Monday, 27 April 2020

Jalapeño-Cheddar Corn Muffins (with honey butter)





I wasn't planning on posting this recipe but I whipped these up a few days ago and posted it on my Instagram and my personal Facebook page. They just blew up! Three of my friends scattered across the country have already recreated their own versions of this recipe and a producer from CBS News asked my permission to use the photo for a segment they ran on a morning program about what people are baking under quarantine. I shared them with my roommate and my neighbours and they were a huge hit. I have to say, they're probably the best muffins I've ever made, so after some thought I decided this recipe deserved a feature on the blog.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I hope everyone is currently staying safe and keeping well during this COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global quarantine which we're well over a month into already now. A lot of people are stuck at home, cooking more of their own meals and it's made me realize how important little blogs like this are to help inspire people during times of uncertainty and inconvenience. 

I feel like a bit of a fraud. This isn't really my own recipe. It's a recipe that I used from bon appétit and changed only slightly. The original recipe calls for the addition of fresh corn which I swapped out for jalapeño peppers and grated aged cheddar. Adapting recipes to suit your taste is one of the best parts of homecooking to me. Most of my recipes are ones that can easily be adapted and altered as you wish. One friend of mine omitted the jalapeño and used yogurt instead of sour cream for just one example. I won't bother including this in the recipe because it's very optional but I also added a bit of hot sauce to my wet ingredients. I seeded the jalapeño that I diced and added to the batter for presentation but in doing so I removed most of the heat, which I quite like. Hence the reintroduction of it by way of hot sauce. If you're a fan of spice, like me, you may want to consider that option. I also sliced a whole jalapeño into rings and topped each muffin with one for a personalized touch.



Ingredients


Not-stick vegetable oil spray 
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼  cups cornmeal
¼ cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
2½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
2¼ tsp salt
1½ tsp pepper (or to taste, I never measured that part)
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
3 jalapeño peppers (2 seeded and diced, 1 sliced into 12 rings)
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk
¾ cup sour cream
⅔ cup milk
½ cup (1 stick) of melted unsalted butter, cooled


Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit/205 Celsius and generously coat a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick spray. If you don't have the spray you can use a bit of vegetable oil and and a paper towel to rub it in. 

Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

Lightly whisk eggs and egg yolk in a medium bowl, then whisk in sour cream, milk, and melted butter. The butter should be liquid but cooled enough that it doesn't scramble the eggs.

Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour egg the mixture into the well and add the diced jalapeño and grated cheddar. Use a combination of folding and gentle stirring until the batter is just combined. This is the most important rule to making any muffin. Don't overmix your batter or they won't be lusciously moist. I recommend even leaving it a little lumpy, it will all work out when it bakes.

Divide the batter into the muffin pan to make 12 muffins. Depending on the size of your muffin pan, you may have a little extra batter. Don't fill the cups of the muffin pan much higher than the rim. They will rise on their own and form perfect individual domes that way. 

Gently press a jalapeño ring on top of each muffin. 





Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning halfway until risen and golden brown. 






Allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring the individual muffins to a cooling rack to cool for a few more minutes. Definitely enjoy them when they're warm though. In the original bon appétit recipe they made a honey butter to accompany them. You don't need a recipe it's just a matter of mixing honey with room temperature unsalted butter until you're happy with the level of sweetness and season with a pinch of salt. I really recommend it. The honey butter was literally half of the experience. They worked exceptionally well in this case because the sweetness of the honey balanced with the heat of the jalapeño for a symphony-in-your-mouth effect.

And that's it! Everyone has loved these. I will definitely use this cornbread recipe in the future too, except maybe minus the sugar. That's just a personal thing with me. I prefer my cornbread without sugar but I'll add sugar to corn muffins. I mean, they're muffins. lol

I hope these are just as much of a hit for you as they were for me! 

Stay safe, healthy and well.



B

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Fermented Hot Sauce






I love hot sauce! As someone who eats spicy food every day, hot sauce can really make a dish. For spice lovers, the key to happiness is having a variety of different hot sauces. At least I think so. I've never felt there was a king hot sauce to rule them all. Certain sauces are good for certain things. Having a selection of different sauces is the ticket. Experimenting with variations of fermented hot sauce is the best way to perfect your own. You can be so creative! 

This post is related to a recent post that delves deep into lacto-fermenting vegetables and fruit. I recommend referring to it if you care to learn more about this fascinating process. In this example I'm going to make a fermented hot sauce using a variety of different chili peppers and garlic. There's two whole heads of garlic in this one batch! The cloves from one head are fermented with the chilies and the cloves from another are sliced, toasted in oil and blended into the sauce with some of the oil for flavour and texture. This will help you to get an idea of how the process works. I've been busy experimenting with different flavour profiles so I'll share those in this post as well. I hope that this inspires you to try this on your own. It's fun, easy and delicious. All you need is patience and an appreciation for flavour. 

