What’s Fermenting: Beet Kvass

As I write this, it is one week before Christmas Eve, 2021. COVID-19 is once again booming in New York City, and we are once again in “hunker down” mode. This year, we will have a quiet Christmas at home. For a few years now, we have been doing our own personal take on a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner, which is known as the Wigilia (from the Latin for vigil). The Wigilia is by tradition a pescetarian meal, which is perfect for us, and gives us an excuse to whip up some of our favorite Polish dishes, especially pierogi.

But the first course of a Wigilia, and in some ways, the centerpiece of the meal, is Barszcz, a clear, beautifully red, slightly sour, beet broth. The broth is served with uszki, or “little ears,” which are similar to small pierogi, but stuffed with fragrant dried Polish forest mushrooms. (The barszcz itself is typically vegan; the uszki typically have egg in the dough, but are otherwise vegetarian.) A few years ago, I got my Mom’s recipe, and it is in her customarily minimalist style:


  • 1 pound beets, wash, cut in quarters
  • Veggie stock
  • Apple cider vinegar, normal vinegar, or squeezed lemons

(All of my Mom’s recipes are like this. In order to make sense of them, you will have had to seen them prepared, and of course, tasted them many, many times. We’re fine on both counts.)

The hint of sourness is really the key to this dish. Since we are both fermented foods enthusiasts, two years ago we hit upon the idea of using one of our own ferments in place of vinegar. The prefect candidate was beet kvass, which is quite simply the brine from fermented beets. It gives the sour kick, delivered with an intense beet flavor. The recipe and method are pure simplicity.

Beet Kvass

  • Farmer’s market beets, topped & tailed, washed, not peeled
  • 3.5% salt brine

Halve or quarter the beets, and fill a large mason jar. Fill the jar with the salt brine, ensuring all beets are under the brine. Cover with an air-tight lid, or airlock. Let ferment, checking periodically for pressure build up—opening the lid once or twice a day should be fine.

As with any fermented food, the key to success is to start with very fresh, high quality produce. Nora got our beets from the Fledgling Crow Vegetables stand at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Greenmarket. (They were a little surprised that Nora wanted 7.5 lbs of beets!)

With just one week to ferment, our kvass will probably be on the mild side, but we can keep it going for weeks or months more. Nora likes to drink a bit of it in seltzer water as a savory tonic.

Chester's Mom
Chester’s Mom

Recipe: Easy Kimchi Pancakes

We absolutely love homemade sourdough bread, and we’ve been making it for close to four years now. For all that time, we have had two sourdough starters going. One of our starters is 50/50 whole wheat/white flour, his name is Charlie Driggs, named for the character played by Jeff Daniels in the 1986 Jonathan Demme film, Something Wild. The other starter is 100% white flour, and his name is Charlie Watts. Collectively, we call them “The Charlies.”

Kimchi pancakes sourdough starter
Sourdough starter

To keep the Charlies happy, we need to feed them every day. A feeding goes like this:

  • Toss out 80% of the starter, leaving 20% behind
  • To the remainder, add 100 g of flour
  • Add 100 g of 87F water

During ordinary maintenance, the Charlies are happy with a daily feeding. But when I’m getting ready to do a bake, I will do the last couple of feedings closer together, for example, every 12 or even 8 hours. This leaves a conundrum, what to do with all the discarded starter? Just tossing it out seems like a waste.

Well, it turns out that there are a few great things you can make with the starter that you would otherwise be tossing. We have made sourdough crackers, which are amazing, and sourdough tortillas. But today, we’re doing our favorite recipe, which is also the simplest: sourdough kimchi pancakes.

The beauty of it is that sourdough starter is, on its own, already pretty close to a perfect pancake batter. I have made all sorts of sourdough pancakes, both savory and sweet, and found that a minimalist treatment works just fine. Some olive oil, an egg (or no egg for a vegan version that works out fine), a pinch of salt (unless adding other savory ingredients, like kimchi), a pinch of sugar (also optional). I’ve made them with and without baking powder, and usually leave it out.

