The benefits of lacto-fermentation, by Kate Johnson (recipe) |

The benefits of lacto-fermentation, by Kate Johnson (recipe)

Kate Johnson

During the past year, my husband and I have had the pleasure of hosting many different people through Airbnb in our home. We have had folks from all over the world and have enjoyed visiting and getting to know these people as they travel through our area. Often, they are fellow musicians, gardeners, dog lovers, cooks, etc. One of the best parts of these visits is learning new and different ways to grow, harvest, process and use food from our garden.

This past year, we had an interesting guest named David who is an architect from the Seattle area. David is married to Greti, who was born and raised in Hungary; they are avid gardeners and do a good deal of food fermentation. David and Greti process by salt brining as this was the standard for Greti growing up in Hungary. Sauerkraut is a staple in their home and David was kind enough to share his methods.

This was my first opportunity to learn the difference between lacto-fermentation versus vinegar pickling. I have done a good deal of vinegar pickling over the years and always enjoy the byproducts. However, I was surprised to learn that there are no probiotic benefits to pickling food by this method. Lacto-fermentation is a process that uses a salt brine, instead of vinegar, to ferment the vegetables. The finished product requires refrigeration, has live probiotic bacteria that results in tangy and interesting flavors and is a much easier method of processing, as it does not necessitate canning. This is a wonderful tool for processing excess vegetables from the garden but is also a delicious option for any good quality organic vegetables. The end results are wonderful added to salad, as a pizza topping, on burgers or sandwiches or as a condiment to most any meal.

While I will forever enjoy my old version of pickling, I am always interested in the addition of probiotic foods to my diet. There is a good deal of recognition these days regarding the brain/gut connection. It is no secret that the lack of good gut bacteria can have a profound impact on our health and, therefore, the addition of probiotic foods can confer gastrointestinal and cognitive benefits. Current research shows that good gut flora impacts mood, depression, stress, anxiety and over all mental health. In other words, food is medicine and what we put into our bodies has a profound impact on not only our physical health but our mental health as well!

Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

1 quart jar

3-4 cups cut vegetables or enough to fill a quart jar (cauliflower, carrots, green beans, etc.)

3 garlic cloves peeled and slightly crushed

1⁄2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional OR coarse ground black pepper

Other optional seasonings: dill, oregano, thyme, etc.

2 Tablespoons sea salt

1 qt. filtered water (if on a public water system, or if well water isn’t good)

Place garlic in the bottom of a clean, wide-mouth quart jar. Layer the cut vegetables, pressing down to fit as many as you can up to the shoulder of the jar (1-2 inches headspace).

Add any seasonings to the contents in the jar.

Dissolve the salt in the water and pour over the vegetables in the jar until the top vegetables are barely covered.

Use a weight to keep the vegetables under the brine and attach a tight regular lid or airlock lid like the Easy Fermenter.

Ferment at room temperature (60-70 degrees is ideal) for about five days, tasting to see if they are your desired flavor and texture. If using regular lids, burp daily to release excess pressure.

Once they are finished, move to the refrigerator with a regular lid for storage — the flavor will continue to develop.

*Use a thin plastic spatula around the sides of the jar to release any air bubbles.

**If you open a jar and it smells off, toss it away. The good thing about salt brined food is you can easily smell bad bacterial growth, unlike botulinum toxin that can exist in the canning process and has no odor.

This is a basic recipe that can be used on any kind of vegetable that you favor. During the past months, I have tried different combinations of vegetables, herbs and spices and have been delighted by the delicious and eclectic outcome of the process. Here are a few of the combinations I have tried:

Red cabbage and fresh ginger

Green cabbage and caraway seeds

Cauliflower, carrot, green beans, garlic, dill and red pepper flakes

Beets, green beans, dill, red pepper flakes (beets are a great addition as they have a good deal of sugar which adds delicious flavor).

Cauliflower, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), green beans, hot peppers,

Making larger quantities is as simple as choosing a larger food-safe container (plastic, glass or ceramic) and doubling, tripling, etc. the recipe. Sauerkraut is great to make in larger quantities.