Fermented vegetables are my livelihood. I'm not kidding. I eat them (or try to, at least) at every meal, and I credit them with being one of the most important players in healing my previously very ravaged digestive system. Making them yourself is incredibly easy, satisfying, and most importantly- significantly less expensive than buying at the store. Refrigerated organic kraut is not cheap, as you may have noticed!
Why eat fermented foods, you may ask? Fermentation has been around a whole lot longer than we have as humans, and our ancestors have been employing this preservation technique for thousands of years. This process creates an anaerobic environment (meaning no oxygen) in which good bacteria can grow and proliferate. These healthy bugs are naturally present in our environment, and lacto-fermentation enables them to proliferate and colonize our food, preventing it from spoilage and simultaneously seriously enhancing their nutritive value. This process essentially "pre-digests" our food for us, breaking down sometimes harmful properties (like lectins, phytates and even goitrogens). Most importantly, these foods are literally alive, teeming with healthy bacteria that can help repopulate the microbiome of your digestive system, improve your digestion, reduce bloat, and improve immunity. This is the real deal, living probiotic pill in food form. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I slam fermented vegetables. That's the level I'm at.
Ferments include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and "real" pickles (the refrigerated kind- if it's made in vinegar, it's not alive!). You can ferment almost anything. I would highly suggest that everyone read Sandor Kraut's book "Wild Fermentation". He is the godfather revivalist of fermentation and I have adapted all of my own personal techniques off of his teachings.
All you need is some a mason jar, sea salt and some patience.
Watermelon radishes aren't always in season and can be a rare sighting at the farmer's market, kind of like a unicorn. I wanted to always have a stash around to brighten up my food, so I made an enormous batch that will last me a few months. You can use any spices you want here- black and white peppercorns, dill, fennel or caraway seeds, chili paste or powder- I wanted to do a Thai take, so I used lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Make it your own!
10 medium sized watermelon radishes, washed
2-3 tbsp sea salt
8 kaffir lime leaves
1 stick lemongrass, chopped and smashed
1 cup filtered water
Sterilize all of your bowls and utensils thoroughly. Wash and thinly slice your watermelon radishes. In a large bowl, toss the radishes with 1tbsp of the salt, kaffir lime, and lemongrass and gently massage them. They will start to soften up. In a large mason jar, combine the remaining 1tbsp of sea salt with the water and stir until it dissolves. Pour salt water over the radishes, and allow them to sit for about an hour and release water. Then, with super clean hands, stack radishes (and seasonings!) in your mason jar, pressing them down thoroughly. They will release liquid as they go. When you are finished bottling the radishes, pour back in as much water as you need to cover them by about an inch. I use a small sterilized rock or Pickle Pebbles to keep them underneath the liquid. Lightly cap with a plastic lid and put in a warm place. Check periodically to be sure the radishes haven't risen above the liquid; if so, dissolve a bit of salt in water and submerge them again. If you get some white scum, no worries, just skim it off. Taste in 1-2 weeks; radishes can continue fermenting for up to a month until you reach your desired tanginess. When they are done, refrigerate for 6 months-1 year.
More fermented veggie recipes to come soon!