Fermented Nettle Kimchi

 The morning after...nettle leaves soaking in a brine bath overnight—ready to become kimchi.

The morning after...nettle leaves soaking in a brine bath overnight—ready to become kimchi.

Living as we do on land at the edge of wilderness, has infused a much closer relationship to the rhythms of the year and subtleties of each individual season. This year, for example, our landscape donned the growth of spring a full month earlier. An important early harvest is the wild nettles that grow in a patch along the creek that runs through our property. Nettle kraut is a standard favorite and it is easy to stick to what I know we love. This year I knew it was time to do something different. On a bright morning Christopher and I headed to the creek with snips, a basket, each wearing long sleeves and good gloves. 

I find harvesting nettles thrilling (maybe we’ve lived out here too long); on this day there was extra excitement. As we walked through the thicket of young cedars we happened upon two freshly killed wild turkeys; one was half-eaten, the other was still warm. It was the middle of the day and we wondered what predator we might have scared off—likely a coyote. However, we do live in cougar country and when we got to the nettle bed there was a trampled down area that looked as if something of significant size had been bedded down there. There was an unmistakable odor of cat and suddenly the nettle patch seemed much less benign. As I cut nettles, Christopher surveyed the trees towering over us for a large kitty. I doubt there was a cougar anywhere near, but once our minds imagined there might be, the activity became extreme foraging.

I decided to make a pure nettle ferment and a kimchi-style ferment (and a nettle kraut just in case).  We were pleased with the results of both new ferments.


Nettle Kimchi

Yield: About 1 pint

Nettle kimchi is delicious in the magic pungency that is created by the combination of garlic, ginger and chiles, and yet the nettles hold their own. This recipe requires a little advanced thinking as the nettles are soaked overnight. Nettles grow in the early spring. If you are gardener and have a patch of garlic greens add them to the mixture. And remember to use your glove working with the nettles; they still can sting after sitting at room temperature in salt water for 10 hours.


About ½ pound of nettles, the first 2 – 3 rows of leaves still attached to stems

Soaking brine 
½ cup salt
2 quarts unchlorinated water

Kimchi mixture
 4 green onions, sliced crosswise in ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, ground or minced
3–4 cloves garlic
1–2 tablespoons chile flakes or gochugaru powder 
    Note: As always, adjust the spiciness to your palate. Also the gochugaru is not as hot at the chile flakes and may require more for desired heat.

In a crock or a large bowl, combine the brine ingredients and stir to dissolve. Rinse the nettles in cold water then immerse in the brine solution. Use a plate as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. Set aside, at room temperature for 6–8 hours. 


Using a colander set over a large bowl, drain the nettles reserving the liquid. Combine the ingredients of the kimchi mixture, blending thoroughly. Set aside. The nettles will clump together. Take this whole clump and roll it up to cut crosswise into 1 – 2 inch pieces and put it in a large bowl. Massage in the kimchi mixture.

Follow the instructions for the type of fermentation vessel you are using. If using the simple jar method select a mason jar with a tight fitting lid that is sized appropriately to the amount of mash. Place the mash inside the jar leaving about an inch of airspace. Add reserved brine as needed to make sure the ferment is juicy and veggies stay submerged. Tighten lid. Set aside, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in cool spot, for 10 – 14 days. 

Check daily to make sure there aren’t CO2 bubbles developing and that the vegetables are submerged; simply press down as needed. If using a plain jar, burp once a day or more often if you see pressure under the lid. Using a utensil, test the kimchi on day 10. You will know it is ready when the flavors have mingled and the pungency is pleasantly fused with acidic tones. The red color will have gotten deeper while the green of the nettle leaf turns a translucent brown khaki green color.

You can let this sit another week in the refrigerator with the lid on to allow the flavors to continue to develop.  This will store in the refrigerator for 8 – 12 months.

Mustard Greens, Fermented Kimchi, Chicken, and Sesame Seeds :: YUM!

Kimchi Sesame Mustard Green Salad w/ Chicken

Markets are loaded with many varieties of mustard greens—longer days and cooler weather make these brassicas delicious. Sometimes raw mustard greens will mimic that sinus-clearing horseradish (or wasabi) heat which I happen to love but others do not appreciate. This peppery flavor transforms with cooking into bitter bite.

