You Should Totally Try Fermenting Your Own Vegetables. Here's How

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Humans have been lacto-fermenting vegetables — combining them with salt and submerging them in their own brine to ferment — for thousands of years. It's a fundamentally simple process (salt + veggies + time) and is responsible for plenty of familiar foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.

Still, the thought of leaving food on the counter for a couple of weeks or more can make it intimidating, especially for beginners. A simple formula and the right tools can make the process nearly foolproof, so it’s easy to create your own probiotic-rich fermented veggies at home in just three steps: chop, salt, and wait.

Chop

To ferment (nearly) any vegetable in a quart mason jar, start by thinly slicing or finely chopping it. As a general rule, broccoli, leafy greens like kale, and veggies with a higher water content (zucchini, for example) ferment less well. Radishes, cabbages, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and parsnips all do great in ferments. Beets work best used sparingly.

Consider adding freshly grated ginger, minced garlic, green onions, or your favorite dried spices. Use a kitchen scale to weigh your chopped produce and record the weight in grams. Aim for around 750 grams of chopped veggies to fill a quart mason jar.

Salt

Next, we salt! Fermentation makes some minerals in sea salt more bioavailable, so fine-grain sea salt is a great choice. Calculate 1.5 percent of the weight of your chopped vegetables and add that much salt to the vegetables in a large glass or stainless-steel bowl. Use your clean hands to massage the salt into the veggies for a few minutes.

This is very much like massaging kale for a salad. You’ll begin to notice the salt drawing the liquid out of your vegetables. Once you notice a layer of water in the bottom of your bowl, you’re ready to pack the mixture into a jar. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature if there isn't sufficient liquid initially.

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Pack

One handful at a time, pack the mixture tightly into the jar, pressing it down with your fist until the liquid rises above the vegetables. (It's OK if it goes back down again when you take your fist away.) Repeat that process until the jar is full just to its shoulder, the curved part below the rim.

Secure the top of the jar with an airlock designed for a quart mason jar. My favorite is the Kraut Source because it's stainless steel. A quick Google search will reveal that there are various types of mason jar airlocks and even ways to craft them yourself. An airlock is an additional investment, albeit a worthy one, that pretty much eliminates the potential for mold and the need to be as

meticulous about keeping the contents of your jar submerged below brine.

Wait

You can begin tasting your creation after three days, but expect for it to take at least two weeks to be sufficiently sour. It’s likely to be more active, possibly bubbling, around days three through five. It's done when it tastes more sour than salty. Cover with two-piece mason jar lid, label, and place in the fridge for long-term storage.

Get started with the recipe for pink salt kraut from my new small-batch preserving cookbook, Beyond Canning. It’s a straightforward basic kraut recipe made with mineral-rich Himalayan pink salt.

Pink Salt Kraut

Some folks swear by Himalayan pink salt for all of their ferments. It has a reputation for being pure, mineral rich, and beneficial in a number of ways. I won’t argue with any of that.

There’s one big reason I don’t ferment with it on a regular basis and didn’t make it a requirement for the ferments in my book: it’s significantly more costly than sea salt.

Seeking out fine-grain Himalayan pink salt in the bulk bins and buying a few tablespoons, however, is an easy and affordable way to experiment with this high-quality salt in ferments.

Because I was interested in exploring the salt, I chose a completely straightforward sauerkraut recipe. It’s funny that changing just one variable (salt) made me aware of all the other variables — place, time of year, amount of rain, and so on — that have the potential to influence the final result of a ferment. I’m sure you’ll have fun comparing the flavor of this kraut to the other krauts that come out of your kitchen.

Makes 1 scant quart

Ingredients

  • 800 grams green cabbage, shredded
  • 12 grams Himalayan pink salt

Preparation

1. In a large nonreactive bowl (stainless steel works well), combine the cabbage and salt.

2. Use your hands to stir them together, then work the salt into the cabbage for about 2 minutes. If you’ve ever massaged kale for a salad, that’s the motion you want to employ here. In slightly less technical terms, it’s basically smooshing.

3. Use your hands to pack the mixture tightly into a quart mason jar, a handful at a time.

4. Once all the mixture is packed into the jar, push it down with your fist, the back of a wooden spoon, or both, a few times. Now it should be just covered with its own brine.

5. Secure the airlock on top of the jar and allow to ferment for up to 2 weeks. You may begin tasting for doneness after 3 days.

6. Cover, label, and refrigerate for long-term storage.

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