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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Fermenting vegetables at home: how, why, and some recipes

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Most recent revision: 25 Dec 2021 – updated Culture Carrot Cake in a Jar recipe.

6 Nov 2021 – I can tell that fermenting  vegetables, like making tempeh (also fermentation), is going to be an ongoing learning experience, at least for a while. Such projects seem best documented in a single post that I extend and revise as I learn — cf. my posts on my diet, on making tempeh, on implementing Covey’s 7 Habits, on personal budget planning and control, on cast-iron skillets, and so on. (Such posts generally end up on the “Useful posts” page.)

So this post is now the designated post for documenting my experience and lessons learned for fermenting vegetables. It includes some recipes:

• Cultured Carrot Cake in a Jar
• Beets & Leeks
• Cabbage & Red (Onion, Apple, and Radish)
• Recipes in two videos by Pro Home Cooks


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Cultured Carrot Cake in a Jar Recipe

Right after all added to jar.

Today (5 Sept 2021) I made this recipe from Cultured Food Life. I assume “shredded” means “coarsely grated.” I experimented with dicing the apples rather than grating them. Didn’t work: prefer grated. This recipe contains my modifications, which amount to doubling dates and spices.

2 cups carrots, shredded
8 whole dates, chopped
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped [I use 3]
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8  teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt or French sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
               —
2 cups whole apples, shredded 
1/8 teaspoon Cutting Edge Starter Culture

If you’re using the packaged starter culture, put the right amount (1/2 packet for 1 qt or liter, or 1 full packet for 2 quarts or liters) in 1 cup of spring water water. (Tap water is often chlorinated, which works against the culture. And apparently distilled water doesn’t work well at all.) Let that sit while you prepare the vegetables. 

The recommendation of Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt is because of their mineral content — refined salt lacks those minerals. The specific recommendation was for Celtic sea salt, but in Canada I found Paludier Fine Grey Sea Salt, which seems to be the same thing (though French, but same harvesting method from the same ocean) and it costs less than half as much as Celtic sea salt. So look around at the various grey sea salts and see what you can find. Coarse is cheaper than fine, and that works fine because you can dissolve the salt in a little water rather than just mixing undissolved salt with the vegetables — fine or coarse makes no difference after it’s dissolved. 

Prepare everything except the apples and put into a large bowl. Mix well using your (clean) hands. This allows you to feel when the diced dates are stuck together and break them apart. 

Once all that is mixed well, grate and add the apples and mix those in. (This sequence gives the grated apples less time to oxidize. I have used Royal Gala, Envy, and Honeycrisp. What I want is crisp, crunchy, and sweet, with a nice red peel.)

Once the apples are mixed in well, add the cup of water that contains the activated starter culture and mix well. Fill the jar — don’t pack it tightly; fermentation works better if it’s not packed tightly — and put a fermentation weight into the jar, then add spring water to bring the liquid level the bottom of the fermentation weight, and cap with a fermentation airlock. There should be an inch or two of space in the jar: vegetables will expand. 

Use spring/bottled water, because chlorinated water will inhibit the growth of the microbes. Tap water is often chlorinated.

Instead of a packaged starter culture, for this first batch I just used about 1 cup of juice from sauerkraut from the refrigerated section (i.e., unpasteurized sauerkraut in which the culture is still living, unlike sauerkraut on the shelves with canned goods) and then added enough water to cover the vegetables. You can also use the whey drained from a yogurt (plain yogurt: just milk and culture, nothing else) that has an active culture (i.e., a yogurt that is not pasteurized). Drain it through cheesecloth. What remains in the cheesecloth is yogurt cheese, very tasty, and the liquid that drains away is the whey, which contains a lot of the active lactobacillus culture.

I recommend using a wide-mouth 1 quart (or 1 liter) canning jar. A canning funnel helps in filling the jar. Cover the jar in a way that keeps air out but lets gas escape [a silicone fermentation airlock lid is ideal for that, and I now have a set. – LG], and let it ferment for a few days.

During the night after I packed the jar full and set it on the counter to ferment, it occurred to me that the carrots and apples would likely expand, causing some overflow. I therefore put the jar in a bowl, and this morning around noon I did find liquid in the bowl. I tasted it, and it does indeed taste like carrot cake. Because of my inexperience, I had filled the jar too full with liquid. Lesson learned: Leave airspace at the top. But I also think placing each jar in a bowl is a good idea — and with a later batch, where I was more careful with liquid level, I did have some overflow. 

