Friday, July 10, 2015

More Ferments and Yet More

After my first couple of experiments with fermenting foods, both as a means of preservation and (more importantly) a source of myriad probiotics, I decided to take the plunge and try fermenting some other things. Those first two experiments, namely my Apple Sauerkraut and Picalilli, made me rethink flavors, as my taste buds were treated to such completely new and different tastes as I was hard-put to describe. It was truly tasting something for the first time; there was no point of reference.
Rhubarb Fig Chutney, Pink Onion Relish, Strawberry Spritzer, Salsa Verde, Hot Pepper Salsa

I am now heartily on the bandwagon in favor of lacto-fermentation. My first introduction to this type of preservation (one of the most ancient, and safer than home canning) was by way of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz. I am very glad I read his take on things first, as I am heartily in agreement with the idea that we live in a world of hand-sanitizing, so caught up in the war against bacteria, germs and viruses, we have become a culture that succumbs far too easily to any allergy and auto-immune disease, not to mention all other diseases. Our immune systems are meant to be strengthened. Ours have become so lax, they don't quite know how to handle anything that comes along. And all of this strengthening begins in the gut. I read an article in this blog yesterday (click to read much more) that also stated these thoughts, much more coherently:
"What we do know for sure is that our Western fixation on sanitation may have some disadvantages. Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and colitis), asthma, and autoimmune disorders are far more common in ultra-sanitized nations. There is one hypothesis–the “hygiene hypothesis”–that suggests that less childhood exposure to bacteria and parasites in the US and Europe may actually interfere with immune development. Because of antibiotics, antibacterial products, and overall hygiene, we don’t have as much interaction with the bacterial species that may help to keep our guts balanced. Of course, this isn’t the only reason that Western nations display more signs of dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora): medications, artificial foods, diets high in refined sugar and saturated fats, stress, constipation, and deficient dietary fiber are also associated with the condition."

Understand, mine are not claims backed up by personal research, beyond Katz's book and many internet sites, and when searching you are just as apt to find dissenters, or fear-mongers as those who are pro-fermenting. To be fair, most are not against fermenting foods, per-se, but just that they feel everything has to be absolutely sanitized, using only certain types of jars or crocks, due to one thing or other, where Katz has a more laid back attitude. I am in agreement completely with the fact that things should be clean. That is my first rule in the kitchen, when cooking anything at all. Cleanliness is great. Absolutely sterile conditions (according to The Art of Fermentation) can inhibit the ability of the food to ferment properly. 

Hot Pepper Salsa:   Left: Salsa just packed in jar          |                   Right: after 2 days, active bubbling      
I apologize if I get carried away, My new hobby has got me firmly in its grip! Long and short is, I changed two things (well, maybe three) in the last month. I have not been eating almost any bread or desserts (or sugar, beyond a teaspoon of honey once or twice a week) beyond incidentally here and there, and I introduced my sauerkraut and picalilli into my diet daily. Since then, I have lost seven pounds. I had already been trying to eat more healthily and eliminate sugars as much as possible, due to very high blood glucose numbers. I finally had to break down and go to a doctor to get back on meds. I hate the very idea of being dependent on meds for anything, so this was a huge concession. 

I fully intended, even before heading to the doctor, to make some radical changes in my diet. Knowing what one must do, and actually DOING it are two radically opposing thought processes. Now that I have started, I am more than pleased with the results. But, eating either sauerkraut or picalilli daily, no matter how delicious, gets old. I wanted some new flavors. So, I got busy over the past week and now have fermenting on my counter a Hot Pepper Salsa, a Pink Onion Relish, Salsa Verde and a Serbian Pepper and Eggplant Salsa called "Ajvar". I bought 2pints of jalapenos yesterday at the Farmers' Market and will ferment those also. I was amazed at how very active my Hot Pepper Salsa was after only 2 days! I used  8 different kinds of peppers, from hot to absolutely mild in the mixture. I am calling it Hot Pepper Salsa because it has hot peppers in it, versus the Ajvar, with only sweet red bell peppers. Here is my recipe:

Fermented Hot Pepper Salsa
makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Prepping the salsa
1 pound Rustico sweet red peppers (3 cups, chopped)
8 ounces Red onion (1 1/2 cups, chopped)
8 ounces Fresno chilies (1 1/2 cups, chopped)
8 ounces Jalapeno chilies (1 1/2 cups, chopped)
8 ounce red bell pepper (1 1/2 cups, chopped)
5 ounces Poblano chili (1 cup, chopped)
3.6 ounces banana peppers (1/2 cup, chopped)
3.5 ounces Anaheim chili (1/2 cup, chopped)
4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
0.46 ounce coarse sea salt (about one tablespoon; weigh rather then measure)
1/4 cup whey (drained from yogurt)
juice of one juicy lime, about 2 tablespoons
2 dried chipotle chilies, whole
1 cabbage leaf to cover the veg in the jar

Weigh the vegetables once already cleaned, stems and seeds removed where desired. I chopped all the peppers and veg by hand, as I wanted to retain the shape and keep everything uniform. The ingredients may be chopped in a food processor or blend smooth

if preferred. If blending smooth, it is far more difficult to ferment without the possibility of mold forming. I plan to blend some of this ferment once it is done. For now, I can keep the veg submerged in its brine far more easily this way. 

Combine all the prepared vegetables (except the chipotles and the cabbage leaf) in a bowl and stir in the salt, whey and lime juice. Stir well to distribute the sajt and allow the vegetables to begin creating their juices, about 10 or 15 minutes. If opposed to whey (which acts as a starter to get fermentation kick-started), there are vegetable starters available, or you may add more salt, or if you have already fermented sauerkraut, use some of that fermented brine with already active bacteria.

Pack the vegetables and any accumulated juices in two clean quart jars, or one larger jar (I used a 50.75 ounce Fido jar). Allow plenty of headroom (minimum 3-inches!), as this ferment makes a LOT of juice. Insert the whole chipotle peppers into the jar(s). Press down firmly to compact the vegetables and press out more juice. The goal is for the juice to completely cover the vegetables. Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it firmly around the edges of the food to keep it contained and under the brine. Place a weight on top of the cabbage leaf, to help keep the vegetables submerged. They will float upwards after a day or two, but must remain submerged. 

If you have the Fido jar lid with a hole drilled, the grommets and an airlock valve, this is ideal. This ferment is very active, even after only 2 days and will release large amounts of carbon dioxide. IF you have only regular lids, ensure that no metal is exposed to the food or the brine and be sure to loosen the seal daily to allow gases to escape. 

Ferment the salsa for 2 to 10 days, as desired. Taste to determine when is best for you. After your determined time, refrigerate the salsa, but (according to Katz) try not to taste for 3 months at least, and better still, 6 months, for the absolute best flavor.

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.