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Recipe: How To Make Japanese Simmered Pork Belly – Buta no Kakuni

Japanese simmered pork belly is a rich, indulgent dish that is sweet, savoury, sticky and utterly sumptuous. Pork belly is a really fatty cut of meat but fat means flavour and the process of cooking the pork for a long time ensures that a lot of the fat will melt away. Any fat that remains is soft and juicy.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

In Japanese, buta means pork and kakuni derives from two longer words: kaku- to cut into cubes and ni – simmer.

It is traditional to serve kakuni with a drop of Japanese mustard called karashi (辛子 or からし). Karashi is a bit darker yellow than most other mustard. It does not really have much acidity in it (unlike other mustards) and very hot. It is perhaps closest to hot English mustard, which is a good substitute.

How to Make Japanese Simmered Pork Belly (Serves 2)

Ingredients

Portion of pork belly per person (allow around 150-200g per person depending on how hungry you are)

Water

Stock cube – dashi stock if possible or you can make your own

2 spring onions, sliced into 2-3cm chunks plus another for garnish

2 inches of ginger, peeled and cut into strips

16 tbs (1 cup) of water

4 tbs (1/4 cup) soy sauce

4 tbs (1/4 cup) cooking sake (if you can’t get sake, white wine will be a good substitute)

4 tbs (1/4 cup) caster sugar

4 tbs (1/4 cup) mirin (if you can’t get mirin, add a little more sake and sugar)

Generous splash of rice vinegar (we like this to counterbalance some of the sweetness of the dish)

simmered pork belly flavourings
glaze ingredients

Method

Place the pork belly in a frying pan and sear on both sides for a couple of minutes.

pork belly sealing

Place the pork belly in a pot and cover with water. Add the stock cube, spring onion and ginger. Turn on the heat and bring the water up to a simmer. Simmer the pork for 2 hours or until nice and tender. Alternatively, you can do as we do and use a pressure cooker. Just prepare the pork as above and cook at pressure for 40 minutes.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

When the pork comes out it should be wonderfully soft and close to falling apart (but not actually falling apart). Cut the pork into chunks – about 2cm length. We also decided to cut off the rind at this stage.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

Don’t forget to keep the stock – it will make a wonderful base for ramen noodles or soup. You can pop it into the freezer if you’re not going to use it immediately.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

Put the water, soy sauce, sake (or wine), mirin and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil.

perparing the glaze
preparing the glaze

Carefully place the pork chunks into the pan and press down so that the sauce completely covers them.

creating the glaze

(In retrospect we should have put the pork into a deeper pan – a casserole dish – because the sauce did splutter a lot and because there was sugar in it, it stuck to our hob which made clearing up a bit of a nightmare!)

pork belly glaze

Reduce the sauce until it has almost become a paste – it will have coated the pork and caramelised on the underside. It will look glossy and luscious.

Japanese simmered pork belly

Serve atop plain white rice garnished with chopped spring onion. It is often accompanied with a splodge of karashi. We like adding some pickled ginger as well.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

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RECIPE: How to Make Umeboshi

A typical Japanese breakfast will comprise of a bowl of rice, some grilled fish and pickles accompanied by a bowl of miso soup. What a lovely way to start the day. And at the Japanese breakfast table you will often come across a bowl of pink, wrinkly fruit, roughly the size of an apricot.

How to make umeboshi

These are umeboshi, incredibly sour and salty ume fruit, which are like small plums or apricots, and are absolutely guaranteed to wake you up. They are also reputed to be a hangover cure, especially good if you are a salaryman who has had a late night out in the city. Or tourists who have had a late night in the city which involved chatting with all sorts of very interesting people in random bars and drinking quite a lot of booze.

Beware the stone, especially if you have a hangover.

Umeboshi are tsukemono, literally “pickled things” which  brined and therefore fermented, so they will last for ages. Some will even last decades. If they turn black, they should be chucked. We always bring some back from our trips to Japan and rationed them so had some in our fridge for about 5 years – they were still pink and wrinkly and utterly delicious. Most Japanese meals have tsukemono as an accompaniment but umeboshi are most often eaten at breakfast. They are also used in onigiri (rice balls) as a flavouring and can be converted into a paste to add plentiful salty/fruity flavour to a variety of dishes.

Some Japanese households make their own umeboshi. If you are lucky enough to be offered these, don’t be polite. Well, do be polite because that would be the right thing to do, but don’t hesitate to take your host up on their offer. Home-made umeboshi are absolutely delicious. The pink colour derives from red shiso – also known as perilla – which is a herb added during the pickling process. Shiso is a very common herb used a lot in Japanese cuisine. Green shiso is often the herb that garnishes a sushi platter.

