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Fermented Vegetables Workshop This workshop begins with an extension tasting session with commentary about how different cultures adapt to their specific climate to celebrate their local produce. During the practical part of this session, we will taste how herbs, nuts and other condiments combine to create new flavours and we will learn how to prepare fermented vegetables at home, using simple and safe techniques.
Maria Tarantino was born and grew up in Italy. She studied philosophy in Edinburgh, Leuven and Venice. She has been working as a freelance journalist for the past 10 years.Her food stories have appeared in Slowfood and Gastronomica. In 2008 after extensive travels to Japan and after meeting fermentation guru Sandor Katz, Maria began experimenting with fermentation. She set up fermentation workshops in Brussels and made personal research into traditional Japanese fermentation techniques (funazushi, nukazuke, miso).
NOTES TO THE FERMENTATION WORKSHOP
These are a few explicatory notes that follow up the workshop, giving more details on what to do with the jar of vegetables you brought home, and a detailed description on how to ferment vegetables in a crock and in jars.
Explicatory notes – troubleshooting
The jar of fermented vegetables made on Saturday, followed the “Guler” method. This method has the advantage of being manageable in a small space, of being intuitive, of requiring no measurements or weighing. Guler is a Turkish friend. This is how they preserved vegetables in her home village. I have tried fermenting this way many times and never had problems. However, please note the following:
- do not place the jar in direct sunlight;
- place a tray under the vegetables as juice may leak out during the fermentation process (remember we filled the jars up to the top);
- if vegetables are slimy, do not eat them (there must have been an issue with the cleaning);
- the jars will not explode. CO2 will build up inside and that is a normal part of the process;
- When will it be ready? I normally wait 3 to 4 weeks before opening the jar. Shredded vegetables will ferment faster but vegetables in chunks will take longer. Also we put quite a bit of salt to be sure no rot would occur and salt slows down the process. So I would wait 3 weeks for shredded vegetables and 4 for chopped vegetables. If you find that the vegetables are still not acidic enough when you try them, close the jar and wait longer (next time you can use less salt). Also use thin salt next time or crush rock salt before using it, the real volume will be easier to assess.
Fermenting vegetables is a process that happens naturally when vegetables are cut and pressed with salt in a container and kept away from the air. The salt prevents rotting during the first days. Also, it draws water out of the vegetables. This water, mixed with the salt, rises to the top of the pressed vegetables and protects them from the air. Over time, which can vary from one to three weeks (it is slower if the temperatures are cold and faster in hot climates), the vegetables below start to ferment due to bacteria (Lactobacilli) naturally present on the surface of the vegetables even after washing. The fermentation produces beneficial enzymes and vitamin C. The vegetables remain crunchy. When fermentation is complete, transfer to a cold storage maintains the vegetables for a long time.
Health and social benefits
Lactobacilli bacteria feed on the glucose contained in vegetables and produce lactic acid. They are good for the intestinal flora, for preventing disease and make the body stronger. They are a very rich food that is not expensive. Also using all parts of the vegetables, using wild plants and vegetables grown without chemicals, helps keeping the environment clean and safe.
The most important thing in fermenting vegetables is the container where the vegetables, salt and spices are pressed. This container should be more tall than large (tall cylindrical shape) and the mouth or opening should be wide.
- It should be made of glass or ceramic (see below).
- It should be filled only for two-thirds (except when using a glass jar in the “Guler” method).
- The top layer of vegetables must not be in contact with the air because this is where contamination can occur.
I usually place some thick leaves on the top, knowing that they may rot slightly and that I may have to throw them away. To keep the vegetables pressed, I can use a plate slightly smaller than the container and place a weight or bottle of water on top of it. Another possibility is to find a container that fits inside the top of the cylinder where the vegetables are resting and that can be filled with water. In both cases, the area on the top, where the salty water rises should be covered with a plastic bag to prevent contamination. I always have problems of moulds when I use this method. For me the solution has been to use a ceramic crock designed in Germany to make sauerkraut (they are called Gärtopf in German).
I purchased the crock from a shop that sold materials for making wine. In Germany many people still make sauerkraut, finely sliced cabbage fermented in salt and served warm, accompanied by meat.
