For a while now, I have toyed with idea of sharing some recipes on the blog related to my lactose-free lifestyle, and even though they embody the definition of “off topic,” I figured it would be a fun and tasty break from our regular posts. When I first became lactose intolerant a couple years ago, the symptoms were manageable with lactose enzyme pills, but after a vicious stomach virus wreaked havoc on my system, the mere hint of lactose rendered me a balled up mess of pain. I ultimately gave up all lactose completely, which does not seem terrible until you realize that everything from spaghetti sauce to hamburger buns to crackers to potato chips can contain dairy. I, along with anyone unfortunate enough to be picking up food for me, was forced to become an obsessive label reader at the grocery store. My patience wore thin with this lifestyle pretty quick, and I scheduled doctors’ appointments to determine what caused the issue in the first place. After a battery of tests, including blood work, a colonoscopy, and stomach lining biopsies, my doctor told me I was in amazing shape and probably had the catch-all diagnosis of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” I was also offered to be tested specifically for lactose intolerance, but the test is expensive and not always covered by insurance. Needless to say, I declined and moved on with my life.
Naturally, this drastic change in circumstance led to some equally drastic changes in diet, and I was forced to employ lactose-free strategies in my cooking. I as well as my dad Jason—a co-writer in this series—have come up with some creative, delicious recipes that I want to share here on Fridays from time-to-time. Even if you are not lactose intolerant, these are still fantastic recipes!
For the inaugural post, I chose to share our modified Kimchi recipe:
When traditional medicine failed to give me much help, I branched out to research potential home remedies, and a diet rich in probiotics, or the healthy bacteria in your digestive system, continued to pop up as a recommendation. Kimchi, in particular was touted as a miracle food for its high concentration of naturally occurring bacteria along with the delightful fermented bean paste (oh, you won’t believe the cool stuff we’ll be doing with this in future posts). Since most traditional Asian cuisine does not use dairy products, I found myself snatching up cookbooks and religiously following Maangchi. In fact, we’re going to showcase a few of her recipes here, and I highly recommend subscribing to her channel and/or buying her book.
For those of you who have never heard of this tasty Korean concoction, kimchi is basically spicy fermented cabbage. Granted the description is not instantly appetizing and the smell is a little potent, but oh is it delicious! Not only can kimchi be used as a side dish, but it can also function as a condiment—topping rice, hot dogs, hamburgers, stir fry, pot stickers, and sticky buns to name a few. Furthermore, the juices are perfect for using as a sauce or soup base, and if you make kimchi without finely cutting the cabbage pieces, it can wrap up meats, veggies, or tofu for braising. Because of the fermentation process, kimchi also contains billions upon billions of good bacteria which help improve the overall state of your digestive system, especially if you make your own.
To get started, you need to check out the original Maangchi recipe here. Seriously. Subscribe. This lady rocks. And now for my dad’s notes:
I don’t use the squid. I started out at half a cup of hot pepper flakes and slowly built up to now using 3 cups of them. Regular pepper flakes won’t work (like cayenne pepper flakes). You have to use the ones like shown here. If you don’t have an international or Asian market to find the pepper flakes, sweet rice flour, and fish sauce, Amazon has them fairly cheap.
I use mason jars (wide mouth works best) to store them in and make sure to leave about an inch to inch and a half for expansion during fermentation. I place them inside a roasting pan with a lid and leave them on the counter for 5-6 days before putting them into the refrigerator. While outside of the refrigerator, burp them in the morning and evening, and while doing that, invert the bottles to allow the juices to saturate to the top and then back down. Once they have been left on the counter for 5-6 days, move into the refrigerator which will then slow the fermentation process down.
You can eat it as soon as it is made but it taste better after it has some time to ferment.
And now for my notes: I am interested in trying the squid. I like it in certain dishes and soups, but I’m not a fan in sushi. I’m wondering if the fermentation process would decrease the chewy factor of the squid like cooking does with calamari. Also, I like my food insanely spicy. I have my dad make me a fermented hot sauce too which will pop up in another post, and this stuff is so hot it took my aunt’s breath a way from only dipping a finger into it. For me, three cups is pretty good, but I’d love to see him add an extra cup for those times I really want the spice. He’s also right that the longer the kimchi sits, the better and better it tastes. I typically eat a big serving 4 to 5 times a week and love it as a topper on grilled cheese (I use a 3 year aged cheddar cheese from Wellsley Farms, as the longer hard cheese is aged, the less lactose it contains) sandwiches, wraps, rice, and stir fry. There is nothing this stuff doesn’t taste great on . . . well, maybe cereal but still. That’s a great track record.
The best part about the kimchi, however, isn’t the taste: It’s the probiotics. A customer of mine who shares some of my woes recommended I start taking cod liver oil supplements to help with my PCOS and anxiety. I take it religiously everyday, and between the oil and the fermented foods diet, my stomach is in better shape than before the lactose issues started. The other day I had a serving of mac-and-cheese (made with lactose free butter so keep that in mind) and forgot to take my pills. Nothing happened. A year ago, I couldn’t even eat Utz’s Salt & Vinegar chips without taking two lactase enzyme tables and praying for the best. Two! For like 15 chips! If you are having any kind of digestive issues, definitely consider adding fermented foods to your diet in addition to the cod liver oil. I think you’d be surprised how much better it can make you feel.