It is possible to make sort-of-umeboshi in western countries. The ume fruit is not usually available, but you can have a bash using plums and salt.

We treated ourselves to a Japanese pickle press a while ago but it should be possible to make umeboshi using a wide-mouthed jar, just as long as you have something heavy that will fit inside the jar to weigh the plums down and a utensil that can extract them (tongs should be fine) as you will need to take them in and out of the jar after the fermentation.

Japanese pickle press
How to make umeboshi

We use plums from our allotment. They have the delightful name Warwickshire Droopers. The great thing is that we can assess how ripe our plums are and pick them. This year the plum tree has been very generous. If you don’t have a plum tree your local market or greengrocer may well have a variety of plums for you to choose from.

Warwickshire Drooper plums

You want the plums to be ripe but not over-ripe, they need to have a degree of firmness.

How to make umeboshi

How to Make Umeboshi

Ingredients

Plums – enough to fill your container but leaving enough space to add a weight. If using a press, make sure the press can close and provide enough pressure.

Salt – 8% of the weight of the plums. Try not to use table salt, as this contains anti-caking agents. We prefer Himalayan pink salt but any pure salt will be fine.

2 red shiso leaves (optional)


Method

Wash your plums and pat them dry. Weigh the plums.

Measure out your salt – the total should be around 8% of the plum weight. This is a lot of salt but most of it will leach into the juice during the pressing process.

Massage the salt into the plums

salting plums

Place in the press. Add the shiso/perilla leaves if you are using them.

Attach the lid and screw the pressure plate down as far as it will go. If you are using a jar, put a clean weight (you can put a weight inside a plastic bag) that puts pressure on the plums.

How to make umeboshi

This ferment doesn’t use a brine. The pressure of the weight will release juice from the plums.

How to make umeboshi

Leave in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks. Check the plums occasionally. You will start to see juice appearing in the bottom of the press.

(As with all ferments, if you ever see any mould on the fruit you should throw it away as the spores could cause illness if you consume the plums. It is unlikely that mould will develop with an 8% salt mix as that is lot of salt.)

The next step requires a bit of luck with the weather. Ideally you want a warm, sunny day. In fact, you need three warm, sunny days.

On your sunny day, remove all the plums and place them on a mat, or some kitchen paper, in the sunshine to dry. Place them back in the juicy brine at the end of the day.

How to make umeboshi

Repeat for a further two days. They don’t need to be consecutive days but it would be helpful if you can dry the plums over the course of a week.

How to make umeboshi

After the third day, you can place the plums in a jar or a plastic container, or even a plastic bag. They will last for months and months. That’s if you don’t scoff them…or have too many hangovers to cure!

Save the Brine!

We hate food waste so we have devised a way to re-use the salty plum juice brine.

We use it to pickle ginger.

Peel the ginger and cut into matchsticks.

Place them in a jar and cover them with the brine. After a couple of weeks they will be deliciously sour and salty. We use them to add some zing to rice and noodle dishes or as a garnish.

Actually, we have been known to open the jar and sneak a matchstick or two for a quick snack.

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Recipe: Shopska Salad

One of the dishes that was pretty much ubiquitous when we visited Bulgaria, and could be found pretty much every meal we had, was shopska salad. It is Bulgaria’s national salad, apparently created as part of tourism campaign in the 1950s, its colours of red, green and white match those of the Bulgarian flag.

The dish is popular throughout the Balkans – we also enjoyed it in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it made a regular appearance on menus in Croatia as well. There are all sorts of variations. Fruit and vegetables in Eastern Europe are usually more delicious than those we get at home. They make look uglier but they taste so much better. Because the salad uses very finely grated cheese you get a lovely hit of salty cheese with every forkful as opposed to, say, a Greek salad which uses cubes of cheese. It’s a really easy recipe that tastes absolutely great. This version is the one that we ate in Bulgaria.

shopska salad recipe

Shopska is traditionally made using Bulgarian sirene cheese which is difficult to get in the UK. Feta cheese is more easily available and is a really good substitute. Here’s our recipe for shopska salad.

Shopska Salad Ingredients

shopska salad

1 cucumber

4 tomatoes

1 cup of feta cheese (we like the barrel aged variety as it has a lovely rich, salty flavour)

1 tbs red wine vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar can also be used)

2 tbs sunflower oil (sunflower is more traditional but it is fine to use olive oil if you prefer)

Pinch of salt (go easy) and pepper (as much as you like)

Method

Many recipes recommend removing the seeds from the tomatoes and cucumber but we hate food waste so we tend to leave them in.

