There are many health benefits from eating fermented foods. Making your own cultured veggies is not difficult, but as with anything, having the right tools makes the job much easier and more fun. I have spent the last six months streamlining the process and refining my basic recipe. One of the key ingredients though is the starter culture.
- Food Processor: You’ll be cutting up large quantities of raw vegetables, which is very labor intensive without a food processor. Make sure yours has a shredding disc, as a typical S-blade will result in too fine a chop, which makes for a pulpier, mushier end product.
- Juicer: My own experimentation has resulted in selecting celery juice as the basic brine for my cultured veggies, making a juicer necessary.
- Good Knives: Make sure you have a set of good quality, sharp knives for prepping your vegetables.
- Cutting Board: A large, sturdy cutting board is a must.
- Very Large Bowl: This bowl should be large enough to hold the entire batch of shredded veggies, so a large capacity stainless bowl is a necessity.
- Canning Jars: Basic wide-mouthed 32-ounce Mason jars are all that is necessary for both fermenting and storing the vegetables. These are inexpensive and easy to find at your local hardware store, grocery, or online. Make sure they are wide-mouthed, as you’ll need to get your hand or a tool down into the jar for tightly packing the veggies.
- Krautpounder: This solid wood tool that looks like a small baseball bat is very handy for tightly packing the shredded veggies into your jars and eliminating air pockets.
Making Cultured Veggies at Home in Five Easy Steps
The following are the basic steps to making wonderful cultured vegetables at home.
1. Vegetable and Herb Selection: The first step is gathering up your veggies. Make sure they are all organic. Cabbage (red or green) should be the “backbone” of your blend, comprising about 80 percent (I use green). Choose dense, tightly packed heads. Five or six medium-sized cabbages will yield 10 to 14 quart jars of fermented vegetables. Remember to reserve some cabbage leaves for the jar tops (see Step 3).
Add in hard root vegetables of your liking, such as carrots, golden beets, radishes and turnips. Peel your veggies as the skins can impart a bitter flavor. I also enjoy adding red bell pepper, Granny Smith apples, and even a hot pepper, like a habanero (make sure you wear gloves!). One pepper for the entire batch is plenty.
Aromatics can be added in small quantities — a little goes a long way, as fermenting concentrates the pungent flavors. Tasty additions include peeled garlic, peeled ginger, and herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, or oregano. Onions tend to overpower the mix, no matter how little are used, so I avoid them.
Finally, you can add sea vegetables or seaweed to increase the mineral, vitamin, and fiber content. You can add pieces of whole dulse, or use flakes. Wakame and sea palm do not have any kind of fishy flavor but need to be presoaked and diced into the desired size. Arame and hijaki DO have a fishy flavor.
2. Culture and Brine: For your brine, I recommend using a starter culture dissolved in celery juice. One quart of celery juice is adequate for 10 to 14 quarts of fermented veggies. While you can do wild fermentation (allowing whatever is naturally on the vegetable to take hold), this method is more time consuming, and the end product is less certain. Inoculating the food with a starter culture speeds up the fermentation process.
3. Packing the Jars: Once you have your shredded veggies and brine mixture combined in your large bowl, tightly pack the mixture into each Mason jar, and compress using a masher to remove any air pockets. Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with brine and that the brine is all the way to the top of the jar, to eliminate trapped air. Put the lids on the jars loosely, as they will expand due to the gases produced in fermentation.
4. Fermentation: Allow the jars to sit in a relatively warm place for several days, ideally around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer, veggies are typically done in three or four days. In the winter, they may need seven days. The only way to tell when they’re done is to open up a jar and have a taste. Once you’re happy with the flavor and consistency, move the jars into your refrigerator.
5. Storage: Refrigerating your vegetables drastically slows down the fermentation. They will keep for many months this way, continuing to mature very slowly over time.
6. Enjoy! Always use a clean spoon to take out what you’re eating. Never eat out of the jar, as you will contaminate the entire batch with bacteria from your mouth. Make sure the remaining veggies are covered with the brine solution before replacing the lid.