For your very first hot sauce, I recommend doing something simple. Once you familiarize yourself with a couple of batches you'll get a better sense of what works and how you can play around with the ingredients. The demo in this post is a perfect way to start. Chili and garlic is a classic combination and tends to make a "good on everything" sauce. You can use any chili peppers you want! Use your favourites. Remember that most of the heat (capsaicin) in a pepper is found in the seeds and the membrane inside. For a pepper like a habanero or a scotch bonnet, the heat is very intense. You can remove the seeds and membranes and still end up with a very spicy hot sauce. It really depends on your tolerance and preference. If you're not sure what you can handle, I implore you to start with a milder batch and use that to gauge how you can improve. I happen to be a fiend for spice and my tolerance and appreciation for it is definitely on the extraordinary end of the spectrum. I happen to keep all the seeds and membrane in my batches. It's your call to make (you're the boss of your sauce). Whatever you do, PLEASE wear protective gloves. When working with this many chili peppers at once, it's not worth the risk. That spicy irritant will spread from your fingers to anywhere you touch including your face, eyes, and you don't even want to think about using the bathroom like that. Trust me on the gloves. 

For this sauce I used a combination of different chili peppers varying from very mild to very hot. Among them are scotch bonnets, jalapeño, hot banana pepper, shishito and 2 other varieties that weren't labeled at the market so I'm not 100% sure. Use whatever you like! How much do you need? Enough to fill the jar fairly tightly. So that depends entirely on the contents you choose






For my hot sauce experiments I've been using a ¼ gallon jar (32 oz/4 cups). It doesn't need to be sterilized, but make sure it's nice and clean. Then pack your jar with your peppers and crushed garlic cloves. Roughly chop your peppers to expose their flavours (and make them easier to pack). You don't need to cut them into small pieces. It's all going into a blender at the end. 






Next step is to make a brine using 1 tbsp of salt to 2 cups of water. Your salt cannot contain iodine (so no table salt) or this won't work. Kosher or sea salt works great. Personally I prefer to use fine sea salt because it dissolves the fastest. The water you use has to be clean enough to drink safely. So for me, that's tap water. Depending where you live you may want to use bottled water. Let's review:


 1 tbsp salt : 2 cups of water



This ratio is important because you need just enough salt to kill any "bad" bacteria present in whatever you ferment but not enough salt to kill the "good" bacteria that makes this whole process possible. 


Then top off your jar with the salt-water brine. The idea here is you want to submerge everything in the jar under the brine. But be prepared, it will want to float:








You'll need to add a weight to keep the top of the contents under the brine. If they are left exposed to air then it can spoil and ruin your entire batch. Don't use anything metal as a weight. During the fermentation process the brine will become increasingly acidic and it would take on a metallic flavour in your hot sauce. Avoid using wood either as it's porous and can also spoil. Glass, ceramic or pyrex will work best. I like to use a little ramekin that I fill with brine at the top and that works very well. 






I haven't tried it personally but I've read that you can fill a sealable, plastic bag with water and use that in a pinch. If you're really picky, you can even buy fermentation weights online.

Screw the lid on but not airtight. Leave it a little loose but so that no dust or anything can get in. 

Voilà! You have your very own batch of hot sauce fermenting!



Day 1



Keep your jar somewhere out of direct light and at room temperature. Place it on a disposable towel or in a bowl and replace as necessary. As it ferments, tiny bubbles of Co2 gas will develop in the jar. Enough gas in the jar will create pressure. This is why we leave the lid just a little loose. If needed, the gas can push excess brine up through the lid and it will run down the sides and makes a mess (unless you're prepared with a disposable towel or a bowl).

Even with that precaution, you'll still need to unscrew the lid completely to expel all built up gas once or twice a day (although probably not necessary on the very first day). This process is called "burping" and it's important because if you don't, enough gas could build up to break the jar, cause a big mess and ruin your project. So don't skip this step.




Day 3



At first it will smell fresh and kinda salad-y. After the first couple of days, anything naturally green will dull into a greyer shade. The brine will start to get cloudy (that's totally normal and harmless). The flavour will start to get more sour and this will reflect in the aroma.