Wash the cucumber and chop into cubes

Wash the tomatoes, cut out the stem and cut into small cubes.

Make the dressing: combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper – we recommend minimal salt as the cheese is salty; often we omit the salt altogether. Mix together and then pour over the cucumber and tomatoes. Let them marinate for a few hours if you wish.

Finely grate the cheese. If you have an ordinary grater that’s absolutely fine but if you can, use a grater with a really fine setting. Feta is quite soft, so isn’t the easiest cheese to grate but it is worth persevering to get a lovely fine mass of cheese.

Place the marinated vegetables in a bowl. Sprinkle over the grated cheese. Devour.

shopska salad recipe

Variations. It is perfectly fine to add in other vegetables: finely chopped red onion, chopped celery, red or green bell peppers etc. If you want to add some herbs such as parsley or basil, that’s okay too.

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RECIPE: Salmorejo

Andalusian Cold Tomato Soup

In Spain, cold soups are perfect for a hot summer’s day. Gazpacho is probably the most well known – a blend of fresh tomatoes and other vegetables, such as cucumber, peppers and garlic. Salmorejo is another cold soup, which also originated in Andalusia. We first tried it in a tapas restaurant when we visit Seville and absolutely loved it. It is a blend of tomatoes but has the addition of bread which thickens the soup. It’s a great soup that also helps to avoid food waste as it works really well if the bread is slightly stale.

In the UK tomatoes aren’t that great. Supermarkets often sell perfectly round, perfectly red tomatoes that basically taste of water. We go to our local market for our toms or grow our own. (And home grown always taste better.) What is great about Salmorejo is that even if the tomatoes are a bit insipid, the flavourings ensure that the dish will be delicious.

Our recipe for salmorejo is really easy to make but you will need a blender. This will serve four if part of a wider tapas meal/starter or two hungry people. Also, it’s the sort of soup that you can make first thing in the morning and let the flavours infuse during the day. It even tastes great after being in the fridge overnight.

INGREDIENTS

About 10 ripe tomatoes

3 slices of stale white bread

Clove of garlic (or another if you like garlic but we prefer subtle garlic here)

Good slosh of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 boiled egg per 2 servings

Couple of slices of ham

METHOD

First of all the tomatoes need to be skinned. The easiest way to do this is to cut a cross at the end of the tomato (the opposite end to the stalk). It doesn’t need to be precise and it doesn’t matter if you cut into the tomato’s flesh -it’s all going to be blended anyway.

salmorejo recipe tomatoes

Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes. Then transfer them to a bowl of cold water.

tomatoes

Grab a corner where the slice was made and the skins should just peel away. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get all the skin off.

peeled tomato

Put the tomatoes in the blender and give them a quick whiz.

Then tear the bread slices and add those, along with the garlic, oil, salt and pepper.

ingredients in blender

Blend again until you have a smooth, thick soup.

recipe for salmorejo

Pour into a jug then put into the fridge and let the flavours infuse.

Serve into individual bowls and garnish with chopped boiled egg and/or chopped ham.

recipe for salmorejo
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RECIPE: Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Fried chicken is one of life’s great pleasures. And Japanese fried chicken karaage is no exception. In Japan, it is a tradition to eat fried chicken from KFC on Christmas Day before the traditional new year celebrations commence. However, we feel that JFC offers far superior fried chicken.

Always use chicken thigh meat. It has so much more flavour than breast meat and is guaranteed to be juicier and more succulent.

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Making karaage isn’t difficult but it also isn’t a quick process. However the results are definitely worth taking the time to make the dish. The chicken absolutely needs to be marinated – this adds so much flavour. The word karaage refers to the cooking technique, that is frying the food in oil. You don’t need equipment such as a deep fat fryer – a frying pan will be just fine.

Recipe for Japanese fried chicken karaage:

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4

800g boneless chicken thigh (skin-on is fine), each thigh cut into 4 pieces

For the marinade

4 tbs soy sauce

1 tbs mirin (if you can’t get this, add a little more sake/wine and a tsp of sugar)

1 tbs cooking sake (or white wine if you can’t get that)

1 inch of ginger (finely grated)

1-2 cloves of garlic (finely grated) depending on how garlicky you like your food

For the coating

Potato starch. If you can’t get this, fine rice flour or even cornflour will be fine. (Icing sugar would not!) We didn’t have quite enough potato starch so mixed in a little rice flour. About a cup’s worth (275ml) – as much as you need to coat all the chicken.

