When you get started with making fermented foods, it is easy to be intimidated. If you weren't raised with cultured foods in your diet, it is natural to be afraid of making something that might be dangerous to eat.
I experimented on my own before I learned the best practices of lacto-fermentation, and while my first batch of sauerkraut worked out well, a few other projects failed in a sad, smelly way. The good thing about failure is that it offers the lesson of what *not* to do, lets you research new methods, and then you can try again!
After careful consideration and reading Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, I realized that my most common problem was the difficulty in keeping the fermenting veggies under the brine. This part is very important, as the salt brine allows only the GOOD bacteria (lactobacillius) to thrive, and keeps the molds and icky bacterias at bay.
I tried rocks, smaller jars, plastic wrap, and all sorts of other methods I found online to try to keep the veggies submerged, but most of them succumbed to mold or fruit flies before I could save them.
What saved my sauerkrauts and kimchi was the realization that maybe the open-crock method wasn’t going to work. There are special fermenting kits you can buy to turn any jar into a fermenting vessel, glass weights to keep the veggies submerged in the brine, and even traditional fermenting crocks with ceramic weights that are beautiful as well as effective.
Small Batch Lacto-Fermentation Makes Sense
Why would I bother with small-batches of lacto-fermented food? Why make a jar of kimchi when I could make a crock-full?
I’m the most enthusiastic eater of fermented foods and I don’t want anything to go to waste. The other members of my home are not so keen on sauerkraut or pickled veggies. Huge batches simply don’t make sense for our household.
Here’s a quick example of how quick and flexible you can be with small-batch fermentation. When I realized that the leftover veggies in my fridge were going to start to wilt before I ate them, I decided to play around. After a quick inventory, I came up with…
Small-Batch Spicy Sauerkraut Recipe
- Half a green cabbage
- Small carrot
- Two cloves of garlic
- Quarter of a Serrano pepper
- Quarter of a sweet onion
Bit by bit, the salt will make the vegetables break down and release their moisture. After a few minutes of mashing, pour the mix into a clean jar. Set the glass weight on top of the mix and push it down with the tamper to force all of the veggies under the brine. The kit I was using had a lid with an airlock, and so I put that on, but whatever method you are using is fine.
After just a day or two, the brine had small bubbles rising in it! I gave it another few days and then removed the glass weight. I then used a pair of clean chopsticks to taste the veggies and see how things were progressing. The cabbage and carrots were still too crunchy, but wow! This ferment was potent! The garlic and the pepper were strong and the heat lingered on the tongue and throat for a long time. These veggies and this brine were destined to be a spicy relish and hot sauce!
From a pile of leftovers that could have been composted, turned into stock, or stir-fried, there was now a fantastically spicy condiment to complement sandwiches, salads, and make a pop in all kinds of recipes!
To make a long story short – don’t be afraid to play!