Archive for the ‘Fermenting’ Category

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s so-called salsa in a jar in the grocery store. GROSS. The useless sodium-laden, soggy, sugary mess inside is enough to make me run away screaming. I haven’t consumed the stuff in years for that very reason. For me, it’s homemade, restaurant-made, or nothing. And to be honest, I make a smashing raw tomato salsa that I was not interested in improving. Until I saw this recipe.

Going along with my pickling/fermentation vibe this summer, a fermented salsa sounded too interesting to slip by this tomato season. The recipe calls for Roma tomatoes but I got some nice heirlooms so I used those. I roasted up the tomatoes, garlic, onions and peppers (got some mystery hot peppers at the market that were delish). Since putting a piping hot anything into a plastic bag gives me the heebie-jeebies, I put the peppers into a half-pint mason jar and screwed on the lid to let them steam.

After peeling the roasted and steamed peppers with food-safe gloves (we will not repeat the jalapeno contact lens incident) I chopped everything up, mixed in all the other ingredients (I didn’t have a lime so I used lemon for the juice) and put it in one of my trusty quart jars to ferment on the counter for two days.

Ketchup (left) and salsa (right) fermenting away on the counter

I have to admit, I was skeptical. Could any type of salsa really beat my old standby? I was absolutely blown away by the intense flavor of this roasted fermented salsa. It is absolutely delicious (and seems to get hotter as it sits in the fridge, by the way) and I’ve put it on tacos, scrambled eggs and served with guacamole. It really is the bomb. I won’t say that I’ll never make mine again, but I can say with certainty that I’ll be making this again. Too bad canning it would kill the benefits of fermentation. I’m going to miss it this winter!

For my other fermentation project that I got going about the same time, I made some fermented ketchup. I was nervous about this one. Would test subject Bill reject it? Would he freak out? It wouldn’t be the first time.

I used the recipe from Nourishing Traditions for my ketchup. It was a very simple mixture of canned tomato paste, whey, sea salt, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, garlic and fish sauce. I used store-bought fish sauce; haven’t progressed to making my own yet. Yet. Anyway, you just mix everything up and it sits on the counter to ferment for two days. That’s it. So easy.

Home made ketchup and meatballs with a side of sauerkraut!

I was surprised at how much it did, yet didn’t taste like commercial ketchup. It had the sweet and tangy, yet not the…soupy, plastic-y taste I’m used to (if that makes any sense). It’s thicker than store-bought ketchup, which I assume you could thin out with filtered water if you chose to. I left it as it was and thoroughly enjoyed it on some meatballs. Now to make some real-food friendly French fries for this healthy ketchup…

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I’ve been getting into fermentations lately, but after reading Wild Fermentation I am a nut about it! That book is full of great information and written in a very engaging manner. Fermented foods are highly nutritious and allow you to preserve food without cooking it. While I have several projects in the works, here are some of the completed ferments:

Kvass in the jar and in the glass. In real life, it's much more purple than it looks here.

Beet kvass: looks weird, sounds weird, tastes a little weird but beets are jam packed full of nutrition and this beverage has been touted for its liver cleansing benefits. I was emboldened to try this after watching The Healthy Home Economist do it on her blog. You can do the ferment twice, and I noticed the second batch is markedly less salty than the first. I know it was too salty for some people, so I would recommend watering it down the first time through if that’s the case. I had some problems with mold on the kvass. It was pretty easy to skim it off, and it’s not going to hurt you, but I think next time it’s on the counter I will fill a bag with brine and set it on top like I did with the kimchi to prevent molding instead of just screwing the lid on. This was the only ferment I experienced mold with.

Pickled green beans (left) and sauerkraut (right) sitting on the counter to ferment.

