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First published 7/9/14
I admit to having strange tastebuds.
I freely admit to craving strange things and coming up with weird recipes that no-one wants to try.
But if you would’ve told me a year ago that I would not only know how to lacto-ferment vegetables but also enjoy the taste of them…
…I would’ve told you that you were dreaming.
Since the beginning of my trim and healthy way of eating, I have started experimenting with a lot of different things. I’ve become addicted to trying new ways of doing things, and while I’m not into organic or non-GMO or anything, I do enjoy food prep, especially when that food prep makes my food healthier. I enjoy looking at the “Cultured Foods” section of the book Trim Healthy Mama, and it’s from there that I first got my exposure to lacto-fermentation. Since then I’ve done some research, asked some questions…and then just started experimenting. To my surprise, lacto-fermentation is not rocket science and it’s very easy and the stuff actually tastes good. That was a shocker.
What is lacto-fermentation? To my very basic understanding, it’s an old form of food preservation that is coming back into vogue. It preserves nutrients in food (and is used by raw foodies) and adds healthful bacteria called probiotics which are great for your guts. Yogurt also contains probiotics. Cooking foods with probiotics kills the healthy bacteria, but you can add the juices from your lacto-fermented veggies to warm soups and sauces and still keep the health benefits. Freezing probiotics puts them into a dormant state from which they reawaken when brought back to a warm temperature (like inside you). If you freeze probiotic foods for extended periods of time, you can gradually lose some of the healthy bacteria. I’m no expert on all this, so if anyone who has done a lot of study into the subject finds something wrong with what I’ve said here, please feel free to correct me.
To lacto-ferment veggies, you can use basically any kind of veggie. I started out with cabbage since it seemed easy and normal (I was ready to start out with normal for a change) and we’ve been over-run with it in our garden.
Cut up your veggies, smash them into a quart-sized canning jar leaving a couple of inches of room on top, cover with pure water, add 2 tablespoons of whey saved from your Greek yogurt making, and add any other spices you wish.
Cover with a regular canning lid and let it set for a couple of days, three at the least. I kept mine in our relatively cool basement and ended up fermenting it for 6.5 days because I wanted a fairly tangy flavor. Then I stuck it in the fridge and ate on it for a week. Good stuff.
I’ve heard conflicting reports on how long you should ferment things. Some people say that sauerkraut has to be fermented for 30 days in order to give you its full health benefits. Others say that 3 days is sufficient. The way I look at it: taste as you go. Eat it when you like it best, and if it’s fermented at all, it will be better than what you were eating before. If you’re fermenting things for a long period of time, be sure to let the gases escape from your jar every once in awhile so the jar doesn’t explode. I haven’t had a problem, but then I haven’t fermented anything over a week.
This was the result of my first lacto-fermentation experiment. I didn’t fill my jar up nearly full enough with cabbage, but it still worked. I added 1/2 T of salt, which was too much, 1 tsp. of black pepper, 1/2 tsp. of garlic powder, 1/4 tsp. of ground mustard, 1/2 tsp. of curry powder, 2 T of whey, and covered it all with water.
6.5 days later it smelled like a brewery but I stuck it in the fridge and have been eating on it for over a week. I really enjoy it taste-wise, not just because it’s healthy.
This is my second fermentation attempt. More cabbage, but this time I cut it finer and used the handle of a wooden spoon to pack it tighter. This gets the juices to flowing too, which is a great thing. To this I added 2 T of whey, 2 T of juice from my previous sauerkraut, and 1 tsp. salt. I decided to try a plain version. I fermented it about 6 days as well, then stuck it in the fridge. The flavors definitely develop in the fridge. This batch needed a little more salt, so I just salt and pepper it when I eat it. I’m thinking some horseradish would taste good with it too. I like this plain version better than the spiced one. In fact, I really, really, really like it, and it makes a great side dish with either an S or E meal.
This is easily the weirdest thing I have ever eaten. They resemble bamboo shoots, and when my mom saw me eating them, she made the comment, “Well, you’ll either die young or live forever.” I haven’t died yet. She also made mention that I would have no problem living in a foreign country with all the weird foods I eat.
These are asparagus stems. Yes, the woody part of the stems. My mom doesn’t like to eat the bottom of asparagus spears (I usually just knaw my way through the entire thing), so when I was making asparagus for supper one night I decided to try to soften the stems up by fermenting them. To this I added 2 T of whey, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 T Worcestorshire sauce, and 1/4 tsp. each of chili powder, ground mustard, ginger, and garlic powder.
I fermented the asparagus stems for 6 days. I definitely like lacto-fermented cabbage better, but these are OK. They definitely softened up to an edible state. It was fun for exposure’s sake, and I felt very frugal to not waste those stems. I know they’re healthy, so I feel good eating them.
If you use nonstarchy vegetables, these probiotic powerhouses can be used for S, E, and FP side dishes.
I’ll be doing some more experimenting in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for chutneys, salsas, slaws, and maybe some wine if they end up fermenting too long. 😛
After the vegetables have fermented as long as you’d like, put them in the fridge and eat on them for a couple of weeks. I haven’t tasted any spoiled lacto-fermented vegetables, but I’ve heard that when they’re spoiled, you’ll know. Do not can your fermented foods to preserve them because the heat will kill the probiotics. I don’t think freezing is ideal either, but if you have fermented foods that you can’t use fast enough and you don’t want them to go to waste, freezing would probably be a better option than either canning or just tossing the stuff.
I currently have some sauerkraut fermenting, and I’m going to try leaving it for a whole month this time to see if I like it better.
Stay tuned for a post on some blueberry puree I recently fermented. It’s probably my favorite ferment so far.