The German crock has one big advantage: it has a water seal on the top to keep dirt and bacteria away from the vegetables that are fermenting inside the crock. This does not mean that the crock is filled to the top. One should leave one third of space for the water to rise. Also, a weight should be placed on top of the vegetable and inside the crock (if using a big stone, boil it beforehand). The idea is that the air inside the crock is relatively clean. During fermentation, bubbles of air escape from the vegetables and get out of the crock via a small hole in the lid that is covered with water (it makes a noise similar to a fish that breaths). But no new air comes in, except when one opens the lid to check the state of the vegetables.
METAL IS NOT SUITABLE TO KEEP VEGETABLES FERMENTING OVER TIME. GLASS, CERAMIC AND WOOD (untreated) ARE OK.
There are three main recipes you can follow to ferment vegetables. The first uses brine
(a mixture of water and salt). This way you are sure that the vegetables will not be in contact with air. Fermentation goes faster this way (one week). The second method uses salt and so more time is needed for the water to come out of the vegetables. This method is better if you use roots or vegetables that contain quite a bit of water. There are also numerous variations that I will discuss at a later stage. The third is the Guler method.
Two very important things:
- Salt: use only thin salt without Iodine (which prevents fermentation)
- Water: if the water smells of chlorine, boil it before you use it.
Method 1 – Guler method
Fill up a glass jar with chopped of shredded vegetables of your choice, garlic or onion and any spices or herbs. Leave as little air as possible, pack everything tightly up to the top. Place enough salt to cover the top and form a small mound. Pour boiled (and cooled) water into the jar, not directly on the mound of salt but on the sides, until the water comes up to the top. Close your jar and place on a tray. Ready in 3 to 4 weeks.
Method 2 – Kimchi
Make brine using 1 litre of water and 4tablespoons (60ml) of thin salt. Warm up the water to dissolve the salt in it and let cool down. To this brine add:
500g of cabbage (coarsely chopped)
1 daikon radish (large white root) or a few red radishes 1 to 2 carrots
1 to 2 onions or leeks or shallots
3 to 4 cloves of garlic (or more)
3 table spoons of grated ginger root
3 to 4 fresh chilies (depending on how hot you want it)
All these vegetables should be chopped. The thinner you chop them, the faster they will ferment. Usually larger chunks are good if you plant to keep the vegetables for longer.
You can add any kind of root, also the leaves of the roots (like carrot leaves), provided they have not been sprayed with chemicals. I use vegetables grown without pesticides and fertilisers, this way I can use all leaves and do not need to peel the roots.
Roots are good because they contain glucose and also stay crunchy. Cucumbers are not good, they contain too much water and become soggy. Leaves alone can be too dry. So a combination works best. I use garlic, onions and ginger to add flavour. You can also add other fresh herbs. I use rosemary, lavender, thyme, bay leaves…basically anything. I make mixes that use many different things and more simple ones that just enhance one specific flavour. During fermentation herbs combine to create a wonderful and complex flavour.
Add the chopped vegetables to the brine, cover with a plate and a weight to keep all vegetables under the water. The quantity of vegetables can vary, as long as they can fit under the brine. Keep them like this for a few hours or a whole night.
Grate ginger, chop garlic and onion, chilies (remove seeds for milder flavour) and any other herbs. Make a paste with this.
Drain the vegetables but keep the brine. Taste them. They should be salty but not so salty to taste horrible. If too salty rinse them in water, if not salty enough add some salt. Mix them with the paste you made with spices, garlic, onion etc. Wash the crock and dry it. Place everything in the crock. Liquid should rise to the surface. If this does not happen, add the brine you kept on the side. On the top layer you can put a few external leaves of cabbage, to make a vegetable lid. Place a weight on top of this (if you use a stone, boil it beforehand to sterilise it).
Taste your kimchi everyday, it should be ready after a week. Lacto fermentation occurs when the taste changes from salty to slightly acidic or vinegary. When it tastes right, move it to a cold place or fridge, where it will last for weeks or months.
For a slower fermentation, use more salt and leave the crock in a cool spot or in a hole in the ground.
