Fermented Okra Chips

Vegetable Fermentation

Okra chips is a neat snack to add more of your garden to the cupboard. When re-embarking on putting up our okra this year I recalled an event Ferment Pittsburgh was invited to themed as a slime presentation for kids. A jar of lacto-fermented okra was perfectly oozy for the job. But when venturing to jot this process out for the “net” here I questioned my memory and searched for other fermented okra recipes and astoundingly saw no mention of how the brine transforms very quickly into a thick slime. Weird. Nonetheless, while simply fermented okra is a wonderful slime-encased treat, following up with drying them into chips is a slime-less way to enjoy some deliciously preserved okra.

Process

Lacto-ferment the okra for a few days. Pack your okra whole into a jar with water, add a tablespoon of salt per a quart, and ferment at room temperature either with a lid or a cloth covering, doesn’t matter which but I prefer a lid. It’s August now so I usually go for about 3 days but in cooler weather maybe 5 or so would works to get a nice fermenty flavor.

Strain the fermented okra and perhaps give them a quick rinse if they are difficult to handle from their slime. Then dehydrate either whole or cut into rings. If you’re doing whole a little pierce with a knife will help them dry inside and out.

Then dehydrate according to your preferred method, oven or machine, or hot car window. About 135-ish degrees for around 24 hours, or however long it takes.

The finished okra can be tossed with salt and other seasonings and stored away in a jar.

A Brief Rundown of Eggplants & Fermentation

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Garden egg, Guinea squash, bitter tomato, aubergine, brinjal, gaji, eggplant- whatever you call it- amidst my comprehensive spread of cookbooks and culinary and world history they offer next to no substance save a single customary eggplant recipe or two and move on. Maguelonne Toussaint- Samat’s History of Food, a usual starting point for many-a food research, with an eggplant on the cover of the second edition, offers nothing about eggplant at all, while the other texts say something silly like “Europeans brought it back from India/ Africa. It was bitter.”

The eggplant lineage that we eat at some point split to what we can roughly call eggplants from China or India and eggplants from Africa. They are related, but not the same. Thailand, Japan, etc adopted the China/ India eggplant and then Europe claimed all of them including some of the African ones (making pre-European contact historical research about them quite difficult to do as that’s where a lot of sources like to begin). Researchers believe eggplants were first domesticated in China/ India but those plant’s wild origins came from Africa, where many eggplants still roam wild.

In addition to their excellent fiber, minerals and antioxidants, eggplants are great sponges for fats and sauces. It’s commonly known around these parts too that many eggplants need salted and some rest time to remove their natural bitterness. I first heard it from fancy cook Deborah Madison who thinks we’re dabbing with paper towels because we aren’t eating them fresh. That does seem true, but it’s also worth thinking about red eggplants from Africa who are always bitter and moreso the longer they stay on the stem. Picking early is a way to temper the bitterness, however one Ethiopian writer when describing eggplants never mentions any process to de-bitter it, instead he waxes about how prized the bitterest ones are- I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Deborah also classifies skin toughness by color which, as a grower of eggplants seemed bunk at first but I’ll agree in regards only to green skinned, which also have a neat apple-like tartness. Picked on the younger side seems to make for a more tender skin all around. The lesson here boiled down is clearly to get your eggplants in season from the farmer’s market, rather than the grocery store, but also maybe to consider embracing some bitter?

One of the earliest known writings on eggplants by a Persian scholar from around the 900’s made a big list of reasons not to consume it because of its harm to your health. He then went on to rattle off a slew of great health benefits it offers after it is prepared for eating. And in the 2000’s there was up-to-date confirmation by a researcher from Vietnam who found that fermenting raw eggplant in a salt brine for 8 days purged the anti-nutrients it contained such as tannin, phytate, oxalate, and steroidal glycoalkaloid. Great news considering that since eggplant has such a high water content its perishabilibity is fast on the horizon, that coupled with how we need to buy them in season too, fermentation coming in handy again!

