Savoy Cabbage & Leek Kimchi

This is an Irish take on the traditional, spicy, fermented side dish from Korea, kimchi. The most common kimchi is traditionally made with Chinese leaf (or Napa) cabbages, but we love to make seasonal versions all year round with our incredible range of Irish cabbages. This recipe would work with any cabbage but my favourite cabbage for kimchi has got to be the beautiful Savoy. With its beautiful ruffled edged, crinkly leaves and deep ridges, it is the perfect vessel to hold the spice paste and it is hardy enough to keep its shape even after fermentation. We have a wonderful harvest of savoys this year, why not add some extras to your next order and give fermenting a go!

Fermenting vegetables can sound a little strange and like a lot of work. But it is actually a very simple way to preserve excess vegetables (just a case of salting or submerging vegetables in brine and leaving them to do their thing at room temperature for a week or so) and it is incredibly beneficial to our health. Fermented vegetables contain trillions of live beneficial bacteria which enhance our gut health. This has a positive knock-on effect to our entire wellbeing. As well as being easy and super-healthy, fermented vegetables are completely delicious! They have a complex flavour and cut through rich foods, think ‘salty pickles’. Just the thing for finishing off a dish or popping into a salad or sandwich. We have jars of ferments on the table for pretty much every meal. Kimchi, of course, goes particularly well with rice bowls and ramens or rolled into sushi, but we are a bit addicted to ‘kimcheese’ toasties. Kimchi is also amazing on peanut butter toast or as a side with macaroni cheese. How do you eat kimchi?

Liz x

Ingredients

  • 1 savoy cabbage
  • 1 leek
  • natural sea salt
  • 1/2 bulb garlic
  • 4 red chillies (or to taste)
  • 1 large ‘thumb’ of fresh ginger (or to taste)

Method

  1. First clean your work surface and the tools you will need – Find a large jar or several smaller jars and wash them and their lids well with dish soap. Rinse throughly with very hot water. Leave to air dry on a clean tea towel. Find your largest mixing bowl, or if you don’t have a very big one, use a large stock pot or plastic storage box. Clean it very well as above. Clean a large chopping board and knife and a small blender too. Now you are ready to start.
  2. Pull a few of the tough, outer leaves off your cabbage, rinse and put to one side for later. These will be your ‘followers’ which will be important later. Rinse the rest of the cabbage, slice the leek in half lengthways, keeping the root end intact, and rinse out all the mud. Rinse your chillies and thumb of ginger too.
  3. Chop the cabbage into quarters, remove the core from each quarter and thinly slice it and add it to the bowl. Then cut the rest of the cabbage into bite sized chunks and add them to the bowl. Chop up the leek into chunks too and add it to the bowl with the cabbage.
  4. Now you need to add salt. If you want to be very precise, you can weigh the chopped cabbage and leek, work out what 2% of that weight is and use that amount of salt. Or you can do it by taste. I normally start with a heaped tbsp of salt for a whole cabbage and a leek. Mix it well and give the veg a bit of a squeeze and a massage, then taste. They should just taste pleasantly salty. Add more salt if needed, our cabbages are pretty big at the moment so you may well need to. Then let the salted vegetables sit while you make the spice paste.
  5. Peel the garlic, slice off the stalks of the chillies and slice the ginger. Add them all to a small blender and blend into a paste. You may need to add a splash of water to help it blend.
  6. The salt in the cabbage and leek will have started to draw out liquid from the vegetables and create a brine in the bottom of the bowl. You can help this along by giving the vegetables another massage. The vegetables will wilt and decrease in volume and should look quite wet. When you pick up a handful and squeeze, lots of lovely brine should drip down into the bowl. Then you know you are ready to mix in the spice paste and pack your jars.
  7. Use a wooden spoon or gloved hands to mix the spice paste into the salted vegetables. Be careful not to get any of the spice paste on your skin or in your eyes as it can really sting. Then start packing your jar/s.
  8. Do a small amount at a time and firmly press it into the jar ensuring there are no air pockets. Use gloved hands or a clean rolling pin or spoon to help you pack it firmly into place. Keep going until you have either used up the mixture or you have a couple of inches of headroom left in your jar. You don’t want to over-fill the jar as during fermentation the brine can bubble over and escape, making a bit of a mess in your kitchen.
  9. Now you need to figure out a way to hold the vegetables safely down under the brine. Any veg exposed to air on the surface are likely to catch mould. So first use the outer leaves of the cabbage, that you saved at the beginning, to tuck the vegetables in so they won’t float up during fermentation. Take your time and press the edges of the leaves down around the insides of the jar to ensure there are no gaps for the chopped bits to escape through.
  10. When you are happy that your ‘follower’ leaf has done its job, you can add a weight to hold everything down under brine. This needs to be something food safe that won’t react with the salt. So glass is best. A small water glass or ramekin which fits inside your jar and can be pinned down with the lid is good. Or fill a clean pesto jar or similar with water, make sure the metal lid isn’t touching brine, and pop that in. Other weight ideas are a large, very clean (boiled) beach pebble (just make sure it is not a limestone/chalk) or a ziplock bag filled with water.
  11. Place the lid loosely on your jar so that gases can escape during fermentation but no bugs/dust can get in. Or you can put the lid on tight and ‘burp’ your jars every day by opening and closing them to release built up gases. If you have a clip-top jar like mine, you can simply remove the rubber seal during fermentation.
  12. Put the jar on a tray or plate on your work surface out of direct sunlight. Let it ferment for 1 week then it should have transformed into a tangy, delicious pickle! If you would like to ferment for longer then you can of course, just find a cooler part of your house like a basement so that it ferments slowly. When you are happy with the flavour you can remove the weight and ‘follower’ and pop the jar into the fridge where it will keep for 3-12 months.
  13. Make your kimchi last well by decanting it into smaller, very clean jars and just eat one jar at a time. This way the pickle will be exposed to less air. Also, never double dip when eating your kimchi as this would introduce new bacteria from your mouth into the jar. Enjoy!
Here you can see the weight holding the cabbage leaf ‘follower’ down, which pins all the chopped vegetables safely under brine. This is after 1 week of fermenting at room temperature.

