When it comes to food, fermentation refers to the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence. The word also means “agitation” or “excitement”. This is all about the bubbling, fizzing, magical, transformation of life, and the dynamic relationship between bacteria and their surrounding environment. As we enter a brand new year, I can’t think of a more apt way to connect what goes on inside, and outside, the kitchen. Fermentation as metaphor, then, but also fermentation as fridge-staple deliciousness for all the 2021 recipes ahead.
I love these for brunch, but they are great at any time of day, really. Use whichever kimchi you prefer (to make or buy), but bear in mind that kimchis have varying salt content, so you may need to adjust the seasoning accordingly. If you can’t get hold of rice flour, just use the same amount of plain flour instead.
Prep 15 min
Cook 35 min
350g kimchi (shop-bought or homemade)
40g spring onion, trimmed and finely chopped
40g coriander, finely chopped
15g garlic (about 3 cloves), peeled and finely crushed
15g ginger, peeled and finely crushed
135g plain flour
70g rice flour
1 large egg
325ml ice-cold water
2 tbsp olive oil
250g gruyere, finely grated
For the herb salsa
90g spring onions, trimmed and sliced thinly on the diagonal
50g bunch coriander, roughly chopped, stalks and all
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
Squeeze the kimchi into a small bowl to extract 60ml of its juice, then put the kimchi in a separate bowl.
Put the spring onion, coriander, garlic, ginger and both flours in a medium bowl. Pour in the egg, iced water, kimchi juice, half a teaspoon of salt and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, mix the spring onion, coriander, lime juice, olive oil and sesame seeds with a quarter-teaspoon of salt.
Put a medium, nonstick frying pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, brush the pan all over with a bit of the olive oil and pour in three quarters of a ladle (90-100ml) of the batter, swirling the pan quickly so it spreads evenly. Cook for two minutes on each side, until golden on one side and blistered on the other, then flip over again so the more attractive side is on the bottom. Sprinkle some of the grated cheese and some of the kimchi on top, carry on cooking until the cheese melts, then fold over the pancake into a half moon.
Transfer the pancake to a tray, cover with a tea towel to keep warm, and repeat with the remaining batter and toppings. Once all the pancakes are cooked, serve warm with the salsa on the side.
Beetroot ferment with garam masala
The addition of cabbage here helps speed things along, so this is a relatively short ferment of only three days; if you like things a little funkier, leave for longer, and up to seven days. This ferment is a wonderful accompaniment to a cheese sandwich, greek yoghurt, crumbled feta or some whipped goat’s cheese. It will keep in the fridge for three months.
Prep 25 min
Ferment 3 days+
525g raw beetroot (about 6 medium beetroots), grated, skin and all
¼ small red cabbage (175g), thinly sliced or coarsely grated
1 green chilli (10g), thinly sliced (remove and discard the pith and seeds if you prefer less heat)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
5g piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp flaked sea salt
1 tsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp garam masala
Sterilise an 800ml jar for which you have a lid, and dry it well. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients and leave to sit for 10 minutes.
Transfer all the beetroot mixture, including any liquid it has released, into the jar, pushing it in firmly to eliminate any potential air pockets and leaving a clear 2.5cm space from the top of the mixture to the lip of the jar. Scrunch up some clingfilm or a piece of baking paper, and use it to help push the vegetables below the surface of the juice (this will help prevent mould from growing on top), then close the lid tightly and put the jar in a dark corner of the kitchen or in a cupboard.
Leave to ferment for three days (or up to seven), opening the jar on the second day so any gas bubbles can escape.
Fermented kohlrabi and shiitake
Gochujang is a Korean chilli paste that’s made from fermented soy beans mixed with hot red peppers and glutinous rice flour, and is one of the key components of kimchi. This has more or less the same flavour profile as kimchi, though with added tamarind and coriander seeds. It’s very much inspired by kimchi, but I haven’t called it that, because it features kohlrabi and shiitake rather than cabbage. It will keep in the fridge for up to three months.
Prep 25 min
Ferment 7 days
Makes 1 x 2-litre jar
500ml mineral water
2 tbsp flaked sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
60g sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
1.7 kg kohlrabi (ie, about 4 in total), peeled (1.5kg)
10g garlic cloves (about 5 cloves), peeled and crushed
10g piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tbsp tamarind paste
120g gochujang paste
½ tbsp coriander seeds
Sterilise a two-litre glass jar (or a few smaller jars) for which you have a lid, then dry it well.
In a small saucepan, bring the water, salt and sugar to a boil, add the shiitake, then take off the heat and set aside.
Cut the kohlrabi in half vertically. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the kohlrabi into 3mm-thick half-moons, then put in a large bowl. Add the garlic, ginger, tamarind, gochujang and coriander seeds, and toss until the kohlrabi is evenly coated.
When the liquid is at room temperature and the shiitake are rehydrated, use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to the kohlrabi bowl, taking care not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the pan. Toss the mushrooms and kohlrabi until well combined.
Pack the kohlrabi mixture tightly into the jar, using the back of the spoon to push it down firmly and eliminate any air pockets. Pass the shiitake brine through a fine-mesh sieve, to remove the mushroom sediment, then pour this into the jar. If there isn’t enough brine to cover the vegetables completely, use a weight to push them down until they are covered and there’s a roughly 2cm gap between the top of the brine and the rim of the jar. Secure the lid on top, then put in a dark spot of the kitchen or a cupboard to ferment for seven days.
Open the jar every two days to allow the air bubbles to escape and prevent the jar from cracking under the pressure of the fermentation. Serve as a side dish, topped with freshly chopped coriander leaves and thinly sliced spring onion.