Fermented Vegetables

Fermented vegetables are an excellent source of probiotics that can help the body with breaking down foods during digestion, and with healing the gut. Here are some basic recipes you can try from Fermented Vegetables, © by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

If you're keen to try even more, they have a book (what I think of as an encyclopedia!) called Fermented Veggies, which you can check out, here. 


Basic Steps for Making Sauerkraut

Saurkraut

▶ Rinse the vegetables in cool water and prepare according to the recipe directions; transfer to a large bowl.

▶ Add half the salt in the recipe and, with your hands, massage it in (as if you were kneading dough), then taste. You should be able to taste salt, but it should not be overwhelming. If it’s not salty enough, continue adding small amounts and tasting, until it’s to your liking. Remember: If it’s tasty fresh, it will be delicious fermented.

▶ The vegetables will quickly look wet and limp. Depending on the amount of moisture in the vegetable and your efforts, some amount of liquid will begin to pool in the bowl. If you’ve put in a good effort and don’t see much brine, let the vegetables stand, covered, for 45 minutes, then repeat the massage.

▶ Transfer the vegetables to a crock or jar. Press down on the vegetables with your fist or a tamper; this will release even more brine. There should be some brine visible on top of the vegetables when you press. (Don’t worry if the brine “disappears” between pressings.) If not, return the vegetables to the bowl and massage again.

▶ When you pack the vessel, leave 4 inches of headspace for a crock, and 2 to 3 inches for a jar. (Headspace is the area between the brine and the top rim of the vessel.)

▶ Top the vegetables with one or two leaves, if using, or a bit of plastic wrap. This primary follower keeps the shreds from floating above the brine.

▶ Top with a secondary follower and weight. For a crock the follower may be a plate that fits the opening of the container and nestles over as much of the surface as possible; then weight down the plate with a sealed water-filled jar. For a jar, you can use a sealed water-filled jar or ziplock bag as a follower-weight combination. (Note: Use a ziplock bag that fits the diameter of the vessel and is large enough to submerge the vegetables.) Then cover it all with a large kitchen towel or muslin.

▶ Set aside the jar or crock on a baking sheet, somewhere nearby so you can keep an eye on it, out of direct sunlight, in a cool area (anywhere that is between 55 and 75°F will work, but the cooler the better). Ferment for the time indicated in the recipe.

▶ Check daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pressing down as needed to bring the brine back to the surface. You may see scum on top; it’s generally harmless, but if you see mold, scoop it out. 

▶ Using a clean, nonreactive utensil, remove some of the kraut and taste it when the recipe directs. It’s ready when:

It’s pleasingly sour and pickle-y tasting, without the strong acidity of vinegar.
The flavors have mingled.
The veggies have softened a bit but retain some crunch.
The color is that of the cooked vegetable.

If it’s not ready, rinse the followers and weight, put everything back in place, and continue monitering the brine level and watching for scum and mold.

▶ When the kraut is ready, carefully skim off any scum on top, along with any stray bits of floating vegetables. Transfer the kraut into a jar (or jars) if you fermented in a crock. If you fermented in a jar, you can store the kraut in it. Leave as little headroom as possible, and tamp down to make sure the kraut is submerged in its brine. Screw on the lid, then store in the refrigerator.


Sweet Pepper Salsa

yield: about 2 quarts
(fermentation vessel: 1 gallon)
technique used: Relishes, Chutneys, Salsas, and Fermented Salads (page 66)

Under the name Pepper Solamente, this was one of the products we brought to market. It’s all peppers, but it makes a perfect fermented salsa, with all the color and tang of a tomato salsa without tomatoes. This salsa is delightful as is, or use it as a tomato-salsa starter kit: just before serving, add diced fresh tomatoes and a little minced cilantro to the pepper mixture.

3 pounds sweet red peppers (the thicker the walls, the better), roughly chopped
1 pound jalapeños, seeds removed, roughly chopped
2 medium sweet onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1½–2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt

1. Put the bell peppers, jalapeños, and onions in a food processor and pulse to mince. Transfer to a large bowl and add the garlic and 1½ tablespoons of the salt. Mix well, and you’ll have enough brine immediately; then taste. It should taste slightly salty without being overwhelming. Add more salt if needed. 

