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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Fermentation Revival

Seventeen years ago I was working at Oakland's Macrobiotic Grocery and Organic Cafe (now Manzanita Cafe) when my co-worker Alex Hosven told me she was leaving her job there to start a sauerkraut business.   Say what?  While we did follow the macrobiotic style of serving something pickled with our meals at the cafe, the art of making your own fermented foods was virtually unknown at the time.  Alex had amazed us all by bringing in her homemde miso, which, although a staple in our Japanese-inspired cooking, was something we thought only came from Japan.

Alex and I are both older and wiser now, and as she told a packed crowd at her Cultured Pickle Shop in West Berkeley last Friday night, she finds herself practicing an unexpectedly hip profession today. The occasion was a celebration of all things fermented, in honor of the best-known instigator of the fermentation revival, Sandor Katz, and his magnum opus, The Art of Fermentation.. Sandor gave an inspiring talk about fermentation, musing on its inevitability, universality, role in the development of human culture, and health benefits, and then signed books while enjoying a fabulous array of fermented treats and cocktails (beet kombucha with Hangar One mandarin vodka anyone?) with the buzzing crowd.  Berkeley's own Michael Pollan was on hand, lending foodie-revolutionary gravitas to the proceedings.
The Art of Fermentation is an incredible book.  It explores the diverse fermentation traditions of the globe, gives instructions and trouble shooting tips for hundreds of fermentation projects, shares the experiences, traditions and know-how of fermentors from around the world, and does it all without a single formal recipe.  Katz is a truly anti-authoritarian authority on fermentation, and a teacher in the inspirational mode.   
The event got me back in the kitchen making up a few of my favorite fall ferments, including this Kimchi, which was inspired by one of Alex's seasonal specialties.  It uses the traditional technique of brining the veggies first, then coating them with a potent spice paste.  The spices are all potent anti-virals and that makes this a great condiment or side dish for cold and flu season.  The butternut squash is round, sweet and yellow, energetically appropriate, in Chinese medical thinking, for the time around the equinox, which is Friday Sept. 21. 
Bok Choy and Butternut Kimchi

This is a simplified version of kimchi, the popular Korean condiment. It makes a great side dish and complements most foods with an Asian flavor profile.

Makes about 1 quart

2 cups coarsely chopped bok choy

1 bunch red radishes, sliced in half

1 cup 1/2-inch pieces peeled butternut squash3 tablespoons sea salt

4 cups water

2 stalks green garlic, coarsely chopped, or 4 cloves garlic, peeled

6 dried Thai chile peppers, or 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes

One 1- to 2-inch knob fresh unpeeled gingerroot, sliced

1/2 small red onion, sliced

1/2 teaspoon fermented fish sauce
Combine the bok choy, radishes, and squash in a large bowl. In a separate container, dissolve the salt in the water and pour this brine over the vegetables. Place a plate that’s a little smaller than the bowl over the vegetables to keep them submerged, and allow to soften for several hours to overnight.

The next day, drain the vegetables, reserving the brine. Make a spice paste by finely chopping the garlic, chiles, ginger, and onions, either by hand or in a food processor, and combining with the fish sauce. Mix the spice paste into the vegetables, and stuff it all into a wide mouth 1-quart Mason jar. Press the vegetables down until the liquid rises above the level of the vegetables; add some of the reserved brine if necessary to cover the vegetables. Weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar or bottle and cover the whole thing with a tea towel secured with a rubber band. Allow to ferment for 5 to 8 days or more, tasting each day and ensuring that the vegetables stay covered with liquid. When it has fermented to your liking, secure a lid on the jar and store in the refrigerator, where the kimchi will keep indefinitely.

COMING SOON: I'll be teaching fermentation classes at the Sticky Art Lab in Berkeley through Biofuel Oasis Sun Sept. 30th,  and at 18 Reasons  in San Francisco Nov.3.  Check out my classes on Chinese medicine and nutrition for the community at AIMC Berkeley in October and November, and one on traditional diets at Three Stone Hearth Oct. 26th.  Join me at one of my favorite events of the year, the Hoes Down at Full Belly Farm October 6th in Guinda, CA, where I'll be doing a free workshop amidst all the wonderful celebration of organic farming and rural life.   

1 comment:

Lynn G. said...

Love this! Recently listened to Mr. Katz give a talk in Oakland. Pretty cool how he's so passionate yet innocent about fermented foods. Look forward to trying your kimchi version here.