Day 6

You may even see some harmless yeast growth in the brine. So long as your contents are kept submerged under the brine and nothing is poking out, exposed to air, you shouldn't have any mold concerns. Mold tends to be fuzzy, a distinct colour and raised. If you see a whitish film develop on top or inside the brine, that's kahm yeast and it's totally harmless. Sometimes, but not always, garlic will start to turn kind of teal or blue. That happened in this example so you can see. It may seem alarming at first, but once again, that's harmless and natural. I'm not sure how to explain it and haven't had the easiest time looking it up myself. But don't worry if that happens to your batch too. It's all good! 




Day 10


After about Day 10 the Co2 production may start to slow down and you may not have to "burp" the jar as much. This is a good sign that your ferment is almost ready. At that phase the aroma will start to give you an idea of what flavour your sauce will have. There will be so much more flavour than you started out with!



Day 14


I recommend you let your hot sauce ferment for 2-3 weeks. It will take patience but it will be worth it. It will really develop the flavours and they will get sour, mingle together, mellow into one and develop little complexities. When fermenting little pickley things I only go for a few days to a week. Also, vegetables and fruit tend to soften as they ferment in brine. I prefer pickley things to have some crunch but if you're going to blend up everything into a smooth sauce that's no problem. 

After 2-3 weeks and you're satisfied with your ferment, it's time to make your sauce!

When you blend the ingredients, you'll need to trickle in some oil. We'll be passing our puréed sauce through a fine sieve. The oil will give the sauce a bit of body and a more luxurious texture. This is the perfect opportunity to add more flavour! 

Slice up at least 8 cloves of garlic (I usually use a whole head, like I did here). Then add them to a small saucepan with ½ a cup of a neutral tasting oil with a high smoke point (like canola or vegetable) over medium-low heat. Gently toast the garlic until lightly golden. Frying the garlic will flavour the oil while getting more delicious and crispy.

If you didn't know this already, garlic burns very easily. So keep a close eye on it. If it burns the flavour will be ruined and you'll have to start over again. The garlic will continue to cook for a little while even after you take them out of the oil so I remove them just before they get to the golden colour I'm after.


   

Remove the garlic from the oil and reserve. Allow the oil to cool down for a few minutes. 

In the meantime, empty the contents of your jar into a sieve over a bowl to catch the brine. Reserve the brine. Be careful, it will be full of capsaicin and very spicy. If you get it on your bare fingers it could burn and spread. 




In a blender, add the fermented chilies and garlic, the toasted garlic, 1 cup of the brine and ½ cup of white vinegar. Pulse in short bursts before blending continuously into a smooth purée. Adjust the levels of brine and vinegar to taste.  

Gently and steadily pour in 3-4 tbsp of the garlic oil (up to a ¼ cup). Personally I like to shoot for just under ¼ cup otherwise it gets a little too thick for the bottles I like to use (with stoppers). 




I always add a big pinch of salt at this stage and then give it a taste. Adjust to your liking. I didn't in this case, but I've added sugar to some of my hot sauce experiments and depending what you're making, this would be the stage to do that as well. That's to taste but 2-3 tbsp is a good gauge. 

When you're happy (and hopefully excited) with the flavour of your hot sauce, pass it once or twice through a sieve and discard the solid pulp.





Clean the bottles/jars of your choosing and fill them with your fresh, homemade fermented hot sauce. I really recommend a funnel for this step. 





I ordered my bottles online and the style came with these little plastic stoppers. These are great because they control the amount of sauce that comes out. This way you can liberally shake and get the exact amount you want. I find that if I use a full ¼ cup of oil in the blending phase it starts to become a hassle to get out of the bottle. If you're not using bottles with stoppers, you may want to disregard that advice. 





I really like the addition of oil because it really perfects the texture of the sauce. So far I've only ever toasted garlic in the oil before I add it, but there's so much more you can try including ginger, spices, onion and other flavourings! You can be so creative and experimental. That's my favourite part about hot sauce making.





Store your hot sauce in the fridge and consume within a few months. The flavour may continue to develop a little but there's enough lactic acid, salt, capsaicin and vinegar to preserve your sauce for a while. Your sauce will continue to ferment in the fridge but at a much, much slower rate. There will also be natural separation so give it a good shake before each use. 

That's all you need to do! It's that easy. Honestly the hardest part is the waiting. It takes some patience but it's a lot of fun and these make fantastic gifts for your family and friends. Homemade hot sauce that you fermented yourself? Come on! I would love that as a gift. lol

Now that you're familiar with how this works, here are some other fermented hot sauces that I've made to help give you inspiration. This has been a new learning experience for me so I'll also share some things I've learned in the process.


