November 1, 2013

Lacto-Fermented Kale & Swiss Chard Kimchi

For everyone who was just looking for a recipe…you can jump to the Naturally Fermented Kale and Swiss Chard Kimchi Recipe by clicking here.

This weekend I started a big batch of naturally lacto-fermented chard and kale kimchi. The best part: almost every ingredient was grown on-site! It is very satisfying to go through the entire process from seed to finished product…especially one as tasty and healthy as kimchi. And for me, kimchi holds a special place in my heart.

My connection to kimchi

I was first introduced to this traditional Korean dish during the summer I spent doing research on  frogs in the mountains of northeastern Korea. I lived in a small hanok (a traditional Korean hut…complete with the traditional wood-heated ondol, or heated floor) nestled between the rolling hills on one of our hosts' farms. It would be difficult to picture a much more idyllic setting to spend a summer. I spend most of my days measuring tadpoles or catching frogs along the granite pools that made up the river's bed.
My home for a summer in the mountains of Korea in 2009.

Every few days our hosts would visit us and to ask if we needed any supplies. And by "asked" I mean my professor Bob and Won Ki would gesture and somehow communicate, because despite over 20 years of friendship, Bob still speaks very little Korean and Won Ki and Com Suk speak very little English. Yet they have developed a language of their own. To add to an already wonderful summer, our hosts went out of their way to make us feel at home. Com Suk in particular was so sweet to me. She took me under her wing and treated me like an adopted daughter for the summer. (I think that she might have felt bad that I was the only female living with the research team on the mountain that summer). 
My adoptive mother for a summer.

Aside from being wonderfully kind and generous people, Won Ki and Com Suk are very inspiring as well. They have chosen to make a concerted effort to preserve Korea's rich food tradition. They run a very small restaurant in the Merung Valley near the city of Donghae. People seek out their restaurant because they have chosen to continue making food the old fashioned way: by gathering wild plants in the spring and by carefully making batches of fermented kimchis (which can actually be made of vegetables other than cabbage), go-chu-jang (fermented hot chili paste), and doenjang (fermented soy paste). I didn't necessarily understand just how special the food they fed me was as first, but my introduction to Korean cuisine was to the carefully crafted food that is becoming more difficult to find in Korea as the country rapidly modernizes and as Koreans find that they have less time to devote to preparing food the way that it use to be.

Whenever we would come down from the mountain to visit them, they were always working on creating something new. All the flavors were so new and exciting, and I was eager to learn a new way of cooking, so I tried to help with as many projects as possible. I don't know how much I ultimately learned during those projects since I didn't understand basically any of the instructions that Com Suk gave me (other than the pointing and demonstrating), but I had my first kimchi lesson in her kitchen. And it made a huge impression on me. I helped to clean, process, salt, and season dozens of boxes of cabbage and to stuff them into garbage cans until the brine was ready to be drained off. Later they would be transferred to the traditional earthen jars and buried in the ground to store through the winter.

Several years later… I attempt to make my own kimchi

It took me quite a few years before I attempted my first batch of kimchi. The process seemed incredibly intimidating to me. However, the longer I spent learning about natural living and whole food cooking, the more I began to hear about natural lacto-fermentation. I especially was attracted to all the health benefits that these fermented vegetables had to offer, from being an incredibly potent pro-biotic food to actually increasing the nutritional content of the vegetables. Fermenting soon became one of the skills that I wanted to learn.
Getting ready to make the kimchi!

After listening to the Cultivate Simple Podcast #42: Intro to Lacto-fermentation and then Podcast #45: Further Fermentation, I finally decided that I just needed to try it, since they assured me that I would know if I created something I shouldn't eat. Based on Suzy's recommendation, I checked out The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market from the library and got started.

I made two batches before this weekend's latest project. The first attempt turned out something I wasn't particularly interested in eating…edible, but not tasty. Perhaps someday I will learn to just follow a recipe the first time I try something new…but I didn't have all the ingredients around, I always preferred the kimchis made with something other then cabbage, I had an abundance of kale, and I really consider recipes to be only basic guidelines to be played with... so even on my first try I attempted a heavily modified recipe.
Brining the vegetables.
After the first attempt I played around with the ingredients and found a mixture that worked out wonderfully! My last attempt was delicious. Hopefully this batch will be just as good when I crack it open tomorrow morning.  (Update: It turned out to be another tasty batch!)

Here is my recipe, which is a modified version somewhere between the "Basic Cabbage Kimchi" and "Kimuchi" recipes found in The Joy of Pickling…with chard and kale substituted in for the cabbage.

Naturally Lacto-Fermented Kale and Swiss Chard Kimchi

2 Pounds Swiss Chard, roughly chopped
1/2 Pound Kale, veins removed & roughly chopped
6 cups water (ideally filtered or left overnight to dechlorinate)
3 Tbs Salt + 1 1/2 tsp Salt (ideally unprocessed sea salt like Celtic Sea Salt)

Do not prepare these ingredients until step 2
1 medium carrot, grated
1 small apple, grated
3 scallions, cut into thin rounds
1 1/2 Tbs garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 Tbs ginger, finely minced
1 Tbs ground Korean hot pepper (or a mix of 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper + 2 1/2 tsp paprika)
Preparing the ingredients.
1. Dissolve 3 Tbs salt in the water to create a brine. Place the chopped kale and chard into a large jar, bowl, or crock. Weigh down the vegetables (with a plate, mason jar, etc.) so they are below the surface of the brine. Let stand at room temperature for 8-12 hours.

2. Drain the vegetables, reserving the brine. Mix the kale and chard with the carrots, apple, scallions, garlic, ginger, pepper, and remaining 1 1/2 tsp of salt.

Finishing by seasoning, packing into jars and submerging the vegetables.

3. Pack the mixture into a 1/2 gallon jar. Press down until the vegetables are covered in liquid. You may need to add some of the reserved brine to ensure that the vegetables are submerged. You now need to make sure that the vegetables will stay submerged. You may weigh the vegetables down with a smaller mason jar or push a zip-lock bag into the jar, fill the bag with some additional brine, and seal the bag.

4. Let the vegetables ferment in a cool place (suggested temperature of 68 F or less) for 3-6 days (depending on how sour you like your kimchi).

5. When the kimchi is done fermenting, remove your weight, cap the jar and store it in the refrigerator. 



  1. i cant get this 'swiss chars' anywhere...

    can I use something else instead?

    1. In the U.S. it is called Swiss Chard. In New Zealand and Australia it is called Silverbeet. It has dark green leaves and white stems, or green leaves and red, orange or yellow stems. It is very hardy and doesn't freeze out.

  2. I would try your local farmer's market, or it is very easy to grow yourself! However it really isn't necessary. You could use napa cabbage (which is the traditional green used in kimchi) or even regular green cabbage. Good luck!

  3. Can I do phase one and two in the same crock? Have you just suggested the jars for the second part for convenience of storage when its done? Thanks!

    1. Did you mean brining and then fermenting? It usually easier to brine the vegetables in a bowl and then pack them into the jar from there. Or did you mean the fermentation and then storage? If the later, I always just ferment and store them in the same jar. I don't have a traditional fermenting crock, so I have found it just as easy to ferment them in a far (and that makes storage very convenient as well).

  4. Haha. Youre so kind to reply to a strangers question!!

    Ive found the chard!!

    However, not sure how 2 pounds of chard (and the rest) can fit into just 1 big 0.5 gallon jar.....

    Would be very glad if you could assist me here.

    Nativ ��

    1. You will be surprised how much it shrinks down once you salt it! And you really want to pack it in there to get all the air out as well.


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