If fermentation goes wrong or if bad bacteria infect it, the vegetables will be slimy and smell rotten, the taste will be bitter. If this happens, throw them out. However it is normal (especially when using jars instead of the crock and in method 2, that the top part of the vegetables gets contaminated, this is why I place a few hard leaves on the top and throw them away when fermentation is ready. The bottom part of the vegetables is usually fine).
Method 3 – Sauerkraut
The main difference here is that one does not make brine (mixture of salt and water). This means that the process of fermentation will be slower: the salt will “extract” the water contained in the vegetables, this water will rise to the surface of the pot after 1 or two days, depending on the vegetables used (fresh roots contain more water, leaves have less water and so on…). If after one day vegetable juice has not risen to the top, it is best to sprinkle the top layer with salt to increase the process. If this is not sufficient, make a small amount of brine (salt dissolved in water) and pour it in. By day 3 at the very latest, liquid has to cover the top layer of the vegetables. This is necessary to protect them from unwanted bacteria that will make the vegetables rot.
Colour and mixtures
Traditional sauerkraut from Germany is made exclusively with cabbage and spices with cumin or caraway seeds.
I like to mix different types of cabbage (red, white, Savoy cabbage). Chinese cabbage and beets are good and useful because they contain more water than normal cabbage and so they help balance leafy vegetables, which are drier.
Roots are a very good ingredient, because they contain a lot of water, they stay crunchy and also they interact very well with spices and herbs. Roots I use are: kohlrabi, carrots, beets (NAVETS), Jerusalem artichokes (or topinambur), any type of radish, daikon, turnips, parsnips, beetroot.
Depending on the country you live in, different types of root vegetables will be available, like long white carrots that have leaves tasting like celery and so on. I never used manioc or African roots, so I do not know how they behave.
Red vegetables like beetroot and red cabbage makes everything look a beautiful bright pink!
When I use carrots, I make sure they have not been sprayed with chemicals so that I can chop and add the carrot leaves. This is a stringy, slightly bitter green that will balance wonderfully the sweet flavour of the carrot. In fact, fermentation teaches me to explore the flavour of every part of a vegetable (ATTENTION: the green part of rhubarb is toxic!!!).
I find that any mixtures of vegetables with taste better if one adds some garlic and onion (or shallots of leeks). Ginger is also something I always use, its perfume pervades all other vegetables and gives them a certain “bite”.
I choose different herbs either fresh or dry: rosemary, bay leaves, sage, fennel, any type of chilli or pepper. I avoid dry herbs in powder form because I do not like little hard bits of herbs interfering with the texture of the vegetables.
I also discovered that rather bitter wild herbs or leaves can develop surprising and wonderful perfumes over time. Used sparingly (in small doses) they can make a choucroute unique! For example, a few lavender leaves taste great with daikon radish. I experiment with wild sea fennel I find on the coast of Italy, wild aniseed, shoots of pine tree, etc.
2 kg of vegetables
a few cloves of garlic (or more)
2 onions or leek (or more)
ginger root (3 tabelspoos)
45 g or 4 table spoons of thin salt
any choice of herbs
All vegetables should be chopped either in small bits or larger chunks. Size will determine texture. If you like a crunchy result, work with chunks. Some people prefer to shred or grate everything so that it resembles thin strips. The bigger the pieces, the longer the fermentation.
When all vegetables are cut, wash the crock or container carefully, dry it, sprinkle the bottom and the sides with salt.
Then, add a layer of mixed vegetables, sprinkle with salt and spices and then repeat until you fill 2/3 of the container.
At the top, I normally add a few whole, hard leaves of cabbage or other parts of vegetables. The idea is to make a vegetable lid on which to rest the weight or stone. Even in a successful fermentation, it can happen that the top layer of vegetables, the one in closer contact with air, goes a little bad and needs to be thrown away. In this case, you will be throwing away those hard leaves.