Pointed Cabbage & Fennel Sauerkraut

It’s that time of year when we have cabbages coming out of our ears. Sauerkraut is a really simple and safe way to not only preserve, but to also enhance the nutritional value of these humble vegetables. It just so happens that we have a bumper crop of fennel too so we’ve been making my favourite fennel and cabbage kraut on repeat, and you can too! All you need is a big glass jar, a smaller jar or glass that fits inside it, salt, cabbage and fennel.

Don’t be intimidated by the science behind fermentation. It can feel a little counter-intuitive to encourage microbes to thrive and multiply, but microbes are an essential part of us and part of a healthy world. We would not be here without them, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to grow our organic vegetables without them making our soil healthy and teaming with life. Eating fermented vegetables like this sauerkraut is scientifically proven to boost your gut health, which has a positive knock on effect to your overall health and wellbeing.

Sauerkraut is very simple. Just mix shredded cabbage (and fennel too in this recipe) with enough salt to make it pleasantly salty, pack it tightly into a clean jar and weigh it down so that the vegetables stay safely submerged in brine. Allow fermentation to happen at room temperature for about a week, then remove the weight and pop your jar of tangy, pickley goodness into the fridge to have as a side or sandwich filler to many meals over the coming months.

Liz x

Ingredients

Method

  1. Find some large jars and give them a really good clean and a hot rinse. You can sterilise if you like but it is not strictly necessary.
  2. Give your vegetables a rinse to remove any dirt. Carefully peel off and reserve a couple of outer leaves of your cabbage.
  3. Finely shred your remaining cabbage and the fennel bulbs using a sharp knife, a mandolin or a food processor. Place the shredded vegetables into a large, clean mixing bowl.
  4. Sprinkle over the salt then use your hands to tumble the salt through the shredded vegetables. Once it is evenly dispersed, start squeezing and massaging the salt with the shredded vegetables.
  5. You will soon notice that the salt is drawing liquid out of the vegetables and the vegetables are decreasing in volume. Taste a spoon of the mixture and decide if you would like to add more salt or not. It should just taste pleasantly salty.
  6. The mixture is ready to pack into the jar when it is very wet. You can test this by picking up a large handful and squeezing. There should be loads of lovely brine dripping from your hands into the bowl.
  7. Pack the mixture very firmly into the jar. It’s best to do this a couple of handfuls at a time so that you can push down each layer nice and tight. You want to ensure that no air pockets are in the jar. Use your fist if it fits in the jar, otherwise a clean rolling pin is perfect for poking and packing down the mixture.
  8. Keep going until you have used all the mixture or until you have at least an inch of headroom left in the jar. You don’t want to overfill it! But do include the brine that the salt has drawn from the vegetables. The more brine the better!
  9. Now grab those outer leaves you reserved earlier. Break them to size, they should be just bigger than the surface area of the packed cabbage and fennel mixture. Tuck a leaf carefully into a jar and push it neatly over the shredded veg mixture but under the brine. The aim is to prevent any little bits of shredded veg from floating up to the surface of the brine and catching mould. The brine should rise above the cabbage leaf and all the shredded bits should be safely tucked underneath it. You may be able to push the edges of the cabbage leaf down against the sides of the jar to really tuck the mixture in. Try use a spoon or your fingers.
  10. Pick off any floating bits of shredded vegetables and clean up your jar with a piece of kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Then add a weight to weigh down the cabbage leaf which will keep everything safely submerged in brine. You can use anything that will be food safe and not be affected by the salt. So a smaller glass jar filled with water is good – just ensure the metal side does not touch the salty brine or it can corrode. Another good option is to use a small water glass or glass ramekin. If it fits right, putting the lid on the jar should pin the glass down and keep everything submerged.
  11. Put the lid on the jar. If you are using a clip-top jar, remove the rubber seal first, this will allow gases to escape during fermentation and there will be non need to ‘burp’ your jars. If you are using a screw top jar you will need to ‘burp’ your jar twice a day by carefully loosening then tightening the lid. You should hear the gases escape and see bubbles rising to the top of the ferment.
  12. Keep the jar on a plate or tray to catch any spills, at room temperature for 1 week. Not in direct sunlight. It’s best to ‘burp’ over the sink in case you have a very active ferment. It should be very active and bubbly between days 2 and 4/5 then it will calm down. If the action of the bubbles causes your ferment to rise above the brine, just use a clean hand or utensil to push everything back down under brine and carry on.
  13. After a week your sauerkraut should be tangy and delicious. Remove the weight and the cabbage leaf. Replace the rubber seal if using a clip top jar, put the lid back on and place the jar in the fridge.
  14. Your sauerkraut should stay fresh in the fridge for at least 3 months but often up to 1 year! To make it last well, do not double dip and move into smaller, clean jars as you work your way down the big jar. This means less air in the jar and less chance of it drying out and getting susceptible to mould.
The just-packed jar before I removed the floating bits of cabbage and fennel. You can just about see the cabbage leaf and glass which is holding the bulk of the shredded veg under brine.
The finished product after a week of fermenting at room temperature.

