Fun with Lacto-fermentation

I have always wanted to give lacto-fermentation a try. My friend Kat has recently been doing it and was happy to come show us what she has learned. The process can take up to a week or longer depending on your taste for it. I started my jars on Wednesday night, so they’ve got a few days yet. They look so pretty, I’ve been peeking at them regularly….

Fermenting known as lacto-fermentation is the process that produces sauerkraut and sour pickles (like Bubbies http://www.bubbies.com/bubbies_products.shtml ). This is a natural process that requires almost zero energy to produce. Just a quick word to the weary on Botulism. Botulism has rarely, if EVER, been a problem with fermented foods. Lacto-fermentation brings the acidity down below 4.0 within a couple of days. If by chance botulism is present, it is killed when the pH is that low. Some ‘fermenters’ test the pH with strips, but basically if it smells bad, or tastes off, don’t eat it! If you take the next step and ‘can’ your jars in a hot water bath to extend the shelf life, the health benefits and all the good bacteria are destroyed. Since the health benefits are a fine point for me, I won’t be canning them. Like I said, lacto-fermentation is one of the safest, least energy consuming ways to preserve the harvest! I’ve summarized some information found at the web-site The Nourishing Gourmet,

“Lacto-fermented foods span the nations. You will be able to find many traditional recipes for lacto-fermented foods from all over the world. It’s been a known process long before we had refrigeration and freezers. If so many peoples thought this an important part of their diet in the past, I think we should pay attention!”

Well I wholeheartedly agree.  The fermentation process is created without vinegar. It is actually only water, sea salt, and the food you are fermenting. Pretty cool huh? It’s what happens when the sugars and starches in the food get converted into the lactic-acid bacteria. Lots of other beneficial enzymes and antibiotics are produced as well. I was excited to learn that when you lacto-ferment vegetables the amount of vitamins in the food increases! It  also makes the food more digestible and you get a plethora of good bacteria  for your internal flora when you consume it. Lacto-fermentation is a wonderful way to extend the season of local, fresh food. I was happy to find that you can ferment several foods, but I encourage you to do some research on your own, or buy the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz  http://www.wildfermentation.com/books_wildfermentation.php and read up on it for yourself. For now let’s get to our recipe and process. Hopefully you can use it as a starting point for your own fermenting journey.  😉

For the Kimchi here’s a single batch of what we started with. We doubled it and ended up with 2 quart jars ~

  • 5 lbs cabbage (we used Bok Choi including some rapini tops, and some green cabbage)
  • 1-2 Daikon radish sliced or julienned
  • 1-2 Carrots sliced or julienned
  • 4-5 Tablespoons sea salt

Get everything chopped how you like it. I preferred some nice chunks and thin slices. Mix the vegetables well in a large bowl. The bowl needs to be big enough to cover with a plate inside, so as to hold the food down tight preventing air flow. Generously add sea salt to taste while thoroughly coating everything. It was roughly 4-5 Tablespoons for me, but I like lots of salt. You will start to notice the salt pulling the moisture out of the vegetables while you toss. Use your hands and then pat down and cover with the plate. Take a big yogurt container or something with a lid, fill it with water, cover it and put it on the plate for a weight to hold the plate down. If you can still see the vegetables around the edge of the plate, cover with a thin linen.

Now you have to sleep on that. In about 8-10 hours or so, the process will create a nice brine, which you want to drain off and save. Set the brine aside.  Now to make the paste for the Kimchi. This paste will then be rubbed in to the veggie mix in the bowl. You may not want yours as spicy, but traditionally Kimchi is spicy. Warning…..this yummy stuff makes your home smell DEVINE for days! The paste is best made in a food processor but first peel and coarsely chop the following:

  • 1 medium-large onion (about 1.5 cups) any kind.
  • 3-4 Tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 3-4 clove garlic (we used heads of green garlic)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons red-pepper flakes

Combine in food processor until you have a nice paste. Rub paste gently into the veggies scooping out of the processor small handfuls at a time until everything is generously coated. Now for the process of stuffing the jars. Make sure the jars are clean. As you stuff, you want to push down well with a wooden spoon making sure that you fill all the air spaces. Fill and tamp down until you are a couple inches from the top.  At this point brine juices may just about be covering every food piece, but may not. No worries, that’s why you saved it aside. I needed to add back some brine to fill just enough, covering every food piece with liquid.  You want all the food covered in brine so it will be fermented. Pieces stuck to the side of the jar above the brine won’t be part of the process so don’t waste any and get it down in the juice. Now on a micro-level you want to recreate what you did with the weighted down plate in the bowl, except this time in the jar. Take a sandwich size zip-lock baggie and add enough brine to have the bag sit in the top of the jar filled to the brim. If you still have extra brine set aside use that in the baggie. If not make a salt water mix and use that. The idea here is that if for some reason the bag pops or leaks, you will just have salt-water-brine in there and can still save the batch, and your efforts. Cover with a linen and rubber-band the top. You are done!

The same process for sauerkraut was used but the only thing in it is cabbage and the sea salt. Two of our spring green cabbages was about perfect for 1 quart jar. We sliced it very thin with a mandolin slicer. Warning!! They are sharp and you can lose your thumb or fingers so please be careful! Then in the morning, I drained the brine away from the cabbage and set it aside. Then I stuffed the jar, tamping down tightly the cabbage. I filled the baggie with the brine and covered the same as above for the kimchi.

The hardest part now is just waiting to try it. It’s advised to wait three to four days and then taste it. I think I’ll taste it tonight. You may see bubble action, but apparently you might not. Mainly the longer you leave it sit, the more it will ferment. I also have read that the more salt you use, the longer it will take to ferment. It’s a bit of an experiment in more ways than one. To quote Sandor Katz, “The flavors of fermentation are compelling and complex, quite literally alive.” If you try this yourself, let me know. I am so curious what other’s may find as well as what lies ahead for us. 🙂

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