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The secrets of fermenting food: massaging veg and burping jars





In a recent report by Mintel, nutrition and its effects on cognitive health will be one of the dominant food and drinks trends for 2023.

According to Mintel, consumers will increasingly be seeking mood-enhancing and health-boosting foods, which of course include the wide array of natural fruit and vegetables which promote vitality and reduce fatigue through their high mineral and fibre content.

The Mintel report goes one step further to suggest that in 2023 “new research and patents related to the gut-brain axis will create opportunities to highlight how the digestive health benefits of probiotics support cognitive health”.

Louise Palmer-Masterton, of Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell
Louise Palmer-Masterton, of Stem & Glory. Picture: Keith Heppell

The idea that probiotics are good for you has been rising to the surface for a few years now, but as Mintel suggests, as the link between gut and brain is becomes more widely understood, the idea of probiotics seems to appeal to people in ways that plain ‘healthy eating’ historically hasn’t.

Given the stressful lifestyles that many of us lead, punctuated daily by processed foods, our natural gut biome is far away from its natural state. Maybe this is what resonates with people.

The seemingly simple process of fermentation is also entrenched in many ancient cultures. These fermented foods have a long history, compared to the very short history of processed foods.

Kimchi, for example, is a traditional fermented food from Korea, and historically, the method of fermenting food in this way was to prolong its life, before refrigeration.

Traditional kimchi was made in ceramic pots which were then buried for months at a time, during which time the fermenting happened. These ancient, simple, processes were all in harmony with our bodies, and about as far away as you can get from highly-processed foods.

The people I meet are often afraid to try and ferment their own foods, and while it is true that there are a few red flags, and we’ve all heard stories of exploding kimchi, if you take on board a few simple techniques, you will be successful in fermenting, well, basically any vegetables!

Any kind of cabbage works well in a ferment. This is because when massaged with salt, it releases a lot of liquid, which is essential for successful fermenting. In fact, fermented foods containing high water content vegetables, like cabbage, don’t usually require the addition of any liquid in the recipe, provided you ‘massage’ the vegetables well.

Below are two simple ferments to get you started, with all the essential tips you need, along with the very popular Kimchi Fried Rice that we serve at Stem & Glory.

Vegan Kimchi

Freshly-made kimchi
Freshly-made kimchi

Ingredients

1 large Chinese leaf (or white cabbage)

3 tbsp salt

1 large mouli (or 3 large carrots) coarsely grated

3-5 tbsp grated garlic

1cm grated ginger

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp red pepper (or chilli) flakes

4 spring onions

2 tbsp tamari

1 tbsp smoked paprika

Method

Cut up the Chinese leaf into approximately 2in pieces.

Add 3 tbsp of salt on and massage with your hands into the leaves. Let it sit for 30 minutes until it is soft and a lot of liquid has been released. The timing here is loose - you can leave for longer if you wish. The important thing is that the cabbage is very wilted and there is a lot of liquid.

Add the mooli and mix well. Allow to sit for another 10 minutes.

Make a paste from the rest of the ingredients.

Mix this into the cabbage mixture

Stuff into a Kilner jar (a jar with a rubber seal and a clip top) and push down well. Ideally you want the jar to be about four-fifths full so the mix has room to expand. Push down well so that the liquid rises to the surface.

This is the first trick of fermenting - make sure that your ferment is covered by liquid as this prevents mould forming.

With kimchi the fermentation time is short. I would say two to five days.

Check your ferment twice daily. Open the lid and ‘burp’ the kimchi, pushing the mix down with a metal spoon so that the liquid rises and covers the ferment.

As you do this, you will notice after a couple of days that bubbles will start to form. This is a good indicator that your kimchi is fermenting.

The kimchi will also expand in your jar. When bubbly and expanded, your kimchi is ready. Push down one last time then move to the fridge for storage. Will keep in the fridge up to one year. Be warned, it is smelly!

This method of making a ferment is similar to sauerkraut in that you massage the cabbage with salt, and that process releases enough liquid from the cabbage to complete the ferment. Kimchi is a very short ferment, but using this same massage method with any kind of cabbage and spices is the basis for sauerkraut, which has a longer (two to three-week) ferment.

Fermented Chili Sauce

Hot sauce
Hot sauce

I love fermented hot sauce, and it honestly couldn’t be simpler to make your own. We had an absolute rockstar of a chilli crop this year, which enabled many experiments with this recipe. You can add different herbs and spices to make flavoured sauces. One of my favourites is with chipotle to give a smoky flavour. You do need to start with a decent amount of chillies to make a decent amount of hot sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1kg fresh chilies (you can also include some sweet peppers here to make a sweeter sauce)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (optional)
  • 3 tbsp (45g) sea salt
  • 4 cups (1l) warm filter or mineral water
  • Add optional flavourings such as 2 tsp chipotle powder, or 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns. You can also add fresh fruit, such as peaches or plums, to give a sweet and spicy sauce.

Method

Remove the very tops of the chillies along with the stems. Cut in half lengthways.

Pack them lengthways and very tightly into a Kilner jar. You will probably need a 2l jar or two 1l jars.

Add any other spices or fruit you wish to use.

Dissolve the sea salt into the warm water and pour over the chillies and extras.

Push down so that all the chillies are covered by the liquid.

This sauce is best fermented for two to three weeks. A bit nerve-wracking if it's your first go, but stick with it!

You will need to burp the jar every day, and push the contents down with a metal spoon so the contents are covered with liquid.

You will see your ferment go cloudy - this is good and shows it is developing the lovely probiotics. Hold your nerve! Keep checking every day and pressing down the contents. The chillies will go quite soft as the ferment progresses.

I would always ferment a hot sauce for three weeks, as different levels of fermentation occur in that last week to make it as good as it can be.

Once the three weeks have passed, drain the chilli mixtures through a sieve. Some recipes say to retain some of the liquid to add to the sauce if needed to make it runnier, but I’ve found this can make it too salty, so prefer to add fresh filtered water if needed.

Add the chilli mix to a high-powered blender and blend for one minute. Add some liquid if needed. Blend until your sauce is the consistency you like.

Serve liberally with everything!

The method and principles of this recipe can be applied to fermenting any vegetable where you are simply adding whole or sliced veg with herbs, spices or other flavours and covering with a brine solution.

Kimchi Fried Rice (as served at Stem & Glory)

Kimchi rice. Picture: Stem & Glory / Jonathan Mbu
Kimchi rice. Picture: Stem & Glory / Jonathan Mbu

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 200g cooked rice (brown rice, black rice or white rice works here)
  • 100g cauliflower cut into small florets
  • 50g green beans cut into 2cm lengths
  • 160g kimchi
  • 1 tbsp veg oil

Method

Steam or boil the cauliflower and beans for five minutes. Drain.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the rice, cauliflower and beans. Stir fry until heated through.

Add half the kimchi at the end, warm through with the other ingredients.

With fermented foods, prolonged heating will destroy the probiotics, so warm gently and serve immediately. Serve with the other half of the kimchi on top.

Serve with your fermented hot sauce and an accompanying main dish such as Katsu or stir fried tofu. You can also add tofu and extra veggies to the kimchi rice for a stir fry main course.

Serve with lashings of hot sauce, of course.



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