Sauerkraut

A red and white cabbage, apple, caraway and bay kraut I made before Christmas 2020.

The Perfect Place to Start your Fermentation Journey

Once you have mastered the basics of sauerkraut, and it really is basic, you can apply these principles and techniques to many other ferments and play around with the ingredients. You can use a variety of cabbages, you can add other vegetables like grated carrot or beetroot, you can use different herbs or spices to create different styles of sauerkraut, you can even suspend whole apples into your crock/jar to ferment along with you sauerkraut as a German friend of mine taught me to do.

My kimchi recipe, which I will share with you soon, uses the same technique as sauerkraut. The difference being the cut of the vegetables and the all important spice paste. My fermented hot sauce uses the same technique too! Brine fermentation also works through the same simple process of lacto-fermentation to acidify the vegetables. Salt + vegetables + a jar is all you need to produce incredible delicious and nutritious ferments.

My fermenting shelf from last summer.

Why Ferment?

I first got hooked on fermenting many years ago when I had a surplus of cabbages delivered to my old cafe from our local farm. There’s only so much cabbage soup and coleslaw you can sell so we decided to try making sauerkraut as a means to preserve them, stop them from going off and being wasted. It was a revelation! We had no idea then about the health benefits, we were just blown away by the taste. Since that day, I bought lots of books on the subject, incorporated ferments into much of our menu and even started a stall in a farmers market called ‘Fermental’ selling fresh, unpasteurised ferments made with local, organic ingredients.

The science and nutritional benefits behind vegetable fermentation are really interesting to read about. There are so many perks to including ferments into your everyday diet. The importance of encouraging and introducing beneficial bacteria into our digestive system is becoming more well known and rather than taking a pill, this is a delicious way to do that. Fermenting vegetables also makes them easier to digest and makes the nutrients in them more readily available, and the organisms that enable fermentation are themselves beneficial too! All of this is good news for your body and your immune system, but its also great news for your taste buds. Fermented food is delicious! Complex, tangy, crunchy, sour and salty.

Is it Safe?

Lacto fermenation is a very safe way of preserving vegetables and it’s very easy too – no need for fancy equipment, all you need is a knife, board, jars, vegetables and salt. It can sound scary dealing with microbes. We have been trained to try to disinfect all surfaces and food from bacteria, moulds and yeasts so perhaps encouraging bacteria to thrive will feel strange at first. But the importance of our microbiome and the diversity of microbes that we need in our guts to be healthy is now becoming common knowledge. For me, as a chef, the main reason I ferment is for flavour, not medicine. The health benefits are just a bonus. And yes, it is perfectly safe as long as you follow some basic principles.

