Darina Allen: Korean Tofu Stir-fry with Kimchi

FERMENTATION, the hottest ‘new’ trend in food for the past few years is gradually becoming mainstream as the word gets out that fermented foods are one of the easiest ways to enhance our gut flora. 

So if you haven’t already started to experiment, now could be the time.

Our Western diet is sadly lacking in fermented foods but many popular foods are in fact fermented including yoghurt, beer, salami, vinegar, fermented black beans, tempeh and miso.

The problem is some of these foods like yoghurt are so hugely processed and sweetened and refined that there’s very little value left. 

In fact there’s quite a school of thought that would argue that they are downright damaging to one’s health rather than beneficial.

So avoid hugely processed food totally. I can’t be stronger than that but as time passes I am increasingly concerned that there’s a real and growing problem. 

The number of people I encounter daily who have intolerances or allergies or worse still a combination is truly alarming. 

People are confused and in some cases downright desperate trying to find and choose foods that they can eat without ill effects.

Many are seesawing from one ‘super food’ or whacky diet to another grasping at straws. 

Well for what it’s worth here’s my advice which of course you are welcome to take or leave, agree or disagree but it comes from my observation over 50 years or more, 31 of which I’ve been running a cookery school where students come for short, but also three-month courses, from a wide range of ages, backgrounds and nationalities. 

The number of students arriving with allergies and intolerances has skyrocketed in recent years.

While they are with us, they have the option to eat raw butter and drink raw organic milk and thick Jersey milk yoghurt. 

Those with wheat intolerance (not coeliac) seem to be able to eat totally natural sourdough bread made with organic flour without ill effects. 

Several who couldn’t tolerate eggs seem to be able to enjoy our free range organic eggs; vegetarians decide to try meat when they know the provenance.

Those with gut problems of which there seem to be alarming numbers nowadays, report a dramatic improvement in their condition when they eat natural yoghurt made with no additives.

So what’s going on? This is simply my observation and my anecdotal evidence may be of little or no value in the scientific world. 

But research is urgently needed. Can it be that increasingly people are allergic to the process rather that the initial natural food, certainly there’s enough anecdotal evidence to make it worth investigating. 

Sadly unless there’s a perceived commercial benefit it’s difficult to get a research project going nowadays. Meanwhile, we can take back power over our choices and start to ferment some simple foods at home. 

Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we’ve been offering three fermentation courses a year and the fascinating journey continues. Each new class builds on the previous one as we experiment more and our knowledge deepens. 

If you are beginning your journey, a brilliant new book fermented by Charlotte Pike, a beginners guide to making your own sourdough, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and more has just been published by Kyle Books. I so wish the book had been available when I was starting, clear, concise and confidence boosting.

Korean Tofu Stir-fry with Kimchi

This stir-fry is Charlotte’s version of a classic Korean dish known as Japchae. 

It uses sweet potato noodles, which are an important staple in the Korean diet, and which are gluten-free. 

Often called glass noodles, as they become clear when cooked, they are quite neutral in flavour and have a rather moreish sticky texture.

Serves 4

200g marinated tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes

50g sweet potato noodles (available from ethnic food shops and online), or vermicelli

200g baby spinach leaves, stalks removed

4 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp caster or light brown soft sugar

1½ tbsp sunflower oil

1 bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced

200g shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

1 courgette, cut into thin matchsticks

To serve:

Toasted sesame seeds

4 heaped tbsp Kimchi

Heat the oven to 180C fan/200C electric/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment. 

Arrange the tofu cubes in a single layer on the baking tray and bake for 20–30 minutes or until golden, firm and crisp around the edges.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and set aside.

Place a large wok over a high heat. Add the sunflower oil and allow it to heat for a minute. Put in all of the remaining ingredients, except for the noodles and stir-fry for 3–4 minutes. 

Add the noodles and continue to stirfry for a further 2 minutes or until they are heated through.

Serve the stir-fry in large bowls, topped with the baked tofu. Finish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a generous spoonful of kimchi on top.


Kombucha is a delicious fermented sweet tea. It is made using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, which can either be bought or passed on from a friend. 

The colony looks most unusual, but it produces the most delicious drink that is lightly effervescent and tastes of apples.

You will need a small amount of kombucha to start a batch, so this is a great recipe to do with your friends and share among one another.

The mass can be peeled in half, or cut into quarters and pieces.

Makes about 2.5 litres

2 heaped tablespoons black loose-leaf tea

(I use English Breakfast)

200g organic cane sugar

1 litre boiling water

1 litre filtered water

1 symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (available online)

250ml Kombucha (available online, or from a friend)


You will need a 3-litre glass Le-Parfait-style jar with a rubber seal, sterilised

Put the tea, sugar and boiling water in a jug and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to infuse and cool to room temperature. 

Strain the tea into a 3-litre glass jar and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then fasten the lid.

