My Wholefood Romance Fermentation Series Part 1: FERMENTING VEGETABLES

fermentedVeg1Welcome to the wonderful world of FERMENTATION! I’ll be your host, Meg. I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time, as it is a topic close to my heart – and I have a book coming out soon on fermented beverages!! Fermenting is also a very big topic, so I have decided to break it down into a few episodes.Β This first foray into fermentation is all about culturing vegetables. It is one of the least intimidating ways to ferment, as you don’t need any special starters or equipment. Just a little patience {insert Guns n’ Roses style whistle….any late 80’s early 90’s music fans out there? Anyone??}.

Fermented foods and drinks are magical! Most noted for their positive effects on the digestive system, they work to promote an optimal balance of bacteria in the gut. Healthy gut bacteria is essential to the health of the whole body, and unfortunately many of our dietary and lifestyle habits such as sugar, caffeine, processed foods, toxins and stress are harmful to these precious bacteria. Fermented foods and drinks work to maintain, protect and nourish our intestinal cells, and can also alleviate some common digestive conditions such as IBS, bloating, and reflux to name a few. In addition to their wonderful digestive talents, fermented foods and drinks can improve the function of our immune system, help to regulate our allergic response and reduce susceptibility to allergies, improve detoxification, and can contribute to healthy skin and hair. More on that to come.

The greatest thing about making fermented anything is that they are simple, cheap, delicious and easy to make at home, and they are a lot of fun! Making your own ferments is essentially making your own probiotics.

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I say that fermented foods and drinks are magical, because the process of fermenting itself is like magic!Β There are gorgeous lactic acid bacteria living on the surface of all plants. There are also gorgeous bacteria living in our digestive tracts.Β The bacteria transform the naturally occurring sugars in the vegetables to lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative, protecting against the growth of unhealthy bacteria, and also preserving the food or beverage. Lactic acid also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria within the digestive system.

Fermenting food not only preserves it, adds to it’s nutritional power, and improves digestibility, it conjures up a new lifeforce, and leaves you with a beautifully inoculated ‘superfood’ to unleash on yourself and all those around you!

The traditional choices of vegetables to ferment are those from the cabbage family, or carrot, beetroot, and the like, but all are welcome to undergo this amazing bacterial transformation. Cauliflower, kale and leafy greens, peas, beans, leek, onion, apple, watermelon, lemon – you name it! Then you can fun it up with herbs and spices – I particularly like using garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric, dill, and any other herbs I can get my hands on.

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The main thing to remember when fermenting, is that you just need to do it – just have a go. There is only so much you can gain from reading books or researching online, but you will learn so much from simply going through the process. I have a loose recipe here, but really it is just a guide. There is no exact method, as everything depends on everything else. What sort of vegetables, where they were from, how small did you chop them, what was the temperature of your home, the kind of vessel used to ferment, your personal taste, honestly it’s best to just do it and then work it out that way.

Fabulous Fermented Vegetables

One medium head of cabbage – or mixed vegetables of your choice – here I have used red cabbage, carrot, kale, green beans, beetroot, cauliflower, spring (green) onion, garlic (about 3 cloves), ginger, and chilli.

1-3 teaspoons sea salt

I generally go by godfather of fermentation Sandor Katz’s method of using 3 tablespoons of salt for every 2.3kg/5 pounds of vegetables. You can use less if you find this too salty, just try it out and see how you go. The reason you need salt for preservation, and to draw the liquid out of the vegetables. Ideally you would use a sea salt which is rich in natural minerals, adding to the nutritional quality of your veggies.

METHOD

To make your fermented vegetables, grate or chop the vegetables, and finely chop the ginger and garlic. Transfer everything to large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and use your hands to squeeze, crush and squash the vegetables. You want to really use your strength here, and it will most likely take around 5-10 minutes of squeezing, pressing and crushing until it is ready. You can use a potato masher, or a mortar and pestle, but I find it easier and more therapeutic to do it by hand. What you are trying to do is release the liquid from the vegetables. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your bowl and how much you are making.

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Transfer to a wide-mouthed jar, press down and pack in tightly, leaving about an inch or two of space at the top. Ideally you would like the liquid to be enough to cover the vegetables, if it is not, add a little water to cover. Alternatively, the veggies will keep releasing liquid over the next few hours so you can just keep checking on them periodically and forcing them down further in the jar. It’s important that you keep them covered with their liquid to prevent any mould growing on the exposed veg. To help the process, you can use a spare cabbage leaf to place on top of the veggies in the jar, or a small saucer and weight it down by sitting something heavy-ish in top. I find that I am so curious about my magical concoction that I am constantly checking and tasting it, and each time I shove it down further in the jar, which is perfectly fine also.

Cover loosely with a lid, and leave to ferment at room temperature but our of direct sunlight for 3-14 days, or longer if you like! I like to pop the lid on loosely and cover with a clean tea towel. The longer you leave your veggies to ferment, the more sour they will become. I love them nice and sour!

This process is called wild fermentation, as you are catching some of the wild bacteria from the air and transforming it into greatness. Other options are using a ‘starter culture’, where you add a dried powder of certain bacterial strains to you veggies to start them off. These are available to purchase online, but I prefer the wild fermentation method.

Once you are happy with your veggies, store them in the refrigerator where they will last for months and months.

To eat them, think of your ferments like a condiment. They are what the tomato sauce or the mustard was back in the day. Use them on the side of eggs, curries, casseroles, in sandwiches or wraps, on top of salads, or anywhere you like. If you are having them for the first time, start with a very small amount, and work up to having around 1/4 cup daily to maintain a fantastically functioning digestive ecosystem. You can also try these fermented carrot and beetroot sticks which use the brining method of mixing salt with water and fermenting in a sealed jar. Β x