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salt pickling aka lacto fermenting

Salt pickling vegetables.

For those of you unfamiliar with fermented vegetables it seems like a daunting path. Filled with risks and bad smells. Some familiar flavours come from this method and it is diverse in what can be accomplished by using it.

At its simplest stage it is adding salt to an ingredient, for example preserved lemons or sauerkraut.

Or pouring a salt brine over others, for example gherkins or dilli pickles.

Spices can be added to make condiments like kimchi.

Products can be fermented then cooked like spiced Indian lime pickles.

Or go through month long steps of fermenting sunlight then in crocks like Sichuan chilli bean pastes.

Some will be ready in a week. Others may take a year.  The most important steps are measuring and cleanliness.

A little background on whats happening in your fermenting crock.

Everything is made of cells. Think of them as filled water balloons, when you heat a water balloon it bursts expelling the water. This is what happens when you cook with heat.

With salt the water inside the balloon is absorbed outside the balloon without damaging the balloons walls. For all the nerds out there this is called osmosis.

When this happens to a living cell like bacteria it slows down its motor functions, but not all Bacteria are created equal, there are a family of acid producing bacteria who can thrive when still dehydrated called lactobacilli.

By creating an environment where lactobacilli are dominant we start a chain reaction which preserves the ingredients by stopping dangerous bacteria from spreading, then lowering the ph level to a point where they are killed by the acid from the lactobacilli.

Lactobacilli will begin to digest the vegetables, cutting the protein, carbohydrate and cellulose chains which hold the ingredients together. Every time a chain is cut it frees amino acids, which is otherwise known as umami, the enriched flavour. This process is evident in all your strongest flavoured ingredients, its why cheese and anchovies are so powerful. Its why cured ham is much more decedent than simply dried beef jerky. These examples are all thing to discuss another time. similar intensity can be accomplished simply using  vegetables plus time.

This is why fermented food is richer and has depth. lactobacilli covert their food to lactic acid which is sour. creating an environment which other bacteria cannot exist.

The salt and high acidity works as a one two punch to stop other bacteria from spoiling the food.

So onto some recipes.

I will keep this initial step simple with a few basic recipes. It is such a versatile method I will keep harping back to this post.

I cook with a lot of fermented ingredients, it makes boring dishes come alive, adds seasoning, acid, umami. Its the cornerstone to making your own tobasco hot sauces, I use the fermenting juices in place of wine in sauces and dressings.

I also have yet to mention its health benefits, it is one of the major bacteria of your stomach’s flora, topping up and keeping your microbiome in balance will help you feel much better and healthier too. Good stomach health effects everything even your mood.

No body likes being preached to I’ve said enough of the benefits so here are some start up recipes to help you build your pantries.

All of these recipes are based on weight. The international rule of thumb is 2% salt. The Yorkshire health department insists on 3.5%.

I will leave that one up to your taste. Just never less than 1%

Pickled green beans (2% salt)

  1. Wash and trim green beans.

  2. Sanitise a glass jar with a sealed lid, (this can be done with chemicals or heat. Simply wash the jar and place in the oven, or cover with boiling water, or use straight from the dishwasher.)

  3. Weigh the jar and record its weight.

  4. Fill the jar with beans the cover with water.

  5. Weight the filled jar, and minus the weight of the jar or crock.

  6. Take that number and divide by 100.

  7. Multiply that number by 2. This is the amount of salt needed for the recipe.

  8. Pour off the water from the jar and dissolve in the salt by stirring.

  9. Once desolved pour the salt solution back over the beans, seal the jar and leave at room temperature for 1 week. The beans will become fizzy, and sour.

  10. They will continue to sour and soften as time goes on. To slow the process keep in a fridge after 2 weeks. When opening the jar be sure to use sanitised utensils to make sure the jar doesn’t become contaminated.

Preserved lemons (5% salt)

This recipe is a little easier as the lemons have so much liquid they become their own brine.

1. wash and quarter the lemons.

2. Sanitise a jar or crock large enough to house all the lemons.

3. Weigh lemons and add 5% salt. Mix together.

4. Place in jar or crock with enough weight on top that the juice from the lemons covers the lemons themselves.

5. Leave at room temperature for 4 weeks before using.

Sauerkraut (3.5% salt)

Similar to  preserved lemons the water inside the  cabbage needs a little more coaxing to cover than the lemons.

2kg cabbage

7g salt

  1. Finely slice cabbage and place in a large mixing bowl.

  2. Sprinkle over salt and massage the cabbage and salt until the water from the cabbage has been drawn out.

  3. Sanitise a jar or crock large enough to hold the cabbage and its salty brine.

  4. Pack into the fermenting container and cover with the salted brine from massaging.

  5. Place a weight onto of the cabbage mix (this can be a plate or another jar) so the vegetable remains submerged.

  6. Place a lid on the container and place somewhere dry and cool for 1 month.

You can use any vegetable for these recipes as long as they are raw and in good condition.

Play around with different flavours. Add different spices. Sauerkraut with caraway or dill seeds is very nice, adding garlic and chilli to the pickled beans add a new layer of flavour.

Have fun and if it smells evil, discard and try again. Use your senses, your body knows when food is good and bad.

Follow the simple steps and you will have something tasty to snack on, cook with  and season dishes with in a few short weeks.

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