For the cooking

Vegetable oil (enough to get about 1 cm depth of oil in your pan)

METHOD

Place the chicken thigh pieces in a bowl and add the soy sauce, mirin, sake, ginger and garlic. Mix well and leave to marinate for at least an hour.

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Pour the oil into a frying pan until it’s about 1 cm deep. Heat up. The oil will be hot enough when you put a little flour into it and it sizzles.

When the chicken has had a chance to acquire those lovely flavours pour the potato starch into a bowl.

Take each piece of chicken, dip both sides in the flour, shake any excess off, and then carefully place in the oil.

Japanese Fried Chicken frying

Repeat for further pieces of chicken. Do not overfill the pan – this is a process whereby the chicken should be cooked in batches. We tend to use a clock method – put a piece of chicken at the top, then go round the pan putting further pieces in in a clockwise direction so we know which piece was put in first. Cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally, until the pieces are golden brown.

Then remove from the oil and place on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil. You can transfer the chicken from the first batches into a heatproof bowl in the oven set on a low heat to keep them warm.

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Start the next batch and repeat until all the chicken has been cooked.

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Serve with Japanese mayo. It’s not at all healthy but it’s oh, so decadent and delicious! If you’re feeling more health conscious, shredded cabbage is a popular accompaniment.

Japanese Fried Chicken Karaage

Karaage chicken is also yummy cold the following day. It often features in bento boxes.

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RECIPE: How To Make Wild Garlic Pesto

Spring is a fantastic time of year for walking in the English countryside. The weather is often warmer and the blossom on the trees provides a wonderful backdrop. We even get a bit of sunshine sometimes! It’s also a great time for foraging for the spring greens that start growing – there’s nothing like picking free food whilst on a walk. At the moment, nettles, ground elder, three cornered leek, garlic mustard (aka Jack-by-the-hedge) are all flourishing and they can all be used to create and add flavour to delicious dishes. Wild garlic is our favourite and we have a fabulous recipe for wild garlic pesto.

There are some basic rules to foraging in the UK. You are allowed to pick flowers, fruit and leaves but you are not allowed to dig up roots (e.g. horseradish) unless you have the landowner’s permission. We never take more food than we need.

Wild garlic is an invasive plant and when it grows it spreads wildly, which is fantastic for a forager. It’s usually easy to recognise and has a very definite garlicky smell.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

A few weeks after the leaves show through, delicate little white flowers will appear. These are edible too and have a very mild garlic flavour – they make a fantastic edible garnish. The buds can also be pickled and can be used as substitute for garlicky capers.

wild garlic flower

If you are foraging it is really important that you are 100% sure of what you are picking. Never eat anything if you are not certain about what it is. Many plants are poisonous and some can look very similar to edible species. Beware: there is a plant which looks very similar to wild garlic when it’s young and just peeping through the soil. Arum maculatum, also known as Lords and Ladies, is very toxic. Apparently even putting the leaves into your mouth will result in an immediate burning sensation. It sometimes grows worryingly close to the wild garlic. When it’s more mature it develops shiny arrow-head shaped leaves but when young, looks very similar to wild garlic.

lords and ladies toxic
Young arum macularum (lords and ladies) – BEWARE
Wild garlic
Young arum macularum (lords and ladies) on the left, growing alongside wild garlic – BEWARE

Bluebells, or their white-flowered counterparts, which can also easily be confused with wild garlic’s white flowers, can also grow nearby. Bluebells are extremely pretty but also poisonous.

Whenever we gather wild garlic we go through a process of washing it thoroughly and checking each leaf when we get home.

Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto

This is a recipe that is not at all accurate – it’s one where you can fling the ingredients together and end up with something delicious. Our wild garlic recipe uses cashew nuts instead of pine nuts. They are a lot cheaper and add a lovely creaminess to the pesto.

Ingredients

Bunch of wild garlic leaves

Handful of cashew nuts

Chunk of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

Slosh of extra virgin olive oil

Squeeze of lemon

Pinch of salt

Method

Roughly chop the wild garlic leaves and place into a blender. Throw in the nuts. Roughly chop the cheese into chunks and add these. We recommend adding the leaves first – to the bottom of the blender – so that the weight of the nuts and cheese ensures they get chopped up more finely.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

If you are planning to eat the pesto right away, add the oil, lemon juice and salt. The pesto freezes really well but if we are planning to freeze it we don’t add the oil or seasoning; instead we stir it in once it has defrosted.