(VIDEOS UNAVAILABLE FOR THE FOLLOWING WORKSHOPS)
WORKSHOP ON REJUVELAC, NUT CHEESE AND ESSENE BREAD
We would like to introduce you today to what we call a “loop fermentation”, that is, to a simple process in which every element comes in useful and nothing is wasted. Basically we will show you how to ferment grains (soft wheat or kamut or buckwheat) to produce a lightly fermented drink – rejuvelac – that you can use as a tonic, probiotic beverage but also as a starter for fermented nut cheese. The sprouted grains, on the other hand, can be used to make Essene dried crackers.
But first a few words about rejuvelac. Rejuvelac was discovered by Ann Wigmore, the inventor of living foods and of the raw food diet.
(this is a link in which Ann Wigmore shows how to make rejuvelac)
It contains many enzymes, vitamins and proteins that help in digestion. The nutrients in rejuvelac are broken down to their simplest form, amino acids and simple sugars, making the nutrients immediately available for assimilation. It contains the full vitamin B complex. It helps cleanse the intestinal tract and it helps with constipation problems.
It should be used as a tonic, which you can drink in small quantities a few times a day. It can be stored in the fridge for a few days but, as most raw foods, it’s best made fresh and consumed fresh.
The grains you can use to make rejuvelac are soft wheat, kamut, buckwheat. Rye take a long time to sprout and mould forms easily on the surface of the grains. Buckwheat also takes some time and it when soaked, it develops a slimy liquid which makes sprouting a little trickier. So the simplest of all is actually wheat. Kamut is a registered brand, not a wheat, it cannot be sold freely and so I try to avoid it.
STEP 1: MAKING REJUVELAC
Take 100g of dry soft wheat grains (or more, see below), wash them under tap water, drain them and place them in a 500ml glass jar. Soak in water for 10 to 15 hours.
Discard the water, rinse the grains and place in the jar once again. Cover with a cheese cloth and fix to the brim of the jar with a rubber band. Place the jar in a dark corner of the kitchen, better if in a warmer place. Make sure the grains are slightly wet, maybe sprinkle them with a few drops of water once a day for a couple of days. You should start to notice that the grains sprout. In warmer temperatures, they will already have a root that is 4 to 6mm long. If they have not sprouted, keep for an extra day. If it takes much longer, then something is wrong with the grains (rye does take much longer and must be rinsed more often to avoid mould).
After two days of sprouting, fill the jar with the grains with pure water (better if bottle or filtered water). The amount of water you add to the grains at this point, will be the amount of rejuvelac you will get. So if you want more than 500ml of rejuvelac, you will need a bigger jar and more water.
Rejuvelac is ready after 24hours. If you want a stronger rejuvelac you can wait an extra day. It’s ready when the water gets cloudy and small bubbles form on the surface. A white foam can also form on the surface of the jar and it should be skimmed off. Rejuvelac can taste a little lemony and flavour will be stronger, the longer the berries have been soaking in the water. After removing the rejuvelac from the berries, it should be stored in the fridge, where it will keep for about 5 days.
NOTE: It can be handy to sprout more grains than you actually need to make rejuvelac. You can store the swollen grains in the fridge for a few days and you can use them to cook, you can add them to soups as you would do with rice or make raw cereal with fresh fruit and nuts. They are a very healthy food, much better than pasta!
STEP 2: USE REJUVELAC TO MAKE FERMENTED NUT CHEESE
When you add pure water to the sprouted grains to make rejuvelac, you can already begin preparations for making fermented nut cheese.
You can use macadamia nuts (which are horribly expensive) or cashew nuts (more reasonably priced and equally delicious) or almonds (ideally with their skin on, but then the skin will have to be removed after soaking). Sunflowers and pumpkin seeds can also be used but the soaking time and fermentation time are much shorter and the taste more pungent and less creamy.
Soak 150g of cashew nuts in filtered water for 8 hours (Almonds take about 10 to 12 hours, sun dried seeds are fine after 2 hours).
When your rejuvelac is ready, pour it off from the wheat berries into a jug. Strain the soaked nuts and place them in a glass jar. Add a small quantity of rejuvelac, just enough to be able to mix the nuts into a smooth, thick paste. You can add more rejuvelac to mix more easily but then you may have to strain your cheese through a cheesecloth at the end.
