DIY: Fermentation in Preparation for Spring
Go green by brining your veggies.
As winter drags on and before the spring farmers markets begin, try your hand at creating fermented foods–it’s a great entry into the more elaborate process of canning and making sauces and jams.
Chopping vegetables, stuffing them into jars filled with brine and letting it sit in the kitchen for a few days to ferment is an unusual sort of food preparation in contrast to our frying, baking, and sautéingin a battle to rid our foods of bacteria immediately and efficiently. The process of fermentation, involves the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and bacteria, as vegetables pickle, becoming crunchy and juicy in the brine.
Fermenting foods is fragrant, colorful; and the jar can develop a foamy crust. The waning weeks of winter are an optimal time to ferment cabbage, a hardy Brassica vegetable that can survive mild frosts. The simple process of fermenting cabbage to create dishes like sauerkraut and kimchi transforms a somewhat bland vegetable into a crunchy, bright, pungent, dish or condiment. Many common items we eat are made under anaerobic conditions of fermentation like wine, miso, sauerkraut, achar, injera and prosciutto.
Kimchi is a simple fermented dish that takes no more than a half hour to prepare and requires nothing more than salt water (the finer the salt the better) and a mix of spices. (Other methods of pickling require a vinegar mixture as well, that varies depending on the dish.) My favorite foods to ferment are cabbage, onion, radish, carrots and turnips. And you can flavor and cut these foods to your liking. Onions cut in perfect rings with a few garlic scapes? A variety of vegetables and fresh spices will work in this fermented dish.
To make kimchi, first cut the combination of vegetables you’d like - make sure you have enough to tightly pack the goods into a clean glass jar of your choosing. (To pack the vegetables into a jar pound the items with your fist. The packing ensures the correct ratio of salt water to vegetables). I usually use Green Savoy or Napa cabbage, some shredded carrots and a couple of radish. (Purple cabbage makes for some really interesting colors, however).
Mix these vegetables with spices and herbs like garlic, hot pepper flakes, fresh hot peppers, scallions and shredded ginger. This is the fun part – you get to decide the flavors, keep in mind, as the jar cures, the flavors saturate and magnify.
Once the jar is packed and you’ve added spices, pour the brine solution over the vegetables. The brine protects the vegetables from the air and the right amount of salt allows the pickles to ferment and thus preserve. (Brine concentrations can range so check out some recipes online).
To make sure the brine is covering the entire mixture, the best method I’ve found is placing a clean weighted cup or plate over the vegetables as the picture above indicates. This may cause liquid to dribble over the sides but the weighted object ensures that the kimchi is submerged underwater. Most kimchi makers then cover the entire jar with cheesecloth.
Another suggestion: the fresher your vegetables the better. And try experimenting with flavor. For example, pickled ginger has a totally differ taste when cured as opposed to sautéed.
Fermentation is a simple form of pickling that requires virtually no equipment. It’s a great for beginners and those interested in the more elaborate process of canning fruits and vegetables, which involves heat and vacuum seals and well, more opportunities to make a mistake. We tend to search for optimal cleanliness as we bake, fry and boil – fermentation offers another relationship with our food.
The jar of vegetables sits out on the counter-top, not refridgerated. For as long as a week the vegetables cure and fester, but you’ll end up with a delicious, crunchy and fresh dish.
Note: You can also brine cauliflower, snap beans, peppers, zucchini, peas, tomatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts. Check recipes online for specific brine rations and amounts. Leave your kimchi in a dark place that’s about room temperature.