Nora’s vegan kimchi

Since we always have some of Nora’s vegan kimchi on hand, kimchi pancakes are a weekend favorite. I can get these whipped up in under thirty minutes. I usually make the first two for Nora, then two for me, and then Nora is usually kind enough to make the last two while I eat my first two. It’s teamwork! I like mine with a side of homemade fermented hot sauce and some soy sauce. (I’d like to make it clear that these are not going to be an authentic South Korean kimchi pancake. They are delicious, but I doubt they will evoke a taste of home for South Koreans.)


  • 190 g white flour sourdough starter
  • 190 g 50/50 whole wheat/white sourdough starter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup kimchi, roughly chopped

Mix ingredients in your vintage yellow Pyrex bowl. All the usual notes to making pancakes apply: don’t overmix the batter. Make sure your pan is very hot: when water droplets dance across the pan, it’s hot enough. We love our cast iron pan for this. Some olive oil in the pan will make nicely crisp pancakes. Flip when the pancakes are done around the edges, look for the tiny bubbles. This recipe will make six pancakes using 1/3 cup of batter per pancake.

Kimchi pancake

Recipe: Viennese Krautfleckerl (Pasta & Cabbage)

I’m sorry to say the first time I encountered krautfleckerl, I gave it a hard pass.

It was the first night of Chester’s and my first visit to Vienna. We were equal parts excited, tired, and hungry. Our hotel’s concierge recommended a nearby restaurant, but we neglected to tell him that we were looking for vegetarian and pescatarian options. The pickings were slim. The only fully veggie entrée on the menu consisted of pasta sautéed with cabbage and onion. (Yes, that’s our krautfleckerl!) At the time, the dish seemed to me like an afterthought, something a meat-focused chef might toss together from pantry staples to accommodate the rare vegetarian diner who stopped by. I ordered the salmon.

The next day, better rested, we visited the legendary Café Central for lunch. With its vaulted, cathedral ceilings and gleaming glass and gilt cases full of expertly made pastries, it ranked high on our must-see list. The line to get in snaked down the café’s 19th Century stone steps, but we knew it would be worth it.

Finally seated at one of the marble-topped tables, we read through the menu. There it was again: Wiener Krautfleckerl.

The accompanying description wasn’t any more enticing than the one at the last place: “Viennese square noodles with white cabbage and lettuce.” But I realized now this was a classic local dish and decided to give it a try.

It was absolutely delicious.

Homemade pasta squares sautéed in butter with tangy-sweet cabbage. Toasted caraway seeds tossed throughout added additional savory depth. Fresh, simple ingredients, coming together in that perfect way only fresh, simple ingredients can.

I realized too that it was something we could try recreating back at home.

Later, some Googling revealed krautfleckerl was originally a Hungarian dish enthusiastically adopted by Austrian (and German) cooks.

In our home kitchen, Chester added a Polish element by using some of our homemade sauerkraut, in place of fresh chopped cabbage. He said this touch was a nod to a Polish noodle dish, haluski.

The tangy-sour fermented taste balances out nicely with the dash of granulated sugar krautfleckerl recipes traditionally call for. Caramelized onions lend a little sweetness too.

He made the noodles from scratch using Marcella Hazan’s recipe (2 eggs and 1 cup of flour–that’s all you need for the dough!). He rolled it out in our pasta machine, then cut it into squares.

This was a labor-intensive but delicious weekend version of the recipe. For a quick weeknight dinner, store-bought egg noodles (or really any other wide, flatish pasta like farfalle) would do just fine. Either way, the ingredients are very inexpensive for such a satisfying and luxurious-tasting dish.


(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb pasta, either fresh or dry (see note above)
  • 1 cup fresh, fermented sauerkraut (OR 1-1/2 cups fresh cabbage, chopped)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Set a pot of water for the pasta on the stove at high heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter at medium heat and add the onions. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring until the onions caramelize (turn brown and translucent). Add the remaining ingredients and continue to cook about 3 minutes until the ingredients are soft and well-combined. Turn off heat and allow to sit.

