So, I'm pretty sure I've been fermenting veggies in my kitchen long before I knew of their health benefits. In fact, I'm also pretty sure those cultures went straight into the trash can as soon as I discovered them at the back of my refrigerator. In all seriousness though, the process of fermentation is completely natural and happens easily without almost no intervention needed. Unlike Kombucha and Kefir, which both require a special yeast/bacteria culture to get the process going, fermented veggies need only the vegetables of your choice, salt, and the proper fermentation conditions.
WHAT IS IT?
If you've ever eaten sauerkraut, kimchi, or pickled anything (for the most part), you've tasted fermented veggies. Fermented foods are foods that have been preserved and transformed by healthy or harmless bacteria. Fermentation enhances the nutrient content by improving the bioavailability of minerals in the food and producing vitamins and enzymes that aid in digestion.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
- There are no weird, hard to find ingredients required. Veggies and salt, that's it!
- The fermentation process is a natural food preservative, which increases the shelf life of your veggies.
- It's easy and fun to make.
- As mentioned above, this probiotic food is nutritious and incredibly good for digestion and gut health.
- This is not everyone's cup of tea- if you don't like salty, acidic, or sour foods, you probably won't like this.
- You must plan ahead. You need to make this days (or possibly even weeks) before it's ready to eat.
THE FERMENTATION PROCESS
This culturing process begins with the naturally occurring bacteria that's present in the food itself. This good bacteria (often lactic acid bacteria) consumes the sugars and carbohydrates that are present in the food and converts them into other substances, like acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. In addition to all the health benefits, those substances alter the flavor of the food and help to preserve it.
1. Set aside a few of the outer leaves of your cabbage then slice the entire head into approximately 1/4 inch wide slices and place them in a large bowl or bin and sprinkle with sea salt. You can use either Celtic or Himalayan seat salt and season to taste. Do not skip the salt because it is necessary for the fermentation process. Also, keep in mind the mixing bowl needs to be large enough to hold all your sliced veggies with a little extra room for mixing. For a big batch, you might consider using a clean, plastic storage bin.
2. Massage the salted cabbage between your fingers for about 5 minutes to help break down the structure and release the water.
3. Slice the other vegetables (of your choice) into approximately 1/4 inch slices and sprinkle with salt. My favorites are carrots, bell peppers, radishes and sweet onions.
4. Massage the cabbage for 3 more minutes, then toss the rest of the veggies in with the cabbage and mix well.
5. Fill your jars with the mixture (including the released liquids). Using a wooden utensil, compact the solids firmly into the bottom of the jars (a muddler works well, as does the end of a wooden spoon and a wooden rolling pin). Do this until the jar is firmly packed. If you have more than 1" of space above the packed solids, add more veggies and continue to compress it. Once all the solids are packed down, and the jar is full to about 1" below the rim, check to make sure the solids are completely submerged beneath the liquid. If you need to add more liquid, use up any liquid remaining in the bin. If you run out you can top it off with spring water. As a final step before sealing your jars, take the cabbage leaves you set aside in step 1, tear them into pieces that are slightly larger than the jar lids. Place them in the jars directly on top of the shredded vegetables to form an inner barrier. These should help to hold all the sliced veggies down beneath the surface of the liquid. Seal the lids tightly and place the jars in a cupboard.
6. After 1-2 days, you should see some little bubbles forming in the jars. Carefully, without dislodging the cabbage leaves at the top, open the lid to release the excess pressure. If you need to, you can press the solids back down beneath the liquid, and toss any small solids that have floated to the top. Seal the lid tightly.
7. Allow to ferment in a dark, cool location. At this point it is entirely a personal preference as to how long you should ferment your veggies. I've seen recipes that call for fermenting for just 3-5 days, and those that say you should move the jars to the basement (which is presumably colder and darker than the pantry) after the first 3 days and wait an additional 3 weeks before it's ready. Truth is, once you see the bubbling on day 2, the fermentation process has already begun. It will continue on its own, the resulting mix becoming more and more sour and soft as time goes on, and the probiotic content will become more concentrated. I personally like to refrigerate my jars early in the process after about 5 days. I'm pretty sure the health benefits increase with time, but the more sour and acidic it gets, the less I can eat at one sitting, so this is the balance that works for me.
TWEAKING THE RESULTS
If your veggies don't have the right amount of crunch and/or you don't care for the taste, here are some things you can try on your next batch:
- shorten the culturing time (increases crunchiness and decreases the acidity/sourness)
- ferment your mix in a cooler spot (increases crunchiness and decreases the acidity/sourness)
- try a different selection of veggies for your next batch (changes the flavor profile a little)
To be very honest, fermented veggies all taste a lot like sour pickles to me, no matter what's in the mix. So if you enjoy eating pickles or any sour, acidic foods this will be right up your alley. But if not, fermented veggies can be a bit of an acquired taste. As with any new probiotic food, it's a good idea to begin with very small portions. I eat just a little scoop of these with my dinner (only about 1/4 cup) to make sure I am getting my healthy probiotics and improve my digestion.
REFERENCE LACTO-FERMENTATION VIDEO
The first time I learned about the benefits of fermented foods was at an Everything Garlic cooking class at a garlic festival near my home. The instructor was a nutritionist, and she mentioned that she also offered a fermentation class at that same venue. At that point in time I was completely unaware of most of the health benefits of fermented foods, but she had definitely piqued my interest. It was months later before I finally decided to Google the term and came across this video on YouTube. I must warn you, this is a 2 hour video of a live class (not the same instructor I'd had) and she tends to ramble and get side tracked a bit. But for some reason, I really enjoyed watching it and found it very inspiring. She also demonstrates how to make fermented veggies so I thought it would be a good idea to share it here.