Submerging vegetables in brine protects them from harmful bacteria and allows ‘good’ bacteria to thrive. Lactobacilli, the good guys, are anaerobic, meaning they don’t need oxygen. So by keeping the vegetables neatly submerged in brine we are protecting them from the ‘bad’ bacteria that need oxygen to thrive, thereby taking out the competition for the ‘good’ lactobacilli. Salt in the brine also inhibits yeasts which would break the sugars down in the fruits/veg into alcohol instead of lactic acid. Salt is the perfect preservative for vegetables, but it’s important to get the right amount. Too much will inhibit fermentation and too little will result in a rotting crock/jar. Thankfully its quite simple, your best guide is your tastebuds! Your salted vegetables should just taste pleasantly salty.

Ingredients

  • cabbage
  • optional other vegetables/fruit like leek, swede, carrot, beetroot, celeriac, apple…
  • salt
  • optional herbs/spices like fennel seeds, dill, juniper, caraway, turmeric, pepper…

Method

Prepare a large jar to hold your ferment. Just give it a good wash and a rinse, no need to sterilise. Find and wash a smaller jar which fits neatly into your large jar. This will act as a weight.

Rinse your vegetables and pull off some of the outer leaves of the cabbage and put to one side. These will act as ‘followers’. A ‘follower’ is like a cartouche which neatly holds down any bits of chopped veg under the brine which may float up and become exposed to air.

Shred the cabbage (and any other veg if using) into a large bowl or your biggest pot.

Add extra flavourings to your tase if you like. A few juniper berries, some chopped dill, fennel/caraway seeds, turmeric and black pepper etc… just choose one or two flavours at most.

Massage in about 1 tbsp of natural, fine/flakey sea salt per regular sized cabbage volume. If you are unsure about doing this instinctively, you can weigh the shredded vegetables then work out what 2% of that weight is and add that amount of salt. Once the salt is fully incorporated, taste it and see if it is salty enough. It should just taste pleasantly salty. If its too salty add more vegetables, if it’s not salty enough add more salt. Easy!

Cover the bowl and allow the salt to do some of the work for you for about half an hour. Then give the mixture another good massage and you should see a lot of brine forming. There should be no need to add extra brine or water, the salt draws the water from the vegetables and creates its own delicious brine.

Once your veg is nice and briney, when you squeeze a handful lots of brine comes out, you can start packing it into your jar. Do this carefully and thoroughly. Take one or two large handfuls of the mixture at a time and firmly press them into the bottom of your jar ensuring there are no air pockets.

Keep going until you have used up all the mixture or until you have a good couple of inches left of head room in the jar. If you made a large amount or only have smallish jars then you may need to use a few jars.

Now its time to add your ‘follower’ or cartouche. Get the cabbage leaves you saved earlier, break them to size if you need to, then wedge them into the jar, neatly covering the whole surface area of the ferment. Take your time to carefully tuck the leaf down around the edges of the ferment. Ideally the level of brine will rise above the ‘follower’.

Digitally coloured illustration of a sauerkraut recipe from my book which you can purchase at the farm shop here

Then you need to add a weight to ensure the shredded vegetables stay submerged. The cheapest and easiest weight is simply a smaller jar filled with water. Make sure its nice and clean, no lables left on the outside. And make sure the lid does not come into contact with the brine. Salt and metal react and you don’t want a rusty metal lid sitting in your ferment! So just make sure the smaller jar can’t fall over inside the bigger jar and it should be fine.

Other weights you can use are scrubbed and boiled beach pebbles (make sure they are not chalk/limestone), you could even use a ziplock freezer bag filled with water/stones. You can also buy specially designed fermentation weights of course. made from glass or ceramics – if you really get into fermenting then these are a worthwhile investment.

Then loosely cover the jar to allow the gases produced during fermentation to escape. Use the lid, or if the lid doesn’t fit over your weight then you can cover the jar with a tea towel and secure it with an elastic band or string.

Place the jar on a plate or tray to catch any potential overspill. Then ferment at room temperature, out of direct sunlight for a week or two.

Check on your ferment daily. Push down on the weight to expel any air pockets/bubbles that form during fermentation. Taste it after one week and if it has soured to your liking you can remove the weight and follower and refrigerate it. Otherwise keep fermenting it at room temp for another week or so for a funkier, tangier taste.

Once refrigerated it will keep well for a very long time up to and over a year even, if you look after it. That means no double dipping – you don’t want to introduce new bacteria from your mouth into the jar, scrape down the sides to keep all the veg together – bits that dry out and are exposed to air are more likely to catch mould. Consider transferring your finished ferment into a few smaller jars before refrigerating. This will mean that the ferment is exposed to less air and last longer.

Newly made kraut on the left, and one that has finished fermenting on the right. The purple cabbage will turn into that beautiful crimson colour as it acidifies.

Let me know in the comments or over on our friendly Facebook page if you have any questions or need me to troubleshoot. More fermenting blogs and videos coming soon. Happy fermenting! Liz x