Kimchi (Napa Cabbage and Bok Choy) and Fermented Radish & Kale [Paleo][Low Carb]

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage. Napa cabbage, usually. An excellent example of the power of the wisdom in traditional diets, kimchi combines the "superfood" elements of cabbage with those of onion and cayenne. As I have mentioned previously,

  • protects against a wide spectrum of cancers
  • is a great source of glutamine
  • is healing to the digestive system
  • has a mild cholesterol lowering effect*
  • provides antioxidants
  • is a good source of vitamins A, C and K, and anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
The George Mateljan Foundation has an in-depth summary of the health benefits of cabbage and kale. A particular cabbage glucosinolate, sinigrin, has been the focus of anticancer research. In addition,

  • provides additional detoxification benefits due to the high sulfur content of onions and garlic
  • boosts metabolism (cayenne)
  • provides more vitamin A and C (cayenne)
  • helps lower cholesterol* (cayenne)
Fermented foods like kimchi are a great source of "good" gut bacteria. When made properly with salt or whey (lactofermentation), kimchi and sauerkraut provide an especially important and less common bacterial strain, L. Plantarum. It is one of the few flora strains which sticks to the intestinal wall rather than being processed out by the body like other strains of "good" bacteria. Lactic acid produced in traditional fermentation is one of the most valuable organic acids since it can be used in the body more immediately than other important fermentation by-products like acetic acid.

My kimchi is based on Dr. Ben Kim's recipe. Dr. Ben Kim, from whom I adapted this basic recipe, focuses on the use of Napa cabbage and gives a great pictorial step by step method of traditional kimchi. As anyone who knows me can vouch, however, I cannot follow a simple recipe and have thus fermented a few other varieties of my own "kimchi" using kale and bok choy. Who can pass up such vibrant vegetables in the produce section? Certainly not me, though it would be better if they were growing out of my garden...

Ingredients for the Napa Cabbage Kim Chi: (substitute Bok Choy for Napa cabbage below for the Bok Choy version)
  • 1 large Napa cabbage
  • 1 bunch fresh scallions
  • onion, yellow chopped
  • garlic, minced. I used about 5 cloves
  • 1-2 T. salt (use the second T. salt if not using whey)
  • 1 T. cayenne powder
  • ~1/4" chunk fresh ginger root
  • 1 organic green apple (to puree) or applesauce, unsweetened
  • optional: 2-3 T. sea vegetable flakes

Ingredients for the Fermented Kale and Radish 'Kim Chi':
  • 1 large crisp bunch kale
  • ~ 5 radish
  • onion, yellow chopped
  • garlic, minced. I used about 5 cloves
  • 1-2 T. salt (use the second T. salt if not using whey)
  • 1 T. cayenne powder
  • ~1/4" chunk fresh ginger root
  • organic green apple (to puree) or applesauce, unsweetened
  1. Chop up the Napa cabbage, bok choy, and kale into bite sized pieces. Place in separate bowls. Note: Dr. Kim states that the brassicas shrink about a quarter in fermentation so the end product will have smaller pieces than it initially seems.

    Chopped raw Napa cabbage (L), kale (C), and bok choy (R)

  2. Thinly slice 4 oz. of the radish and either chop or slice the onion. Measure out or pinch desired amount of kelp or other sea vegetable. Set aside.
  3. Measure out 1/4 c. sea salt.* I used Celtic sea salt but really all you need is a basic pure salt and preferably without fillers which will cloud the final fermented product. The Celtic sea salt is a great source of trace minerals and is unrefined. It is not processed with chemicals or at high heat which can damage the healing properties of the salt as many commercial salts are. This brand in particular is "doctor recommended" if that is important to you. *Note: Salt such as Celtic sea salt or table salt with with iodine will slow fermentation. Use pickling salt (iodine free canning salt) if you would like a shorter 2-4 day room temperature fermentation. (Thanks Ima for clarifying that!)
  4. Dissolve the sea salt into warm water and then add the brine to the cabbage batches. Mix the brine and cabbages. I wore gloves so the salt wouldn't sting however the salt is very healing for the skin and will naturally exfoliate and gently detoxify the skin with its astringent quality.

    Salting the cabbage

  5. Cover the salted cabbage batches and let sit at room temperature for about four hours. If it is significantly cooler in your kitchen then you can let it sit a bit longer.
  6. After 4 hours, rinse squeeze dry.