Basically you leave the paste in the jar, cover it with a cheesecloth and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen, away from direct light. You will notice small bubbles forming, assign that rejuvelac is fermenting with the nut paste. After 10 hours the paste will acquire a slightly acidic flavour. You can wait a few hours more for a stronger flavour, if you prefer. If the paste is too liquid, strain it through a cheesecloth until it gets firmer. Nut cheese usually comes out as a spread. You can add salt, dry spices such as thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, cumin seeds or crushed cardamom for a different flavour. The nut cheese keeps very well in the fridge for 1 week and up to ten days.
STEP 3: USE THE SOAKED WHEAT GRAINS TO MAKE ESSENE CRACKERS
Soaked wheat grains that have been used to make rejuvelac are usually soft and mushy. There is no need to throw them away because the make the best base for dehydrated Essene crackers.
The procedure could not be simpler. Mix the berries with a small quantity of rejuvelac and other ingredients that will give your crackers a nice flavour. For instance sun dried tomatoes work wonderfully well and give crackers are delicious flavour. Soaked flaxseeds (very healthy but also difficult to incorporate in a recipe) can be a smart ingredient for crackers because it will increase your chance of chewing on them and thus profiting form their high content of Omega 3 fatty acids. Sometimes I add seaweed powder (spirulina), soaked sesame seeds, sprouted lentils, basically anything that lies around in the kitchen and which promises to taste nice.
Whatever your choice, mix all your ingredients together and taste the preparation. Make sure it is not too runny or it will take much longer to dehydrate. You can go for tasty crackers (sun dried tomatoes, tamari) that will be used alone or with bland tasting spreads or for low-salt crackers that work well with tasty spreads like hummus or guacamole. Dehydrating takes between 4 to 10 hours, depending on your machine. To cut on time and energy, I make a thick paste, line the dehydrator tray with baking paper and spread the mix in a 5mm layer (it will shrink, yielding a think cracker). Store in a box. It can keep for weeks. You can vary thickness to your taste (time will be longer) but cannot obtain a spongy texture similar to bread.
Essene bread is not fermented per se. It is made with sprouted grains, which means that it is a pre-digested food.
For those who are sensitive to gluten, you can use sprouted einkorn (Tritticum Monococcum, an ancient variety with low gluten content) or omit wheat and use other seeds instead (Recipe 5).
150g sprouted wheat grains 30ml rejuvelac or water
2 sun dried tomatoes
1 dash of olive oil
Variation: argan oil instead of olive oil for a distinctive flavour.
150g sprouted wheat grains
15ml rejuvelac or water
30g soaked flaxseeds
1 dash of tamari (omit for a no-salt cracker) 1 dash of olive oil
150g sprouted wheat grains
30ml rejuvelac or water
30g of soaked sesame seeds
30g of soaked pumpkin seeds
(this is a no salt cracker, you can add salt if you prefer)
You can always sprinkle dried aromatic herbs or small pieces of olives or ground seeds over your crackers spread before dehydrating it.
200g sprouted green lentils 200g soaked flaxseed
2 Tbs cumin powder
Recipe 5 * no gluten (crackers will be more brittle) 150g soaked flaxseeds
150g sprouted green lentils
2 Tbs tamari
1 Tbs dry spirulina seaweed water to bind
Variation: substitute spirulina for 1 Tbs of ground cumin and 2 Tbs of olive oil.
For those who were not part of our other workshop and who have no introduction to fermentation of vegetables, please find some general guidelines here below. Note that, while we need air to ferment rejuvelac and nut cheese, the fermentation of vegetables is a lacto fermentation and this is anaerobic (it happens in the absence of oxygen).
A SHORT GUIDE TO FERMENTED VEGETABLES AND CONDIMENTS 1. WHAT IS FERMENTATION?
Fermentation is a process of interaction between a substrate and specific bacteria that feed on it.
It is a natural and spontaneous process and it occurs because the food substrate and the bacteria have the ability of interacting with each other under certain conditions. You can see it as a symbiosis between different organisms.
There are specific bacteria that can feed on flour, milk, coffee beans, tea leaves and so on and – under specific conditions – transform them into a FERMENTED FOODS.
