I love diving head first into new things and fermented foods is my new thing. Well, making fermented foods is my new thing – I’ve been buying fermented veggies from a local company for the better part of a year. My mom started talking about making some herself, so I jumped in and researched the topic and got us both started.
If you’re new to the idea of eating fermented foods (FF), taking probiotics, or have questions about the role healthy bacteria plays in digestive health (aka why this is important and not just really tasty), check out this article and this one from my buds at Precision Nutrition.
Turns out that making FF is super simple. And, it’s really safe! Here are a couple of basics I learned that have proved helpful in my pursuits thus far:
- There are a million ways to make fermented foods. They (almost) all work.
- You don’t need this particular crock, or this fancy salt, or anything in particular. You can have great results with equipment ranging from a mason jar covered in cheesecloth to a $100 gizmo with airlocks. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t believe anyone who says “you have to do it this way”. Actually, that last bit applies to just about everything in life. Except maybe home canning. Be careful with that.
- Your nose knows. If something has gone bad, as in potentially harmful, you will just know. It will not seem edible. So don’t eat it! Otherwise, confidently partake.
- Veggies like to be completely submerged in brine – this keeps mold from growing. This typically means using some type of weight to hold them down, and there are various ways to accomplish this. I typically use a plastic zip-top bag filled with water.
- Taste it! When you first mix up your concoction, taste it. I should taste pleasantly salty. If it’s too salty now, it will be too salty later. When it’s been on the counter for a few days, taste it. Not very tangy/sour? Let it sit another day or two. Awesomely tangy/sour/fermented/yum? It’s ready to go in the fridge.
My first ferment was sauerkraut, made with cabbage and other random veggies that came in my CSA, and I think it’s a nice place to get started. Cabbage has an added benefit that it makes its own brine. Have you ever made coleslaw and noticed that it gets really watery after a few hours? Exactly. I added some other veggies to my cabbage, but this is totally up to you. Here are instructions for making my mixed veggie kraut.
Do your own research
There are a billion sites (or more) that discuss fermenting foods. Read some. Find some recipe ideas you like. Find a crew to hang with and ask questions. Here are a few places that have helped me:
- http://www.wildfermentation.com/ - Sandor Katz is the internet guru of fermentation. He wrote a couple of books on the subject, and just about everyone will cite his stuff at some point in their fermenting career.
- http://www.nourishedkitchen.com/ – Jenny has a great “traditional foods” blog with lots of recipes for all sorts of dietary concerns & preferences (GAPS/Paleo/GF/Vegan/etc). She also has a whole section dedicated to ferments. I just made her brine pickled beets with ginger and orange.
- Fermenters Kitchen - A group on Facebook. There are lots of fermenting groups on Facebook, I just happened to join this one. Everyone is super friendly, they answer all sorts of questions, and they have a nice recipe section.
What do you do with this stuff?
Eat it, of course! I like to have a heaping tablespoon or so with just about any meal. I particularly like to eat it with braised/rich food like stews and curries. It tastes great sprinkled on salads, put it on a sandwich, eat it with scrambled eggs, literally endless possibilities. I put some ginger carrots on a hot dog last week. I’m hoping the probiotic benefits cancelled out the processed food issues (although they were all natural/organic/uncured hot dogs!).