My must-have ferments.

So, let’s talk fermenting, shall we?  It’s one of the oldest, if not THE oldest way of food preservation and is frequently touted as having loads of healthy benefits.  I’ve only recently – as in the last few years – started dabbling in it.  I have a sourdough starter, which technically is fermenting, and then I managed to get my hands on a kombucha scoby because Edie was on a kombucha kick, but it’s taken me some time to really wrap my head around the whole fermenting process.  For someone who only vaguely follows recipes, it seemed like the loosey goosey-ness of fermenting would be a solid fit, but I have to admit, it’s taken me a good bit of reading, attendance of several fermenting classes and trying my hand at it more than a few times to really feel like I got it.

Truth be told, there are some fermented foods I just don’t care for.  I’ve tried eating them, I’ve even tried making them and you know what?  I don’t like them.  I’m good with this admission, even if that means I lose some foodie cred. There are however, some ferments I simply cannot get enough of and one of those is radishes.

I first learned about them from Amanda at Phickle, who I also credit with helping me wrap my head around fermenting.  She’s got a book coming out later in the year and I’m pretty darn excited to get my hands on it.  It might actually be one of those books I buy sight unseen (a rare event for me) because that’s how much I like her recipes and approach. Also, her fermented radishes, which are so simple, totally kick ass. I find myself making a new batch of these weekly.  Fermented radishes with butter on a ritz cracker are my favorite snack/happy hour treat.  I can go through them like nobody’s business which is why I always seem to have a jar fermenting on the counter when I can get my hands on some nice local, organic radishes.  I submerge them in brine, which I make using a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water.  I threw some garlic into my last batch and it totally kicked it up a notch.

When you ferment, it’s important to use produce that hasn’t been sprayed or treated.  You can read about this elsewhere, but basically, you’re trying to encourage healthy bacteria to grow.  If the food you are using has been sprayed or treated, there’s a good chance it’s been robbed of all it’s good bacteria.  Additionally, you don’t want to use tap water, as the chlorine used to treat our drinking water can also prohibit growth.  I get around this by boiling my water, then letting it sit, so that the chlorine dissipates.  I also find if I add my salt to hot water, it dissolves easier and faster. The type of salt you use is also important.  Just like when canning, you don’t want to use a salt that has any additives to it, which means table salt is out.  Preferably, you will want to use a salt rich in minerals – I’ve seen Himalayan pink salt recommended as well as French Grey Sea Salt.  If I have any of that on hand, I’ll use it, but as I always have kosher salt on hand, I grab that quite a bit. You want to make sure your food is totally covered by the brine before weighting it down – I use Amanda’s ghetto jar method, since I always have jars on hand. That said, not every ferment needs to be weighted down – when I started out, I weighted everything, these days I have a better handle on what needs it and what doesn’t.

Another one of my favorite ferments are fermented ginger carrots.  My recipe is based on Rachel at 6512 and growing‘s recipe – although I’ve altered it slightly.  I’ve learned from the fermenting classes I’ve taken, you don’t always need to add water to ferments, just add salt to your produce and start squishing.  Eventually, you’ll pull enough water out of it to create a brine and that’s exactly what I did with this batch of carrots.  I find I like fermented carrots on grilled cheese sandwiches as well as egg sandwiches – it pairs wonderfully with arugula, so do yourself a favor and try it.  Go on, do it.

My last recent experiment in fermenting found me going completely off road.  I like kim chee and I had been thinking about trying some of the greens in my garden that came back from last year’s seed package of Asian Braising Greens in a batch.  When I was down at the other garden weeding over the weekend, Virginia pointed to her current row of them and offered them up (she realized last weekend after I yanked all her arugula and then dropped off pesto that this partnership of her growing and my preserving works well). The only hitch is that my crock  – which I bought specifically for making kim chee, is being utilized right now in the pickled duck egg project (more on that soon!), so I had to get creative.  I realized my punchbowl was big enough for the initial round, where you combine the greens with a brine and so I went for it.

I let them sit overnight before adding some carrots, radishes and spring onions (all local and organic of course).  I went heavy on the ginger and because the greens had some kick to them (have you had spicy mustard greens?), I skipped any hot peppers, using just a dash of fish sauce and a few cloves of garlic. This is the first time I’ve not followed a specific kim chee recipe, which feels slightly wild, but I went with my instincts on this.  I know they don’t need spice and because some of them were bolting, they definitely had some kick.

