If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Culturing my own vegetables seems like a good idea, but I’m afraid to try it,” I’m here to help. When I first read The Body Ecology Diet and discovered how healthy cultured/fermented vegetables are, I wanted to make a batch right away. But let’s face it. For a modern American, leaving food out on the counter for a week is pretty scary. Actively promoting bacterial growth? Even more frightening. So, although I was open-minded about the whole thing, I still needed to overcome some internal resistance. I reallydidn’t want to bring about my untimely death. To calm my fears, I fired up the trusty ol’ Internet (slight sarcasm intended) and scoured the web for step-by-step pictures. Much to my shock, I simply couldn’t find any. I did uncover some useful tips, but photographs illustrating the whole process were nowhere to be found.
I’m here today to change that. As of June 10, 2008, anyone with the search engine skills to find it can view a full cultured vegetable tutorial with lots of photographs. Granted, the photos may not be stunning, and someone else will likely come along and do an even better job than I have, but I think this is a good start.
Before you begin looking through the tutorial, I can’t emphasize enough how easy it is to make cultured vegetables. It’s so simple! You may see a lot of steps below, but that’s only because I’m trying to break it down enough that you feel comfortable at each stage of the process. After one or two runs, you’ll fly through the entire procedure, including cleanup, in an hour and a half or less.
Please do give cultured vegetables a chance. They are full of extra vitamins (more are manufactured during the fermentation process than are present in the original vegetables), enzymes, and probiotics. Regular consumption of this superfood will improve your digestion and absorption of food, boost your immunity, help keep Candida at bay, and improve your bowel health. They also work remarkably well for satisfying sweet cravings. I had read this and didn’t believe it, but I have found it to be effective after all. The sour taste itself becomes almost addictive. For more information on the health benefits of cultured vegetables and other probiotic foods, pick up a copy of The Body Ecology Diet , or consult The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin or Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Please note, however, that I am following the Body Ecology method, which means I do not use any salt in the preparation. (You can find out more on that here.)
Because I’ve used so many photographs, I’m dividing the tutorial into 2 parts to make it easier for you to view (less loading time). You’ll find part 1 below. Happy reading!
1. Begin by placing a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
Only do this if you wish to sterilize your equipment. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to bring this much water to the boiling point, so do it now before you worry about anything else. Also lay a towel next to the pot. (Because this one holds 12 quarts, I only filled it halfway. Using a giant stockpot like this and filling it partway reduce splashing.)
I am not convinced that sterilizing the equipment is necessary. After all, people around the world have been fermenting foods for thousands of years without it. Since Body Ecology maintains that it is essential, however, I’m trying to set a good example with this batch. You can make up your own mind about this step.
2. Gather your equipment and supplies.
As seen in this picture, you’ll need a blender (kindly lent to me by a friend, since mine doesn’t have a lid anymore, thanks to my evil adorable golden) and a food processor with a rotating blade, a shredding attachment, and a slicing attachment. If you don’t already have a food processor, I must say that I really like my Kitchen Aid. One of our most helpful wedding gifts, it feature a generous 12-cup capacity, operates quietly, and cuts through carrots like they’re butter. To get your own, go here.
You will also need the following supplies (clockwise from front left):
a stack of kitchen towels and dishcloths
a couple of very large bowls (stainless steel or glass ones are helpful because they don’t stain)
mason jars (available at Wal-Mart and hardware stores)
a small bowl
a canning funnel (order one here)
a long pair of tongs
distilled water (not shown)
Now gather the supplies you’ll need for your culture starter.
The foil packet is a culture starter ordered from Body Ecology, the honey is for giving the culture a little food, and the bottle is a product called Innergy Biotic. It is a fermented beverage created by and sold through Body Ecology. Although quite expensive, I decided to order some after reading about its potential as a culture starter. This is my first experience with it, so I don’t know how the veggies will turn out. Just from drinking it, however, I can tell you that it tastes delicious. It’s the perfect healthy substitute for soda. (Maybe when I’m pregnant and trying to beef up my probiotic consumption even more, I can justify the expense.)
