3/03/2010

Wild About Fermentation

My current love affair is with a little bacteria called lactobacilli. He is everything you look for when seeking out love and especially when seeking out a love affair! He is wild, He is loyal and predictable, persistent, prolific, and easy to find. He is the lover that is found just about anywhere- especially on vegetables that grow close to the ground. And if you really want to get him excited add a little salt brine. That really gets his juices going.



Like all love affairs there is a story behind my current love of lactobacilli. We met on a hot summer day. Shawna, from Mountain View Farm, was at the market that I manage. She brought a jar full of her homemade Kimchee. She offered me a sample: it was love at first bite. I knew that I was destined for a hot and heavy relationship with this prehistoric bacteria as soon as I crunched on the tasty fermented cabbage spiced with a heavy dose of hot peppers and ginger. Wide eyed, I went home with a huge nappa cabbage, bunch of carrots and a daikon radish ready to pickle up my new favorite boyfriend.

Shawna told me to look at Sandor Katz's book Wild Fermentation. Sandor has also found himself caught up in the love affair with fermentation though he has taken it to a whole different level: he identifies as a fermentation fetishist. Maybe my relationship with Lactobacilli is on its way to fetishists status but right now we are in the honeymoon phase.

Lactobacilli is nature's way of preserving summer's harvest and requires no special equipment, no boiling and doesn't risk one dying of botulism if things are not canned correctly. The brine that vegetable are placed in helps the lactobacilli reproduce and the lactobacilli destroys any toxins in the vegetables and breaks down some of the cellular structure of the veggies, causing them to be more digestible. Additionally, after fermentation our bodies can absorb the nutrients in the vegetable better. Like any good boyfriend, he breaks you down and gets under your skin. Not to mention the salty lick of your lips after a good make out session.

So after my encounter with the hot sexy lactobacilli at the market I went home and decided I wanted him all to myself. I started my first batch of lacto-fermented kimchee. A kitchen that smelled of sweet rotting cabbage and two weeks later I had a nice batch of kimchee. Though, I must say the initial attraction had worn off a little bit at this point. The stench of my apartment and later my entire fridge of fermenting cabbage turned me off my new batch of Kimchee. I could not stomach eating it. Again like any relationship our love affair needed a small breather.

Several months and many open fridge doors revealing the stench of love later my friend Adam tried to bring Lactobacilli and I back into a meaningful relationship. Adam stormed in my apartment and demanded to know where the kimchee was. I warned him but he proceeded to eat half a jar. At that point. I decided maybe I had dumped lactobacilli too quickly. So the next day when I was eating an after market omelet I decided to add a little kimchee as a side condiment. Again, making up after a fight is always the best part. I realized i had dumped lactobacilli too quickly and was ready for full on lactobacilli love.

Now I have several batches of lactobacilli ferments going in my kitchen. I just can't get enough of lactobacilli's wild love. I have a great batch of sauerkraut, sour beets and ginger beer.

I have a feeling this love affair will only get better with time. Long and slow time.

Here is how to find your hiding lactobacilli boyfriend:

Sauerkraut:

Slice 5 lbs of Cabbage toss with sea salt and crunch in your hands. This releases the water.

Tightly pack in either a crock or a large mason jar. As you mash the cabbage down it will release its juices. You want the cabbage to eventually be covered in the salty brine.

Every day tamp down the cabbage and make sure it is covered by the brine. After a week or two on the counter start tasting to see if it has your preferred tang. When your preferred tang is reached put it in the fridge. After 3-4 weeks. Then serve with sausages, in a potato and white bean soup or as a condiment to any meal.

Kimchee

Slice A head of Nappa cabbage, thinly slice carrots, and daikon radishes. Toss with sea salt and crunch in your hands

Tamp down in a crock until water is released and brine covers the cabbage.

Once the mixture is fermented enough, after several weeks, drain the brine and mix with grated ginger, crush red pepper, and garlic.

Sour Beets

grate 5 lbs of beets

Toss with sea salt and pack tightly in a crock. Let brine cover top of beets.

Sit and wait till tangy and tasty then transfer to fridge.



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