Blend together until you get the texture you like – smooth or nutty – both work well.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

If you are planning to freeze the pesto, decant into containers and pop into the freezer. We recycle plastic takeaway containers as they provide the perfect portion for two people.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

We’ve tried variations using pistachio nuts and nutritional yeast, which can replace the cheese in order to develop a vegan version. Pistachio are more nutty in texture and their flavour is more pronounced in the finished pesto.

The great thing about this recipe is that is so easily adaptable – mix and match ingredients. It’s the underlying gentle garlicky flavour that the wild garlic leaves produce that make this such a brilliant pesto. We’ll be foraging and freezing for as long as the season lasts.

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Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe
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RECIPE: How to Make Stinging Nettle Hummus

If there’s one thing that can ruin a walk in the lovely English countryside it’s stinging nettles. If you brush past them with bare skin you can get a painful sting which usually isn’t harmful for most people but hurts for a while. But you can exact revenge on them by eating them! Nettles are not only edible, they are highly nutritious – they contain iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins A and B. They are great in soup, can be dehydrated to make crisps, can be used like spinach in a variety of dishes such as stir fries and stews, and can also be used in dips and sauces. The process of cooking with them renders them harmless by getting rid of the sting. One of our favourite things to make with them is stinging nettle hummus and we have a recipe.

Stinging Nettle

Despite them being found all over the British Isles nettles are not native plants, they were introduced by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. Some stories suggest that they were used by Roman soldiers who would flog themselves with the nettle plants in order to use the stings to warm their skin in cold northern climes.

If you do get stung by a nettle there is a plant that you can use that helps soothe the pain. The standard view is that a dock leaf rubbed onto the sting will help. Actually it’s a plantain leaf (which used to be called dock in bygone times) which is more likely to help. Rubbing the sting with a dock leaf won’t harm but plantain will provide more relief.

It is the perfect time of year to go foraging for spring greens. We are already keeping an eye on our local patches of wild garlic, ground elder, mustard garlic, sorrel and three-cornered leek to see how they are growing, and also to plan lots of recipes for them. Stinging nettles are absolutely ready right now.

PREPARING STINGING NETTLES FOR HUMMUS

Go foraging for nettles. Try to find a patch where it’s unlikely that dogs may have been walking (just in case they have used that area for a toilet). Hardy foragers pick the nettles with their bare fingers but we use gloves to save ourselves from the stings. It’s best to pick in early spring to get the most tender leaves (the leaves will become quite tough as summer progresses). You need around half a carrier bag’s worth but you don’t need to be precise.

A word of warning – nettles are generally one of the easiest plants to identify but please be 100% sure that you have identified the correct plant. If you have the slightest doubt, don’t eat it. Plant identification apps aren’t always reliable either.

Wearing gloves, wash the nettles and have a look through them to see whether there are any leaves that should be discarded and look out for any insects to brush away. You can also make sure that no extraneous leaves from other plants. It’s quite common for grasses to end up in your bag as well.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Place the nettles into a saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover them. Stir for a minute or so. They will start wilting. This process gets rid of the sting and you can handle them with your bare hands from now on.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

While they still have their lovely green colour, using a slotted spoon, transfer them into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes.

Blanch Stinging Nettle

Keep the hot water from the saucepan and pour it into a mug – you can enjoy a nice cup of nettle tea, which has a mild, refreshing flavour and tastes a bit like green tea or coca tea. Then drain the nettles and let them dry naturally. They can then be used in our stinging nettle hummus recipe.

Stinging Nettle Tea

STINGING NETTLE HUMMUS RECIPE

INGREDIENTS

Bowl of blanched stinging nettles

1 can of chickpeas, drained (if you’re keen to avoid food waste, you can keep the liquid, which is called aquafaba, which can be used to make vegan meringues)

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1 dsp peanut butter (you can substitute tahini, or omit completely if you can’t eat nuts)

Slosh of olive oil

Pinch of sea salt

METHOD

In a food processor or blender, combine the lemon juice, garlic and peanut butter. Give them a whizz.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Add half the chickpeas and half the nettles with a slosh of oil and blend again.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining nettles, chickpeas and a pinch of salt, and blend again.