If you don’t have honey on hand, you can use sugar instead. The bacteria will eat all of it, so don’t worry about it ending up in the final product. Furthermore, if you don’t want to use a culture starter, use whey from homemade kefir or yogurt or homemade cultured buttermilk, per Sally Fallon’s advice. I once prepared cultured veggies without any of these options, and they still turned out fine. That said, I’d rather not risk it in the future. I will always use some kind of starter from now on, whether I use an official, packaged starter or just some whey.
Also collect your veggies at this time. The exact combination of vegetables you use will vary based on your recipe, but here is a photograph of the ones I used yesterday. Whatever you decide upon, do take this opportunity to get everything together in one place before you begin making a mess.
Also note the large cutting board. You’ll need one of those too.
3. Get the culture…culturing.
Open your packet of culture starter and pour it into a bowl. Add distilled water and some honey and stir to dissolve. The liquid above is dark because I couldn’t get my honey to pour and used Sucanat instead. No worries. Set the bowl aside, perhaps on top of the fridge, and let the beasties grow a little. You need to use distilled or highly purified water for this, or the chlorine and fluorine in tap water will kill the bacteria. (The Innergy Biotic doesn’t need any preparation.)
4. Sterilize your equipment, if you wish.
Your water should be boiling (or close to it) by now. Remember those tongs? Use them to dip each non-food item you’re going to use into the water.
Set aside each piece on the clean towel you laid out earlier.
Continue dipping all jars, utensils, and other equipment. The pieces will dry very quickly since the hot water evaporates rapidly.
5. Wash your vegetables thoroughly.
6. Shred your shreddable vegetables.
This is where the fun begins. You finally get to make a mess! (Or not, if you clean up as you go.) Fit your food processor with the shredding attachment, then cut up the vegetables enough to fit through the feeder. For this batch, I shredded carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Here’s how that large bowl looked when I finished this step:
Pretty, isn’t it? Unfortunately, though, it’s getting quite full. This is why you need more than one giant bowl.
7. Slice your cabbage.
First, peel off several outer leaves from your cabbages. It’s okay if they tear, but try to keep them somewhat intact. Set them aside in a bowl.
Now prepare your cabbages for processing. If you’ve never done it before, you may be wondering how to cut up a cabbage. Here is my preferred method. Begin by cutting a cabbage into quarters vertically:
Now pick up one quarter and stand it on end:
Take a large knife in your other hand and slice out the core:
And this is what you’ll end up with:
Cut the cabbage into thinner wedges or chunks (whichever fits into your food processor). Change the food processor’s attachment to one that produces thin slices and feed the cabbage through it. This is what you end up with:
(A second bowl full of green cabbage is not shown.)
8. Finely chop your remaining vegetables and flavorings.
Fit your processor with the rotating blade and mince any onions, garlic, ginger, jalapenos, or herbs you’re using. For this batch, I just used onions and garlic. Since you often have to use a lot of garlic for these recipes (1 to 2 heads), it helps to know an easy-peel method. I learned this technique on a cooking show several years ago.
After separating the cloves, set a single clove on a hard, level surface:
Take a chef’s knife and lay the flat side of the blade on top of the clove (you’ll want to completely cover it with the knife when you do this yourself):
Take the heel of your free hand and press down firmly on the knife directly over the clove until you hear or feel a pop or a crunch:
That sound indicates that the skin has split and, most likely, has been pushed away from the flesh. This makes it infinitely easier to remove. Once you practice a bit, this process goes very quickly. Dump all the cloves into the food processor at one time and pulse to mince them.
9. Mix up the vegetables.
This can be tricky, since I’ve never seen a single bowl large enough to accommodate everything at once. I have tried several methods before, but what I did for this batch worked the best. First, I cooled down the giant pot I had used earlier by filling it partway with ice and water. Once chilled, I dumped out the ice water and added the vegetables in layers. Then I thoroughly mixed them with my hands. Finally, because I wanted to season my vegetables two different ways, I took out half of the mixture and placed it in another bowl.
Click here for Part 2 of the tutorial.