Set aside to ferment on the kitchen work surface for five days, after which time the kombucha will smell of apples and vinegar, and look clearer and more orange in colour. 

I prefer to drink the kombucha at the younger stage, after five days, however you can leave it to ferment for up to two weeks if you wish. 

You will find that the flavour will become progressively more vinegary and effervescent the longer the kombucha ferments. 

I recommend starting by drinking a 150ml glass (no larger) of kombucha. Reserve 250ml of the kombucha to make a second batch.

Flavoured Kombucha

Once you’ve perfected making kombucha, you can start experimenting with different flavours. 

Pour off 1 litre of kombucha into a clean glass jar and stir in the flavouring of your choice. 

Set aside to ferment on the kitchen worksurface for 12 hours. Drink as it is, or strain. Best served chilled.

Makes 1 litre

1 litre fermented Kombucha

For the flavourings: use either 3 large hibiscus flowers; or a few sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm; or 2 teaspoons dried chamomile leaves

TIP: You can leave the lid on or off the bottle as it ferments. It can be more effervescent if the lid is fastened.


Kimchi is an essential component of Korean cuisine, as it is served with almost every meal. 

It is still made in the autumn, in a Unesco-protected process called kimjang, when families come together to make their own recipes, which are passed down through the generations. 

With many regional differences in ingredients and methods, making and eating kimchi is a firm part of Korean heritage. 

My recipe is for a slightly sweet, tangy kimchi with a crunchy texture. I prefer to thinly slice the cabbage, but you could chop it into chunky pieces if you wish. I like everything cut up quite small.

Makes 1 x 1.5-litre jar

825g total weight of organic white cabbage, thinly sliced and Chinese leaf, cut into 5cm chunks, using more or less of each, as you prefer

50g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

50g fresh red chillies, such as fresno or serenade, thinly sliced (leaving the seeds in)

3 organic carrots, peeled and coarsely grated

1 bunch of organic spring onions, thinly sliced

400ml fish sauce

65g palm sugar

zest and juice of 2 limes

200ml filtered water

you will need a 1.5-litre glass Le-Parfait-style jar with a rubber seal, sterilised

Place the cabbage, Chinese leaf, ginger, garlic, chillies, carrots and spring onions in a large mixing bowl and mix well together with your hands until evenly combined. Transfer the mixture to a 1.5-litre jar.

Add the fish sauce, sugar, lime zest and juice and water to a jug and stir to dissolve the palm sugar. 

Pour into the jar, stir well with a wooden spoon or spatula and press down any vegetables that are poking out of the liquid. Close the lid and set aside to ferment on the kitchen work surface for at least a week. 

When the kimchi is ready it should smell strongly of its component ingredients, but not be unpleasant. It won’t change drastically in appearance, but the vegetables will soften a little.

The kimchi keeps for up to two months in a cool, dark place. Once opened, store in the fridge and eat within a month.

TIP: Ensure the vegetables are submerged in the brine at all times to inhibit mould from forming on the surface.

Recipes from Fermented, by Charlotte Pike. Published by Kyle Books


An event not to miss — 2015 is the United Nations International Year of the Soils so Ballymaloe Grainstore and Slow Food East Cork will present Symphony of the Soil, a documentary feature film that tells us how precious the soil is, on Thursday, October 8, at 8pm. 

There will also be a Q&A session with the director of the film, Deborah Koons Garcia, who is travelling all the way from California. 

Tickets are €8, prebooked at www.ballymaloegrainstore.com , 021 4652531 or buy on the night.

GIY and Slow Food Northern Ireland Gather and Swap takes place at The Narrows Social, Portaferry on Saturday October 10 from 10.30am til late. 

There will be seed and plant swaps, gather, grow, cook, ferment, eat workshops, apple tastings, and lots more. Email or phone Celia Spouncer at celia@spouncer.com  or 0044 77 256 46333.

West Cork Garlic offers a welcome alternative to the Chinese garlic flooding the country. Bryn Perrin started growing different varieties of garlic on his smallholding in West Cork five years ago. 

As well as selling his fresh garlic, he now makes smoked garlic butter. West Cork Garlic, Coolmountain West, Dunmanway. Tel 087-1333751; www.westcorkgarlic.com 

Learn how easy it is to make many of your own fermented foods at home, on Wednesday, October 14, at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. www.cookingisfun.ie  for further information. 

Walk the Walk for Gerald’s Ethiopian Project. Gerald spends four months each year in Addis Ababa setting up education programmes, housing and sustainable businesses. 

Gerald McSweeney is hosting a fundraising 11 km walk through the Gap of Dunloe and boat trip across the lakes of Muckross on Saturday October 3. 

Bus leaves Market Green, Midleton at 8am. Tickets are é50. Contact Gerald on 086 8983 444 or email mcsweeneydoe@gmail.com 


For our food special, our Currabinny duo, James Kavanagh and William Murray, dish up their top festive side plates.The Currabinny Cooks: Festive side plates to dish up this Christmas

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