A process like this fermentation roughly follows an exponential curve: initially very little visible activity, but then things speed up. I expect that tomorrow (the second day of fermentation), fermentation will be visible, and certainly on the third day I will see activity. 

So far, so good.

Three days later: It’s extremely tasty. I thought it would be sour (like sauerkraut), but it’s just somewhat tart. I’m definitely making this again. I’ll now order some proper equipment. (I didn’t want to buy supplies until I knew whether I liked it.)


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Equipment

Fermentation airlock and fermentation weight, both for wide-mouth jars

6 Nov 2021 – Lesson learned from the first batch above: get wide-mouth jars: easier to load and easier to dip out fermented vegetables. Unlike regular-mouth jars, wide-mouth jars are more cylindrical, without narrowing at the aperture (the proverbial bottleneck).

I now have a dozen 1-litre wide-mouth canning jars (easier to find here than 1-qt jars, but more is better, right?), four silicone fermentation airlock lids for wide-mouth jars, four glass fermentation weights for wide-mouth jars (like these), and a package of starter culture. I’ve also ordered a tamper (like this one), though after ordering it I learned you don’t want to pack the jars too tightly or the ferment won’t work so well.

Starter culture

Cultures for Health offers some good information on fermenting vegetables — scroll down on that page. There are quite a few articles. In one of their articles, they note

A fermented food recipe may call specifically for salt, whey, or a starter culture. The method chosen can vary, depending on personal taste, special dietary requirements, and even the vegetables used.

If salt fermentation is the preferred method, choose from the different kinds of salt appropriate for culturing.

There’s more at that link. I’m using Celtic sea salt.

Even though the sauerkraut juice (from live-culture sauerkraut sold in the refrigerated section — for example, Wildbrine fermented foods — worked fine, I don’t want to be buying sauerkraut. It’s fairly expensive for one thing. It occurred to me that I can use some of the liquid from one batch of my fermented vegetables as starter for the next batch. I’ll definitely try that, which would obviate the need for purchased culture. (In fact, as I read further in the Cultures for Health articles, they recommend this as one way to start the culture.)

I did find an interesting source of whey to be used for fermentation: the whey from making yogurt cheese using a live-culture yogurt (i.e., a yogurt that’s not pasteurized). 

I do like yogurt cheese, and it’s easy to make: dump yogurt onto some cheesecloth, suspend it over a pot for a few hours, and you get yogurt cheese (in the cheesecloth) and whey (in the pot). Since I love yogurt cheese, this would be a good source for a starter culture — except that I no longer eat dairy very often at all (cf. my diet). But if you like yogurt, this may be a good source of starter culture for you. From a recipe for fermented beets:

Whey, the nutritious by-product of the cheesemaking and yogurt-making process, is full of Lactobacilli, so it serves as a fantastic fermentation starter. This recipe inspired by rosl, a Jewish specialty from the Ukraine that calls for pickling beets in brine. The sweet, spiced beets are seasoned with orange zest and mustard seeds, and make for a delicious accompaniment to roast meats or fish. You can purchase whey online or make your own by draining store-bought live-culture yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined mesh sieve over a bowl: The drained liquid is whey. 

I’ll probably make that recipe, but I’ll use the starter culture I ordered. (I already have an idea for a beets and leeks recipe: grated beets, sliced leeks, and some aromatics (see below). The orange peel is an interesting idea, though I worry that the oils might be toxic to the culture bacteria I use. BTW, I can find no links to a dish called “rosi” associated with the Ukraine.

The package of starter culture says that 1 packet is enough for 5 lbs of vegetables. That seems to be about 1 gallon (4 quarts or, roughly, 4 liters). I imagine I could make a batch of three 1-quart or 1-litre jars with one packet, but that’s a lot of fermented vegetables for me, since I’m the only one eating them. I think I’ll stick to batches of two 1-litre jars. At US$23 for 6 packets — i.e., 6 two-jar batches — that’s just about $4 per batch, or $2 per jar, for starter culture. That does make me think that using some of the liquid from the previous batch is a good approach, using packaged starter culture only when I don’t have a previous batch on hand.

NOTE: The starter culture instructions has this important note: Mix the culture powder in 1 cup spring water, let it sit 10 minutes to activate, then mix that with the vegetables before adding them to the jar. Don’t use distilled water: the culture doesn’t do well in that.

