How to Ferment Almost Any Goddamn Thing and Eat It
Making a ferment might even outweigh the health benefits.
Fermentation is an ancient food preservation method, and it's making a big comeback. Fermented foods exist cross culturally and throughout time. From fermented fish to cheeses and wine, fermentation preserves food and, in some cases, offers health benefits. You've probably already had fermented goods in your gut: Kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut.
Fermentation preserves and breaks down nutrients, making them more digestible, while simultaneously creating vitamin B and folic acid, and supporting living cultures, or microorganisms, that according to science might keep you healthy.
It may seem like a daunting process, but once you get over the looming possibility of mold or explosions, DIY fermenting is a rewarding experience.
The very basic premise of fermentation is to add salt and water, a brine, to prepared vegetables in a mason jar and wait until they taste good. For some recipes, you might use sugar or a culture starter, which is basically a substance that’s been colonized by microbes.
Once the foods are sealed up in the jar, the longer you wait to unseal, the more good stuff (or potentially bad stuff) will grow. If you wait too long, some ferments can turn to vinegar or become alcoholic. As you ferment, you’ll notice a lot of bubbles forming from the CO2 that the microorganisms produce. Unless you allow air in through an airlock or by occasionally opening the jar, expect an explosion. Imagine a small vessel that you continually pump CO2 into but none of it can escape. It has nowhere to go, except everywhere.
It may seem like a daunting process, but once you get over the looming possibility of mold or explosions, DIY fermenting is a rewarding experience, and it really can make a positive impact on your health.
You can ferment just about any condiment. For mayo or ketchup, it's common to add a starter culture. But for salsa, you can use the tried and true method of putting it all together with salt and waiting. For the batch in the photo, I chopped up tomato, pepper, onion, garlic, and a squeeze of lime with salt, and let it sit out for a few days. I was careful not to let the salsa sit for too long. Onions often contain contaminates that speeds the growth of the bad microbes. The end result was okay, not the kind of salsa I would necessarily eat straight up with chips, but will probably use in recipes for sauces or on top of eggs.
Kvass is a Russian drink, often alcoholic, that was traditionally made from stale bread. Beet is a well known and delicious variant. Kvass was the first thing I ever experimented with when I decided to try fermentation. It’s easy and only takes a few days on the counter. I also love the flavor and believe in the healing magic of beets! It may be an acquired taste. It's really earthy, a little bit sweet, a little bit salty. If you’re lucky, there will be an effervescent fizz. If you want more of that fizz, put the finished product in flip top bottles, which seals off all the oxygen giving the elixir some carbonation. Again the process is chopping the beets, adding salt and water and letting it sit. Like the salsa, it sits out for only a few days. I added ginger to my kvass. You can also add herbs like rosemary. Kvass is great for taking a few sips any time of day. Its chock full of nutrients and those good microbes.
Tepache is a fermented pineapple drink sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with cinnamon and clove. Same old process—except instead of salt, you add sugar. Similar to kombucha, this ferment wants to breath; so instead of a lid on the mason jar, I used cheesecloth. Tepache is a Mexican drink that is often sold by street vendors. This ferment was very easy and a great way to use all of the pineapple. I opted to use just the skins with bits of fruit on them. That way, I had tons of pineapple to eat AND a delicious pineapple drink. It's light, sweet but not too sweet, and the cinnamon and clove make it unique. I tried it over ice with some rum, and I'm definitely making it again.
This is such a cool way to save every bit of a melon. I recently saw a video of a kid eating an entire watermelon whole, and I don’t know about that. But I’m definitely on board with fermenting the rind. Same process again, with a salt brine and waiting on the counter. This ferment takes a bit more effort. You have to scoop out the pink flesh of the watermelon, which is fine. Then you have to peel the green part off the rind and chop the rinds. Peeling the green off was annoying and tedious. The end result is salty, crunchy, and a tad sweet. We will eat these guys alongside some sandwiches or on top of salads.
This is a Moroccan technique. The lemons are often chopped up and used in tanjines/tagines, dishes cooked in earthenware. This process is a little different, but same idea. You slice the lemons in quarters, without slicing all the way through. It's still one intact lemon. Then you add salt between the cuts, put them in a jar, and crush them down. Add more salt and keep crushing until the lemon juice and the salt have created a brine. If necessary, add more water on top to cover the lemons. Unlike the others, similar to kraut or pickles, you want these guys on the counter for a few weeks. Once they’re done, if done right, they can last for years even outside of the fridge. During fermentation, the peels and all become edible. The flavors become very complex, with an almost mint-like quality. In stores you could spend up to $15 for a jar!