Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lactobacillus: your friend and mine

So apparently one can ferment just about anything. In fact, experimentation was encouraged by the fermentation workshop leaders at Common Good City Farm last week and in the book they so often cited, Sandor Katz's "Wild Fermentation" (which is now officially on the ibti wishlist).

Fermentation's easy. Basically, you just stick some veggies and whatever spices you want in a jar with salt water and let the naturally occurring lactobacillus on the surface of the produce do its thing. Salt keeps other kinds of bacteria from growing, and water on top keeps mold from forming below the surface. (I do believe I've talked about mold a bit already.....) Stay away from metal or plastic equipment -- so, in other words, stick to glass and enamel storage vessels (and wooden mashing implements if you're making sauerkraut or kimchi) -- and you're good.

So when I found myself with a pile of beet greens -- left over from five bunches of beets that Mike and Boris and I'd pickled and canned a few days prior -- and a bag of fresh cucumbers from my friend Liz over at the Ft. Totten garden, I got myself some jars and heavy flower vases and got cracking.

One can make kimchi from cabbage, so why not beet greens? (Also, I had to figure out what to do with the pile of greens before leaving for Chicago, and with no basil around and a shortage of walnuts, pesto was right out.) Into my sadly underutilized flower vase went some minced ginger and garlic, a few chopped scallions, and the chopped up greens from about 10 or 12 beets, some salt, a hot chili pepper from cousin Caroline (which reminds me: I need to do a little write-up on the Labor Day weekend trip to visit my dear cousin and help out at the Poconos garlic festival), and lots of sea salt. About 10 minutes of mashing with a wooden spoon and viola: Beet green kimchi! (Isn't it beautiful? I almost want to keep it out on the dinner table to impress friends and loved ones with my eye-pleasing culinary prowess.)

Phase 2 resulted in three jars of fermented cucumbers, featuring garlic (of course), scallions, whole peppercorns, salt water (roughly 1 tablespoon per 2 cups), dried dill weed (still unsuccessfully trying to locate dill *seed*), and some fresh parsley I was also needing to use up.

The key to crunchy pickles, I'd heard, was including a few leaves containing tannins. Yep, like the stuff in red wine. The best things to use are apparently grape leaves, but after a jaunt around Columbia Heights with Ollie, scouring my neighbors' yards for any sign of a grapevine, I returned home defeated. Actually, cherry, horseradish, oak, or currant leaves would also work, but I didn't read this until I got back with a handful of what I thought were perhaps some form of maple leaf and which I thought looked innocuous but potentially tannin laden. Don't worry, in the end I was too scared of accidentally poisoning someone to integrate them into the pickle mix. In fact, I discovered a grapevine in my friend Alicia's yard later that evening during a garden consultation and made my way giddily home with a mittful of leaves to crisp up my pickles.

My fermenting beet greens and cucumbers only had a day on the counter before they were tossed in the fridge yesterday morning -- I had to leave for a friend's wedding in Chicago this weekend (and, no, I didn't bike here this time, sadly) -- but I'm looking forward to some taste testing when I get back in about a week and a half. After a little detour to check out the burgeoning urban food scene in Detroit.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Fermentation update: Jenny and Vinnie, my dinner guests (aka guinea pigs, heheh) this evening, gave the beet green kim chi and cucumber pickles the thumbs up. I daresay they are pretty tasty. And so EASY! Thanks again to Bradley for the informative, ongoing fermentation coaching!


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