I’ve also made a couple of batches of sauerkraut. This is super easy and delicious. I never ate the canned stuff, but I really enjoy this ferment. Again, I watched The Healthy Home Economist demonstrate and decided, I can do that! And I could. Amazing. And the stuff keeps forever. Apparently it is at its peak at six months of aging, but will last much longer. I like the sauerkraut with sausage. I may even be able to eat bratwurst (an old nemesis) if I can have kraut with it. Oh, gee…I have some pastured pork bratwurst in my freezer right now…

I’ve also made some pickles, including these fermented “pickled” green beans. They were interesting. It seemed like they fermented differently than the kraut. At one point, I could actually hear the kraut bubbling on the

Sauerkraut with locally grown rice, pasture-raised pork sausage and steamed squash from my CSA box.

counter. But with the beans I barely saw a bubble come up to indicate fermentation. They did it, though…definately fermented. They are an interesting accompaniment.

Finally, the dill pickles. I got this one out of my Joy of Pickling cookbook, and it’s a simple, great recipe for pickling those little cornichon pickles. This one does not use whey, only salt, for the fermentation. They are quite green in the picture (when I first put them in the jar) but after sitting out for about a week they turn the familiar dark green/gray color we associate with pickles. They are yummy, not too salty and because there’s a pepper in there some of them get kinda spicy, too! A nice change. Also, my pickles didn’t get soggy at all

Cornichon pickles starting to ferment.

even though I didn’t use a horseradish leaf or anything to keep them crispy. Luck? Maybe.

Next on the fermentation list: kombucha, honey mead, ketchup, mayonnaise, salsa, mango chutney….

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Pickled shrimp: sounds scarier than it really is.

My pickle frenzy resulted in a large variety of pickled items in my fridge. They are kind of taking over. So far I’ve pickled asparagus, butternut squash and pumpkin, shrimp, beets, mushrooms, broccoli, apples and onions. Yes, I pickled shrimp. The recipe calls for white peppercorns but I didn’t have any so I used black…I can see why she said to use white peppercorns. The black ones kind of look like…eyes…

Anyway, here are my findings:

Apple and Onion: I made this one too early. This really needs to go with Thanksgiving dinner. The cinnamon mixed with the vinegar is fun and suprising. I could totally see this going with any kind of a roast.

Asparagus: kind of disappointed in this one. I was hoping that it would be more like the dilled green beans. But it’s not. Somewhat blah. If I preserve asparagus again, it will be a straight up canning job.

Pickle buffet: broccoli in the ramekin and mushrooms in the jar. Shrimp, asparagus and butternut squash on the plate.

Beets: as I mentioned before, I really liked these ones. The Morrocan-style spices really make it interesting. Strong, though. You can’t just sit and munch mindlessly. Not that I ever do that.

Broccoli: this one is pretty good. Refreshing, a nice addition to a salad or a rich main course where the fat needs to be cut a little bit. I like it.

Butternut squash and pumpkin: Not bad on this one. Definately a better use than throwing out the pumpkin, which is what would have happened to it otherwise. Even test subject Bill liked this one. Sweet and sour…I should try it on ice cream. Wait a minute. Pickles and ice cream….NOOOOOO!

Mushrooms: these are very good – I would put these on a small plates buffet. Along side cheese and olives and crusty bread…oh yeah.

Apple and onion pickle. Looks rather refined, doesn't it?

Shrimp: they were not as creepy as I was thinking they would be. These could be little snackies to go along with the mushrooms in the above scenario. They actually kind of taste like the cooked shrimp they use at the sushi bar. Not creepy or freaky at all, even though it is pickled seafood. Rather messy to eat though.

All of these pickles were vinegar-based pickles. However, thanks to my successful kimchi experience I’ve been playing around with fermentation. Look for an upcoming post on dill pickles and sauerkraut. I have been absolutely devouring Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Wow! The world of microorganisms…who knew! And with the recent addition of a Gairtopf fermentation crock I’ll be a level 7 food freak in no time at all.

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In Korea, kimchi is a passion. Back in the day, Korean women would fill giant pots with kimchi and bury them up to their necks and eat the kimchi over the winter. Today, special refrigerators are sold for the sole purpose of keeping kimchi. Koreans are just wild about their kimchi, and for good reason. It helped keep them alive over long winters in years past. Being a fermented vegetable, it’s filled with nutrition. And hey, it’s darn tasty. Kimchi, gim chi, kim chee however you want to spell it in English, it’s a worthy endeavor.

