Posts Tagged fermenting

Relishing radishes

I think the veggies I picked at the community garden were radishes rather than turnips — they had that radish bite. But they prove that you can ferment just about anything, and that it has to be my favorite foolproof preservation method of the moment. It was one of those serendipity moments. I thought I was picking greens for soup and salads. But I tugged a whole plant up by mistake, and there was this fat pink-white bulb at the end of it. Two meals from one plant! Awesome.

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But I digress. How was I going to handle a basket of radishes (or possibly turnips), in the knowledge that only one of the two of us is eating proper food right now (the spouse is relegated to munching mush after a long-awaited hospital adventure)?

Continuing the fermentation theme of the last couple of weeks, I tried two experiments — grated and chunked — with beets for color and ginger for an extra bite. The recipe? Well, there isn’t one really. Weigh the grated veggies and add about salt to make up 1.5 percent of their weight, and make up a 3 percent salt brine to pour over the chunks. Squish the veggies well down into the jar, adding brine to the jar with the chunks, weight the vegetables beneath the liquid with a smaller jar filled with water (or brine), cover with cheesecloth and wait. I threw a few slices of ginger in with the chunked veggies, and grated a very large chunk of ginger with the grated ones. The recipes say use filtered/bottled water, but I used regular Toronto tap water. It seemed to work last time.

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The two jars bubbled away happily on the countertop for about five warmish days, and the brine spilled over into the pie plate several times, forcing me to remove bulk or pour off brine. The taste? It’s a vinegary pickle with a radish/ginger bite, especially for the grated veggies. It’s almost Middle Eastern, and I’m rather proud of how well it worked. And both pickles are a beautiful, beautiful dark beet red.

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The bonus: the greens are delicious, like Asian salad greens with a spicy crunch. I ate them in salads, steamed with butter or olive oil, with omelet or scrambled eggs for an instant low-cal supper, and then in a spinach soup without the spinach.

This community garden stuff really is quite fun.

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Saving the sunchoke

choke2Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are my latest offering from the Community Garden, partly because my fellow gardeners complain they give them gas. I’m welcome to as many as I can dig, although they are seriously fiddly to scrub and clean. I roasted the first batch with olive oil and lemons, which was yummy, and I can’t say I noticed any major stomach issues. But I feel I’ve been neglecting the pickle world in the last few months, so I took to the internets for thoughts on how to preserve these (very) little babies.

There were a number of regular pickles and then there were recipes for lacto-fermenting, both with grated sunchokes (sauerkraut without the kraut) and with ‘chokes that were diced or sliced. Fermenting is a new part of my preserving repertoire, and I’ve done small batches only so far. Perfect chance to branch out into something new.

choke3As I scrolled through the recipes, I rejected anything that told me to peel the veggies, as well as things that called for ingredients I didn’t have in the kitchen. Then I found perfection, with including turmeric (for color and taste), plus ginger, garlic and cumin (three things I really like). I chopped my ‘chokes into chunky rings rather than dice because they were so small, added brine and spices and waited for the fermenting magic to do its stuff.

Fermented Jerusalem artichokes (adapted slightly from Linda Ziedrich’s Mellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle)

750 g Jerusalem artichokes, washed, then scrubbed and trimmed and sliced fairly thickly
1 tsp turmeric
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 oz fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups water

Make a brine with the salt, sugar and water and set aside. Mix the ‘chokes with the spices (and wonder how the hell you’ll ever get the yellow off your fingers) and then pack the veggies tightly into a clean jar. Pour the brine over the top, and weight the veggies down (I used a smaller jar filled with water, but you can also use a ziploc full of water or brine). Leave your cheesecloth-covered jar on the countertop for a few days to let the fermentation alchemy to do its stuff — it took five days before mine tasted “right” — a sort of tanginess that will go well with cheese or hummus — so I put the lid on and moved it to the fridge.


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Tip: I’ve learned from bitter experience to always put my jar of fermenting veggies on top of a deep saucer or a pie plate because the liquid tends to bubble out of the jar. You really don’t want yellow turmeric brine staining everything in the kitchen.

Maybe next time I’ll make the slices thinner so I can use my veggies in a sandwich rather than as on-the-side chunks.

A bonus: Linda says her Internet research shows that pickling/fermenting the ‘chokes removes whatever it is that causes large amounts of gas in the first place. I can’t confirm this one, but it does mean I’ll offer a taste to my gardening partners without worrying that their spouses won’t talk to them for days.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I liked this one so much that I made it again a week later, omitting the sugar, which was perhaps a mistake because it tasted better the first time. It loses a point because you really have to be careful to keep your veggies under the liquid even after you finish fermenting them. I put the newer batch in the back of the fridge and forgot about it, and the top layer of ‘chokes went blue-brown distressingly fast. I ate them anyway, but the first batch was definitely the winner.

