Ramp Kimchi

Ramp (Allium tricoccum) is not common in Nebraska, but I know of a patch somewhere in the hills. This wild onion is known by many names, including ramson, wild leek, wood leek and wild garlic, which can be confusing, as there are several species of edible wild onion and garlic, and foragers seem to use these names interchangeably. I'm one of a handful of people who know about this particular patch of ramps, and I'm probably the only person in this group who harvests it for food. 

This is an early-spring wild edible. The time to look for them is when ground temperatures begin to warm– around morel season– and leaves on trees have yet to fully develop. This wild onion loves sunlight and will die back once canopies begin to cast too much shadow over forest floors.

Because ramps are not abundant in my area and becoming over-harvested in other areas, I gather only a bag's worth– just enough to enjoy fresh and to preserve in a jar as kimchi, the Korean-style of fermentation. I eat ramp kimchi as I would traditional cabbage kimchi– as a side dish to brighten any fatty, meaty meals (such as Korean BBQ) or with anything that could use a bit of spicy tang. It's like a pleasantly funky, spicy pickle. In Korea, kimchi is "banchan"– part of a collection of side dishes served with a main meal.

I love the red, spicy-sour fermenting juice as much as the actual vegetable in the jar. I often spoon it over fried rice, porridge or add it to tonkotsu ramen broth. Don't let the bright red color scare you. The peppers typically used in Korean cooking have nice heat and rarely, if ever, are they scorching hot. The pepper flakes used to prepare kimchi is called gochugaru. It's sold in large bags/containers at most Asian grocery stores or 2 days away with Amazon Prime shipping– though you might pay a bit more for the actual product. 

The measurements below are sort of rough. I rarely ever measure closely; it all depends on how much ramp I have to work with. I mostly just eyeball it, and it always turns out fine. If you've never had kimchi, first try it at a Korean restaurant or buy a jar of it to taste. This will give you a good starting point for the flavors and color that you will want to achieve.

I try to make kimchi every year, and I add the remaining juices from the old jar into the new. Not only does the bacteria in the old jar help to jump-start the fermentation in the new batch, you're also passing on the flavors that you so patiently developed over the last year(s) of making kimchi. Your ramp kimchi will taste better with every batch, and the sauce will thicken as more garlic and ginger breaks down. Hank Shaw probably has a fancy word to describe this practice. I'm not that eloquent. 

- 1 pound of ramps, roots trimmed off
- 4 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 inch of ginger, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 3 to 4 tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds, optional
- Water, amount will vary

1. Cut ramps into halves or thirds. In a bowl, evenly disperse the salt throughout the ramps. Allow mixture to sit for 2 hours and massage occasionally. 

2. After 2 hours, ramps should be wilted. Transfer them to a colander and rinse with cold water. Allow to drip dry. 

3. Place the rinsed ramps back into the bowl and combine with the remaining ingredients, except the water.

4. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. At this point, it will taste young and uninteresting. You're mostly looking to see if it's salty and spicy enough. Add more fish sauce and pepper flakes to taste. If you find the ramps a bit too spicy, fermentation will help tone it down.

Stuff the ramps inside a sterilized quart-size, wide-mouth jar and push it down with a wooden spoon, or something similar, to release juices, and then seal. Make sure to leave at least 1 inch of headspace.

After a day of sitting at room temp, the salt usually does pull out enough moisture from the ramps to become completely submerged– with a bit of help from me stamping down the ramps every once in awhile. If by the end of the day you don't see enough fluid– which prevents molding– add just enough water that all the ramps are covered. Seal again and allow the jar to sit at room temperature for 3 or 4 days, or longer, depending on the air temperature. When you see air bubbles starting to form, that means fermentation is taking place. Open and close the jar every day to release excess gas buildup; this is called "burping."

5. I begin to taste-test the kimchi after two days and then transfer the jar to the refrigerator once I get a good tang going– about 3 days– after which, I allow the jar to sit for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator before consuming. I don't recommend eating the kimchi any sooner; it's still young and needs time for that sharp kimchi flavor to develop.

You could leave the jar out at room temperature longer to speed up the process, but since I make this to enjoy later in the year, I don't want my kimchi to ripen too fast. Fermentation does happen in the refrigerator, but at a slower rate. Continue to "burp" the jar to prevent any explosions. 

Kimchi is flexible. Make it according to your taste and your timeline. I enjoy it after at least a month of sitting in the refrigerator. Flavor and texture begin to deteriorate after 6 months, but I've kept kimchi for 12 months in the refrigerator and have had no issues with spoilage. The salt and the acid keeps it well preserved.