Friday, October 30, 2015

Fun-filled Fall Fermentation

I love the fall garden! The colors play well with the golds and reds in the woods. Add in the peppers, eggplant and even a few tomatoes still hanging in there and you've got a glorious rainbow of veggies. Carrots, beets, radishes, radicchio and broccoli with a background of kale and broccoli greens. Not pictured are Chinese cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts and all the salad greens.

Many tasty dishes can be made from this bounty, but all of these and many more can be fermented, as well. Fermentation has made my little heart race as of late.

Green beans and long beans fermenting.
Fermenting foods is an ages old method of preserving foods, from wine to sauerkraut, from kimchi to kombucha, from cucumber pickles to pickled eggs, from fermented fish to... the possibilities seem endless.

My first attempt at fermentation using salt and cabbage did not turn out well. We add the salt and pounded the cabbage, covered it and let it sit. However, we did not understand the necessity of having sufficient liquid to cover the fermenting vegetables. Rotted cabbage does not exude a pleasant smell, just so you know.

That was maybe nine years ago and I have not attempted brine fermentation since. A few years ago I discovered a method that uses whey extracted from plain yogurt. It uses less salt than the regular brine method and is, as far as I can tell, foolproof. But you must squeeze whey out of yogurt (the resulting thick yogurt "cheese" is quite yummy) and it contains some bit of whey protein that might cause a reaction in someone with a sensitivity to dairy.

But fermenting vegetables not only provides a different way of preserving vegetables, each small serving (use them as condiments, not as whole sides) contains billions of tiny microorganisms that will populate your gut. That's a good thing. These are some of the appropriate types of microorganisms for your gut. These many bacteria and what-have-you are necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. When we don't have enough of them, we suffer malnutrition. When the wrong kinds are most prevalent, we suffer from digestive issues, obesity, mental problems and numerous other problems that don't seem in any way connected to the digestive tract.

Make small batches in quart-size or two-quart-
size, wide-mouth canning jars. Use a half-
pint jar filled with water to weight the veggies
under the brine. Keep in mind that the jar will
sink a little and the jar might overflow.
If that doesn't convince you, fermented foods are plain delicious. Think beyond sauerkraut and cucumber pickles. Think kimchi, fermented green beans, pickled green tomatoes, pickled broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, hot and sweet peppers -- let your imagination run wild.

My fermentation adventures began with cucumbers. I had a few... thousand or so. I offered some to my neighbor who told me that she planned to ferment them. When I expressed interest, she loaned me her copy of "The Art of Fermentation," by Sandor Ellix Katz. This book is almost two inches thick, filled with not so much recipes but lots of information about all kinds of fermenting. Rather than starting my reading on page one, chapter one, I turned to the section on brine fermentation of cucumbers. He provided the ratio of salt to water (approximately 3 tablespoons canning salt per quart of water) and I jumped in.

While slicing cucumbers into my two-gallon crock I simply added fresh dill, garlic and other seasonings I usually use in making vinegar pickles. Then I poured the brine to cover, set a plate slightly smaller than the crock on top and weighted the plate with a glass jar of water. The whole thing was covered with a clean dish towel and set in the corner to ferment. Every couple of days or so you need to check the mess and skim off any scum or surface mold. (If it's white, you're ok, brightly colored molds mean start over and sterilize your container.) After a week, I considered them finished. But you can stop sooner or let it go longer. Taste the cukes and let your tastebuds be your guide as when to quit.

Cover the fermenting vegetables with a
paper towel or clean dish towel to keep
out dust, cat hair, errant mold spores, etc.
My next ferment was green beans and long beans. I tried both raw beans and cooked because my husband doesn't like the taste of raw beans. The taste test, however, indicated that the raw beans are just fine and that a 10-day ferment is better than a 7-day ferment.

Today I started green tomato pickles. Over the weekend I tasted a delectable green tomato pickle. The secret ingredient (shhhh, don't tell anyone) was a hint of smoked salt. This ingredient must be used sparingly, so I used just a couple of sprinkles. Before starting another batch, I'll test to see how that amount works.

Tomorrow -- Kimchi! A Korean style of fermented vegetables. That process is a little different than the above pickles, in which I simply poured brine over cut up and seasoned veggies. But I'll save that for another day. Every Korean family has its own kimchi recipe, so it seems that I have carte blanch to use whatever ingredients I desire. However, one traditional ingredient is Chinese or Napa cabbage, which I planted in order to kimchi.

Otherwise, just go crazy developing all kinds of vegetable mix and seasonings as you ferment. Not only will your tastebuds thank you, but your belly will be happier, too.

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