Habanero-Garlic Sauce





This was the very first hot sauce I made. For my first experiment I kept it really simple. I only fermented habanero peppers, nothing else. I kept all the seeds in so it was searingly hot (which I love) but admittedly it masked the flavour of the toasted garlic and the oil. For my first sauce, the texture was perfect! It was sensationally tasty as well. I was so happy with how it turned out and this was the one that started it all! lol



1) Jalapeño, Garlic, Sweet Onion, Scallion & a lil' Scotch Bonnet with fresh cilantro and lime juice at the end

2) Hot Banana Pepper, Pineapple, Ginger & a lil' Habanero






My second and third batches I made during the same time. I generally referred to them as my green and yellow sauces. In both of these batches I omitted the oil as an experiment. I prefer it with the oil. Without it, the texture was basically that of Tabasco sauce. Not bad, but I prefer it a little more clingy and a little less runny. Live and learn!





The flavour of the green sauce turned out really nice. I added a couple of scotch bonnets for extra kick because I love spicy heat, although this was one of my milder batches. It's also my only batch where I blended something fresh into it afterward (cilantro and lime juice). It was good but ultimately redundant because it's nice for a couple of hours and then afterward you couldn't really taste them at all. The lime and cilantro quickly became preserved as well and lost that "freshness" that I was aiming for. Otherwise very tasty and perfect for Mexican and Texan dishes. 




The yellow sauce was divine and the one I most want to make again. It was my first hot sauce with a sweet fruit as one of the main ingredients. It was interesting because the bacteria consumes most if not all of the natural sugar and converts it into lactic acid. So the natural sweetness is completely gone. It had more of a sour pineapple flavour but still unmistakably pineapple. In my mind it still registered as a little sweet because of it. The sharp pepperiness of the hot banana pepper went really well with it. I added a couple of habaneros for extra kick but I didn't blend them into the sauce because they were fire-engine-red and I wanted a pure yellow sauce. I even added some turmeric to the final product. The ginger was really nice too especially with the pineapple. Pineapple and ginger both ferment really well. I recommend using them either or both together. 





This is the only batch of hot sauce that I've come up with that didn't include garlic. The next time I make it, I'm going to add oil for texture but I don't think I'll toast garlic in it. Maybe some ginger and a few peppercorns instead. I'm still figuring that part out. I just loved how pineapple and ginger were the star flavours while still remaining quite spicy. So flavourful!





Caribbean-inspired Hot Sauce






This one was special to me because I used scotch bonnet as a main flavour contender and it's my favourite chili pepper of them all. It's very popular in Caribbean dishes so it inspired me to make a Caribbean-inspired flavour profile. This is where I started to get really creative and complex. The ingredient list includes scotch bonnet peppers, mango, ginger, garlic, scallions, lime zest, fresh thyme, peppercorns and allspice berries. This is also the first batch where I used sugar and it worked really well to bring out the mango flavour out of all that fire. Scotch bonnet peppers are incredibly hot so all of the other flavours are more supporting notes. I recommend fermenting strips of lime zest (with as little pith as possible) for flavour rather than trying to squeeze in fresh juice at the end. Yes, you can also add whole spices to your hot sauce ferment! It's another great way to add flavour. I always picked them out before blending though. Just as a personal precaution. Although running it through a sieve at the end may take care of it anyway. Better safe than sorry! This is my spiciest sauce to date but it had so much flavour too. 






Thai-inspired Hot Sauce







This one was a lot of fun and the product of a grocery run at a massive Asian market in town before it closed. I fermented a mix of red and green Thai (or Bird's Eye) chilies, shallots, coconut, galangal, ginger, garlic, Thai basil, lemongrass and star anise. I added sugar to this batch as well which worked perfectly. This may have been my most flavourful sauce. It was almost as if each ingredient was in a line up for you to taste as each one blossomed one after the other on the tongue. The only issue with this batch is a problem I've had with two batches so far and this was the first. Because this batch contained a lot of hearty, robust dense ingredients like coconut, ginger, galangal, lemongrass in particular. When there is too much of this texture, it can lead to an undesirable thickness. Perhaps another round of sieving the final product would have helped. I'm still figuring it out. It tasted phenomenal it was just a little on the heavy/grainy side. I also removed the star anise before blending. I don't recommend fermenting coconut into a sauce. As intriguing as it seemed, it was the least identifiable flavour and only contributed to the texture issue. Imperfect, but not at all ruined. 

Also, a great tip, if you have a batch that has a lot of little seeds or small floaty bits that don't want to stay submerged, you can cut a circle from a cabbage leaf and use that as a lid to place under your weight. It will keep everything submerged underneath as you can see below. 