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Like buttermilk, only better

There are those who rave about kefir because it contains the good bugs that our anti-bacteria society seems to want to purify out of existence. I just prefer the tart-sour kefir taste to the blandness of milk. But I rarely bought it, and never dreamed of making it myself. Then someone swapped me a jar of jam for a handful of kefir grains, and my life turned upside down, just like the discovery of steel cut oats revolutionized my winter breakfasts. There’s no machine, no thermometers and nothing to worry about, and kefir tastes great in oatmeal, cold oats or granola. Why didn’t I discover this decades ago? kefir2The secret for me is to make enough kefir for a day or  two, and just let the grains rest, covered with water, in the fridge when I’m not in kefir making mood. When I’m ready to ferment, I rinse the grains (which look like mini silicon brains), put them in a clean Mason jar and top up with as much milk as I think I’ll need the next day. I close the jar loosely (the ring/lid combo is my alternative to covering with a cloth) and let it sit on the countertop until it’s sour enough to use. In summer that can take as little as 6-8 hours, although the recipes all say 24 hours at least. Don’t close your jar tightly — the milk bubbles as it ferments, and a cracked jar (or an explosion?) could create a nasty mess in the kitchen.

kefir1 When it smells sour enough, I tighten the seal on the jar and shake it up to mix the whey back in with the solids, and then sieve it. The grains are little squeaky things so you sieve the mix gently – don’t try to force the grains through the mesh. Save the kefir, rinse the grains, cover them with water and put them back in the fridge until you want to start the game all over again. I’ve kept the grains in water for as long as a week so far, although I understand you can freeze them for longer storage. I’m planning that for the next few weeks; I’ll update this entry once I figure out if it works.

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The beauty of all this? Kefir grains grow as they sour the milk, so you almost always have some to give away. If my grains don’t work from the freezer, I can always find a way to get grains back.

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Creative with carrots

I’ve been on a fermentation kick for the last few months, focusing on small batch stuff, so I can ring the changes with spices and seasonings and never get fed up of what I’ve made.

It’s easy. I grate vegetables in the food processor (mostly carrots, but I’m open to other suggestions), squeeze them together with salt and spice, squish down in a jar and wait.  I liked carrots with cumin and fennel, but fermented carrot with dill seed was sort of blah.

After a few versions where the brine bubbled out  the jar, I have concluded that 400-450 grams of veggies just pack down into a 500g Mason jar.

Fermented carrots

450 grams carrots
7 grams of salt
1/2 tsp of spice

Grate the carrots finely and use your hands to mix them with the salt and spice, squishing the veggies together until brine starts to come out. Push down into a wide-mouthed jar, trying to get rid of any air spaces, and then push a clean, narrow jar down on top of it. I sometimes fill that jar with water to weight it down, or I get lazy and I use an unopened jar of jam or chutney.

Cover with a cloth to stop dust getting in, and leave on the countertop until it bubbles its way to your preferred degree of tanginess. I start tasting my carrots after 2-3 days, and they are usually done after 4-5 days. But some recipes say it takes a week or even two. It depends on how warm your kitchen is, and on the mood of the carrots.

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A few tips:

  • You want 1-2 percent salt to vegetables by weight, so it’s easier using a digital scale (set to metric) than using measuring cups and spoons. But there are recipes that use cup measurements if that’s your thing.
  • Don’t overdo the spices.
  • The amount of liquid you end up with is totally unpredictable. After about two days, the brine rises to the top of the jar, and sometimes bubbles over (store your jar on a plate or a bowl). But after 4-5 days that liquid seems to soak back into the carrots.
  • If you have leftovers that won’t squish into your jar, just eat it as a (slightly salty) salad.
  • You can add extra brine if the carrots dry up, but they are usually tangy enough for my taste by the time that happens, so I move them to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
  • The books say the fermented veggies will keep for weeks or even months. My small batches never last that long — I add a forkful to my lunchtime sandwiches (they taste awesome with home-made hummus), or throw them into a salad for extra taste and crunch.
  • This is probably total coincidence, but I’ve lost a little weight since I started eating my fermented veggies on a regular basis. All those good fermenting bugs seem to do very nice things to my digestive system.

Next up: Friends over at http://www.wellpreserved.ca point me to this recipe, which I am going to do as soon as I’ve started eating the carrot batch that’s bubbling away right now. I mean how can you go wrong with carrots and ginger?

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