Have a taste – does it need more lemon or salt? Add seasoning as necessary. We tend to like sour flavours so added  the juice of an extra half lemon. You can decide how much you would like your blend depending on whether you prefer a smooth or chunkier texture.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Decant into a bowl and serve with warm pitta bread.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

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RECIPE: How To Make Kimchi

We have never been to South Korea but it is very high on the (long) list of places that we would love to visit. We do, however, very much enjoy Korean food and have had more opportunities to try it over the last few years with an increasing number of restaurants opening up in the UK. Kimchi is one of our favourites and we love making it ourselves. Here’s a recipe for how to make kimchi. We reckon it’s much more delicious than shop-bought.

Recipe How to Make Kimchi

We first tried kimchi over 20 years ago and it was love at first bite – sour, spicy and crunchy, it has a unique flavour. It is Korea’s national dish and is usually eaten with most meals there. Being a fermented food it is also purported to have properties that are beneficial for your gut health but, far more importantly, it’s delicious.

It’s surprisingly easy to make but it does take a while to ferment and you do have to watch out for potential explosions but that is what makes it so exciting! (Don’t worry, we’ve been making it for years and have never had an explosion – we have some advice on the best equipment to use at the end of this post.) We have tried fermenting lots different foods over the years, including miso, and it’s a very satisfactory process.

Kimchi is made via a lacto fermentation process whereby good bacteria, known as lactic acid bacteria, convert the sugars in vegetables into lactic acid. The joy of fermentation is that it isn’t a precise art. You need a bit of patience while the bacteria do their thing but once fermentation is complete, the finished product will last for many months, if not years – that is, if you don’t eat it straight away!

Ingredients For Making Kimchi

1 Chinese leaf cabbage (also known as Napa cabbage)

1 carrot

2 spring onions (green onions)

A carrot’s length of daikon white radish, also known as mooli (optional)

2 fat cloves of garlic (3 if your garlic isn’t portly enough)

1 tbs fish sauce (vegetarians can use soy sauce)

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

1 tbs Korean chilli red pepper powder known as Gochugaru (you should be able to find this in Asian stores). A variation is to use Korean chilli paste, known as Gochujang. Gochujang is fantastic in many dishes but we prefer the chilli powder for kimchi.

3 tbs salt. You want to use a salt that doesn’t have anti-caking additives. Table salt isn’t recommended. Equally you don’t really want to use really posh salt. We tend to use Himalayan pink salt.

How to make kimchi ingredients

How To Make Kimchi: Method

Slice the cabbage into chunks. You want to have easily pick-upable bite-sized pieces. One of the nice things about the Chinese leaf is that it has a lovely broad ribs which retain their crunch when the kimchi is finished which makes a nice contrast with the softer leaves.

Place cabbage into a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage and wait a couple of hours. It is a lot of salt but you will be washing it off later.

How to make kimchi

Prepare your fermentation jar. The size of the jar is important. You want to fill the jar up as much as possible and not have too much headspace. The jar size that suited our cabbage was 1.4 litre capacity. We recommend clip top Kilner jars as they have a good seal to keep air out but also let the liquid escape. There are some types of jar specifically designed for fermentation. We’ve had greater success with some than others.

The jar needs to be clean. We find the best way to clean the jar is to wash it in warm, soapy water and rinse. Then we boil a kettle and fill the jar (not forgetting the lid) with boiling water. After 10 minutes, drain and let the jar cool down. Some people put the jar into the oven on a low heat for 20 minutes but we haven’t found this step to be necessary for this type of fermentation.

After some time has passed, rinse the salt from the cabbage. You don’t need to pat the cabbage dry but have a quick taste to make sure it doesn’t taste too salty.

Julienne the carrot and daikon, if you are using it, slice the spring onions lengthways.

How to make kimchi

Put the garlic, ginger and fish sauce into a pestle and mortar and grind them together to create a paste. It will have quite a liquid consistency.

Add the vegetables to the cabbage.

Pour over the garlic-ginger-fish sauce paste and sprinkle the chilli powder over the cabbage and veg. Mix well. We find it’s easiest to do this with our bare (clean) hands.

How to make kimchi

Then you need to pack the jar. Pick up handfuls of cabbage mix and place into the jar, pushing down to squish it in – really pressing to make sure there aren’t any air gaps.

How to make Kimchi

You should try and aim for minimum headroom at the top of the jar. You also want to make sure the cabbage mixture remains pressed down. You can get all sorts of weights but a glass dessert ramekin type container (e.g. Gu) works well or, cheaper and less calorific than eating a chocolate dessert, fill a small plastic bag with water, tie at the end and squish into the top of the jar.

How to make Kimchi

Close the jar and place the jar on a deep plate or in a bowl to catch any liquid escaping.