Smoky Fermented Hot Sauce






This one was a fun experiment! I mean they all are, but this one especially. I love smoky and spicy together. Although I don't find it that spicy, chipotle is one of my favourite flavours (smoked, dried jalapeño). Last January I got some dried chilies as a birthday present and among them was chipotle and smoked/dried habanero (would love to know the Spanish word for that if anyone knows!). I got to thinking about what it would be like to make a fermented version of these. Bacteria needs natural starch and sugar to feed on and ferment. But both of those in a chili pepper are depleted when they're smoked and dried. It doesn't give the bacteria much to feed on so they don't ferment well. It got me thinking, what if I made a hot sauce with the fresh versions (plus garlic, of course) and added the smoked/dried versions as well for flavour. It was spectacular! One of my favourites. I will definitely be trying this method again. Surprisingly, the smoked chilies turned the brine the colour of black coffee. That happened within the first 24 hours! The only issue with this batch is I had that thick/grainy issue like my Thai-inspired sauce. I think after 2½ weeks of sitting in a brine I expected the dried chilies to rehydrate and soften but they didn't end up getting that soft. So the batch had more of that robust quality to it and the texture was a little too brawny. Next time I'll be more careful about how much I add. At the time I was very eager to add the smoky flavour and ensure it was there. 





Again, I really love hot sauces and making my own fermented varieties has ignited a passion within me. I hope it does the same for you! When peaches are back in season in late summer I want to feature them in a batch. I'm definitely redoing the banana pepper/pineapple/ginger one (only perhaps with Scotch Bonnet this time instead of habanero). I've only just discovered the smoked pepper treatment and how well that works. There will be more for sure. 

If you have any questions, please leave them for me below. I'll do my best to answer them. On that note, I'd like to reaffirm something: I love very spicy hot sauce, exceptionally so. My hot sauces are akin to that. I don't want that to turn you off from this if you have a normal to non-existent spice tolerance. Ways that you can make a batch milder are to use milder peppers, remove some or all of the membranes and the seeds, use more aromatic flavourings like onion, garlic, ginger, fruit, herbs, bell pepper, carrot, whatever you want! You are the indisputable boss of your sauce. You can make it anyway you like! 

Happy Fermenting!




Friday, 20 March 2020

Atakilt Wat (Ethiopian Cabbage, Potato & Carrot Dish)







Ethiopian cuisine has a lot of options for meat lovers and an equal amount of options of vegetarians. The meatless options in Ethiopian cuisine quite often feature legumes (lentils, split peas, chickpeas, etc...). My ex, who is allergic to them, and I used to frequent a couple of Ethiopian restaurants and had to avoid legumes in our vegetable dish choices. This is a dry stew of cabbage, potatoes, carrot, onion, garlic, chili and spices that was one of our favourites. It's simple in its concept and preparation but it's very tasty and satisfying. The feature of turmeric also gives it a bright yellow colour which adds visual flare when plated with other dishes. It has fantastic, toothsome textures and the balanced sweetness of the cabbage and carrot pairs well with the starchy, comforting potato. 

I'm going to keep this recipe vegan, but if you like, you could use Niter Kibbeh instead of oil for added flavour and richness. If you are vegan, no worries, this dish already has plenty of flavour on its own. The veggies cook in their own moisture. If they start to stick in the pan before the potatoes are tender, you can add a splash of water or broth. You may not need to. It will depend on your veggies and the lid of your pot. 



Ingredients


2 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp fresh green chili, minced (optional or to taste)
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped
1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Salt & Pepper, to taste



Warm 2 tsp of oil in a pot on medium-low. Sautée the onion, garlic, ginger and green chili gently for about 4 minutes.






Add the cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, salt & pepper. Continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes.








Add the potatoes and carrots and mix well. Cover for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.







Add the cabbage and cover, stirring occasionally for about 15 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender. 







As mentioned before, you may need to add a little water if there's a risk of burning, but the veggies should have just enough water to steam and cook gently. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. 

Serve warm with injera and other Ethiopian wats. 






Although this is a vegan side dish, I must say it paired very well with the meatier wats. Cabbage, potatoes and carrots on their own are all veggies that pair well with meat so the three of them combined is even better. There's something about spices and potato (especially cumin and turmeric) that are so comforting and satisfying to me. This dish delivers that every time. This is always a great wat to have on your Ethiopian food spread. 

I hope you give this one a try!





B


Thursday, 19 March 2020

How to Lacto-Ferment, well, Anything!



