so my (unfortunately not very photogenic) souffle/cassrole thingie ended up with lovely little pink flecks as well as an allover rosy glow. The flavor was light, savory, eggy, and a little sweet from the turnips.

Turnip Souffle

I also wanted to see what the turnips were like roasted, since roasted roots in the form of beets, parsnips, and carrots are already one of my staple foods. I ended up making a kind of “refrigerator roast,” roasting an unlikely combination of everything in my fridge that looked remotely roastable. I put together a concoction of scarlet turnips, white turnips, carrots, onion, garlic, broccoli, and a green apple I found abandoned at the back of the middle shelf, all seasoned with some of the sage left over from the Quinoa Butternut Pie. I followed Deborah Madison’s instructions for roasting turnips from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is usually my veggie prep bible. In this instance, though, Debbie let me down. She had me boil the turnips for 3 minutes before roasting, and they ended up more soggy than delightfully caramelized. (Probably because my turnips were much smaller and more tender than the typical huge lavender-tipped turnip of the traditional root cellar.) They were lovely to look at, though, and quite tasty to eat in any case.

Refrigerator Roast

The more discerning reader may notice I seem to be drawing to a close on this post, here. “What’s the third way?,” you may be asking yourself. Why, raw, of course! My CSA newsletter explained that the scarlet turnips were “Japanese salad turnips.” Unsure if this was a merely honorary title, I was curious to try them raw. I found them spicy and peppery, and a bit solid for straight raw consumption. They’d make fantastic pickles, though: I’m already plotting Turnips, Way Number Four…

Continue reading