Meanwhile cook and drain the pasta. Combine in the pan with the cabbage mixture and heat and stir a minute or two, to allow the flavors to combine. Serve immediately. We enjoyed our Krautfleckerl with a great Austrian wine, 2016 Moric Blau Fränkisch.

What’s fermenting: Easy Homemade (Vegan) Kimchi

You might say I caught the fermentation bug from kimchi.

Salty, spicy, sour, with a slightly crunchy edge, this staple of Korean cuisine makes a deliciously addictive addition to everything from fried rice to tacos to sourdough pancakes to grilled cheese sandwiches.

You can buy small jars of artisanal versions for upwards of $10. I’m here to tell you it’s easy–and satisfying–to make at home.

The active prep time is minimal. But with all the resting/fermenting required, it’ll be four days at the very least until you have kimchi that’s ready to eat. The ingredients are: Napa cabbage, daikon (Japanese radish), scallions, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, plus a Korean a hot red pepper powder called gochugaru (available at specialty stores such as Kalustyan’s here in NYC and also online). Traditional non-vegan recipes include fish sauce and dried shrimp.

Vegan kimchi ingredients: Napa cabbage, ginger root, scallions, daikon, garlic, salt, sugar, korean chile powder
Vegan kimchi ingredients: Napa cabbage, ginger root, scallions, daikon, garlic, salt, sugar, gochugaru.

Kimchi relies on the same probiotic (human-friendly) bacterium for its fermentation as sauerkraut: lactobacillus acidophilus. The bacteria are naturally present on the cabbage leaves and just need a little encouragement. That encouragement comes in the form of salt and being packed tightly in a container deprived of oxygen. Both of these things kill off the competing (human-unfriendly) bacteria, giving the lactobacillus acidophilus freedom to take over. (If you’re interested in reading more about the subject, I highly recommend books by Sandor “Sandorkraut” Katz.)

I made my very first batch of vegan kimchi three years ago. I’d never tried my hand at making any fermented foods before and, to be honest, felt a little apprehensive about adding dried shrimp to something that was going to be sitting unrefrigerated on my kitchen countertop for over 24 hours. Plus shrimp and the fish sauce were just another two ingredients I’d need to buy. I decided to try a vegan recipe instead, and found a great one from J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats. It’s possible to simply skip the seafood and leave it at that. But he substitutes miso paste to give the finished product extra tasty umami depth.

I’m a much more confident home fermenter now, but am hooked on this vegan version of kimchi (one day I’m going to try the shrimp). I make it regularly, and over the years have adjusted the ingredients and prep method slightly to my preferences. Traditional recipes call for whole Napa cabbage leaves–or, for larger batches, an intact, whole head of it, with the seasonings packed between the leaves (cool video here). But I found tearing the leaves into smaller pieces made them easier to handle every step of the way. They were easier to salt, easier to mix with the chili paste, and easier to pack in–and pull out of–jars.

I also learned the measurements don’t need to be exact. If you only have three scallions on hand instead of six, three scallions will do just fine. Same goes for garlic and ginger–and the hot pepper. You even have some leeway with the amount of salt. As for the countertop fermentation, 24 hours is a basic minimum, but in cooler weather I let it go for about 36. The kimchi will get more and more sour as the process goes on. Once it’s in the fridge, fermentation will continue but at a much slower rate. Feel free to adjust to your own tastes.

Vegan Kimchi

(adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats)

  • 1 head of Napa cabbage (1-2 lbs)
  • 2-3 tablespoons non-idodized salt (kosher or sea salt)
  • 6 scallions, trimmed, greens separated from white parts, and cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  • fist-sized piece of daikon (Japanese radish), peeled and cut into matchsticks approx. 1/4 inch thick
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
  • 2 tbs miso paste (I used low sodium)
  • 1 tbs sugar (I used dark brown but any kind will do)
  • water

Remove core from bottom part of Napa cabbage. Tear leaves into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add scallion greens and daikon matchsticks. Add salt a little at a time to bowl, mixing to distribute among the leaves. Cover with a cloth and allow to wilt for 6-12 hours. Stir as needed to redistribute salt. The vegetables should release 1/4-1/2 cup water.