2. Press the mixture into a 1-gallon jar or crock. More brine will release as you press, and you should see brine above the veggies. You will have more brine than usual in this ferment; as the peppers and onions soften, the vegetable mass will not be dense enough to hold the usual scheme of primary and secondary followers in place. If using a jar weight on a plate, it will constantly slide sideways. The finely chopped veggies will want to float above the plate. So, for a primary follower, food-grade plastic screening (see page 36) works best; it will help keep the bits submerged. Otherwise, use a piece of plastic wrap. Top with a plate if using a crock or a sealed water-filled jar if using a jar. 

3. Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, out of direct sunlight, and cool, for 14 to 21 days. Check daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, and adjust your followers and weights as needed. You may see scum on top; it’s generally harmless, but consult the appendix if you’re at all concerned.

4. You can start to test the ferment on day 14. It’s ready when it has developed a pleasingly sour acidity, like salsa. This salsa will stay vibrantly colored.

5. When it’s ready, spoon the ferment into smaller jars, leaving as little headroom as possible, and tamp down under the brine. Pour in any remaining brine to cover. Tighten the lids, then store in the fridge. This ferment will keep a long time refrigerated, up to 2 years.


Sweet Dill Relish

yield: about 2 quarts
(fermentation vessel: 2 quarts)

Sometimes a fermentista has to do what a fermentista has to do to help along a less-than-stellar ferment, and why not a sweet pickle relish? This is a great way to use flat pickles — and you can even use perfect ones! 

4 pounds lacto-fermented dill pickles, chopped in a food processor
1  cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2–3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Taste. Add more sugar or vinegar if either isn’t strong enough. When it’s pleasing, put the mixture in a 2-quart jar.

2. Make sure the vegetables are submerged, then cover loosely with the lid. Set aside for 1 day, for the flavors to ripen and the onions to ferment.

3. Screw on the lid, put in the refrigerator, and wait a few days for the flavors to enhance.

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Tsukemono (Japanese Pickled Cabbage)

yield: about 1 gallon
(fermentation vessel: 1 gallon or larger)

The literal translation of tsukemono is “pickled things.” 

2 napa cabbages
2–4 tablespoons unrefined sea salt

1. Remove the coarse outer leaves. Rinse a few unblemished ones and set them aside. Rinse the rest of the cabbage in cold water. With a stainless steel knife, cut the cabbages in half lengthwise, then crosswise into ½-inch slices.

2. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of the salt, then taste. It should taste slightly salty without being overwhelming. If it’s not salty enough, continue salting until it’s to your liking. The napa will soon look wet and limp, and liquid will begin to pool. This cabbage tends to weep more quickly than green cabbage.

3. Transfer the cabbage to a 1-gallon crock or jar, several handfuls at a time, pressing down with your fist or a tamper to remove air pockets. You should see some brine on top of the cabbage when you press. When the vessel is packed, leave 4 inches of headspace for a crock, or 2 to 3 inches for a jar. Top the cabbage with one or two of the reserved outer leaves. For a crock, top the leaves with a plate that fits the opening of the container and covers as much of the vegetables as possible; then weight down with a sealed water-filled jar. For a jar, use a sealed water-filled jar or ziplock bag as a follower-weight combination. 

4. Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, out of direct sunlight, and cool, for 7 to 14 days. Check daily to make sure the cabbage is submerged, pressing down as needed to bring the brine back to the surface. 

5. You can start to test the tsukemono on day 7. The fermented napa will have the same limp yet still somewhat crisp texture as kimchi and will smell a lot like sauerkraut but a bit stronger. Keep tasting; it could take up to 2 weeks to reach the proper degree of sourness. 

6. When it’s pleasing to your palate, it’s ready. Ladle the ferment into smaller jars and tamp down. Pour in any brine that’s left. Tighten the lids, then store in the fridge. This ferment will keep, refrigerated, for 8 to 12 months.