You can think of fermented foods as pre-digested by bacteria in a way that changes their chemical composition, flavour and texture.
All fermented foods (cheese, wine, salami) have one thing in common: a flavour that is quite unique and different from their unfermented substrate (milk, grapes, meat).
What we perceive as a different, enhanced flavour, is actually the presence of new nutrients (production of B vitamins during the first stages of lactic fermentation, production of specific enzymes) and/or the fact that certain components of the food have been pre-digested and are now more easy to assimilate (fermentation of soya bean in miso or tempeh makes it possible to digest the beans and the proteins contained in them).
In a nutshell:
WHAT WE TASTE
THE CHEMICAL TRANSFORMATIONS
Are three ways of looking/understanding/appreciating the very same jar of fermenting vegetables.
2. WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT FOOD FERMENTATION?
- fermentation is a natural way of preserving food;
- it developed as a survival strategy for people living in regions where fresh vegetables were unavailable during several months of the year;
- it relies on microbial ecology alone, it needs no refrigeration and so it’s a way of saving fuel and a practice of self-empowerment;
- fermentation allows us to produce foods that are good for our health because they are very rich in enzymes and micro-nutrients;
- last but not least, fermentation greatly enhances the flavour of foods.
We are surrounded by fermented foods but often we consume commercial versions of these foods that are no longer truly fermented (pickles in citric acid) or where the properties of fermentation are lost due to pasteurisation or irradiation.
In the last 50 years, industrial food production has taken many preparations away from the home into the factories. The result has been a loss of knowledge and, what is worse, a loss of confidence. Today, there is an obsession and a confusion about the supposed “dangers of contamination” and the idea that “sterile” is the same as clean and safe.
One thing is very important to know: dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli or botulinum, cannot survive in the salty and acidic environment which characterises the vegetable fermentation. These bacteria do not proliferate in a vegetable substrate. This means that, as long as we are busy fermenting vegetables, we are quite safe.
It’s very important to stress this and to understand what can be a source of trouble, such as dirty vegetables and utensils, and what will never be a matter of worry.
It makes a lot of sense to claim fermented foods back as an easy and successful home practice. Fermented foods are real foods, nourishing and delicious. Today we will introduce to you simple ways to make fermented vegetables and and fermented condiments.
To keep things concrete, we will begin by tasting some preparations while at the same time explaining what vegetable fermentation is all about.
3. WHAT IS THE SPECIFIC FERMENTATION OF VEGETABLES?
This is a LACTIC ACID FERMENTATION or LACTO FERMENTATION carried out by LAB (LACTIC ACID BACTERIA). These bacteria are found naturally on the skin of vegetables.
There are many types of LABs but all of them function in the same way and under the same conditions.
The first condition for lacto fermentation is : ABSENCE OF AIR.
The metabolism of LABS occurs in the absence of oxygen, it’s an anaerobic fermentation. We cut the vegetables, bruise them or pound them in order to release their vegetable juices. We them press the chopped vegetables inside a container – a ceramic crock, a glass jar – until the liquid rises above the surface of the vegetables. If this does not happen (if the vegetables are not juicy enough or if we did not want to cut them in small bits but left them in chunks or whole), we must add a brine (water + salt) so as to be sure that the vegetables that have to ferment are not exposed to the air, where many other bacteria would turn out to be a formidable competition.
The second condition for a successful lactic fermentation is the PRESENCE OF SALT.
Salt has a double function: it extracts the juice from the cut/chopped vegetables by osmosis and it discourages the growth of many bacterial that would eventually rot the vegetables. LABS can tolerate higher concentrations of salt, compared with other bacteria. This is quite useful, especially at the start of the fermentation, when other bacteria could compete with LABS and spoil the process. As the fermentation continues, LABS begin producing lactic acid which, in turn, contributes to create an environment in which LABs can proliferate undisturbed.
Too much salt can either slow down fermentation or stop it altogether. Too little salt can result in the proliferation of unwanted bacteria that will spoil the food.
For a reduced salt content, one can use mustard seeds and or whey (provided the latter contains wild cultures).
The third condition for a successful fermentation is the VEGETABLE SUBSTRATE.