My favorite way of consuming kim chee is either straight out of the jar or on a peanut butter covered rice cake (Peanut butter toast is also good!). I know there are loads of good ways to enjoy it, those are just my favorite ways. If you want to read more about fermenting, I highly recommend Amanda’s blog as well as anything and everything Sandor Katz has written. I received a copy of his “Wild Fermentation” book for my birthday one year, just after attending my first fermenting class and it’s become my go-to.

Okay, enough with the babble.  Following are the basic recipes and methods I used – if you try them out, let me know what you think!   (Also,  yes, those are the  purple wide mouth quart Ball jars that I treated myself to because, Purple.  And because wide mouth quart jars are so stinking handy.  I think the photos looking down into them with the colorful veggies inside are quite lovely if I do say so myself, don’t you?)

Fermented Radishes
(Adapted from Amanda at Phickle)

Make a brine of 1 teaspoon salt to 1 cup of water.  Slice an entire bunch of radishes (usually about 6-8, weighing in about a pound I’m guessing) and place in a jar.  Add any spices (a garlic bulb or two are good) Cover with room temperature brine, using a weight to ensure all the vegetables are submerged. Cover the jar with a clean dishtowel and let sit at room temperature for about 5 days before tasting.  When they have reached the point you think they are done, put a cap on the jar and stick in the fridge.

Fermented Ginger Carrots

(Adapted from Rachel at 6512 and growing)

Grate one pound of carrots and a healthy chunk of fresh ginger. Toss with 1 tablespoon salt and let sit for a 15 minutes or so, squishing the mix with your hands every few minutes.  Pack into a jar, using a wooden spoon (or your hands) to push the vegetables down until completely submerged in their own brine. Cover jar with a dishtowel and let sit at room temperature for 3-7 days (I find that after 5 days, mine are exactly where I want them), checking daily to make sure all the vegetables are covered.  When they are done, cap the jar and store in the refrigerator.

Kim Chee

(Adapted from several recipes, including Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz)

Make a brine of 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons of salt.  Coarsely chop a pound (or more) of greens and submerge the greens in the brine.  Cover with a weight to keep the vegetables submerged until soft, overnight. 
Chop your other vegetables – onions (or leeks), carrots, radishes.  (You can use the greens on all these vegetables too!).  You can start with one or two of each, depending on the size, but there is no set amount – go with the proportion of veggies to greens that you like!
Grate a few good inches of fresh ginger, mince some garlic (several cloves!) and chop hot chilies (fresh, dried, whatever you like!).  Mix this into a paste with some fish sauce (it is recommended if you use this, you find it without chemical preservatives).
Drain the brine off the greens, reserving it.  Taste them for saltiness – you want them to be salty but not too much so.  If they are too salty, rinse them.  If they aren’t salty enough, add more salt and mix. 
Combine all the vegetables and spices.  Mix together well and pack into jars (or a crock), pressing down until the brine rises to cover the vegetables completely.  If necessary, add some of the drained, reserved  brine.  Weight the vegetables down (with a plate or the ghetto jar method), cover with a clean dishtowel (this keeps out dust and flies) and let sit for about a week.  Be sure to leave some room for your ferments to bubble – this means they are working! Check it daily, tasting every few days until it tastes ripe.  At that point,  cover with a lid (jar it if you are using a crock) and place in the fridge.

6 thoughts on “My must-have ferments.

  1. Patience says:

    I need to eat more fermented foods for health reasons. I think I’ll try your kim chee recipe. I made some myself a while back, but it had so much Korean hot pepper powder in it I couldn’t eat it.

    • Becky says:

      I am definitely not a fan of overly spicy foods, so I tend to hold back on adding heat to most of my dishes. The last batch of kim chee that I made could have used a bit more zip though.

  2. melissawest says:

    I like my grapes and hops fermented;) But frankly, I’ve never given this much thought. You sure make it look like a pretty process with your photographs, though!

    • Becky says:

      Between being known as a foodie as well as a food preservationist, I need to keep up with what’s in. Both those radishes and those carrots are so worth trying.

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