I am quickly getting the hang of an entirely new (to me), but timeless preservation method, that is transforming my bland, gray, lifeless home frozen and canned vegetables into something bubbly bright, fresh and alive. Food preserved this way taste like just-picked-fresh-from the garden — with a kick. This preservation method has stood the test of time — it’s the one method our ancient ancestors used, when they were in fact, living longer, healthier lives than most of us do now — you know, before cancer and immune disorders.
This method requires very little “hands-on” time, and amazingly, does not leave you sweating in the kitchen over a steaming stove while you blanch, chill and pressure cook everything. No cooking, actually is involved. Plus, you can work in small batches — as your produce ripens, appears at the market, or is delivered to your door. Yes, I love to can… and yes, I do miss it, but there’s nothing quite as beautiful as the way the sun catches this collection of vegetables fermenting in my kitchen.
Leeks, carrots, tumeric and beets. The spice jars are “weights” to keep everythinig under the brine.
This preservation method goes by several names. Pickling (however, no vinegar is involved), fermentation, or lacto-fermented. Lacto-fermented is a word you associate with the beneficial bacteria present in yogurt — and this is precisely what this is about — except there is no dairy involved. What we’re doing is using salt (yes, you can use whey from yogurt, but not necessary) to pull out the bacteria in the food to create lively bacteria that preserves the food, brings it to life, and provides you with a host of benefical bacteria. So, you are adding healthy bacteria into your food — and nutrtinists are discoverint today that most health issues (even obesity) start with an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
In addition, lacto-fermetning food reduces the amount of “anti-nutrients” in your vegetables. Yes– you read that right — vegetables have anti-nutrients in them. Think of white flour — and how the sourdough mitigates the effects of phytates. (See also, celiacs and sourdough.) The same elements are found in vegetables, that can use you to feel bloated, gasey, and prohibit you from absorbing all the nutrtients available in carrots and beets. This method of fermenting makes food healthier.
And… it tastes great too. That’s the main reason to do it!
If you want to try some lact-fermented food, without investing the time in transforming your own garden surplus into fermented food, just head to any natural food grocery store, and look in the dairy case for a jar of sauerkraut, or dill pickles. You are looking for a jar that says, “live active cultures,” and no vinegar on the label. Bubbies is a popular brand. But check out these recipes for some variety. While store-bought may not taste as good as something you can make all by yourself, it gives you a good way to gauge as to whether you will like this or not. But don’t give up until you’ve tried a properly preserved tomato — they literally pop in your mouth. Salsa — is amazing!!! Fresher and more alive than anything you have yet to taste.
This fermenation process creates little bubbles in the food — and they have a bit of fizz — much like the soda you can make with a ginger bug. You really, must try some.
Does this sound, just so weird?
Trust me — you will love this.
When you are lacto-fermenting whole foods like green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, the key, like when you are pickling with vinegar, is to “keep everything under the brine.” You can use toothpicks, boiled rocks, grape leaves, weights — anything to hold down the food. You want to cover the jar (always use glass) with a dishtowel, secured with a rubberband, a not all-the-way-tightened lid, or a baloon with a pinhole. You want air to get in, but you want to keep fruit flies out.
Once you’ve let them sit on the counter for about 5 – 10 days (72 degrees F is about the ideal temperature), checking everyday to make sure everything is submerged, you tighten the lid, and move them to the fridge, where they last indefinitely! Amazing… healthy, fresh food for you to eat all winter. If you have a “root cellar” a place where the temperature is 50 degrees F or lower, that’s a great place to keep your jars of ferments.
You can also ferment pesto! So, instead of freezing this year’s batch of nastrutium pesto, I fermented it. I left out the cheese and the olive oil, put the mixture into a jar, and covered it with a coffee filter, and a rubber band, and let it ferment for about 3 days on the counter, before moving it to the fridge.
Here’s the recipe for nasturtium Pesto:
4 cups packed nasturtium leaves. (OK… so, if you have less than that, just cut the recipe.)
4 cups pack nasturtium flowers
5-6 cloves of garlic (or more to your taste)
4 cups packed basil (I only had two cups, so I substituted two cups of flowers)
2 cup walnuts or pine nuts
Salt to taste.
2% brine — Zero out your scale, switch the measurement to grams, and add sea salt until you reach 19 grams. It’s about two tablespoons, depending on the size of your salt grains.
Eat on pasta, add to soups, and even add them to your eggs in the morning!