Last year we got really into this pickle & marinate technique for our eggplants. It’s very delicious but just be mindful to not over poach your eggos or they’ll turn to mush in the marinade. But apparently there is also an Eastern-European tradition of doing something similar that’s sometimes called Sour Eggplant. Most recipes describe it as eggplants first roasted whole, then cut in half and stuffed with a shredded carrot mixture (garlic, herbs, etc), then either packed in oil or just left at room temperature covered to allow to ferment and get sour. Otherwise preserving eggplant by lacto-fermentation is a breeze, especially because raw they are quite firm and hold shape and texture no problem. There are also recipes around for things like fermented baba ganoush. While I have made it before I can’t honestly say it was on purpose (though the popular technique is to ferment the eggplant and use that instead of roasted eggplant rather than just forgetting baba on the counter).

Fermented French Fries (& Potato Chips)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

In a makeshift urban root cellar such as we have, the turning of the weather is felt in more places than the breaking of tree buds. While a fermented french fry recipe featured above seems lighthearted and fun, it serves a practical purpose as the tail-end of our stored potatoes also experience an early Spring “bud-breaking” (or spud-breaking?). It works two-fold as what needs eaten needs done with a little more pep, while those potatoes put aside for seed are getting a little pre-sprouting before going in the ground soon enough. The light fermentation adds a more dynamic lacto-pickley flavor to your fries that goes great with traditional condiments, making them worth a try.

Leaving the skin on, cut up the potatoes into your preferred fry shape.

Normally fries get an overnight soak in cold salt water to wash off excess starches. In this case we’ll do the soak as usual, but at room temperature and for a couple more days.

In your fermentation vessel cover the fries with water and add enough salt that the brine has a pleasant lightly salted taste. There’s no wrong answer with salt, except the potatoes will be taking on salt during the ferment, so too much can result in over-salty fries. A light brine enables you to still add salt after frying without overdoing it.

Ferment the fries for a couple days depending on ambient temperature and your preference. We do 4 days in 70 degrees. The potatoes get a nice pungent odor. The final taste is much more restrained than the smell describes so if you’re a lover of the funk, you could keep going. Strain and rinse before you’re ready to fry.

Heat your favorite frying oil- whether that be canola or tallow or other, to 250 degrees and par-fry the potatoes for 7:30 minutes. Work in batches if space in your frying vessel is limited.

Par-fried fries can be held in the fridge to finish for a week or so. When you’re ready for french fries, heat your oil once again but this time heating it to 375 degrees. Cook your fries to your preference, likely somewhere between 2-3 minutes. Strain excess oil and toss with a pinch of salt.

For potato chips follow the same process with these changes/ tips:

Cut whole potatoes on a mandolin- our cabbage mandolin for sauerkraut does the job here. Whether they are thin or thick is up to you.

Ferment the same as with the fries above.

There is no par-frying needed with potato chips. Fry them once in oil at 375 degrees for ~5min or so. The color should be your indicator here. Make sure to move the chips around periodically because they rise to the top and can get some uneven frying. Under-fried parts will be chewy rather than crispy.

Strain and toss in salt, or maybe your favorite spice blend.

Fermenting Homegrown Flax into Linen

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It’s said that the first automated spinning machine helped kick start the industrial revolution. The practice of spinning fibers itself came from a rudimentary toolset such as a stick and a small weighty rock that was invented independently all over the world as separate cultures birthed their own thread spinning traditions. And this simple act of spinning, spinning, and spinning fibers, over and over made clothes, bags, and sails for ships to launch out to sea, which using a non-automated spinning wheel would take around 4 and a half years to spin. Flax is believed to be one of the absolute earliest cultivated plants and one used for its fiber. But in order for the world to hop on the back of flax to fully spin out of control it needed fermentation to carry it from plant to fiber, from flax to linen.

Growing

In growing habit flax is a cooler weather loving plant so is often sown in the spring in Western Pennsylvania. It has thin strong stalks that reach maybe around 3’ or so. They can be broadcast but doesn’t compete well with weeds. Flax grown for fibers are sown close together to discourage the plant from branching. Conversely if it’s the oil-rich seeds that are desired, give em a little more space. After around 100 days the plant begins to yellow (round mid-July) and the plants are pulled, by hand, with root and all to maximize the fiber length.

