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How to Ferment Vegetables at Your Sustainable Table

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It is easy to ferment veggies at home and add more “living foods” to your diet. Not only are you picking up new flavor combinations from fermented foods, but this new “healthy food movement” actually falls back to traditional fermenting methods before processed food meant taking out the nutritional value and adding artificial preservatives to extend the shelf life.

Fermented vegetablesFermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation in the world. Foods such as bread, yogurt, fruits and vegetables, including sauerkraut and kimchi can be fermented. Drinks can be fermented such as kombucha and tepache. Even chocolate and coffee can be fermented as I discovered in this great book Wild Fermentation.

Fermentation is an efficient, low energy process that adds nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and enzymes to food without the need for refrigeration or sophisticated equipment.  This makes it the perfect superfood and can increase food security where access to food may be scarce.

Lacto-fermentation of raw vegetables happens when the carbohydrates get broken down by naturally occurring good bacteria.  This produces lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative. This process creates “living food” that has an abundance of minerals, enzymes and probiotics that balance our digestive system, detox the body, boosts immunity, and promote healthy skin.

Lactic-acid fermentation slows the decay process of the petrifying bacteria and produces natural antibiotic substances.

Soaking nuts, seeds, and even oatmeal overnight can release enzymes in food and aid in digestion. This can be thought of as the first stage of fermentation.

Beware of store bought fermented foods as they may be over processed with synthetic preservatives and high heat pasteurization, which defeats the purpose of the naturally preserved probiotic rich food.  Look for raw or unpasteurized food labels.

DIY fermentation  can be a cost effective and easy way to eat healthy and reduce food waste at home. If you are worried about food safety, “it’s almost bullet proof”, says USDA microbiologist Fred Breight Jr.  The lactobacillus formed during the fermenting process actually inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

With the many recent foodborne illness outbreaks, it is still advised to wash all produce to get rid of any possible contamination.  Wash cutting boards and any utensils to follow safe fermentation procedures as well. You can use this all natural DIY antimicrobial wash that a USDA study found to be a potential  alternative for farmers to wash produce without using chemicals.  You can even use naturally antimicrobial bamboo cutting boards.

Cabbage traditionally used in sauerkraut and kimchi is the most popular vegetable to ferment because it contains generous amounts of lactic acid forming bacteria. The high vitamin C content of fermented cabbage was a staple to our ancestors in the winter months when food was scarce.

Combine cabbage with just about any vegetable.  Leafy greens may be the only exception as they are too thin and can turn mushy.

fermented veggie eggs

Here I made an omelette with cabbage, cucumber, onion, garlic, ginger, potatoes, peppers, cumin, cayenne, ginger, and fresh tomatoes with pea shoots on top. Yes, raw potatoes. It turned out great! I also tried sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have more fiber so they did take a little longer to ferment. I just picked around the sweet potatoes and left them in longer to ferment. That being said, you may want to cut vegetables into smaller pieces or even shred them so that they will ferment in less time.

 Ingredients

1 medium cabbage

1 1/2 tablespoon sea salt

Optional- vegetables such as peppers, radish, cucumber, onion, beets, green beans, potatoes, squash, zucchini.

Optional-herbs and spices such as dill, garlic, mustard seed, caraway seed, ginger, coriander, black pepper.

The first thing  you will want to do after you have washed your vegetables is to cut the cabbage into quarters or shred them if you would like.

Place the cabbage into a large mixing bowl and add sea salt to create a brine. One medium cabbage weighs about 2 lbs. and will require about 1 ½ tablespoons of salt.

Fermented cabbage

Toss the cabbage in the salt with your hands to make sure the cabbage is completely covered. Set the mixture aside for 10 minutes to let the salt release the water from the cabbage.  The mixture can sit for up to an hour.

The easiest way  to ensure proper fermentation is to use a cabbage stomper to create a nice brine.  After you have let the cabbage sit, transfer to a mason jar and smash the cabbage with the cabbage stomper. This releases even more water from the cabbage.

Ferment vegetables with sauerkraut pounder

Place the smashed cabbage back into the mixing bowl and toss in the other vegetables with any spices or herbs.

Fermented vegetable superfood

The prepared mixture can go into the mason jar. Store the jar away from direct sunlight.

Proper fermentation temperatures are what control the formation of good bacteria verses pathogenic bacteria. Make sure the temperature in the room is around 65 to 75 degrees. The lower end temperatures may take a few more days to ferment.

Place a loose fitting lid on the jar. I like to reuse old spaghetti jars and lids. Another option would be to place a towel over the jar fastened by a rubber band instead of a lid.

Make sure the veggies are submerged in the brine and leave a ½ inch of head space between the jar and the lid. Let the jar sit overnight.

Fermented veggie superfood

Check the jar every 24 hours. Unscrew the lid to release some of the lactic acid gas. You may see bubbles form on top of the brine as well.  This is good!

Taste the veggies after 3 or 4 days.  If the veggies have a nice tart taste then it is ready to transfer to the fridge where it will keep fermenting.  It can be left on the counter for up to 5 days, and up to 7 days if the temperature in the room is below 72 degrees. You can start eating the veggies after 5-7 days. The fermented veggies can be preserved for 3 to 6 months in the fridge. Just make sure you unscrew the lid once a week to release the gas.

Once you see how easy this is, you can experiment with different vegetables and flavors.

fermented vegetables gluten free pasta

Here I tossed fermented veggies with Trader Joe’s Quinoa-rice pasta (gluten-free). It would work well with rice or in wraps.

I love using fresh ginger and garlic. How about a savory blend with rosemary and oregano. Fresh basil would be nice in the summer months, or you could try traditional kimchi with red curry.

This next fermented batch will have purple cabbage mixed with carrots, green peppers, and squash. The Purple color comes from the nutritous flavonoid anthocyanin, which is found in blueberries and in this Dijon Purple Potatoe Soup.

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Fermenting veggies can ensure that you eat a balanced diet with all the different combinations. It is best to choose vegetables that are in season. Most of these combinations are chosen from what is found from my local farmers. This can help you stay fresh and local at your sustainable table.

Resources:

Fermented Fruits and Vegetables: A Global Perspective http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0560e/x0560e02.htm

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs/#.VVwBMflViko

 

 

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