The Back Story
This is a favourite ferment here. There is always a jar of it on the go.
Despite the length of this recipe, I promise, it is very quick and easy to make (as well as deeply satisfying) and it can be made at the same time as cooking a meal if you don’t mind a little bit of juggling.
The main point to note from the outset is that fermenting vegetables of any sort is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. The possibilities are endless, limited only really by our taste buds and our imagination.
They taste delicious and contain both prebiotics (foods that your bacteria selectively use for your benefit - contained in the vegetables) and probiotics (beneficial bacteria that support gut health).
Fermenting pretty much any combination of vegetables is worth trying once. Except courgettes – I can’t get them to do anything, other than go soggy. But courgettes aside, adapt and improve as your mood takes you.
This ferment will fit into a 1 litre Kilner Jar or equivalent. You won’t believe this when you see the pile of vegetables chopped up at the start but I speak the truth!
Ideally, use organic vegetables as this maximises the goodness they contain and minimises the chance of them containing toxic spray residue. But non-organic fermented vegetables are better than no fermented vegetables. I do not peel my turnips but if they are not organic, it would be sensible to peel them.
We consume fermented vegetables with pretty much anything - with salads, with curries, mixed into hummus - they make a great adddition to most dishes.
1 red cabbage
1 small fennel bulb
3 or 4 garlic cloves
Fennel seeds or caraway seeds or cumin seeds – whatever you fancy
An inch or so of horseradish root (optional)
A sprinkling of dill – chopped. I am currently addicted to dill. You can use any other kind of herb or no herb!
1 litre Kilner Jar, washed in hot water or that has been through the dishwasher.
An empty, clean jam jar (with a lid) the bottom of which just fits inside the mouth of the Kilner jar. All will become clear in due course.
A flat-ended rolling pin or equivalent for bashing the vegetables into the Kilner jar.
A large mixing bowl
A set of scales.
Halve the red cabbage and cut out and discard the core.
Then dice the rest of the cabbage – think manageable bite sized pieces of cabbage.
Cut the turnips into thin slices and then cut each slice into thin match sticks.
Cut the fennel lengthways into thin slices and then widthways into manageable bite sized pieces.
Peel and finely dice the garlic cloves.
Peel and finely dice the horseradish root.
Put the empty mixing bowl onto the scales, then zero the scales so that you can weigh the total weight of all the prepared vegetables.
Put all the vegetables into the bowl on the scales.
Add a sprinkling of your chosen seeds.
Add a sprinkling of chilli flakes.
Add the chopped dill.
And then make a note of the weight of the vegetables excluding the weight of the bowl.
This volume of vegetables normally weighs around 1kg. For every 1kg of vegetables, we need 20g of salt – i.e. a ratio of 2%. So, if your vegetables weigh 900g, you will need to weigh out 18g of salt. The maths is simple – divide the weight of your vegetables by 100 and multiply that by 2 to give you the weight of the salt you need.
Weigh out the correct amount of salt into a separate bowl. Too many times, I have left the bowl of vegetables on the scales and weighed out the salt straight into the bowl of vegetables. One slip of the hand and then I have too much salt in my vegetables and I have to start to try to pick some salt back out.
Once weighed, pour the salt into the bowl of vegetables, roll up your sleeves and massage the salt into all the vegetables thoroughly. Ideally, with nice music to accompany the process!
Once you have done this, leave the bowl of salted vegetables to stand for ½ an hour or an hour. This enables the salt to draw out moisture from the vegetables with zero effort from me. And we need this moisture, as you will see in a minute.
Once the vegetables have had their rest, you will be able to feel that they are softer and moist.
Now, they are ready to be tamped.
Take your Kilner jar and your flat ended rolling pin.
Cover the bottom of your Kilner jar with a few handfuls of vegetables and then tamp them down. This is not bashing. This is a rhythmic tamping – a gentle bashing.
Add the next few handfuls and repeat. The volume of the vegetables should reduce noticeably and, after a bit of tamping, you will see juices starting to ooze out as you press down with your tamper. This is what we need – the juices flowing. If there is a distinct lack of juices, the chances are you jumped the gun on the waiting time. And this means that you will need to work harder on the tamping phase to squeeze out the vegetable juices.
Keep going until the jar is almost full – you need a gap at the top to act as your bacteria buffer zone.
So by now, unless you are a weight lifter, your arms may ache a little and you should have squished all those vegetables into your 1 litre Kilner jar and when you push down on the vegetables, there should be a good amount of purple juices at the top of the jar.
These juices are key. Whilst fermenting, our vegetables need to be below a seal of moisture. The juices we have squeezed out of the vegetables form the “seal” at the top of the jar to keep oxygen away from our vegetables to, amongst other things, minimise mould growth.
In order to stop the vegetables floating up into our juice seal and breaching it, I fill my clean jam jar with water, put the lid on and push it down into the Kilner Jar. Its weight keeps the vegetables mostly under the juice seal.
I used to be very particular about this and got a bit perturbed if the odd bit of vegetable appeared round the side of the jam jar bottom. Now I am less concerned. So long as the majority is submerged, I am happy. If the odd bit floats up, I just shove it back under the fluid line.
Then, sit back and let the magic happen. Fermentation. In brief, this is what fermentation is: there are a range of bacteria all over the vegetables, even if they have been washed. The salt reduces the levels of bacteria we don’t want to encourage. The lack of oxygen does the same. The bacteria that like salt and no oxygen dominate and produce acids – acetic acid and lactic acid, mainly. This is the perfect environment to allow the naturally-occurring lactic acid-producing lactobacillus species to dominate. They digest the sugars in the vegetables, produce lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and, at the same time, produce all sorts of beneficial by-products in so doing, including B vitamins.
In the first few days, all we need to do is keep our fermenting ferment at normal room temperature. It is also important to occasionally push down on the jam jar weight to make sure the vegetables haven’t floated up. Initially, carbon dioxide is a by-product and these bubbles of gas can make the vegetables float. The carbon dioxide production slows after 2-3 days.
Tasting and Eating
I leave my ferments at least 21 days but you can start tasting them from around 5 days. They are normally very crisp and crunchy. If they taste good to me, I pour off the vegetable juices (or drink them) and then store the ferment in the fridge (slows bacterial fermentation right down) and eat for lunch or dinner or sometimes even breakfast. On its own, on a slice of the delectable Life Changing Loaf, on salad. Often though, even though it tastes delicious, I wait longer. The average time I leave mine before slowing the fermentation by refrigeration is around 4 or 5 weeks. The taste is different then – the vegetables softer, the flavours more complex. It is a matter of personal taste when you start to eat it.
Glitches and Hitches
Don’t worry if a bit of mould grows on the surface – it means you haven’t submerged the vegetables properly. Just remove the mouldy bit, keep calm and carry on.
Don’t worry if foam collects on the surface – this is not unusual either. I scoop it off with a clean spoon and push down on the jam jar weight to force more moisture out and up.
I have never had to throw away a ferment, other than the courgette ones! Really, anything goes. And remember, it is NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, so experiment to suit your own taste buds and your own gut. It is magic.