Fun with Fermentation!

I didn’t think it could be done, but I’ve added another “nerd” hobby to my repertoire. For those of you who know me or who have followed my blog since its inception (in 2009!), you’ll have picked up on some of my favorite habits— taking pictures of everything I eat, metal-smithing in my guest room (the neighbors love this one), vacuuming every single day (they love this one, too), and I especially enjoy contemplating the Oxford comma (and debating its usage with anyone who will engage with me in that conversation). Add on to that the fact that I teach grammar for a living, can tell you about the world’s two (only two) doubly-landlocked countries, along with the only two countries that have their capital cities on islands off of the mainland, and you would think it couldn’t get any better. Well, the nerdy hobby list just got longer. And I can’t think of anything better to add to the list than fermentation. Fermenting cabbages to be exact.

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Seriously, how gorgeous is this purple cabbage?! I spent fifteen minutes just sitting and staring at it.

Now don’t think cabbage is a brand new interest of mine. It’s not. You’ve seen over the past years my devotion to making cabbage soup in the crock pot and roasting sauerkrat in the oven with kielbasa. Being 50% Slovak (aka Eastern European) makes me a de facto expert on cabbage. But when I stopped to take a step back and consider the whole matter of cabbage, I realized I wasn’t entirely “walking the walk.” A true Slovak should make her own sauerkraut. Period.

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Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. This is the Bible on fermentation.

My life changed when my friend Maura at work loaned me Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Mind = blown. I learned crazy-awesome things like how you shouldn’t microwave or heat your sauerkraut, because you’ll kill the fantastic priobiotic cultures, which is one of the reasons why you’ve gone through all the trouble of making the sauerkraut in the first place.

I’ve also learned that the lid of the mason jar ricocheting off the container and missing your eye by mere centimeters is actually a good thing. That means there’s a lot of good-bacterial activity going on in there. (NB: The popping and hissing sound is similarly a great sign.)

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See this adorable standard light-green cabbage. I have to apologize to its little vegetable soul, because I wasted it. The whole little guy ended up getting thrown out. He fell victim to my first attempt at fermentation. So if you look at the next few photos, I had chopped him up lovingly on a cutting board and then mixed him in with some carrot that I painstakingly shredded.

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I mashed and mashed and mashed for a long time to get the juices releasing. The way you help this along is by sprinkling sea salt. Apparently I don’t understand the verb “to sprinkle.” I gave this batch a too-healthy dose of salt. A week later when I tasted it out of the fridge, it was ruined. What was meant to be a crispety and refreshing light cole slaw ended up as soggy strips floating in ocean water. It went in the compost. : (

Batch 1 = epic fail.

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This photo here is of the unsuspecting victims. Only the big guy on the far left and the little guy in the front made it. (They were from this same batch in the next photo.)

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The combo of the dark purple and light green cabbage yielded this very pretty hot-pink kraut. This flashy specimen has featured in my recent dinners.

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Here she added “pop” to cod and sauteed kale.

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A few nights ago she was the star of a meat-free Bibimpbap. After all, I don’t consider it a Korean meal if there’s nothing fermented. I did a base of rice with sunny-side-up egg, sauteed chard, lime, chopped cilantro, and of course, the hot-pink sauerkraut on top. It was delicious and light. With the pink batch of kraut, I had come to understand the verb “to sprinkle,” and had gotten the salt balance just right.

Worth noting is that fermentation features heavily in paleo diets. Since paleo eaters avoid dairy like the plague (like I’ve done for years), we lack the probiotics in the digestive tract that we would have gotten from yogurts. The sauerkraut route helps to repopulate the digestive tract of non-dairy eaters.

Also consider fermenting your own cabbage if you suspect you’ve lost the good flora in your digestive tract due to long rounds of antibiotics. I attribute a majority of my digestive discomforts to long teen years on acne medication, so if you’ve been wracking your brain about your own tummy troubles, maybe this was the case for you, too.

Either way, the preparation was easy, though not quick. Round up all of your coolest friends for a fermentation party! Many hands will make light work of the chopping and smashing. Only entrust the salting to someone who seems to understand what “sprinkling means.”

Happy fermenting!

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One Comment on “Fun with Fermentation!”

  1. Lisa October 12, 2015 at 08:21 #

    Cool! I can’t wait for you to make me a smoothie and one of your meals!

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