When you cut vegetables or when you pound them in a mortar, you break off the vegetables cells and make the nutrients inside them more easily available for the bacteria. LABS feed of these nutrients, especially sugars and produce many different substances. We don’t have a precise idea of all of the metabolic processes carried out by LABS. But we know that they produce different kinds of Vitamin B, enzymes and lactic acid and that they slow down the loss of Vitamin C.
We also know that when the sugars contained in the vegetables have been “eaten up” by the bacteria, the fermentation will stop and the vegetable submerged in the acidic environment created by the LABs will be stable for a while. How long will depend on the temperature at which they are stored, on the kind of vegetables and the amount of salt. There are fermented vegetables that are supposed to age for years and others just for days. But this is something that we will see in detail later.
The fourth and last key factor of fermentation is: THE TIMEFRAME.
Fermentation can take as little as a day and as long as a few months. The more salt, the longer the fermentation and vice versa. The warmer the room temperature the faster the fermentation. Ideally, we want fermentation to kick off immediately and therefore we keep the newly filled up jars on a kitchen counter at a temperature of 18 to 20 degrees. When we begin to observe bubbles of CO2 rising up to the top of the jar, we know that fermentation has started and that LABs are eating up sugars and producing gas. This air will build up inside the jar or escape in a form of a foamy liquid or a trickle of juice (you can also rapidly unscrew the top to release or keep it all in to enjoy Korean style fizzy pickles).
At this point, we can move the jar to a cooler place and wait for the fermentation to go further. The vegetables and herbs will evolve in flavour and chemical composition all along. There will be a production of vitamin B and other specific enzymes. It’s an entirely subjective matter whether the preparation will taste best for you after 1 week, 2 weeks or more. We will give you guidelines and propose recipes we consider ready after a certain amount of time. But you may decide to reduce or to increase salt and this will change the timeframe. Or you may also find that the batch tastes better a little earlier or a little later. In general, Koreans enjoy the early stages of fermentations while classical European recipes call for a longer timeframe.
4. PRACTICAL DIRECTIONS
WHAT VEGETABLES CAN YOU FERMENT?
Basically all of them, as long as you take into account the sugar content, juiciness, size and toughness of the vegetable in question and adapt the recipe accordingly. The simplest vegetables to ferment are cabbages, radishes, all kinds of roots (kohlrabi, daikon, beetroot, suede, celeriac, carrots). This is because they contain sugar. They are an excellent substrate for LABs to feed on and, unless shredded, they will retain a nice crunchy texture.
One can also ferment also peppers, aubergines, onions, garlic, pumpkin (cooked and raw), potatoes (cooked and raw), rice (cooked), nuts, cooked rice, etc. Fermenting lettuce or leaves is more difficult because they can get mushy and unless something else containing more sugar is added to the preparation, there is not enough for the LABs to chew on. Leaves containing tannins can be delicious to ferment, for example vine leaves in a salt brine are excellent. Other leaves such as chestnut, cherry, blackcurrant can be added to a fermentation to keep the other vegetables crunchy.
WHAT KIND OF CONTAINER CAN WE USE TO FERMENT VEGETABLES?
A ceramic crock is the traditional container used to make fermented cabbage. The lid sits in a well, which you fill with water. The lid has a tiny notch out of it on one side. This allows the carbon dioxide which is produced during the fermentation to escape while at the same time making the pot airtight. Crocks are well suited for fermenting larger quantities of vegetables but they tend to be heavy and bulky for handling in a kitchen and moving up and down kitchen tops.
That’s why glass jars make a very good alternative. We can use glass jars with a screw top or a metal clasp and rubber ring. During fermentation CO2 will build up inside the jar and some small quantities of juice may escape from the top and trickle down the sides of the jar. For that, it’s always best to put a saucer under your glass jar.
METAL AND PLASTIC CONTAINERS ARE BEST AVOIDED because they react with the process of fermentation.
The size of the jar should be appropriate for the size of vegetables we want to ferment. If we plan to ferment cabbages in halves, a jam jar will not do. We must be able to pack the vegetables inside the jar and to push them down at ease. The method we will teach you today is fine for any size of jar that can be kept on a kitchen counter.