Processing

The stalks are laid out to dry for a few weeks (after which threshing can occur to save or obtain the little flax seeds by carefully whacking the stalks). And now things start getting good and rotten.


Next comes the stage of retting. Linen is a bast fiber meaning that the fibers are collected at the phloem, or inner bark, part of the stem. Incidentally the xylem (outer woody part) and phloem are bundled together by pectin which need broken down to separate out the desired fibers.

The word retting is thought to originate from rot, our dear friend to fermentation. A prolonged saturation of the plant causes the cells around the phloem to burst which in turn invites microbes to come and work on the carbohydrate-based pectin, and this action frees the cellulose fibers from its woody stalk.

Attention must be taken at this stage as under-retting won’t cause proper separation, and over-retting can disintegrate the fibers. Verifying success comes through testing to see if when you break the stalk you see the fibers separated.

Retting

There are several methods to ret. The first is dew retting where the flax is simply laid in thin layers on the grass to rot with the accumulated morning dew, dry out during the day, and repeat. This can take a while, upwards of a few months and produces a darker gray color.

Another way is to submerge the dried flax plants in a pond or stream weighed down possibly by rocks. On a large enough scale this method has been trouble for fish and has led to various bans of it overtime. It’s much quicker, taking maybe a week and a half or so and produces a more blonde color.

The way we chose for our trials, and by far the stinkiest is by submerging the fibers into a stagnant pool. This was done in a large tub. And since we used just hose water, we also dumped a cupful of pond water in as a sort of starter culture to ensure some microbial activity. With a lid on top to keep the water from evaporating in the summer sun the smell was horrendous and beautiful. It took about a week and then the stalks were taken out and dried again.

Fibers Emerge

At this point the dried stalks are ready to be broken and shattered which should free the long thin fibers from the woody parts of the plant. It’s quite magical to watch the beautiful blonde fibers released from the bondage of their wooden cell. This is also a step we might save for another time, and instead shove the prepared stalks into the basement to await a winter day when there’s more free time to complete the process.


All the steps to processing hereafter are involved enough themselves and perhaps too much to go into here. We took on flax growing a few years ago and tackle it as a project to gradually develop. A couple years later and finally this winter we got to find out what spinning was all about. For that we took a handmade ceramic fermentation weight that happened to have a hole through the middle and jammed a dowel rod into it, then bent a nail at the one end to act as a hook. The pros recommend a cd and dowel rod to get started. And clumsily off we go to spin, spin, and spin, to cherish the perspective replaced by a now automated process that is mostly taken for granted.

Homemade Tempeh

fermentation

Quick n’ easy Ferment Pittsburgh take on making homemade tempeh- in any shape.

Give your choice of bean or beans a good long soak, ~12 hours or so.

Cook the beans in boiling water, being careful to not overcook them. You’re after a bean that holds its shape. Its okay if it’s a tad undercooked, al dente works great. Mushy beans not so much.

Drain the beans and spread them out to dry and cool off a bit. Spread them out on a clean towel does a nice job. In the end you want the beans to be dry to the touch and about warm-lukewarm temperature. At this point add your tempeh starter at the suggested rate of your starter and mix well in a bowl.

Before you incubate you’ll need to pack the beans up so the fungi can knit them together into a cake. All that is required is covering enough to keep the beans humid and some air holes for ventilation.

You can place your beans in ziplock plastic sandwich bags with holes poked in them every inch or so to accomplish the classic tempeh cake look. A shallow pan like a casserole dish works well too, perhaps with a lid of cling wrap with a few holes poked here and there. Or better yet, why not make it a shaped cake pan? Below is Tempeh Wonder Woman.

This is one here is just a plastic bag filled with inoculated beans and incubated.

Incubate the beans in a humid environment at around 86 degrees for 24- 48 hours. If you’re using a pan or dish, the oven or a dehydrator could work well. This incubator tutorial using a lamp is our preferred method. However in the winter time a radiator is perfect and in-season.

