Monday, July 25, 2016

A Fermented Version of Curtido is the Best Ever

If anyone is familiar with Pupusas, those marvelous little antojitos (cravings) from El Salvador, then you also might be familiar with the Curtido that is generally served alongside.

I was first introduced to Pupusas in 1971, in Guatemala at the InterFair, an international fair that brought all sorts of things to exhibit from all sorts of countries. There were stands that had machinery to exhibit for sale, stands that had little handicraft items for sale. It was a study in contrasts. My understanding (as I was only in the country for a little over a year at that point) is that prior to then, where Pupusas were sold at a little stand at that fair, these treats were relatively little known as such. 
Fermented Curtido
Fermented Curtido

But let me tell you, once they were introduced, they spread everywhere like wildfire, soon popping up on many street corners, sold from someone's stand or even from a window in someone's house. They became a staple around our house. We all loved them, including the kids.

So what are Pupusas?

Interestingly, I have never made these, because I have not made tortillas from scratch. Pupusas are nixtamalized corn, ground to make tortillas, then filled with usually one of three things, either minced chicharrones, pureed black beans, or cheese. Once the ball of masa is opened up a bit, then filled, and then patted out to thicker than a tortilla, it is fried or cooked on a hot comal. As if this was not just goodness itself, there was always a condiment to go with them, called Curtido."

Okay, Curtido?

Curtido means "pickled". But this condiment was a lightly pickled mixture of cabbage (the main event) with onion and carrot, possibly garlic, and fresh cilantro and oregano. Salt and vinegar were the pickling ingredients and it would set together in a big jar for a few days. This was doled out along with the pupusas. And it was heavenly.

I love cabbage, just about any old way it comes around. I realize not everyone is as enamored of cabbage as am I, but still. I loved the pupusas, but the curtido positively MADE the flavor. 

Fermented Curtido
So last year I was introduced to fermenting foods, and I quickly went on to make sauerkraut, then a long series of other ferments, some more of a hit than others. I learned a lot over the last year, both about fermenting and what works. I continue to ferment foods on occasion, trying to eat something fermented at least once a day. There is a Red Cabbage and Beet Kraut that has been a real popular ferment with me. My husband won't touch them. If it is pickled in vinegar, look out. But the ferments? No, he doesn't seem to want to try them at all. Me? Oh, MAN, I love them. I am not so into pickled things though. My husband and I - we are a real case of Jack Sprat and his wife. 

Okay, so as I started thinking about Curtido, I wondered if it was possible to make the stuff fermented or not. Obviously, the vinegar would not be used. Fermented vegetables rely on salt to hold off any harmful bacteria while the vegetables themselves begin to ferment. So I set down a recipe and made a one-quart batch to try out. I let it ferment for about 6 weeks. 

The result? This Fermented Curtido is now my top of the list most favorite of ferments! I was concerned about the use of oregano in it. I don't mind some, but this was a little heavier than I generally go with the amount. But it was really delicious. While I have no pupusas to use it with, I sort of make a quickie quesadilla with two corn tortillas and some cheese melted in between. It is marvelous.
Fermenting Curtido
Fermenting Curtido

Fermented Curtido

makes about 1 quart

1 small cabbage, about 1 pound
1 onion, quartered
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and coarse shredded 
2 Serrano chilies, minced or sliced
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup starter from a previous ferment, or whey 
water, if needed

Shred cabbage and place in a large bowl. Slice the onion quarters into thin quarter rings and add to the bowl with the Serranos, carrots oregano, cilantro and sugar. Sprinkle on the salt and toss the vegetables. Let stand for an hour. 

Add in the lime juice and starter liquid (mine was from a batch of fermented salsa) and begin squeezing the vegetables to break them down as much as possible. Alternately, use a meat tenderizer with a flat side to pound the vegetables. Either way, this reduces the volume to about half what was started. The vegetables should have created a lot of juice by this time.

Pack this mixture into one or two jars, preferably the bail and wire latch sort, and pack it down very tightly int he jar. Press very hard to get the vegetables very compact and submerged in their liquid. Leave at least 1/3 of the jar as headspace, because as the vegetables ferment they tend to lift and create an amazing amount of liquid. Cover the vegetables with a cabbage leaf, or even the bottom core end of the cabbage (cut off flat) to press down the vegetables. Use weights is needed to keep everything under the brine. Add water only if the vegetables do not have enough liquid to cover by a minimum of 1 inch. Stick on a piece of masking tape and mark what the ferment is, and what date it started, and what date to check it. 

Set on a counter and cover it with a towel to keep out light. Gently burp the jar daily, opening it only minimally to allow any gases to escape.

Check it in three weeks for flavor. I left mine for 6 weeks and it is absolutely perfect. So perfect that I now have another batch, doubled this time, fermenting away on the counter. I can hardly wait!

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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.