Kimchi to go kit: napa cabbage, green onions, daikon, sample kim chi, garlic and ginger, starch mix, red pepper, fish sauce

My Korean tutor Tess and I have been discussing kimchi as I shared with her some of my pickling experiments. When she asked me again if I was going to try to make it, I said absolutely. The next thing I knew I was up to my ears in a veritable kimchi to go kit. Tess gave me just the right kind of cabbage, daikon, hot pepper powder, fish sauce, green onion, salt and a starch (flour and water mix) that she likes to use to thicken the sauce. Along with a loose set of instructions, she gave me a sample of her own kimchi which I prompty ate.

I had no more excuses. I was going to become master of my kimchi.

My Joy of Pickling book has a recipe for kimchi in it. As I sorted through my ingredients and tried to figure out my head from my tail, I ended up doing a bit of a combination between Tess’s instructions and the ones from my book. The first step is to brine the cabbage. I cut the head of cabbage in half and mixed the salt with the water. The amount of water Tess told me was no where near enough to cover the cabbage in the vessel I had (a giant steel mixing bowl). The book instructions used a lot less salt, so decided to split the difference and just poured more water over the cabbage. I weighted the cabbage down with a plate and a water-filled jar. There it sat for about six hours.

When the cabbage was done brining, I pulled it out, washed it and squeezed the water out of it. I then cut it in quarters. Tess says that good kimchi has to have the proper shape – long quarters of cabbage with the sauce stuffed in between the leaves. Since I didn’t want to disappoint her, I would do it the proper way!

Julienne of daikon

I assembled the sauce: the starch mixture, slightly heated, a huge amount of the red pepper powder, the fish sauce and a little bit of sugar. I sliced and diced the daikon as per Tess’s instructions. I mixed everything together and was ready to stuff. Tess recommended using gloves to handle the kimchi because of the heat of the peppers. Recalling the time I put in contact lens with a jalapeno-laced finger, I put on some gloves.

Stuffing was actually easier than I expected. The brine made the leaves pliable so I could pull back a leaf, rub the vegetable-sauce mix on the leaf and move onto the next. The real challenge came once the cabbage quarter was stuffed – getting it into the jar. All I had to use was a gallon jar, so I had to maneuver the piece through the relatively small opening and position it in the jar. Since it’s glass and therefore you can see through it, I also wanted it not to look like poo.

Stuffed quarter of cabbage

Once all four quarters were stuffed and positioned, I filled in some of the spare space with daikon cubes and pressed down on the whole thing to get it compacted a little. It sure seemed like there was a lot of empty space. I know oxygen is an enemy of fermentation so that made me nervous. So I made up a quick brine and poured in enough to fill most of the gaping holes. Bad form? Maybe. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Tess told me to leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. The book said 3 to 6 days. So I left it for 2 1/2 days. It was very cool. I could see bubbles coming up as the fermentation started. Sometimes I could hear the bubbles. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen, but it was awesome.

Kimchi ready to ferment!

When I finally gave it a taste-test, I was pleasantly suprised. It didn’t suck. It wasn’t as good as Tess’s, that much I could tell, but it wasn’t bad at all. But it didn’t matter what I thought. The real test would come a few days later when I gave Tess the taste test on our weekly sushi trip.

First of all, most of the employees at the sushi/hibachi place test subject Bill and I go to every week are Korean. So they know their kimchi. Tess was very excited when I showed up with my sample. She finished making her sushi roll and grabbed the container. She announced that it looked good. Her husband laughed, as he usually does whenever I attempt anything Korean. (I get laughed at a lot…) But I made a believer out of them both. Tess tried it and said, “It’s good! It’s amazing!” Her husband tried it and he, too, was amazed. Then one of the waitresses tried it so she could share in the amazement. I heard Tess saying something about she’d never seen an American be able to make good kimchi.

And that’s why they call me The Kung Fu!

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