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Make Korean kimchi if it's too cold to garden

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 09:10 UK time, Sunday, 5 December 2010

Snow doesn’t exactly make for great gardening does it? I had all these December plans for the allotment (I now own a whole rather than a half): I want to put up a greenhouse, create a verandah around the shed and move the grape (that I fear will never be that productive, but at least could make a lovely cover to sit under). All I’ve got round to doing is creating a new compost bin area out of some very old pallets.

kimchi

Still, before it froze completely solid I harvested some turnips, mooli and carrots to make into kimchi, a Korean fermented pickle. Before I get onto to pickles though I want to say how impressed I am with horticultural mesh for keeping the frost at bay. The turnips, carrots, oriental greens and mooli are under the mesh, mainly to keep flea beetles off the brassicas in August and carrot fly off the carrots, but I’ve left it on for a little protection and I think it might be even better than fleece for doing that job.

Now pickles, I am slightly addicted to kimchi and eat it everyday for lunch. I must just point out that if you intend to make this then a) it stinks, b) it has lots of raw garlic so no-one will kiss you once you’ve eaten it and c) my recipes is a very loose interpretation based on a version of Sandor Katz’s from his book Wild Fermentation, plus a lot of internet research including watching one too many demonstrations (like this one on YouTube) on how to make kimchi. It’s not an obsession, honest.

My very untraditional turnip kimchi recipe

I am sure if you are Korean that is a laughable attempt at making kimchi, but hey it makes me happy.

A bunch of small turnip, no bigger than a golf ball and turnip tops
2 radishes, preferably mooli/daikon
1 large carrot or several smaller ones
1 large onion
4 small cloves of garlic
1 hot chili or Korean chili flakes (I have lots of chilies and it galls me to go out and buy something when I have it at home)
1 tablespoon of sugar
4cm piece of fresh ginger, grated

kimchi

You need to make a solution of brine to soak all the vegetables in. This needs to be roughly 4 cups of water to 3 tablespoons of salt.

Chop the tops off the turnips and slice away any thick midribs and roughly chop up the leaves. Next slice the turnips into rounds, 0.5-1cm thick, slice the carrot and mooli. Place these in the brine and soak for several hours. You will need to put a weight on top (a plate works fine) to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine.

After several hours drain away but reserve the brine, as you may need it later. Taste the vegetables they should be salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are too salty, wash them in a colander.

Next, prepare the spices. I do this in a pestle and mortar. Smash up the garlic, chop the onions and add these, grate the ginger, remove the seeds from the chili and chop up very finely, add the sugar and mix the spices into a paste. Traditionally you add fish sauce here, but I don’t.

Now all you have to do it mix the paste with the vegetables and then stuff it (literally) into a jar so it’s all packed in tight. Take the pestle and push down the vegetables so that they start to release their juices. After a little effort the vegetables and spices should be submerged in juices. If not add a little of your brine reserve.

You need to keep the vegetables submerged as this stops bad bacteria from getting to the vegetables and rotting them. If the pickle is exposed to air it will go off very quickly. You can weigh down the vegetables with a smaller jar filled with water (or freezer bag filled with brine).

Keep the kimchi in your kitchen and cover with a tea towel to keep out flies and debris.

After two days or so your kimchi should have started to ferment. It will slowly absorb all the spare liquid. It smells startlingly strong at this point and will stink the place out, so it’s best, after two days or so, to put on a loose fitting lid and place in the fridge, where it will slowly continue to ferment. You can start to eat it at this point. It should taste spicy and hot. You must make sure that you keep squishing down the vegetables so that they are under the brine otherwise it will start to go off. You can tell this happens because the vegetables start to darken. It will keep for a week or two in the fridge - go on try it, I dare you. Perhaps you’ve already made kimchi – how did it turn out?

Alys Fowler is a garden writer and presenter of BBC Gardeners' World.

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