Food: Ferment your summer garden
Special to the Free Press
Fermentation has become a fun and healthy hobby for me. To start your own fermentation kitchen, there are five basic items you need. I ordered all of mine from Amazon for less than $50.
1. Wide mouth funnel: More useful than you think. Who doesn’t like easier clean up?
2. Wooden pounder: One of those old farmhouse items that I think about passing on to my grandchildren one day.
3. Basic kitchen scale: Ensures the correct ratio of salt to vegetables.
4. Glass jars: You can spend as much or as little on these as you want, but I recommend Bormioli Rocco Fido jars because they are reasonably priced and the company dates back to 1825.
5. Salt: You want fine grain, high-quality sea salt. I use pink Himalayan sea salt that I buy in bulk.
SPICY BEANS AND CARROTS
These are perfect as a bloody mary garnish or topping for a salad.
Time: 30 minutes
2 cups green beans
2 cups carrots
4 fresno, habanero, or jalapeno peppers depending on your spice preference
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red chili flakes
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt dissolved in 1 1/2 cups of water
Remove ends of green beans.
Peel and cut carrots into strips about the size of your green beans.
Leave peppers whole or de-stem peppers and cut in half, your choice.
Put chili flakes and garlic in bottom of 1 liter jar.
Pack in green beans and carrots as tightly as you can. Start with a large handful and then fill in the sides leaving room for your peppers.
Put peppers in last around the outside.
Pour brine over beans all the way to the top of the jar. Make sure the beans and carrots are totally submerged even if you overflow the jar.
Let sit in a cool, dark place for one week. I like mine pretty crunchy so you can let them go longer if you wish.
Move to refrigerator to stop the fermentation process and enjoy.
EASY CABBAGE SAUERKRAUT
Try this as a topping for sandwiches, tacos, or on its own as a side.
Time: 30 minutes
500 grams vegetables (about 2 heads of cabbage; I use a mixture of purple and green cabbage but you can also add carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, or fennel bulb. Just make sure you maintain the ratio of vegetables to salt)
12 grams salt (a little over 2 teaspoons, but use a kitchen scale preferably to measure in grams)
Cut cabbage into thin strips, depending on how you like your kraut; I like mine very thin.
Weigh out cabbage and dump it into a very large mixing bowl.
Sprinkle salt over cabbage and pound with wooden pounder until the cabbage begins to release its own juices, about 10-20 minutes.
Using a wide mouth funnel, pour cabbage mixture into .75 liter fermenting jar.
Pound it down to remove all the excess air. You want it to be packed very tight inside the jar, and you will notice the cabbage releasing lots of juices.
Store in a cool, dark place for up to one month.
Tip: Taste your kraut once every few days. This will release some of the built up CO2 as well as help you determine when the kraut is done. If the top is browning, just stir up the kraut and pack down again.
To stop the fermentation process, simply place the jar in the refrigerator.
Pickling is the common method that comes to mind when people think of preserving vegetables for later in the year. If what also comes to mind are pots of liquid boiling over, hot metal, broken glass and sweating in a 100-degree kitchen, then you must have been around when my grandmother pickled her summer vegetables every year. There must be an easier way, right? Fermenting takes all the hassle out of preserving your summer garden, and it also has many health benefits over pickling.
The boiling liquid used in the pickling process is meant to kill germs. Along with killing those bad germs, though, it also kills nutrients and all the good germs. The good germs I’m talking about are those same bacteria found in yogurt. Digestive enzymes and probiotics that are touted for health benefits today were actually used for thousands of years by our ancestors to preserve their harvests and maintain health.
The simple combination of salt and vegetables create an environment where these healthy bacteria grow and thrive. The process is called lacto-fermentation. It does not involve any dairy, as the lacto part would imply, but instead refers to the natural lactic acid production that takes place during the fermentation process.
“Wild Fermentation” and “The Art of Fermentation,” both by Sandor Ellix Katz, explain the history and health benefits of the fermentation process. These books also explain the science behind fermentation and provide great recipes. If you want to start fermenting, then start with the purchase of these books.
Through my explorations in fermentation, I have learned a few useful tricks that apply to any vegetables you want to ferment.
• Firmer vegetables ferment the best. Think cabbage, cauliflower, radishes and root vegetables. Cucumbers are actually one of the hardest vegetables to ferment.
• Cut off any browning or bad parts of the vegetable: This can turn the whole batch bad.
• If you think your vegetables are too soft, then adding grape or mesquite leaves to the jar help in maintaining crispness.
• Cold stops the fermentation process. Fermented foods will last refrigerated for one to six months. If they’re still crunchy — you can still eat ’em!
• Vegetables must be completely submerged in the salt brine. Anything sticking out above the water may mold or rot, ruining your batch.
• Bubbles are good! That is the natural bacteria doing its work. If you don’t like the carbonation taste that accompanies some fermented foods, then once your vegetables are in the refrigerator, crack the lid of the jar for a few hours to release the CO2 trapped inside, and then continue to enjoy.
Fermenting is so easy — simply salt and vegetables — and you can experiment in many ways. For me, that is what makes fermenting so fun. Throw whatever you want in the jar and see how the vegetables turn out. Fresh herbs, whole gloves of garlic, or cinnamon sticks work well. Also, try using different vegetables, such as daikon radish or fennel. I’ve included two of my never-fail fermentation recipes that can be used as a foundation for experimentation or on their own.
Whether you find yourself with an overabundance of summer produce this harvest season, or you just want to enjoy your hard work later in the year, preserving your garden vegetables through fermentation will cover all the bases.
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