Hi everybody! I can't believe this is my first post in almost a year. While I haven't been busy blogging, I've certainly been cooking, branching out and experimenting with new techniques. Several months ago I found a new passion: fermentation. Lacto-fermentation to be more precise. So what does that mean? Fermentation is a form a food preservation that humankind has practiced for millennia. In basic terms, fermentation occurs during the controlled chemical breakdown of a substance using probiotic bacteria and naturally occurring yeasts. Doesn't sound very delicious does it? Well, it is! It's also sensationally healthy for you. 

Fermented foods have funky, sour flavours and often a pleasant effervescence. The most common examples are kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. Fermenting also deepens and develops flavours in things that you didn't even know were there. It's a lot of fun and I really encourage to try it for yourself. You can be so creative!

This process basically involves submerging vegetables (or fruits) in a salt brine. We live and thrive in a world that is boundlessly bacterial. The salinity of the brine is controlled so that the "bad" bacteria cannot survive but the good, probiotic bacteria are unaffected. This gives them the opportunity to feed on the natural starches and sugars without competition. The bacteria converts them to lactic acid (hence the "lacto" part of the name and the sour characteristic) and carbon dioxide gas or Co2. Just to be clear, there is no lactose involved in lacto-fermentation. 

So why are fermented foods so healthy for you? Probiotic bacteria is essential for optimal digestive health. Your digestive system has a complex culture of bacteria throughout it. Our guts love probiotic bacteria. They're the good kind! Fermentation benefits the overall digestive function of our bodies which hosts our immune system. We can all benefit from more fermented foods in our diets. I've been experimenting with a number of things so far and I'm going to share them all with you in this post. Some were more successful than others. Some I can't wait to try again! 

You know what makes a particularly delicious fermented product? Hot sauce! But that will be a whole post on it's own to follow this one. 

Before we discovered the modern way of pickling which involves cooking a seasoned vinegar brine and pouring it over veggies/fruit in sterilized jars; we fermented. Just about anything that can be pickled can be fermented. Unfortunately the presence of vinegar kills the probiotic bacteria, therefore wasting the nutritional benefits. The fermented version of a pickle is the most traditional and much better for you. 



So how do you get started?



1) Decide on what you want to ferment (cucumbers, carrots, onions, chili peppers, etc...) and fill a glass jar with it. 

2) Prepare a salt solution of clean, drinkable water and non-iodized salt. Iodine disrupts the fermentation process so you can't use regular table salt. Kosher salt, Himalayan and sea salt will work just fine. Personally I prefer fine sea salt because it dissolves the fastest. 


1 tbsp salt : 2 cups of water



I've used that same ratio for everything that I've experimented with so far and it's always worked. 

3) Weigh the contents under the brine so they're totally submerged and not exposed to any air (it will cause spoilage). Don't use a metal weight either because the brine will become increasingly acidic and take on the metallic flavour. 






I like to use a little porcelain ramekin as pictured above. I also have a ceramic cube (which is technically a large bead from an old Caribana festival costume) that also works well. I haven't tried it myself, but I've read a few sources that cite a sealed sandwich bag filled with water placed on top will work in a pinch. There are a number of things you can use as a "fermentation weight". If you insist, you can even buy one online. Haha. 


4) Loosely fit with a lid and keep it at room temperature, out of direct light, for a few days to a week. Once or twice a day, loosen the lid to allow the escape of Co2 buildup. This process is called "burping" the jar and it's very important. Otherwise enough gas could build up pressure to crack or even break the glass. True story.

5) When you're happy with the level of fermentation, move your product to the fridge and store it there. This will mostly stop the rate of fermentation and you can enjoy your product for a few weeks. Lactic acid is a natural preservative so your product will stay edible (and delicious) longer. 

If you follow me on Instagram, and of course you should @foodbybram, I have a helpful video highlighted on my profile where I demonstrate exactly how this is done.



OK, but how long do I leave something to ferment for??


That depends on a few factors. Mainly what you're fermenting, the climate where you live and personal preference. 

Robust, hearty vegetables such as carrots and cabbage can ferment for about 7 days.

Lighter, softer vegetables such as cucumber, okra and tomatoes may only need 4-5 days.

For hot sauce, I let the batch ferment for 2-3 weeks, but I'll explain why in my next post.

Fermentation also tends to occur faster in warmer temperatures and slower in colder temperatures. This is important to keep in mind. You may try a ferment in winter that you love and recreate it in summer but have different results. The more you experiment the better you'll be able to gauge doneness. 

The longer something ferments, the more sour and flavourful it will become. Generally speaking, the longer something ferments, the softer it may become too. It all depends on your flavour and texture preference. The best way to tell if something is to your liking is to try it! Let's say you're fermenting carrot sticks, for example. After 6 days or so you've noticed the smell develop and little bubbles have been forming in the brine and you're not sure if's ready. Try one and eat it. If you think you want it a little more sour, a little funkier you can let it go for another day or two. It's totally up to you.