Check The Ferment Over Several Days

Over the next few days the cabbage will begin to ferment. The time it takes will depend on how warm the ambient temperature is. You’ll see a liquid start to form in the jar and cover the cabbage and the lactic acid bacteria will start to form lactic acid and C02. It is because of the C02 that you need to keep an eye on your ferment. If you are using a specific fermentation jar you should be fine. If you are using a conventional jar you will need to ‘burp’ your ferment, at least once a day. Open the lid – very briefly – and close immediately, just to let the C02 out. This will ensure that the pressure doesn’t build up. If you don’t burp there is a risk of the jar exploding. We’ve never had a glass jar break but there have been numerous occasions when I’ve burped the jar and ended up with a brine shower!

The kimchi should be ready within a week to 10 days. You can leave it much longer if you wish and this will ensure further development of the flavours.

Recipe How to Make Kimchi

When the kimchi is ready you can store the jar in the fridge or decant it into smaller jars (just go through the process of cleaning them, then adding boiling water and letting them dry). The kimchi will store in the fridge for months as long as it is airtight.

Recipe how to make kimchi

Beware

The two greatest issues with fermenting food is risk of explosion (which can be reduced/eliminated if you use the right equipment) and mould. When the ferment is exposed to air there is the potential for mould to develop. If you open your jar and see fuzzy mould of any colour you should discard the ferment. It’s heart-breaking but the safest thing to do as the mould could make you very ill. (It’s not advisable to scrape off the mouldy bits – by the time the fuzz has appeared the spores will have permeated the whole jar.) Obviously this creates something of a dilemma – you need to open the jar to burp but don’t want to let the air in. So, the key is to open the jar very quickly to release pressure then close immediately. With some types of fermentation jar you don’t need to worry.

Some Notes On Fermentation Equipment

You don’t need too much specialist equipment to ferment food.

This type of kilner jar is perfect. Round rather than square are preferable
as they take the pressure more easily.
This type of jar allows C02 to escape via a valve. We find it’s better for
shorter ferments.
We like this gochugaru powder. It’s pretty fiery.
We like this type of salt for fermenting.
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RECIPE: How to Make Vietnamese Spring Rolls

How to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls Summer Rolls

Vietnamese cuisine is amongst the most delicious in the world. It is also amongst the prettiest. While most people think of spring rolls as being deep-fried, gỏi cuốn are actually served cold – at room temperature. In Western countries they are referred to as spring rolls, salad rolls or even summer rolls. They have slightly different names depending on the region of Vietnam: they are gỏi cuốn, meaning salad rolls in the south and nem cuốn in the north. Apparently they are called “rice paper” rolls in the central regions of the country, which is a simple description but accurate.

Gỏi cuốn comprise cold vermicelli noodles, salad, protein such as prawns or pork and herbs all wrapped up in rice paper, known as bánh tráng. They are usually served with a dipping sauce. Unlike fried spring rolls, these are really fresh and, like so much of Vietnamese food, full of flavour.

Makes 12 rolls

Ingredients

For the Rolls

Rice paper wrappers (you can get these from Asian supermarkets)

100g vermicelli rice noodles

36 king prawns (3 per roll, or one more each if you are feeling greedy), cooked and peeled.

2 carrots

Shredded lettuce or cabbage

Handful of fresh mint and/or coriander (or a herb of your choice)

For the Dipping Sauce

2 tbs sweet chilli sauce

Juice of ½ a lime

Splash of fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians)

How To Make Vietnamese Spring Rolls Method

Prepare the noodles. Pour boiling water over the vermicelli and leave for 5-7 minutes until they are soft. Drain and allow to cool.

Prepare the filling. Shred the lettuce/cabbage.

Finely slice the carrot. There is a tool that you can buy easily in South East Asia which is a little like a vegetable peeler that juliennes the carrot. If you don’t have one of those you could use a mandolin. And if you don’t have a mandolin a grater will do just fine.

The packaging on the paper skins – and many other recipes – states that you only have to soak them in warm water for a couple of seconds. We found that actually some of them need quite a bit longer soaking time. (And some just didn’t go soft at all- those should be discarded, these are not crunchy rolls and will not only not taste very nice, they will have a horrid texture and be really difficult to roll.)

When the paper is super-soft and totally translucent take it from the water and lay it flat on a clean surface. The skins are much more robust than they appear.

