Fermentation is an old way of preserving your harvest. Got too many beans? Whack ’em in some salt. Surplus of cabbage? Brine it. These days though, most of us aren’t subsistence farmers, so why bother? Well, because we are subsistence hipsters, surviving hand to mouth from trend to trend. And fermentation is big right now, so let me be your guide.
The basic idea is to take vegetables you like and preserve them, encouraging the growth of lactobacillus bacteria which makes them taste delish, and discouraging the growth of all the other bacteria, which make you sick. It’s not hard and it doesn’t have to be scary.
The first thing you’ll need is some jars. You can use old jam jars, or brand-new fancy fermentation-grade receptacles, it doesn’t make a huge difference when you’re getting started. The most important thing is that your jars are very, very clean. This is all about promoting good tasty bacteria, not the bad vommy bacteria. So make your selection, clean them, then boil them or whack them in the oven for 15 minutes, and leave them to dry. Now on to the fermenting.
The most basic way of doing this is by using a brine, which is just another way of saying salt-water solution. Mixing water with 2 to 3 percent (by weight) of good salt – nothing with any extras like iodine – will get you what you’re after. Select your veggies, bung them in a jar, and top with brine. Done. That’s it. You’re fermenting.
You can also dry-brine vegetables with high water content. Take a cabbage, for example, weigh it, slice it up thinly and then add 2 percent salt by weight, scrunch it all up, stick it in a jar and, hey presto, you’re fermenting again.
Leave your jars somewhere cool for at least two weeks and make sure to burp them every once in a while (the fermentation process makes them gassy, and gassy things like to explode). If you get white gunk on top, that’s okay, it’s yeast. If you get other-coloured gunk, chuck everything: it’s gone wrong, mate.
You can apply this ultra-basic brining technique to any vegetable you want. Some of your ferments will fail, some will succeed. Just experiment: what’s the worst that could happen? Botulism? Oh, yeah. Botulism. Try to avoid that.
Really into vegetables? Here’s how to have an actually, really great vegan Christmas.