Monday, June 22, 2015

Learning About and Trying Out Fermented Foods

I keep mentioning my current interest in fermenting foods. I still haven't gotten around to actually posting "recipes" (in quotes, because everything is so moveable and scalable) here, though today I am planning to do exactly that. 

Tasting My Fermented Sauerkraut after 13 days

In my blog post of June 18th, I posted my thoughts and feelings on this subject. Listing some of the many, many benefits of fermenting foods, I hope to help others to get interested in this way of life. Every thing that is eaten does not have to be fermented. Especially at the beginning of the process of trying out fermented foods, the sudden influx of myriad "good bacteria" or pro-biotics introduced into the system will certainly cause at least some die-off of the bad bacteria and yeasts that have been in residency. This is a good thing, having the good bacteria on your side to "clean house," but at the beginning it can cause some pretty significant die-off symptoms. You might think you've caught some virulent strain of the flu! Some die-off symptoms can be in the list here. You may experience some, all, or none of these, depending on the state of your gut at the start.
Top, just packed in jar; bottom, after 5 days

Some symptoms possible through Die-Off

  • nausea
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • aching joints or muscles
  • elevated heart rate
  • chills
  • itching, hives or rash
  • sweating
  • low grade fever
  • skin breakouts
The term "die-off" is bandied about too often these days, but any time a significant amount of good bacteria is added into the body, as the bad bacteria are killed off, what happens is the dead bacteria release toxins into the system. These must be excreted by the body somehow. The toxins  floating around the system and being processed out are the problem. You could feel very ill, or hardly at all. My husband and I had only one significant day of symptoms such as headache, gas and diarrhea. We do take commercial probiotics on a daily basis, so with this new influx of pro-biotics (in addition to our already daily regimen) I can see that even with a constant supply in the system, the sheer amount of strains of good bacilli introduced with fermented foods can still kill off more of the bad bacteria. 

This is not a warning to avoid fermented foods! On the contrary!
After 13 days, noticeably soured: Note active bubbling

We all eat fermented foods all the time. Yogurt, Kombucha, sourdough bread, cheese, kimchi, vinegar and air-cured sausages are but a few. The problem is that many of these products are then commercially produced and heat treated. Commercial canned or processed sauerkraut is not a fermented food (even if it was originally). And even if one takes the time to ferment the food, once it is placed into a jar and heat processed, it may have wonderful flavor, but the heat processing will have killed off every living culture that could have been beneficial. It is a wonderful thing to start making your own fermented foods and see what all the raves are about.

Fermenting of foods is generally a slow process. This is not instant gratification. It is returning to a slower kind of life. But it is oh-so-worth-it. My sauerkraut is now
about 2 weeks into its process and is actively bubbling. While I have twice tasted and love what I'm tasting, I am allowing more time to pass to see how much better or different it becomes.  This is what I did:

My Fermented Sauerkraut

makes about 1 - 1 1/2 quarts
serving size: 1 - 2 tablespoons, until accustomed

1 medium head cabbage
4 cups dehydrated apple slices, briefly soaked to soften
1 tablespoon (approximate) sea salt
1 tablespoon dried dill weed (more if fresh)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, whole
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 - 2 outer cleaned cabbage leaves, left whole

Thinly slice the cabbage by hand or shred on a shredder or food processor equipped with the shredding blade. Layer the cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkling salt over each layer as it is added in. Add in the apples, squeezed of excess water, and the seasonings, continuing to salt each layer as it is added. Once all the ingredients are added, they should be broken down. The cell walls of the cabbage must be broken so the salt can penetrate and begin fermentation. This can be accomplished by using your hands to squeeze, squeeze, repeatedly, or using a meat pounder, a clean piece of wood, or whatever comes to hand. You should end up with about half, by volume, what you started with.

Place the resultant mixture into clean jars or a crock. Do not use plastic or metal containers. Press it down firmly in the container. Place the outer cabbage leaves onto the surface and weigh the mixture down with a plate with a weight on top, or another water or brine--filled jar inserted into the container to make pressure. There are commercial products such as glass disks that can be used to weight the mixture. As a last resort, some clean rocks (soaked in dilute bleach and thoroughly washed and rinsed - do not use limestone or it will dissolve) can be used to created the weight. The cabbage mixture should be completely submerged by its own liquid by the following day. If it is not, make a brine of:

2 cups filtered water
1 tablespoon sea salt

Stir these ingredients well to completely dissolve and then pour the brine over the cabbage mixture until completely submerged, by up to an inch. Cover the container in some way that will prevent flies or other unwanted debris from entering the container. If using canning jars, a piece of cloth held in place by the ring will work. A piece of cloth held on by a rubber band will also work as will a paper coffee filter. If covering with an airtight lid of some kind, be aware that the carbon dioxide buildup in the jar as fermentation proceeds can burst your jar or container. Do not use a metal lid that could come in contact with the fermenting food.

At this point, depending on the amount of overall salt used (more salt will slow fermentation; less salt allows faster fermentation) and the ambient temperature where your containers will reside (cooler temperatures mean slower fermentation; warmer temperatures will speed fermentation), the fermenting could take as little as 10 days or more than 6 months. Taste as you go, to see where in the process it suits you best for flavor. With these parameters in mind it may be best to use more salt in the warmer summer temperatures and less salt during cooler winter months.

Once the sauerkraut is fermented to your liking, pack it in clean jars and store in the refrigerator.

This is completely a combination of my choosing. Simply cabbage and salt is enough to make sauerkraut. Other possibly additions:
  • red cabbage
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • onion
  • rutabaga
  • fresh cranberries
  • beets (to make a lovely pink kraut)
  • fresh ginger
  • juniper berries
  • dried chiles
  • cumin
The list is only limited by your taste and imagination. After 10 days, it already tastes remarkable; unlike anything I have tried; certainly unlike any sauerkraut I have tried! Tomorrow I will post my Fermented Picalilli recipe. This is completely my own creation, based on ingredients usually cooked and processed. I had no expectations, and some trepidations over the ingredients, but I was determined to give it a fair chance. I tasted the mixture after about 9 days and was both shocked and amazed at the fantastic flavors. I was concerned because my system does not well tolerate raw broccoli or cauliflower. I can and do eat them both cooked, even only briefly. Raw - not so much. This mixture is raw, yet caused no undue distress; on the contrary, though I cannot describe how this relish tastes, having never tried anything like it, it is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.