Fermenting has made a grand resurgence in the past few years and with good reason: It’s an all-natural way of preserving food, provides us with much needed probiotics and ain’t so hard to do. I have been fermenting now for just a few months and have more successes than failures (though some are unavoidable) and, with each win, my confidence builds as does the desire to experiment more.
Perhaps the best thing about getting started fermenting is that, unlike brewing beer and other DIY science projects, it is really inexpensive. Basically, all that’s required is some glass containers — old liquor or wine bottles, large wide-mount jars or something similar— and fairly run-of-the-mill kitchen equipment: wooden spoon, colander, cheesecloth (or porous material), rubber bands and the edible ingredients.
The biggest challenge is being patient and consistent. Fermenting is a naturally occurring process, so it takes a little longer than microwave dinners. But, it will happen. As well, in the beginning, when developing starters, bugs, and so on, it also requires daily attention, which takes all of a couple of minutes but does make the difference as to whether a project succeeds or not.
And, on that note, here are some of the easiest ways to get into the fermenting game as a beginner and turn the kitchen into a bubbling, active environment with fun surprises all over the place.
Sauerkraut is perhaps the most popular way to begin fermenting foods, and it also makes for some killer veggie dogs. Again, the process is simple. Shred up some cabbage, radish and maybe a little carrot. Pack it into a sterilized jar, leaving a bit of space at the top. Pour in some brine, top it off with a couple of rolled up cabbage leaves to keep the mixture submerged. Put the lids on and give it a week on the counter top. Bubbles should start to form inside, and that’s the probiotic magic happening. When the week is up, it’s ready to eat. Store the jar(s) in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.
Kombucha is probably the current most common of DIY fermented drinks. It’s also a very easy recipe, though it will require obtaining a kombucha “mother”, or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which then lasts indefinitely and reproduces. Once there is a SCOBY, it’s as easy as brewing a couple of liters of black or green tea (typically black) and dissolving one cup of sugar into the mixture. Once the tea is cooled, put it in a large glass container and top it off with the SCOBY. If a bit, half a cup or thereabouts, of plain, prepared kombucha can be added then it helps. Let it ferment for about a week to a month — taste to decide — then bottle it up. Let it sit in seal bottles for a day or two to carbonate (release a little of the pressure each day) and then stick it in the fridge.
Even for those of us quite comfortable in the kitchen, something about a sourdough starter just strikes fear in our hearts. It seems such a responsibility, literally like having a pet that must be fed every day, though it can be stored in the fridge and feed once a week rather than daily. However, I’ve recently discovered that it’s very easy to make a sourdough starter from scratch, and that feeding it every day equates to cooking a couple of loaves of bread every three days, a process that requires only flour (3 cups), starter (2 cups), water (1 or more cups) and salt (1 TBSP) and takes very little time. And, sourdough bread is better for us.
Homemade hot sauces are the spicy bomb. They pack so much more flavor than most store-bought varieties, and they can be geared to fit what peculiarities any person’s taste buds might want, from the uber-fiery to something with an ever so sweet sting. What’s more is that they can be fermented. Get some hot chilies (a dozen), garlic (a clove), a small onion, a carrot and a stick of celery and blend them together with a couple tablespoons of sea salt. Put it in a glass vessel and pour in a ¼ cup of starter (sauerkraut juice works great). Let it ferment for about a week then start heating things up.
Hard Apple Cider
Hard apple cider is a big hit these days, and it does make for an especially refreshing libation on hot summer’s day, maybe poolside with a couple of salty snacks floating around. Plus, it’s so simple to make. This time we’ll need something with a large mouth, either a big jar or a glass container. Fill it a little over halfway with one-inch cubes or apple and a mixture of water (one gallon) and sugar (to one cup). Keep the mouth of the jar covered with a porous cloth and rubber band. Stir the liquid once or twice a day for a week. It’ll start bubbling about midway through the process, and that’s what we want. After a week, bottle it up in an airtight container and leave it to carbonate for a day or two, releasing the pressure every day. Then, serve it cold.
Get these five experiments under your belt, and you’ll be pining for more fermentation in your life. It’s a lot of fun to play with, takes very little effort or time and yields some pretty fantastic rewards for the table and our health.
Lead image source: Fizzy Coconut, Lime and Mint Kombucha Elixer