The recipe for Cultured Carrot Cake in a Jar at the link above said “Transfer the mixture to a jar and sprinkle it with the starter culture.” That’s bad advice. I was suspicious of that from the beginning — when making tempeh, I mix the starter culture throughly into the beans. I set aside my uneasiness because I assumed that they knew what they were talking about, a mistake. From now on, I’ll follow the advice of hydrating the culture starter, letting it sit, and then mixing it well with the vegetables before putting them into the jar(s). 

The starter culture instructions also say that for 5 lbs (about 1 gallon) of vegetables, dissolve 3 Tbsp salt in 2 cups (1 pint) of water, then mix that with the prepared vegetables, and then put that into the jars to eliminate air spaces. (They say to pack the vegetables tightly, but I already read not to pack them too tightly or it impedes fermentation. They say to ferment for 7 to 10 days.)

The amount of salt they suggest seems like way too much salt for me. I’ll try with 1 or 1.5 tablespoons and see what happens. And I definitely will not mix the brine with the vegetables before putting them into the jar. I’ll mix the culture water with the veg, put that into the jar(s), and then add brine to the appropriate level, eking it out with plain water if necessary.

Advice pages on vegetable fermentation

Cultures for Health has currently a page of useful links to information on fermenting vegetable. On some pages, you must scroll down a bit to get to the actual advice. The website is not well-maintained, but you still can glean quite a bit of useful information.

Podcast

Dr. Greger has an interesting 12-minute podcast on the nutritional aspects of fermented foods. Listening to it contributed to my motivation to get more deeply into it.


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Beets & Leeks Recipe

6 Nov – I made up this recipe. I’ve revised it slightly in the light of experience in actually making it, and revisions are noted.

• 1 large leek, white section, halved lengthwise then thinly sliced
• 1 medium-large red beet, grated
• 5 Thai red chiles, stem removed, chopped very small (with seeds) [originally 9, but that was too hot; might try a couple of jalapeños next time]

I got about 2 full cups (in fact, just a little more) of sliced leeks and also 2 cups of grated beets. I put that in a large bowl, added the chopped chiles, and stirred well with a silicone spatula to mix. Then I added:

• about 1/2 packet Cutting Edge Starter Culture dissolved in 1 cup of water
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt dissolved in 1 cup of water

Let the the starter culture solution sit for 10 minutes, then mix the culture-water with the vegetables. Load the mixture into the jar. Pack it down, but not too tightly.

Put the fermentation weight in place on top of the veggies, then pour in the brine to bring the liquid level just to the bottom of the weight. (When I made my batch, I poured brine in before I put in the weight — then when I added the weight, it displaced water, making the water level too high. So: weight first, then add brine.)

If the brine (plus the water with the culture, already mixed into the veg) is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables, you can add a little bottled water.

I’ll check after three days. The instruction sheet with the starter culture says to ferment 7-10 days.

Update: The next morning the airlock top was bulged, and when I pressed it lightly, some of the brine squirted out. Too much brine, drained off a little. 

Update: After 3 days, it’s tasting pretty good, though too salty. (I had used 2 Tbsp salt — too much. Update: Using the Pro Home Cooks formula in the video below, the proper about would have been about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon. /update) And it was very spicy. I think cooking the Thai chiles tames the heat; having them raw and fermented seems to leave them much hotter. Next time I will try 5 chiles rather than 9.

Lesson learned: Add the brine (or water or whey) after putting the fermentation weight in place (since it displaces liquid), and add just enough to go a little above the bottom of the weight. That way there is plenty of open space at the top, but still the vegetables will be covered with liquid.


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Second run at Cultured Carrot Cake in a Jar

Yesterday’s Beets & Leeks flanked by today’s Carrot Cake in a Jar

7 Nov – I made 2 liters of the Carrot Cake recipe, so now I have 3 jars going. Putting the fermentation weight in the jar before adding water worked great.

Lesson Learned: Grate the apples last, after grating carrots, chopping dates and walnuts, and adding spices and vanilla. Mix those well, then grate apples, add, mix some more.

Doing it in this order gives the grated apples less time to oxidize. (Recipe at top modified to reflect this lesson.)

Another lesson, noted already: mix starter culture in 1 cup water, stirring to dissolve. Let it rest 10 minutes, the mix it with the carrot-apple mix before loading that into the jars. After that’s in the jar, add water as needed. (For this recipe, the salt has already been added, so use water and not brine, but do avoid tap water since it’s likely chlorinated.)