What else should I expect?


During the fermentation process the brine will get cloudy. That's perfectly normal and safe. It's just a sign that the fermentation is doing what it's supposed to. You may also see a filmy, even webby substance that's white-ish in colour form on the top or inside the brine. It doesn't look very appetizing and can be confused with mold. It's called Kahm yeast and is actually harmless and imparts no flavour. If it's on the top of your brine and bothers you, you can simply skim it off and discard it. The rest of your ferment will be just fine. If you leave it in, that's fine too. It's safe to consume. 




 Harmless Kahm yeast culture growing in ferment brine. 



Mold, however, can get you sick. If any mold grows on your batch at any time, you must discard it, including the brine. Mold is generally fuzzy, distinctly coloured and raised. If your batch is completely submerged under the brine, you shouldn't have any mold concerns. It's important to know the difference between harmless yeast and mold. 

I recommend that you place your jar on a disposable towel or in bowl. The carbon dioxide gas will build up pressure during the process and displace a bit of the liquid. It's not uncommon for some of the brine to trickle up, over and down the sides of the jar. A disposable towel or bowl will make clean up a lot easier.

When you've finished with a fermentation experiment, a complex culture of living probiotics will be present in the brine. The brine can be used again in another experiment (and again and again, as many times as you like). Just bear in mind that some flavours from the previous batches will carry on into the next. This can be a great thing. But maybe not, for example, if you make a spicy fermented batch and don't want the burn in your next one.  


Now that we've gone over the sciencey, technical part we can move on to the inspirational part!

Here are examples of some fermentation experiments that I've done in the past. Some were more successful than others, but I haven't tried anything yet that I absolutely hated. Some I've already repeated.




Fermented Dill Pickles








I packed a jar with mini cucumbers, lots of fresh dill, crushed garlic, chili pepper, peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and a bay leaf. After 4-5 days they were very decent half-sour pickles. The thing is, and I knew this already going in, when it comes to pickles I personally prefer the contemporary vinegar-pickling version. Although I added a bay leaf (the tannins present help to keep the cucumbers crunchy), I don't think I would have enjoyed them any softer than they were. They still had a nice crispness but as the "half-sour" name implies, it doesn't have the full-flavour punch of the vinegar version. To go the full flavour version, I think you may have to sacrifice the crunchy texture which is integral to me. Not a bad experiment, but I probably won't repeat this one.







Fermented Tomatoes








OK, wow. These were phenomenal! I really recommend that you give these a try. Especially if you're new to fermenting. I packed a jar with fresh grape tomatoes, fresh thyme, fresh basil, crushed garlic, chili pepper and peppercorns and let them ferment for 4-5 days. The result was the classic Italian flavour profile but so complex and vibrant. As it fermented it smelled like sweet marinara sauce. The skins of the tomatoes remained intact but the texture inside got softer, similar to lightly cooked tomato. Eaten on their own they pop and burst in your mouth. A special treat, especially if you like them spicy.

I used them to make some balsamic-bruschetta and they were sensational!






Fermented Sliced Onion








Umph, another favourite! It's amazing how simple red onion, salt, water and time can make something so delicious. They have an unmistakable onion flavour but with none of the raw harshness. They stay nice and crunchy. They take on sour notes and and deep, umami flavours you never knew were there. They're fantastic in salads and on tacos and sandwiches.








Fermented Jalapeño Rings 










I could eat these everyday. In this particular example, I used the brine from my sliced red onion ferment and used it here. That's why the brine is already cloudy in the first pic. You may have also noticed that fermentation makes vibrant green veggies turn dull and greyish. What it may lack in colour it certainly makes up for with taste. Similar to your standard pickled jalapeño rings, only crunchier and a little effervescent. Another good 5-day ferment. I find these particularly morish. They're perfect in Mexican and Texan dishes. 









"Sauerkraut"









Notice how I put"sauerkraut" in quotations, lol. This is not a traditional kraut at all. The proper way to make it is to finely slice some cabbage, season it with salt and scrunch it up with your hands. This breaks down the cellular structure of the cabbage and draws out the water, which in turn makes its own brine. I just sliced cabbage and poured a sea salt brine over it like my other examples. As a result, the texture was very different. Truth be told, I've never been a fan of sauerkraut. I had avoided it since I was a kid. I was enjoying all of my other fermentation experiments so I thought it warranted giving it a try. Surely homemade would be better. I even added some minced garlic and jalapeño in hopes that it would suit my tastes more. At the end of the day, it was the best kraut I'd ever had but that wasn't saying much. I don't think I'll repeat this. I'm just not a fan of kraut, unfortunately. If you are a fan of it however, I'm sure you'd like it. I don't necessarily recommend that you do the brine-pour method versus the traditional salty-scrunchy method. Although it did make a more toothsome product which you may be into. Even though it wasn't my favourite, it was pretty good on a Reuben sandwich!











