My favourite way to preserve most veggies is to ferment them. This is an ancient method of preservation that has been practiced for generations by many cultures around the world.
How to Ferment Veggies
The basic concept of lacto-fermentation is to create an environment in which the healthy bacteria will thrive, and the bad bacteria and other nasties like mold and fungus will be unable to grow. You do this by submerging the veggies in brine (salt water), which creates an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment.
The Fermentation Vessel
To help the good bacteria thrive, you need to create an oxygen-free environment. You can do this by submerging the veggies under a brine and weighing them down, by sealing them in mason jar that you let the air out of daily, or in a special fermentation crock or airlocked jar. I like to use mason jars because I preserve in small batches and mason jars are easy to find and I have lots of them. I prefer regular, as opposed to wide-mouth, for fermenting because the shoulder of the jar helps to keep the veggies down inside.
Method One: Using the Veggies’ Own Liquid
Use this method for kraut and shredded veggies.
If you’re shredding the veggies to make sauerkraut or mixed shredded veggies, you might not even need to make brine. Just sprinkle salt over the shredded veg, mix well, and pack it tight into the jars. Really press them down, and you might find that enough juice comes out of the veggies just from adding salt that you don’t need to add brine. Cabbage should have enough juice that it doesn’t need brine, and this is traditionally how sauerkraut is made.
You also need to make sure the veggies will stay submerged. Fermentation is a bubbly process, and you’ll find that with a vigorous ferment, the veggies and brine just want to jump right out of the jar. What happens is that fermentation is creating gas that is pushing the veggies up and out as it rises. This is called heaving. I think the easiest way to deal with this is to take a cabbage leaf, fold it up a couple of times and stuff it into the top of the jar so the edges are tucked under the shoulder. If you have packed it all nice and snug, it should stay in place nicely.
Everything should be submerged in liquid. If there’s not enough from the veggies, then follow the brine-making instructions for Method Two and top up your jar with brine. Then make sure you scoop out any little floating bits before you close it up.
Method Two: Adding Brine
Use this method for chopped, sliced and diced veggies.
Brine is just a fancy word for salt water.
To make it you’ll need:
Chlorine is anti-bacterial, so obviously, you don’t want to use chlorinated water in a situation where you want bacteria to flourish. You can either let tap water sit out overnight to let the chlorine evaporate, or you can use distilled water.
Most standard table salt is iodized, so you need to use another kind. It could be non-iodized sea salt, Himalayan salt, Kosher salt or pickling salt. Just check the label to make sure it doesn’t have iodine, because even some sea salts are iodized.
I make enough brine to fill the jar that I’m using for the vegetables. You won’t actually use it all because, of course, the jar is partly filled with vegetables, but the excess will come in handy in a couple of days when your ferment heaves and leaks some brine. Then you’ll have some on hand to top it up. Make the brine by just mixing the salt into the water and stir until it dissolves. This is faster with slightly warm water.
Follow this table to figure out how much salt you’ll need for the amount of brine you want. If you’re following a fermenting recipe, it might give you a specific percent to use.
If you’re not following a recipe with a specific percent, you can use these general guidelines:
2% Salinity: cruciferous veggies, root veggies, pearl onions, green beans, asparagus, bell peppers, parsnip, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichoke, zucchini (whole), sliced radish, whole-small radish, whole green tomato
For kraut, use 22 grams of salt for every 5-pounds of shredded veggies, resulting in 2% brine
3.5% Salinity: Pickled cukes for pickling-varieties such as Kirby or Boston
10% Salinity: Brine-cured meat, feta-cheese, pepper-mashes, curing green olives, fish-sauce, and shrimp-sauce
Chop your veggies into whatever shape and size you’d like. Sticks about the thickness of crayons are good, or you can shred or dice.
Put your veggies snugly into the jar. Depending on whether they’re sticks or pieces, you might have to put something in to keep the veggies under the brine. For carrot sticks and the like, I cut them so they’re just under the shoulder of the jar and I pack them tightly enough that they don’t pop out. For smaller pieces, you can use the cabbage leaf trick from Method One.
Finally, pour the brine over the veggies and make sure nothing is floating on the surface of the brine.
Caring For Your Ferments
If using a mason jar, you will need to “burp” the jar daily to let the gas out. Hold it over the sink (important!) and open the lid slowly just enough that the gas escapes. In the most vigorous stage of fermentation, brine will also escape as it’s pushed out by the gas, just like opening a shaken can of pop, so that’s why you have to hold it over the sink. Eventually, fermentation will slow down and you won’t have to do this.
After you “burp” the jar, check the level of brine and top it up with your extra brine if everything is not still submerged.
If you’re using fancy, airlocked jars or a fermentation crock, you won’t have to bother with this step.
If you’ve tried lacto-fermentation before, please let me know in the comments what your favourite veggies to ferment are.
Happy fermenting everyone!
P.S. Don’t be afraid to try new veggies, or and even try adding some spices. You can make really small batches so there’s nothing to lose!
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