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Cabbage & Red (Onion, Apples, and Radishes)

11 Nov – I’m really getting into. I just thought of another combination to try:

• 2 cups Napa cabbage or green cabbage, shredded (i.e., chopped small)
• 1 red onion, halved lengthwise, then sliced into semicircles
• 12 small red radishes, halved
• 4 Thai red chiles, chopped
• 2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt, dissolved in a little water
• 1/2 pack starter culture hydrated for 10 minutes, or some liquid from a previous batch
• 2 grated Royal Gala apples (discard stem, grate the rest including seeds)

I could do an all-red recipe by using red cabbage, but I think Napa or Green cabbage will provide more contrast. Cabbage counts as both Greens and Cruciferous Vegetable in Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, so I might double this recipe and make two liters.

I will prepare everything but the apples, toss it together in a bowl, and then grate and add apples (so they don’t have time to oxidize). I will then add the dissolved salt and starter culture to the vegetables in the bowl, mix everything thoroughly, then put it into a 1-liter jar. I’ll top it with a fermentation weight and enough liquid just to cover veg. I think this will be a one-jar batch. I’ll ferment it for 5 or 6 days, then refrigerate. It will keep in the fridge for weeks if not months. 

Can’t wait to try it.

12 Nov – figured a battle plan for making the above recipe.


Cabbage & Red, just started

13 Nov – It is said that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and few of the recipes that I think up go quite the way I initially planned. Still, this one worked out pretty well. You can read about the actual making of it, but let me note Lessons Learned:

a. 1 large red onion cut into small sections and broken up into segments = 2 cups.
b. 2 bunches radishes easily made 2 cups halved radishes, with about a cup of radishes left over.
c. 2 Royal Gala apples of the size I have = 2 cups diced apples. 
d. 1/4 large Savoy cabbage = almost 6 cups when shredded (I added just a little to get to 6 cups)

Final recipe was 6 cups chopped Savoy cabbage, 2 cups diced apples, 2 cups halved radishes, and 2 cups red onion segments, along with 2 jalapeños, about 8 regular-size cloves of garlic, and peel from 1 orange.

I used some of the leftover Savoy cabbage in a salad. Excellent! I will be buying Savoy cabbage more often.


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Pro Home Cooks video on fermenting vegetables

15 Nov – I like this guy, and I was very interested to see his thoughts on fermenting. He does not use any starter culture, nor does he use (say) whey, which contains lactobacilli. Instead, he uses only salt, so I presume the lactobacilli are in the vegetables themselves. I’m going to try this with cauliflower, just as an experiment, as soon as I get my additional fermentation airlock lids and fermentation weights. (I ordered only 4 to begin with, but now I find it’s easy to have more than 4 jars going at once.)

The interesting thing is that he provides a formula for how much salt to use: take the weight of the jar’s contents (veggies plus water), multiply by 0.025 (i.e., 2.5%), and that provides the weight of salt to use. You obviously can weigh in grams, in which case you get grams of salt to use; or you can weigh in ounces and get how many ounces of salt to use.

Assuming a pint’s a pound, a 1-liter jar (given room at the top) will be about 2 pounds — 32 ounces — so that would be 0.8 ounces salt. He strongly suggests you weigh the salt (different salts have different densities — that is, some salts (Maldon for example) are fluffier than other salts), but I found a converter to (roughly) convert weight of salt in ounces to volume of salt in teaspoons. Using the converter, I would use 4 teaspoons of salt — or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon.

He also has this video on making several specific fermented foods: sauerkraut, sriracha, kimchi, and kvass (fermented beets). I did a variant on fermented beets above, and in using the Thai red chiles I can heartily second his statement on how fermentation intensifies those flavors (and spiciness). After that first batch I decided to use half as many peppers in the next batch.

In addition to this video, also read the Wikibooks Cookbook entry on Fermentation.


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Experimenting with the Carrot Cake in a Jar recipe

Carrot Cake Batch 3

15 Nov – I made a new 1-liter jar of this recipe. I doubled the spices and vanilla and also added 2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut, which was in shape like very small white rice. 

I routinely use 5 dates, not 4, and I use probably a little over 3 tablespoons of walnuts, not 2. This time I also cored the apples (usually I just include the cores and seeds), and I tried dicing them (or chopping them coarsely) rather than grating them. I think the larger pieces fo apple will work well.