In a food processor, combine scallion whites, garlic, ginger, gochugaru, miso, and sugar. Whir for a few seconds to form a coarse paste.

Combine paste with the cabbage mixture in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of water and either stir with a spoon or knead with hands until the paste is evenly distributed. Taste for desired saltiness and adjust as necessary. Pack into a large jar, pressing down with the back of a spoon to release any trapped air pockets and allow some liquid to rise to the surface until the vegetables are completely submerged. Tighten lid on jar.

Allow to sit at room temperature 24-36 hours. Open jar after 12 hours or so to release gasses. Place in fridge. Can be consumed in 48 hours and keeps for a month or two. Note: Kimchi will become softer and more sour as time goes on.

What’s fermenting: Union Square Greenmarket Sauerkraut

Friday was a gorgeous day in New York, perfect for our weekly visit to the Union Square Greenmarket. Who knows how many more days we will have like this? Traditionally, end of harvest is the last chance to ferment, can, and store food for the rough season ahead. Even though we already have plenty on hand, we stopped off at the Oak Grove Plantation stall to get another beautiful batch of chilis for this year’s fermented hot sauce production. We also picked up some green and red cabbage, and bolero carrots for our latest fermentation project, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is not exactly a staple of ours, but Nora has been making excellent homemade kimchi for a couple of years now, and we thought this would be a good time to branch out.

I grew up in a very Polish household. Every house we lived in had either a proper root cellar, or various nooks in the basement where my mother squirreled away mass quantities of canned foods and homemade treasures: dill pickles, jams, and always a giant vat of sauerkraut. You may think that the Polish national dish is pierogi or cabbage rolls, but in fact, that honor goes to bigos. Bigos is a hunter’s stew made sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, and various meats. Growing up, it was served at pretty much every formal dinner my parents had with their various friends and relatives. I never really cared for it as a kid, and haven’t really had the opportunity to try it since becoming a pescatarian over twenty-five years ago. We will try out some vegetarian bigos recipes in coming weeks. I am also really dying to try a vegetarian Reuben sandwich recipe.


  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 head red cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • Sea salt


  1. Clean cabbages and retain some of the outer leaves.
  2. Scrub and trim 4 carrots, do not peel.
  3. Shred each cabbage into a large mixing bowl.
  4. With a peeler, shred the carrots into the mixing bowl.
  5. Mix to evenly distribute the cabbages and carrots.
  6. Weigh the shredded cabbage and carrots, add 2% salt by weight.
  7. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  8. With both fists, take handfuls of the mixture and squeeze, to release the moisture. Keep doing this until water flows from the cabbage like wringing a wet sponge.
  9. Tightly pack mixture into Mason jars or sauerkraut crock.
  10. Take some of the outer cabbage leaves and use as a ‘lid’ inside the jar or crock. Push down to make sure all is submerged by the brine.
  11. NB: if using a lidded Mason jar, you must periodically loosen the jar or open the lids to allow gasses to escape. Fermentation will be at its most vigorous for the first few days.
  12. Periodically taste. After a few days, it will be crispy and fresh tasting, for weeks and months after that, it will develop sourness and deeper flavors. Eat it when you like it!


The main vessel we are using to ferment this is a 1.5L vintage Le Parfait Super Jar that Nora found at the Housing Works Thrift Shop. We closed the lid when we packed it, and by Saturday evening, the gas buildup was substantial, opening the lid released a violent spritz of purply brine. After that, we have mostly been keeping the lid loose. When first shredding all the cabbage, it seemed like it would be an enormous volume, but that went down after the squeezing step, and went down further after packing into the jar.

Looking at recipes, a 2% salt by weight appears to be a common target. For folks like us, who are watching our sodium intake, that may be a bit too much. Sandor Katz recommends salting to taste.