Vía Orgánica: Unlock the True Potential of Vegetables
By Kaare Melby
Want to boost your immune system, increase the nutrient content in your food, improve your mental health and detox your body? Fermented vegetables are for you!
Fermentation is the process that occurs when the natural bacteria in a vegetable break down the food’s complex elements into more digestible forms. When fermentation occurs, vegetables become easier to digest, allowing your body to work less while reaping more benefits, including higher levels of available nutrients and live cultures of pro-biotic bacteria.
Worried that fermenting is risky? No need! Fermented veggies are actually safer than raw vegetables because the fermentation process actually kills off any unwanted or dangerous bacteria.
Fermentation has been used to preserve food in Mexico for millennia. In fact, pulque is one of the world’s oldest known alcoholic beverages, made by fermenting the juices of the maguey cactus. A favorite at Via Organica is cortido or Mexican sauerkraut, which contains a mix of cabbage, carrot, onion, oregano, and chilies.
To get started, you’ll want to choose vegetables that are fresh, local, and organic as your ferment will be only as good as the ingredients you start with. You can ferment any vegetable, but it is best if you experiment and find a mix of vegetables that you enjoy.
If you are looking for a good place to start, cabbage is easy to process and makes a great ferment. The fermentation process creates a wonderful flavor that is often referred to as “sour.” Radishes, carrots, onions, and garlic are great additions, and you can use fresh or dry herbs and spices, too.
Here’s what you need to get started:
•A knife or grater
•A glass or ceramic jar for fermentation
•A smaller jar that fits inside the fermentation jar
•A clean towel
•Rubber band to fit over the mouth of the fermentation jar
•Herbs and spices
What to do:
•Chop/grate vegetables, salting lightly as you go. You want to get all of the vegetables as uniform in size as possible. As you chop or grate the vegetables, add small pinches of salt. Try tasting as you go. The vegetables should taste only slightly salty.
•Mix the veggies well. Taste the veggies and add more salt to taste if needed. If you are going to add any herbs or spices, add them now.
•Let the vegetables sit for 5 to 10 minutes. As they sit, the salt will start to draw the liquid out of the vegetables.
•Squeeze the vegetables to release their juices. Take handfuls of vegetables and squeeze as hard as you can, keeping the juice that comes out.
•Tightly pack the vegetables into the fermenting jar and cover with collected juice. As you fill the jar with the vegetables, be sure to pack them down tightly to the bottom of the jar. Be sure there is enough liquid to completely cover the vegetables.
•Fill the smaller jar with salt water; then place it on top of the vegetables in the fermenting jar. The purpose of the second jar is to hold the vegetables under the liquid in the jar. This will help the fermentation process by preventing “scum” from forming on top.
•Cover the fermenting jar with a clean towel and secure it with the rubber band. Using a towel to cover the jar ensures that gases can escape without letting any dirt or bugs get in.
•Let it ferment! Put the jar in an easily accessible area and keep an eye on it. In about 24 hours, you will begin to see air bubbles in the vegetables. This is how you know it’s working. After a few days, the ferment will start to smell sour. Taste it at every stage and to determine how fermented you like your vegetables. When you like the flavor, put a lid on the fermentation jar and put it in your refrigerator. When the ferment cools down, the fermentation process rapidly slows. You will be able to enjoy your fermented foods for weeks.
That’s it! Now you know the secret to unlocking the true potential of your vegetables.
Kaare Melby is a member of the Organic Consumers Association.