Fermented vegetables

Many vegetables can be fermented. Fermenting means that there are living cultures added to the vegetables, much like the active cultures in yogurt. And like the cultures in yogurt, the cultures in fermented vegetables are a natural probiotic. You should try to eat a small serving every day. Mostly they are so good you don’t have to tell anyone to eat them daily.

For simple fermented vegetables get good canning jars. I like the 1.5 liter or 2 liter jars such as the Bormioli clear canning jar or the Le Parfait French Glass Canning Jar. Any jar with a gasket seal will work. Before each use, the jars and any utensils you are using should be rinsed in white vinegar (2 tablespoons of white vinegar in 1 cup of water).

The vegetables are fermented in a salt brine. The salt hardens pectins in the vegetables, making them crunchier, and inhibits the growth of non-friendly bacteria. When fermented in a 1.5-2 liter jar, 2 tablespoons of salt is generally the right amount. More than that and you’ll slow down the fermentation process. Less than a tablespoon and you’ll risk unwanted molds. Or you can use a pre-made brine solution.

To make fermented vegetables, wash, clean and cut up the vegetables to better fit the jar. With multiple vegetables, mix them together before putting them into the canning jar. Fill the jar until it is nearly full, but leaving some space at the top. Before you fill the jar with the vegetables, add any spices. Then in a measuring cup dissolve the salt (1.5 tablespoons recommended) in water at room temperature. Spring water or filtered water (removing chlorine) is best. Or just use a pre-made brine. Pour the brine over the vegetables until they are completely covered. The jar should be nearly full, with a small air pocket at the top for the gas that escapes during fermentation.

To finish, seal the jar and set in a safe place at room temperature. Do not refrigerate until the fermentation is completed. Refrigeration will stop the process. The fermentation generally takes 3 to 5 days. Each additional day will change the character of the fermenting vegetables, adding “sourness” and complexity to the flavor. You can taste a piece, after 3 days. Use tasting to find the point at which the vegetable is best for you. Everyone has their own “perfect” point when the fermentation is completed.

On salt, any salt will work. All salt is  sea salt, that is, the origin is from a salty sea or lake. Kosher salt is flaked and does not need the anti-clumping chemicals added to common table salt. Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is excellent and has the endorsement of the American Culinary Federation and does not list any additives on its label. Read the label to see if the salt you’re getting has any additives. Every additive introduces changes in the salt and its flavor. Salts called kosher don’t mean that they’ve been certified; it means it a salt to be used for meat koshering. Kosher salt is flaked instead of grains, which means it is less dense than regular table salt, so if you are using Kosher salt you may need more salt, say about 2 level tablespoons kosher salt for a 2 liter jar. Salt sold as sea salt usually means that it comes directly from drying salty water and that it has additional trace minerals because of that. For the highest mineral content in your salt, look for the grey sea salts (Sel Gris). These salts are slightly moist and have a pure salt flavor without the bitter undertone often found in industrially processed salts.

Iodized salts should never be used for fermentation. The potassium iodide added gives a bitter taste to the salt and all iodized salt has sugar (listed as glucose or dextrose) added to it to prevent the breakdown of the potassium iodide. Calcium silicate or another chemical is also added to prevent clumping.l

Below are some vegetable combinations that work well together, along with the spices. Try them or use your own selection of vegetables and spices.

You can add tea leaves to any of these. Tea leaves have tannin, which keeps the vegetables firm and crisp. Traditionally this was often done with grape leaves, which you could add instead of tea leaves. But tea leaves are easy to get. If you don’t have loose tea, you can even just add a tea bag, black or green tea both work.

Beets and turnips

4 raw beets. Wash, peel and cut into half-moon slices
4 raw turnips. Wash, peel and cut into half-moon slices
1 tablespoon fennel seeds

Cucumber spears (New York dill pickles)

6 raw cucumbers. Kirby cukes are best, but any will do.
  Wash and slice into quarter spears.
1 to 6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon tea leaves
4 fronds of dill or 2 tablespoons dried dill
Crush garlic cloves and put in the bottom of the jar with the spices and tea leaves. Then pack cucumber spears into the jar. 
Top with the dill fronds, if using. Then add salt water.

Cauliflower, radish and carrot

1 head cauliflower. Wash and cut down to bite-sized florets.
  To make them softer, you can parboil the cauliflower
  before cutting it down.
1 bunch red radishes or 1 daikon radish sliced.
  Wash the radishes. For red radishes use whole.
  Daikon should be cut down into half-moon slices.
3 carrots. Wash, peel and cut into rounds
3 garlic cloves
6 peppercorns or juniper berries

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