    After 4 hours of salting: Napa cabbage, Kale, and Bok Choy. Rinse well and squeeze dry (far right)

  7. Measure out 1/4 c. cayenne powder or red chili flakes/powder. Mix with warm water to make a paste.

    Make the cayenne paste

  8. Mince and/or sliver fresh garlic and ginger. Measure out your T. garlic and ginger (I used a hefty scoop of organic bottled ginger and slivered some of my garlic and minced the rest in the Vitamix later).
  9. Slice the green onions. I do so at an angle for visual appeal.

    Prep the ginger and scallions.

  10. Puree a few Vitamin C tablets (not necessary but they keep the mix from browning. Lemon juice could also be used I suppose), the cored organic granny smith apples, about 2/3 of the onion, and the remaining 4 oz. of radishes in the Vitamix with 1/2 c. water to make a natural sugar substitute for the cabbage to use as food for fermentation. Note: Dr. Kim's recipe uses apple, pear, and onion but I didn't have pears plus I wanted to add radish and my own twists (read: I can't follow a recipe to save my life, ha!). This puree is the replacement for white sugar, the fermentation food in commercial kim chi and fermented vegetable varieties.

    Slice the radish and onion. Puree the apples, remaining radish, garlic (if not minced), and onion with water and Vitamin C for fermentation sugar base.

  11. Add the kelp (sea veggie)*, sliced scallions, onion, cayenne/ginger/garlic paste to the kimchi base (the rinsed brined cabbage). Add about 1/3 of the apple puree, the green onions, and the red chili paste and ginger to each of the cabbage batches. You will have to make a full red chili paste batch as in step 7 for each cabbage batch (one for Nappa, one for bok choy, and another batch for the kale). *Again note that the high mineral (iodine) content of the sea vegetable will slow fermentation a bit.
  12. Mix well with gloves.
  13. Using a wide mouth funnel (such as a canning funnel made for Mason jars), spoon the kimchi into sanitized glass jars. Leave some head space (a little room) at the top for expansion as the brined mixture ferments. Leave the jars out at room temperature for at least 24 hours before refrigerating. I actually leave my fermented vegetables out longer than this personally, but for spoilage sake I would recommend 24 hours if you are inexperienced. Otherwise if you are wise in the ways of the age old tradition of fermentation use your best judgement.
  14. Enjoy it! The refrigeration process slows the fermentation, though the batch will slowly continue to cure and become more sour with time.

Kelp and Sea vegetables are high in healing polysaccharides (long chain sugars) and nutritious whole foods.

Kelp and Sea vegetable benefits include:

  • thyroid support through bioavailable trace minerals (most notably iron and iodine)
  • high antioxidants
  • natural cholesterol lowering effects*
  • vandium, an essential component in nutritional support for diabetics/pre-diabetics which helps to regulate blood sugar
  • fucoidan polysaccharides. Anti-inflammatory, antivirual, and high in sulfur like the raw garlic and onions added to the kimchi. David Wolfe's new video on polysaccharides discusses how certain polysaccharides protect against strains of the herpes virus.
*Much research supports the fact that low cholesterol is not a preventative measure for heart disease. For women, the higher the cholesterol the better since the cholesterol-hormone interaction and blood sugar versus fat is more prominent in women (especially post menopausal women) than men. The Weston Price foundation has many research articles on the benefits of high cholesterol including how high cholesterol increases longevity.

Though kimchi is a delicious superfood, don't overdo it on cruciferous vegetables (cabbages, kale, collards, broccoli, etc) since they can slow the thyroid if overeaten. Raw and fermented cabbage contains goitrogens which block thyroid hormone production. The natural iodine and minerals in the sea salt and sea vegetable will help to balance the goitrogen effects, however fermentation actually activates the goitrogens. The Weston Price foundation says the following on fermentation and the "dangers" of goitrogens in crucifers:
Fermentation of sauerkraut actually activates the goitrogens from their precursors. It also has the beneficial effect of reducing the nitrile content to half of what would be generated by cabbage upon digestion. Since nitriles appear to be more toxic than goitrogens and their effects cannot be mitigated by dietary iodine, the overall effect of fermentation is positive. More importantly, if sauerkraut is used as a condiment, the amount of goitrogens consumed is very low and very unlikely to exert any harm. However, it is important to realize that unreasonably high intakes of sauerkraut could have adverse effects.
'Nuff said. Now feast your eyes and then ferment up some veggies to feed your tummy! Don't forget hearty winter greens are a great source of vitamin C and vitamin K (though not as good of a vitamin K source as animal products like raw butter).


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