March 17 – Epsom Downs, London
NOTE TO ALL PARTICIPANTS TO THE FERMENTATION WORKSHOP
Hallo! You took part in the fermentation workshop that took place on March 17 as part of “Wise Traditions London”. These are a few explanatory 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.
You will also receive a pdf copy of the talk with the recipes of all six samples we tried together on Saturday.
Explanatory 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 judge.
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 liter 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 fertilizers, 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 flavor. 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 flavor. During fermentation herbs combine to create a wonderful and complex flavor.
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 flavor) 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 sterilize it).
Taste your kimchi everyday, it should be ready after a week. Lactofermentation 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.
Color 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, turnips, 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 flavor of the carrot. In fact, fermentation teaches me to explore the flavor 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 chili 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.