In this quick-to-prepare recipe the peppery-heat of the greens is mellowed as the kimchi sesame dressing wilts the fresh leaves. The flavor is lively with the mingling of the fermented vegetables and the fresh greens.

Mustard Sesame Salad With Kimchi and Chicken

Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side salad

1 -2 chicken breasts

granulated garlic powder

a bit of oil for coating the roasting pan


1 bunch curly mustard greens

½ - 1 cup drained kimchi


2 teaspoons naturally fermented soy sauce

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil


Place the oven on the broil setting. Coat the roasting pan with oil.

Cut each chicken breast into about 3 equal-sized pieces for quick and thorough roasting. Place these on greased pan. Sprinkle on the granulated garlic powder. Place on a middle rack in the oven and broil for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until completely cooked.

Meanwhile prepare the dressing and the salad. Rinse off the mustard leaves and crosscut for a bite-sized piece. Set aside. Measure and drain the kimchi. (Remember always keep or drink your brine!) Rough chop the kimchi until it has a finer consistency.

Place the dressing ingredients in the salad bowl. Add the chopped kimchi. When the chicken is ready remove it from the oven and slice into bite sized pieces. Place these in the bowl with the dressing to soak up the flavors. Add the chopped mustard greens, toss and serve.


Burdock Carrot Kimchi

In the past (before grocery stores and global shipping) February was a hungry month. It was a time when the winter stores were thin and the fresh tender greens were only beginning to poke through the earth. Many cultures relied on their fermented stores to provide them with fresh crunchy tastes and vitamins. 

Our winter eating challenge is a little different now. Our dilemma is knowing what to choose from the cornucopia we have available to us. (Fresh raspberries in winter—how far did they travel?) Seasonal eating in the temperate climate, at the latitude where you live, can leave you looking at a lot of root vegetables in February. One of these roots is the homely burdock, or gobo (its Japanese name), which looks like a dirty stick next to the bright carrots and crimson beets. Go ahead, look twice at this root. It is healthy and makes a delicious ferment. You’ll find it in the vegetable section of natural-foods stores. Look for roots that are still firm, not limp like an old carrot. Select those that are about the thickness of your thumb; any bigger than that and they tend to be woody. 

The reputation of burdock, or, as it’s called by its botanical name, Arctium lappa, bounces between nuisance weed to flower gardeners and essential to herbalists and chefs. 

Burdock has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. It’s said to aid digestion and alleviate arthritis and some skin disorders. This list goes on, and the reason is that this “weed “belongs to the class of herbs known as adaptogens, which work to balance the system. This group of high nutritive and medicinal broad-spectrum plants includes perilla, spikenard, nettle, and ginseng.

As a biennial in its second year of growth, it can be seven feet tall, its many branches sporting mature seed heads that reach out and command attention by sticking to the passerby—hence the nuisance weed reputation. You can hardly read anything about burdock without the anecdotal tale of its role in the invention of Velcro. 

1948. Switzerland. Walking dog. Burs stick to dog. Mind wonders. Microscope reveals hooks. Violà. George de Mestral invents Velcro. Not to be left out, it has been included here—along with a recipe for Burdock Carrot Kimchi:

Violà. Burdock-Carrot Kimchi

Burdock oxidizes to an unappetizing gray-brown when shredded and exposed to the air. Although in the beginning, the color makes you think the burdock must have been scraped off the forest floor, after some hours in the anaerobic, soon-to-be-acidic environment of the brine, the brighter color of the freshly shredded root returns. 

We find this condiment to be a perfect and tasty way to incorporate burdock into our diet. It’s a satisfying snack in the middle of the afternoon — a dollop of Burdock-Carrot Kimchi and a few slices of raw cheese.

Makes about 2 quarts 

We like our kimchi spicy, but we leave just how hot up to you. 

2 pounds burdock root, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise

2 pounds carrots, thinly sliced crosswise

1 bunch scallions, greens included, cut into 1-inch slices 

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Crushed red pepper flakes, or unsalted gochugaru , to taste (use a pinch for a mild flavor to 1 tablespoon for fiery-hot)

1– 1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or  1/2 cup fish sauce

Combine carrots, scallions, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Peel the burdock root and thinly slice crosswise; then quickly squeeze on the juice of the lemon, to help the root retain its color. Add the burdock, lemon zest, and pepper to the bowl, mixing to combine.

Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the salt or fish sauce, working it in with your hands; if you are not getting much brine, let sit, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes. Taste for salt. It should have a slightly salty flavor but not an overwhelming saltiness. Add more salt if needed. Then toss and massage again for a few minutes to get everything mixed. At this point you should see brine at the bottom of the bowl. Transfer your vegetables into a jar or crock, a few handfuls at a time, pressing to remove air pockets. More brine will release, and you should see brine above the veggies.

Top the ferment with a 1-quart Ziplock bag. Press the bag down onto the top of the ferment, fill it with water, and seal. Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 7-14 days. 

Check daily that the vegetables are submerged, (remember the veggies need to be anaerobic) and scoop out any scumthat develops. Using a utensil, you can start to test the ferment after one week. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s pleasingly sour, the flavors have mingled, and the pungency of the kimchi spices have developed. Tighten the lids and store in the fridge. This ferment will keep, refrigerated, for one year.

Kimchi Season

In Korea late October or early November is the fall pickling season.  Kimchi is an important aspect of Korean cuisine—it is served with just about every meal. There are fermented flavors for different occasions and a taste for every palate—sophisticated, fruity, crunchy, pungent, sour, mild, refreshing. Varieties may include everything but cabbage—how about buckwheat sprout kimchi or squid kimchi?
In light of the season we thought we’d share some things you may not know about venerable kimchi.

Top Ten Random Kimchi “facts” (and facts is loosely defined)

10. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
During gimjang, or kimjang, (kimchi season) many employers give their employees bonuses to facilitate a good time shopping for piles of kimchi ingredients.

9. Imagine Mountains of Napa Cabbage (and Peppers and Garlic—Oh My!)
All this shopping for cabbage, garlic, ginger, peppers, and radishes takes place at farmer’s markets that spring up all over the country this time of year.

8. Celebrate
In Gwangju, South Korea there is an annual Kimchi Festival—which you missed this year. It was at the beginning of October. Maybe your travel plans will land you at the 21st annual next year. I have seen parade pictures that include mascots dressed as Napa cabbage.

7. Field Trip
There is of course the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul whose mission is to educate the world about kimchi. One of the sections includes dioramas for each step of the kimchi making process. Or, if you are the literary type the library boasts over 2000 books on the subject.

6. Disease Fighting
During the 2005 outbreak of bird-flu scientists at Seoul National University lead a study that fed infected chickens kimchi to test its effects on their health. A week later, 11 birds had begun recovering. "We found that the chickens recovered from bird flu, Newcastle disease and bronchitis. The birds' death rate fell, they were livelier and their stools became normal," said Professor Kang Sa-ouk.

5. Care Packages Korean Style
Mothers of Korean soldiers being deployed to Vietnam in the 1960s weren’t sent off with cookies—but with onggi pots filled with kimchi.  In 1967 a diplomat visiting Washingon was said to have missed kimchi more than his wife. 

4.  Kimchi is Out of this World
When Korea sent its first astronaut to the space station they felt he must go with kimchi. It turns out kimchi posed a bit of an issue to turn into spacefood. There was concern about bringing the bacteria into space—partly due to contamination and partly do to fear of explosions with the pressure changes. One team developed inert kimchi cans, another in plastic packaging.

3. How Much Kimchi Do You Eat?
Per capita, South Koreans eat 77 pounds of kimchi per year.

2. Kimchi-fed Eggs
If you have backyard chickens and want to try something it is said that you can feed them kimchi—there are specialty egg producers feeding kimchi, or at least the resultant lacto-bacillus to their hens. I have read online claims of healthier hens with healthier eggs. Some even claim the eggs contain lactobacillus. I must admit this seams farfetched that the lactobacillus lands in the eggs but I can’t account for the science either way. I can tell you when I go through the effort and expense of making kimchi the last thing I would do is feed it to chickens. That said…

The pig who didn't like spicy kimchi

1. Pigs Don’t Like Spicy Kimchi
When we first made kimchi commercially we had a gallon or so of peppery-brine left at the bottom of the crock after packing countless jars. (Now I know the stuff is an elixir of the Gods—but at the time it seemed like excess.) We decided to take it to our pig who enjoyed all manner of scraps and gobbled up our cheese making whey. He dug his snout into his trough and drank the brine, when he came up his mouth was open and he ran to his water bucket. We dumped what was left in the trough and brought him apples as an apology.