Pesto-chi, or What To Do with the Last of Your Basil Crop
Perhaps this isn’t an issue most of my urban readers face, but I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of you urbanites who are as fresh-obsessed as I am and who’ve found a way to make some space for a garden, somewhere. I’m willing to guess that if you took the time and effort to find some space for a garden, that it is a garden that contains basil. Because you’re a person and people like basil. It’s part of the package. So as people, you know that there comes a time in the year when things are going to get so cold you’ll have to harvest all your basil or cry your eyes out while you watch it wilt on its stalks. This day, for me, was last weekend. I adeptly avoided tears by going nuts all over my roof and removing my tender friends from their container. Then I had the classic problem. I had to get my basil used up, stat. As a friend recently told me while standing on my roof, “You have too many plants!” I totally disagreed with him until it was time to harvest, and therefore find a use for, all my basil.
I have about 30 basil plants of many varieties. I co-plant them with tomatoes, tomatillos, anything else I happen to be growing, so I planned on having a lot. This year, though, some of them sprung up from the depths of my containers with no coaching from me, which was cool. Many of them area as tall as I am, and some are short but insanely productive (those are mostly the fino verde variety). That makes for a lot of pesto over the course of a few months, and though I do love a nice batch of ice cube tray pesto when the winter sets in , this kimchi adaptation is a nice departure for those who have had their fill of basil* or just want a different flavor with their ferments every so often.
So it is that pesto-chi was born. Yes, Korean food snobs, I recognize that this doesn’t fall on the list of the 187 officially recognized kimchi varieties. But that just makes me feel sorry for that list. Also, it’s daikon and napa cabbage packed into a container to ferment with seasonings, so I’m pretty comfortable calling it a kimchi (although normally I fall in the camp of those who don’t understand why any pickled vegetable gets called kimchi rather than a pickle).
Making this is as simple as making your average baechu, kimchi. simpler actually, since I cut out the rice paste or gochujang step for this version. The type of basil you use will greatly impact the flavor of the final product. Thai basil lends an anise profile, while cinnamon basil makes this almost desserty. I used a mix for this one (though I left out the cinnamon basil so as to not confuse my taste buds too much). One thing: don’t mix red or purple varieties with green ones unless you enjoy a swampy color in your food.
- 1 half-gallon or 2, wide-mouth quart jars
- 2 jam jars or another weight
- 2 kitchen clothes and rubber bands suitable for covering your jars if using the ghetto jar method.
- Food processor
- Very large bowl
- 8 pound head of napa cabbage
- Big ol’ daikon radish, about 2 cups when sliced into 1/2 inch sticks
- 3 cups of tightly packed basil leaves
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes (I have particularly spicy, homemade pepper flakes. If you like it hot and use a normal brand, you may want to use more)
- The zest of two lemons
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 cup of salt for salting or 5 tablespoons of salt for brining (see number 4 below for more information).
- Thoroughly wash your cabbage in room temperature water and emove any skanky outer leaves. Reserve them.
- Core your cabbage. Quarter it lengthwise and then cut the quarters into 1.5-inch wide strips. You can leave the strips as is for fermentation or chop them crosswise into 1.5 inch squares. I prefer the smaller bites, so I chop mine smaller.
- I use a mandolin to slice my daikon because I have one and it’s quick. Feel free to chop yours by hand.
- Combine chopped cabbage and daikon in a large bowl (use 2 if you need to) and salt or brine. If brining, I use about 10 cups of filtered water and 5 tablespoons of salt. Mix them until combine, pour over veggies and weight them down. If salting, I use about 2 tablespoons of salt per pound of cabbage. With salting, I rinse my cabbage thoroughly before fermentation. With brining, I do not rinse.
- If brining, pour brine over your veggies and submerge them. I leave them overnight, or up to two days.
- If salting, I layer the salt into the veggies and toss well with gloved hands. Leave it for an hour, come back toss it again and leave it for another half hour. In the Korean parlance, you want your cabbage to look like the wind has been sucked out of it.
- If brining, thoroughly drain your cabbage. If salting, thoroughly rinse your cabbage. In both cases, taste to ensure you’re happy with the salt level. Salt isn’t destroyed during fermentation, so what you start with is what you’ll have at the end. However, other flavors will change and develop, so a slightly saltier taste may be desirable to some for a good, final balance. If it’s too salty, you can add more cabbage or daikon. If it’s not salty enough, toss with more salt.
- Put basil, garlic, brown sugar and red pepper flakes in a food processor and mix until it has the consistency of pesto. Mix in the lemon zest.
- Toss basil mixture with drained veg until thoroughly combined. I use kitchen gloves for this process.
- Pack the mixture very tightly into 2 quart jars or 1 half-gallon jar. There should be something resembling a thin, liquid layer on top. Use the ghetto jar method or another form of weight to keep the chi submerged.
- Ferment at room temperature from 5 days to 1 month. I like mine young, as it will continue to age in the fridge, but you should age it until it is as acidic as you like.
*There is no such thing as having your fill of basil.