The tempeh is done when the white mycelium has knit together and smells fresh and fungal. If let gone too long darker colors will develop and so will smells and flavors maybe more preferable to hard-core tempeh aficionados.

Lacto-Fermented Snowflake Ornaments

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Imagine replicating the infinite wonder of a snowflake’s crystal structure in a fermented vegetable.

Process

Follow the technique for “Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind.”

After week or more of fermenting, drain the excess brine from the grated veg by squeezing it out as best as you can.

Then arrange the vegetables into basic circle and star-like shapes on a tray and dehydrate according to your preferred method. Keep in mind that you’ll be dehydrating a fermented product so there will be a prevalent scent abound.

A good tip is to pack the shreds dense enough so that can knit and your shape will hold together well. Wreath wire was then used to make the loops to complete the ornaments.

This idea was inspired from Kiriboshi daikon, which are strips of shredded daikon preserved through dehydration and are a great addition to winter soups.

Enjoy!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Grated Lacto-Fermented Vegetables of Any Kind

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Typically root vegetables are the proper candidates for grating into a lacto-ferment. That is because they are firm and contain enough water to complete the process self-contained. I often refer to these ferments as slaws, which may be another good way to picture them. They are a great companion for garnishes and dressing food up from hot dogs to salads and soups, or even as a simple stand alone side with maybe a kiss of olive oil.

Batches can be made with a single variety or a blend like carrots & beets, and then dressed up with herbs, hot peppers, garlic, or other seasoning combinations that move you. Consider any root vegetable to employ: beets, radishes, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc.

Process

Clean and trim the veggies.

Grate with a common kitchen grater. Then mix with salt by adding according to your taste preference.

Pack the mixture with any run-off brine into a jar, crock, or other container. Cover with a lid or cloth and ferment at room temperature.

Be sure to keep the veggies submerged in the brine as needed.

I leave my “slaws” out indefinitely, leaving them on the counter until they eventually get all eaten up by dolloping a heap here and there throughout the winter.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Making A Sauerkraut Tradition (general kraut tutorial)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Sauerkraut is easily the number one food we eat in the winter. With fall rolling through we make a huge batch annually to use with almost every meal. A long slow simmered sauerkraut is the perfect canvass to marry with anything in the cellar- roots, potatoes, sausages for comfort all winter long- with a big dollop of yogurt.

We make ours in quantities that fit into 5 gallon buckets and if you were interested in doing the same, Home Depot and Lowes sell a white food grade 5 gallon bucket and lid in their paint section. I know food grade plastic is less than ideal but our house in an urban row stays pretty mild. The buckets with snap lids wonderfully safeguard the kraut from getting too gnarly, being a fly residence, and keeping the smell from filling the house. The 5 gallon size also accommodates 50# of fresh green cabbage perfectly. Having an abundant amount makes using it often as easy as remembering it’s there.

For sourcing your cabbage and other assorted veggies, if you’re making a large enough batch you might sell out the farm stand. Give the farm a call ahead of time and ask for a bulk order. If they have it they’ll be happy to accommodate. And then you’ll have no need to buy any of that out of season cabbage from the grocery store this winter.


The creative whim that can go into a sauerkraut from spices, herbs, fruit, and different vegetables is really special. I hope your creativity can be your guide whether you are making a pint, a quart, or more. We tend to make a bulk “traditional” batch, and portion smaller amounts off for making something more eccentric.

Here’s The Sauerkraut Process

Peel off any weird outer leaves from your green cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half to remove the core, then proceed to slice the cabbage into ribbons or whatever shape you’d like.


Mix with salt, let’s say 1 & 1/2- 2tsp per a pound of cabbage, but salt to whatever is your taste preference, there’s no wrong answer. Then massage, pound, stomp, or club your cabbage until its giving up its water.

Now pack the cabbage and its brine into your fermenting vessel of choice, pushing it down so that all the cabbage is in brine. Be careful not to overfill as it will rise and possibly spill over, so give a couple inches of headspace.

