Why Eat Ferments?!

By now we have all heard about “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria.” We have almost all been recommended to take probiotics one-off after a round of antibiotics or regularly to maintain a good gut flora, especially now that gut health is being connected to more and more systemic health issues. Probiotics come in many, many forms, but ferments are my very favorite! Beyond having probiotics, ferments have also been shown to improve immune function, have antioxidant properties, benefit lipid metabolism, prevent depression, and support healthy digestion.

You can make your own ferments at home or you can buy them at the store. If you shop for them, you will find them in the refrigerated section. Look for products that say “fermented” or “live cultures” or “source of probiotics” to make sure you are getting a high quality ferment. These products could include sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, miso, sourdough bread, dosa, kvass, injera, kefir, and cultured cheeses.

If you want to learn more about fermenting, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.


How to revive your veggies!

We all buy/harvest veggies with best intentions of eating them up before they turn. And then life happens.

Good news! You can revive your veggies with this very cheap and easy trick. As long as your veggies aren’t too soft and haven’t grown mold, you can revive them with a cold bath! This makes sense, right, because vegetables go limp because of dehydration, so soaking them in water allows them to suck up water and regain their crisp, happy vibrancy. (Hint: this is a good reason to keep veggies in the crisper drawer – it’s more humid than the rest of the fridge.)

So… gather up your wilting produce and submerge them in a bowl (or multiple bowls) of cold water. Sometimes, when we bring in root vegetables from the garden, we wash them and store them in a bowl of cold water in the fridge until we use them. So water can be used to store or revive veggies – use your best judgement for your circumstance.

  • celery – cut off the ends and stick them in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes
  • carrots – cut off the ends of whole carrots or cut carrots into matchsticks, put in bowl until crisp
  • beets – put whole beets into a bowl of water (don’t cut or peel them or they will bleed into water)
  • lettuce – place roots or cut ends into a bowl of water
  • potatoes – peel and submerge in a bowl of water
  • broccoli – trim the bottom and place in water or put florets into bowl of water
  • asparagus – trim ends and stand upright in a bowl of water until crisp
  • herbs – trim ends and put in a vase (looks great on your dining room table!)

Some vegetables like winter and summer squash will not recover with this trick.

Do some experiments if you’re considering tossing a wilting veggie. It’s worth a shot!

Vegetable Cutting Techniques

Should I chop, dice or mince? What does that even mean?! How am I supposed to know how big or small to cut my veggies?!

Chop: a pretty large, chunky piece of vegetable (right)
Dice: medium sized veggie (middle)
Mince: smallest cut (left)

Why do we need to understand the difference? Well, the author of the recipe selected a certain size based on how long it would take the veggies to cook and the resulting texture or “mouth feel” of the final dish.

Now that you know why there are different sizes of cuts you can cut up veggies to suit your preference. Be aware the cook time and mouth feel will change with your choices, but you don’t have to follow the recipe exactly. Maybe you are making a cucumber salad and the recipe calls for the cukes to be “thinly sliced” but you prefer to have big chunks of cukes on your fork so you choose to cut thick slices and then cut those in half. Bravo! Make the recipe your own.

Pickling vs Fermenting

What’s the difference? And why choose one or the other?

Pickles are preserved in an acidic medium, namely vinegar. The tasty cucumbers prepared in vinegar (with spices) that most people simply call “pickles” are the most common example. But we can also pickle almost any vegetable, eggs, and even meat!

Ferments could be considered a “type” of pickle. But rather than being prepared in vinegar, they are prepared in salt brine and the acidic medium is lactic acid which actually comes from the vegetables themselves when their starches and sugars are converted to lactic acid by the bacteria lactobacilli.

Pickling kills ALL bacteria – the good and bad. Fermenting cultivates an environment where good bacteria can live, and in which they starve out the bad bacteria.

Pickled goodies will be basically the same on the day you can them as they are months or years later. It is an excellent, long-term preserving technique. Ferments change every day. The majority of the process happens and room temperature, then they are placed in the fridge where the progress slows so much it is barely recognizable.

Pickles are safe as long as good sterilization is used. This is quite easy given current day access to heating and plumbing. Fermenting is also safe and has been around much longer as a preservation technique.

Pickling can be laborious – from sterilizing to processing in boiling water, it can takes a long time to pickle with lots of materials. Fermenting is easy peasy. Just add salt brine.

Hopefully that helps you understand the differences and now you can choose how to preserve your own harvest!

Refrigerator Pickles versus Canned Pickles

Quick/Refrigerator pickles and Canned pickles are not the same. The recipe looks the same – you sterilize your jars and lids, you prepare your vegetables, you heat up vinegar and spices, you stuff veggies into sterilized jars and fill ’em up with the hot vinegar mixture, and you screw on the lids.

THIS is where the difference happens.

Quick pickles will simply cool to room temperature on the counter and be put into the fridge. They are not shelf stable. They must remain in the fridge and be eaten relatively quickly.

The canned pickles require an additional step. They must be submerged in boiling water for the prescribed amount of time (depends on the recipe and your elevation). Then they must cool and rest for 24 hours before you can store them away in your pantry.