Start placing your filling onto the paper. You want to place it around 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up from the bottom of the paper and leave about 2 cm space on each side. Because the papers are partially transparent you can take your time to make the rolls look pretty. To do this make sure that the colourful items such as the prawns, herbs (try to keep the leaves whole for extra prettiness) or carrot are on the bottom of the pile, so that they can be seen through the wrapper.

Add a small handful of vermicelli, remembering that less is more – you don’t want to overstuff the rolls.

Variation: We also added some slices of home-made pickled garlic to some of the rolls to add an extra zingy flavour.

Vietnamese spring roll pickled garlic

Now the tricky bit: the rolling of the rolls. It’s not as difficult as it might appear. Firstly, pull the filling together and fold the bottom of the paper over it, pressing gently into the filling so that the wrapping is tight.

Next, fold each side in towards the centre of the wrapper to form a little parcel.

Vietnamese summer roll spring roll

Then roll forwards to complete the spring roll, trying to keep the filling inside as tight as possible. The paper is soft so will stick at the end easily. When the rolling is completed, keep the seam on the underside which will also help it stick.

There are a variety of dipping sauces. A popular one is hoisin and crushed peanuts but we made a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

We used sweet chilli sauce, half a lime and a splash of fish sauce to give us that characteristic sweet, sour, salt and spice flavour. Just mix the ingredients together in a bowl. Then it was simply a case of serving the rolls, dipping and enjoying.

Vietnamese spring roll summer roll with dipping sauce

How to make Vietnamese spring rolls summer rolls

These are some of the tools and ingredients we used to make the summer rolls:

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RECIPE: Vietnamese Pickled Garlic

We were in our favourite local Vietnamese restaurant recently and, while eating a delicious bowl of Bún Bò Chân Giò Huế – Beef, Pork Hock, Meat Balls in a vermicelli noodle soup (Bún means vermicelli and the dish originated in Huế, a coastal city in central Vietnam that used to be its capital), the restaurant staff brought out a jar containing pickled garlic to be used as a condiment. It was delicious – it added another dimension to the dish – a zap of sour garlic with just a hint of spice from the chilli infused vinegar. It’s a really popular condiment and apparently some of the restaurant’s customers will devour the whole jar when it’s brought to the table. We figured it probably wasn’t too difficult to make ourselves so we did some experimenting and, indeed, it’s a really easy recipe.

We had grown a bunch of garlic earlier in the year – planted in the late autumn we harvested it mid-summer. We also have a habit of keeping empty jars for preserving purposes, so had most of the ingredients and equipment to hand. It’s very flexible to make and the quantities in the recipe really depend on the size of your container. You will need a clean empty jar – you can use any old jar. Just wash it out thoroughly and fill it with boiling water, which will make sure it’s clean enough to store pickles, then let it cool down. Our jar was around 300 ml capacity.

Ingredients

Several bulbs of garlic (the quantity will depend on how large the bulbs are and how finely you wish to slice it)

Two red chillies

White vinegar (you can use rice vinegar if you are feeling decadent but the garlic has a strong flavour and we feel it would dominate the subtle flavour of the rice vinegar)

2tsp white sugar

1/2 tsp salt.

Method

Peeling the garlic is the most time-consuming part of this job. Garlic is one of the stickiest substances known to human kind but you don’t realise this until you start peeling lots of it.

Once peeled, you have a number of choices. You can keep the garlic cloves whole, you can slice them with a knife or you can slice them wafer-thin using a mandolin. We prefer the very thinly sliced garlic because when you add it as a condiment the flavour enhances rather than dominates the food.

If using a mandolin, be really careful. Being clumsy cooks, we use a knife glove which means that you can slice the garlic very close to the blade without risking sliced fingers. Bloody garlic pickle is not a good idea.

Place the sliced garlic, slice the chillies and add everything to the jar.

Top up with the vinegar. Add the sugar and salt.

Shake the jar.

Leave to infuse for at least a week. The pickled garlic will last for months… but is likely to get scoffed much sooner. Also, because the vinegar is acidic you can add additional sliced garlic or another chilli as you use up the existing condiment.

Although this dish goes really well with Phở and Bún Huế dishes, we’ve also used it to add a bit of zing to Vietnamese summer rolls.

And this condiment isn’t just for Vietnamese cookery. We use this pickle to garnish soups – this is a home-made vegetable soup.

Or it can be used in a meat dish – these are glazed pork belly bites. Just a slice or two atop really cuts through the richness of the meat.

This is the mandolin we use. It’s adjustable so you can get different thicknesses of slicing and you can julienne vegetables as well. The cut-resistant knife gloves are excellent and have saved us from multiple sliced fingers over the years.

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