Fermented Okra Pickles








Okra is definitely a love or hate thing. Most people can't get past the slimy texture it's notorious for. While I certainly understand the perspective of being opposed to it, I love it. I can't explain it. I had known for a long time that in the Southern United States they pickle okra which was always really enticing to me. I had my first visit to the South just last October (New Orleans, Louisiana) and I managed to get my hands on some. Not surprisingly, I loved it. I tried to recreate it here in lacto-fermented form with garlic and chili pepper. This is now one of my favourite ways to eat okra. It's not quite as slimy as when it's cooked. The exterior remains quite crisp and the inside has a distinct effervescence which goes perfectly with the garlicky spice. I find these to be insatiably snackable.









Fermented Radishes









I tried fermenting sliced radishes. I was really interested in how these would turn out. I love the crunchy, sharp pepperiness of a fresh radish. The deep red colour of the skin bled into the brine staining them all the same pink colour. I let them ferment for 5 days or so. In the end, they were ok. I was a little bummed because I've had versions of Korean pickled radish that I quite enjoy. These lost too much of their crunchiness and even the pepperiness really mellowed out. It's hard to describe, they were just ok. I don't think I'll be making them again. They did work beautifully in salad I made with them.










Fermented Carrot Sticks








Yum! These were another successful one that I could eat every day. These are also great for beginners to fermenting. The natural sweetness of carrots balances well against the sour notes they inherit. I suppose they soften a little but they still remained quite crunchy. In this example I fermented them with fresh ginger, chili flakes and a little liquid smoke. To be honest, the liquid smoke didn't really do much but the ginger was awesome. I think carrots and ginger go well together under any circumstances. This is certainly no exception. Ginger ferments beautifully well. It's a great flavouring for anything you'd like to ferment. Ferment your own gingery carrot sticks and enjoy them with hummus for a spin on a classic snack.









Fermented Long Beans










I've loved any kind of stringy green bean since I was a kid. I gave these a similar treatment as the okra with chilies, garlic and I even added some peppercorns to this batch. These were sensational. So snackable and they'd work great as an accent on a charcuterie board. Fantastic flavour and aroma. They're brilliant to nosh on by themselves but they're also particularly nice in a Caesar. That's a cocktail very similar to what Americans know of as a Bloody Mary only better. What makes it better? A splash of clam juice. Trust me, it's delectable. Canadians take Caesars quite seriously. It's a brunch staple.







Fermented Giardiniera 





Uh, Bram, the 80's called and they want their cauliflower medley back. lol! Giardiniera is essentially that. An Italian pickled salad that's often eaten as a tangy relish, side or topping on a meat and cheese sandwich. I mentioned that I made an instructional video highlighted on my Instragram page on how to ferment. This giardiniera is what I used in the demo. It's cauliflower, bell pepper, celery, shallot, carrot, garlic, chili pepper, peppercorns, dried oregano, cumin seeds and a bay leaf. You can use up any leftover veggies you like. I don't think cumin seeds are traditional but I think cumin and cauliflower are terrific together. They gave a nice, smoky flavour to the whole situation too. 




   



So as you can see, I've been passionately fermenting a lot of different things lately. I plan on making my own kimchi sometime. Although I'll give it the respect it deserves and not do it dirty like I did the sauerkraut. Every now and then I'll get really inspired by an idea and I'll try it. It's so much fun and inexpensive. I'm all about the health benefits and it's tasty too! The more I have fermented, the more I have developed a taste for it. I think the same could happen to anybody. Give this technique a try and be as creative as you dare. 

Fruit can also be fermented like berries, pineapple, mango, peaches, etc... but they don't particularly work as well I find. The bacteria feed on the starch and sugar of the fermented product. Since fruit have so much more natural sugar it ends up losing most or all of the sweetness and gets pleasantly sour. It's interesting, but sometimes when you think of a fruit you think of sweet and when you try it fermented you might be disappointed if you're looking forward to that part. I use fruit more as a flavouring in hot sauces, which I'll talk about more in my next post.


It's good to be back! If you have any questions, please let me know below. I hope this inspires you to try some fermenting of your own. Be sure to take a pic, post it on social media and tag me in it @foodbybram. I'd love to see!


Until next time,



B