I have been a curious bystander of fermented foods for some time. It appears to be trendy these days, which is interesting since it is a process that goes back to the beginning of time.
Fermentation was not only used as a food preserver, but also as support for intestinal and overall health. Fermented vegetables have all the nutrition of raw vegetables, with the added bonus of the good bacteria and probiotics that are formed in the process.
This month I was invited to a culinary “hands on” food preserving class at Melissa’s Produce along with other Southern California bloggers. When we arrive the first thing we saw was this beautiful display of edible art. Can you picture these in your kitchen? I was coveting these jars of fermented flavor, and couldn’t wait to make my own.
From left to right: Fermented Brined Olives, Kimchi, Kosher Dill Green Tomatoes, Kosher Dill Pickles, Giardiniara, Red Cabbage Sauerkraut, Curtido, Crudite (carrots, snap peas, snow peas, & celery)
Our teacher for the day was Chef Ernest Miller, who is also a historian, educator, consultant and speaker. He has been making fermented foods for more than 12 years. He is also lead instructor for the Master Food Preservers of Los Angeles County and founder of Rancho La Merced Provisions – manufacturer of one of the best fermentation kits on the market. I was so excited to absorb some his knowledge.
Chef Miller provided interesting historical information on fermentation, including facts about the process and tips to ensure success. He advised keeping our scraps when peeling or trimming produce, sealing them in an airtight bag and freezing them for later. These remnants are perfect for making stock, no scrap left behind.
Meanwhile, I was just starring at the all of the beauty in these jars.
When it came time for us to roll up our sleeves and dig in, we were able to choose between making kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) or curtido (El Salvadorian tart coleslaw – pronounced coor-TEE-doh), I choose the later because I had never tried it before.
We each had a cutting station with all the trimmings laid out for us. We chopped all of our veggies and put them in a non-reactive bowl with the spices, then we sprinkled them with salt to extract the juices.
We packed 2.5 pounds of vegetables into this fermentation jar (see note below) and added 3% brine to cover. The hardest part of the whole process was waiting one week before I could enjoy my curitido.
Note: To make this process easier Chef Ernest has developed a modern Air-Lock Lacto-Fermentation Kit from Rancho La Merced Provisions in 1.5 or 3 liter sizes for $42-$58. You can order online at Etsy or purchase at Whole Foods. It comes with a booklet to help you get started.
For more on food preservation go to National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Melissa’s Produce served curtido with El Salvadoran pupusas which is the traditional manner in which it is served.
I chose to serve the curtido on grilled corn tortillas with julienne cut Granny Smith apples, queso fresco (fresh cheese) and dollop of labne (a yogurt based cheese). I’m pretty sure I broke international culinary borders with this combination, but I really liked the tangy, crunchy, salty & sweet combination.
I also like to eat curtido straight out of the jar.
- 1 3/4 pound cabbage shredded (white, purple, Savoy, or Napa)
- 1/2 pound carrot julienned or grated
- 1/2 red onion julienned
- 1 jalapeno chile minced (remove seeds if you prefer)
- 3/4 ounce salt canning, pickling, kosher or sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 ounce salt canning, pickling, kosher or sea salt
- 1 quart water
To make brine, mix salt and water, stir and set aside.
Discard outer leaves of cabbage. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Cut in quarters and remove core. Shred or slice in 1/4″ slivers.
Put cabbage in a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. With clean hands, pack the cabbage mixture firmly into your clean 1.5 liter fermentation jar until salt draws juices from the cabbage. Be sure the jar is filled to the “max” line, but no higher. Place your clean, notched weighting jar on the cabbage and press down. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. If juice does not cover the cabbage, add brine and replace weighting jar. Seal your jar. Gently twist the airlock into place and fill the airlock with brine to the fill line. Set on your counter out of sunlight.
Curtido will be finished in 5 days when stored at 70° to 80° F or in 7 to 9 days, when storing at 60° to 65° F. You may allow your curtido to ferment longer, if you wish. Remove curtido from the fermentation jar and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for several months.
Caution: If the curtido becomes soft, slimy or develops a disagreeable odor, discard.
To ensure accuracy, the salt should be weighed instead of being measured by volume.
Much appreciation to Melissa’s Produce and Robert Schuller for sponsoring such a rewarding event and delicious luncheon. And thank you to Chef Ernest Miller for your dedication and hard work making this class possible.
If you are not yet convinced to eat fermented food, maybe Chef Miller’s sense of humor in this video will help.
If it can “grow hair on your head and put vigor in your bed”, what else might it do?
…and then, she paused for thought, and smiled.