USING A CROCK TO FERMENT
When using a crock to ferment, make sure you wash it thoroughly with warm water and dry it before placing the vegetables. If fermenting with the salt method, you can sprinkle the bottom of the crock with salt and then place salt and vegetables in layers. Pound your vegetables with a wooden pestle after each layer, making sure they are slightly bruised so that salt will better carry out its osmotic function. Also pounding makes sure that air does not form between the layers.
You can fill up the crock, leaving about 10-15 cm from the brim. The point is to place some bigger leaves on the top so as to form a vegetable lid on which the stones will rest and which could be discarded if it becomes mouldy along the way. After one or two days of fermentation, vegetables juice should rise up to the level of the stones. If this does not happen (due to veggies being drier or not so fresh), you have to add a salty brine (15g of salt for 1 litre of water) until the stones are covered.
It’s normal for mould to form on the outer layer of vegetables, on the stones that are used to keep the vegetables under their own juices or on the sides of the crock, especially when the preparation does not reach up to the top. It’s a good practice to use some thicker leaves to finish off the preparation, precisely as a sort of “vegetable lid” that will be discarded.
WHAT KIND OF SALT
Some commercial salt has added anti-caking agents or sodium or other chemicals. These can inhibit fermentation and so this kind of salt is best avoided. I recommended sea salt or rock salt that has not been bleached or treated. You can use coarse salt but then you have to weight it because the volume of coarse salt is different from that of fine salt and so a spoon of the one is not the same as a spoon of the other. If you use coarse salt in a recipe that is not using brine but salt mixed in with vegetables, you should grind it so as to dissolve it well in the preparation.
SALT VERSUS BRINE – WHEN TO USE ONE OR THE OTHER?
Classically, salt brine is used for cucumbers. It’s a strong brine (45g for 1 litre of water) and the cucumbers are ready after several weeks and will keep for several months. A strong brine is ideal for fermenting small hard vegetables whole. A less salty brine (35g for one litre) can be handy when you ferment all sorts of vegetables in a glass jar or to cover the preparation without the need of weighing the vegetables.
When you use salt – 20 g per kilo- you have to make sure you have cut the vegetables so as to expose enough vegetable surface and encourage osmosis. You can weigh the vegetables and then mix in the appropriate quantity of salt with your hands, before packing the glass jars. With this method, you have to make sure that the level of liquid rises to the top of the jar within a couple of days. If this does not happen, one has to add some salty water (15g for one litre of water).
WHAT THINGS CAN GO WRONG WHEN FERMENTING VEGETABLES?
It’s important to clean well the surfaces you will work on and the utensils you will use to chop or grate the vegetables. It’s important to rinse with boiling water
the glass jar or ceramic crock where you will ferment the vegetables. Also pay good attention to the caps of the jars, are they rusty or dirty? It may be a good idea to buy new caps for the jars from time to time. And when you seal the jars, make sure you seal them well.
Still, things can go wrong. Maybe we did not clean our jars and utensils properly. If we did not close the jar correctly, moulds will be able to colonise the surface of the vegetables there where it gets exposed to the air. In this case, we can simply eliminate the outer layer of our preparation. What lies under the vegetables juices is probably fine. It’s also possible that, if we used too little salt, LABs were not able to steer the fermentation and other bacteria managed to get things rotting. In this case, the mere smell of the preparation will put off anybody from wanting to taste it in an unequivocal way.
When using a crock to ferment, it’s normal for moulds to form on the outer layer of vegetables, on the stones that are used to keep the vegetables under their own juices or on the sides of the crock, especially when the preparation does not reach up to the top. It’s a good practice to use some thicker leaves to finish off the preparation, precisely as a sort of “vegetable lid” that will be discarded.
When removing mould, make sure you do not mix it up with what lies underneath. Use a spoon, or a spatula or kitchen paper.
If your vegetables are slimy and their colour has turned to grey, then it’s probably best to discard the preparation.
When making whole cucumbers in brine, you will use the crock over several months and you will be opening it to check the cucumbers and also it’s normal practice to skim off mould every two days or so.