Either affix a lid or place a weighted cover and then a cloth draped over to keep the cabbage under the brine and the bugs out. I really like fixing a lid on top. It takes most of the work out it things. The Co2 that results in fermentation will protect the kraut from oxygen. Contact with oxygen carries the risk of mold growth and mushiness. Without a lid the Co2 doesn’t get trapped and maintenance to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine will be necessary. With the right amount of headspace in a bucket with a lid, we’ll just move it to a cool area and not touch it until we start tapping into the larder around Thanksgiving.

In the fall it’s really nice to take advantage of the mild days and cool nights by leaving the kraut outside in a shady area to ferment. We only bring it in once it starts getting too cold, then it move into the cellar or a cool corner of the house where it slowly disappears every day, one scoop at a time.

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Ferment Hot Pepper Flakes (& Hot Sauce)

fermentation, Vegetable Fermentation

Fermented hot sauce can be a complicated or quite simple affair, but is indisputably indispensable for bringing your winter stored potatoes, squash, and beans to life. My preferred method is just pureeing hot peppers with a little salt, letting it ferment, and donezo! That works well with fresh peppers but you can also ferment them submerged in a salt brine if they’re dried. Though if you want to take your fermented peppers one step further, try making fermented hot pepper flakes from your fermented hot sauce.


It’s a pretty open door as to how you might want to get creative with making your fermented hot sauce. Add a clove of garlic (or maybe roasted garlic) to your puree, or a hunk of onion, perhaps some garden herbs like oregano. Follow you gardens and markets.


A great little trick is fermented hot pepper flakes. These pepper flakes are a fun addition to a pantry, sneaking a hot and tangy zing to your foods, and super easy to do, while stretching one product into two. Instructions are below, just be sure to do your drying outside if possible or where there’s good ventilation!

Fermented Hot Sauce Method

1. Clean and destem your choice of fresh hot pepper or hot pepper medley. Prepare any other ingrdients: garlic, onion, fruit, herbs, etc.
2. Grind everything together in a food processor or blender. Add a bits of water as necessary to get a fully purred slurry to a nice slushy consistency.
3. Stir in salt for a 3% brine, so that’s about 1-3 tablespoons per a quart of slurry.
4. Ferment with lid on or off according to preference. I like to do the lid on and burp it every few days to keep the weird films from developing on the surface. Without a lid make sure to stir it up every few days.
5. Ferment to your preference, maybe 1 week, maybe a few months. Pack it away in the fridge to store when or cap it at room temperature with a snug twist sealing lid.

Fermented Hot Pepper Flakes

  1. After your hot sauce is done fermenting strain out the solids using a fine mesh strainer.
  2. Bottle up your hot sauce liquid, then dehydrate the solids using your favorite method. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can dry it with a regular old fan or in the oven at the lowest setting. (The oven will require some close monitoring and frequent stirring. A fan might be better done outside.)
    3. Be sure to break up the fermented solids every so often when dehydrating as they will clump together. Also be careful as the drying fumes could be intense!
    4. Grind up the dried solids or break up with your hands and store away!

*Most of these posts are resources for Ferment Pittsburgh’s monthly newsletter that features seasonal ideas, techniques, and musings. Consider jumping aboard?

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Wild Fermented Berry Country Soda

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We are in berry season and who doesn’t love a refreshing bubbly water. This recipe is great for blemished, damaged, or overripe strawberries, blueberries, raspberries  or fruit of any kind. It does not disappoint! This process came by accident on a bike touring trip where I stumbled across a sprawling wild berry patch. I picked a bunch into a mason jar for eating later but it macerated and fermented as I rode that day in the hot sun. The recipe has been refined since then but still doesn’t beat the original that was cooled overnight by being submerged in a river.

  1. Pack ripe, crushed berries into mason jar maybe about 1/3 of the way.
  2. Top with water and tightly secure screw lid.
  3. Leave out in the hot sun or counter for a day or two. Keep an eye out for a heavily bulging lid- that’s the sign we’re looking for.
  4. Place jar in the fridge to chill. (Tip: liquid absorbs carbonation better at colder temperatures, you can even roll the jar occasionally to distribute the Co2.)
  5. Enjoy your naturally carbonated, naturally sweetened sparkling beverage!