After taking the photo at the right, I realized I had forgotten to include vanilla and dates, and also didn’t include the desiccated coconut I was going to try. So I dumped out the jar, mixed those in, and reloaded the jar. Full disclosure: I did one at a time. Next time I’ll make a checklist to ensure I include all ingredients in the first pass. 

Update 25 Dec 2021: I decided that the apples worked better if they are grated. I’ve updated the initial recipe above to reflect what I now do.


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Calculating amount of salt

16 Nov – I use 1-liter canning jars and an empty one (with lid) weighs 448g. I just weighed the 3 jars of Cabbage and Red currently fermenting, and the average, after subtracting the weight of the empty jar, was 1019g, and 2.5% of that is 25.5g. 

I also weighed a tablespoon of Celtic coarse grey sea salt: 19g. So If I were following the Pro Home Cooks formula, which relies on lactobacillus present in the veggies, I would use 1.6 tablespoons of that salt per jar — 4.8 tablespoons for the full batch of three 1-liter jars. That’s a lot of salt. I used 1.5 tablespoons for the full batch. It seems to be working well, but I’ve not tasted it yet.


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Leek Kraut with Tarragon

I just started this new batch today, Nov 28, and I plan to let it ferment for two weeks. You can read the full description. Here are the ingredients:

• 2 large, long leeks, sliced thinly, green tops reserved for other use
• 1/2 large red onion, sliced and then cut into short sections
• 1 jalapeño, chopped (including core and seeds)
• 2 tablespoons Celtic coarse grey sea salt
• 2 sprigs tarragon

I was wishing I had used 1.5 tablespoons, but in reading more, I came across this information, with a calculator at the link:

Generally you want to use around 2% of salt for harder vegetables (that have less water content) such as potatoes, carrots, beets. For softer vegetables a 3% of salt is suitable (more water weight) such as cucumbers, asparagus and mushrooms.

 Call the jar’s contents 1kg (using above averages, that’s close enough): 2.2 lbs. The calculator clearly doesn’t understand decimals and gave me an amount of salt appropriate for 22 lbs, so I did the calculation for 2 lbs. For a 3% brine, 1 oz of salt is on the mark. And 2 tablespoons is 1.1 oz. (I weighed it.) That additional 0.1 oz of salt — 10% more than 1 oz — takes care of the weight I didn’t enter into the calculator (the 0.2 lbs = 10% of 2 lbs). So I’m satisfied with the 2 tablespoons I used: right on the mark for soft vegetables.

Update: The leek kraut was excellent. I’ll make it again. However, I do think I’ll use less salt. I’ll go for 2% of the weight of ingredients. 


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Red Kraut

Red Kraut

On Nov 18 I made a ferment from red cabbage with some red onion.

Yesterday I removed it from the fermentation jar and put it into a storage container and then into the fridge, and this morning I had a bowl of it. This is definitely a recipe I’ll repeat: cabbage was crunch and mildly tart, and altogether very tasty.

The photo shows a plastic bag sealing the jar, but within a day or two I received my additional order of fermentation weights and fermentation airlocks, and replaced the bag with those.

Toward the end, I did notice a little white yeast growth on top, but I followed the advice of Pro Home Cooks and simply removed it. The kraut itself seems unaffected. (The growth was just at the very top.) And man! is it tasty!


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Good video and a new batch of red-cabbage kraut

New batch

In this post you’ll find a good video that discusses making kraut, and in this post you’ll read how I tried her method and where I found I had to revise it — along with the ingredients for a new batch of red-cabbage kraut (with red onion, red apple, jalapeño, and caraway seed).

The main revision is that, while the kraut pounder is excellent for packing the jar, it is not nearly so good as one’s (clean) hands in breaking down the shredded cabbage. You can squeeze, massage, mash, and mix the cabbage (and other ingredients) much better with your hands, plus you can feel any large pieces of cabbage that need further slicing. 

Update: Fermented for two weeks and then refrigerated. Really tasty.

Giardiniera

I made this batch of giardiniera today (Jan 3 2022) and plan to let it ferment at least 2 weeks, but with a target of 3 weeks.

I started with this recipe, but as usual I varied from it — for example, I included an Anaheim peppers in addition to the jalapeño and the 1.5 red bell peppers. I also had a 1.5-L jar and not a 2-qt jar, so I adjusted the recipe somewhat. 


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More information at the links.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2021 at 1:56 pm

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