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Fermenting Vegetables

By Chef Craig Rodger

Is there anything scarier than intentionally growing bacteria in your food? Why would anyone even attempt it? After all, recipes like these are probably difficult to follow and bound to fail.

Fermented foods like Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kombucha etc. are quite popular right now. They contain “good” bacteria in larger quantities (and a larger variety of strains) than yoghurt, and this bacteria helps to improve the balance of bacteria in our stomach and gut. There is growing evidence that prebiotics (foods high in fibre that bacteria feed on) and beneficial forms of probiotics (the bacteria themselves) improve gut health which in turn can have a positive effect in treating or preventing diseases like inflammatory bowel conditions, colon cancer and obesity. Research has suggested that lean individuals have a more diverse gut biome than obese individuals and eating fermented vegetables is an effective way to improve the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria.

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Another important consideration is how prebiotics, or indigestible fibre, are crucial in maintaining a healthy concentration of acid in the stomach. This is important as a lot of the really nasty bacteria like E. Coli, Salmonella, H Pylori (of “causes stomach ulcers” fame) don’t thrive in acidic environments and it has been shown that reducing fibre in the diet makes the stomach less acidic which can set the stage for potentially damaging bacteria to get a foothold in our gut. For people like us who adhere to the low carb healthy fat whole-food way of eating it really is essential that we ensure we get lots of fibre from vegetables and fruit.

The main reason I love fermented foods is they are simply delicious and my personal favourite so far is Sauerkraut. Here is my super simple, colourful version of this classic pickle. I am a sad case and I actually get quite attached to the sauerkraut once it’s made as I find it so amazing that something so cheap and boring can transform into something so delicious. When it’s made just right it has a clean, delicate pickle flavour with a distinctive scent of blackcurrants. Try it out and get the bug for growing bugs… in your food (will that tagline ever catch on?)

Successful September Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 Red Cabbage
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • 1 ½ tbsp Salt
  • ½ tbsp Chilli Flakes (optional)
  • Olive Oil to form a layer on top

Method

Chop the cabbage into quarters and reserve a couple of the outer leaves for packing the pickle at the end. Finely slice the cabbage and place it in a large bowl (not aluminium). Finely slice the onion and grate the carrot, add to the bowl beside the cabbage. Crush or grate the garlic into the large bowl. Add to the vegetables the chilli flakes (if using), and the salt. To speed up this process, I would recommend using a mandoline to prepare all of the above – just watch your fingers!

Thoroughly clean your hands or wear some food preparation gloves and then begin to “knead” the vegetables for at least 5 minutes until the salt begins to draw the liquid out of the vegetables, this is a crucial step as we need the liquid to come up over the vegetables in order for the bacteria that grows to be the kind that grows without air (more on that later).

Once the vegetables have been massaged, put them into an immaculately clean mason jar and press down quite firmly to pack them in. Pour the liquid over the top and using the cabbage leaves we reserved at the start, push the vegetables down and tuck the large leaves down the side of the jar to keep the sliced vegetables in place. Pour enough olive oil onto the cabbage leaves on top to form a thin air proof layer of oil.

Place a sheet of cling wrap over the mouth of the mason jar and then close the jar with it’s hinge clip. Cling wrap the top of the jar again to ensure it is sealed from the air and your preparation is complete. Find a cool, dark place for your sauerkraut and give it at least 2 weeks to ferment.

You can keep it fermenting longer which will produce a sourer, stronger pickle. Once you have “harvested” your pickle, transfer it to smaller jars and keep it in the fridge – it should last at least a couple of weeks up to a month. Once you have cut your teeth making sauerkraut you can experiment with making different pickles and fermented foods, getting the basics down first will set you up for successful fermenting.

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Avatar Billy says:

    This is super informative! I love your recipe because each chunk of text thoroughly describes the process step by step! If there were pictures included too I would be head over heels for this recipe! I just worry that without pictures I might mess something up! But I think I’ll be able to make this one work. Thank you for sharing! I can’t wait to try this at home.

  • Avatar Sara Kueber McCoy says:

    Adding a layer of oil to a batch of raw veggies is a potential breeding ground for botulism. Olive oil is not acidic enough to inhibit botulinum activity, so if your solids pop up into the oil they provide the necessary water activity, in an anaerobic oil pocket, away from acidic brine..
    hello botulinum toxin potential. Until your raw veggies have fully acidified any oil with a pH above 4.6 is a risk. This is Food Safety 101, you don’t put raw food in oil, even an oil topper, and then leave on the counter!! People have made sauerkraut for centuries without oil toppers as airlocks, invest in an airlock if you want such environment for your lactofermentation projects…..Pickle Pipes, SteriLocks, FermentaCap, Pickl-it jar, KrautSource, or a simple ‘DIY airlock for mason jar’, ‘DIY airlock for Fido’.

  • Avatar Melissa Mellie says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. Fermenting vegetables are good for our body. It helps to control the high blood pressure because it contains the low amount of fiber and carbohydrates.

  • Avatar Terri says:

    Thanks for the simple no fuss technique. I love sauerkraut as well. I did notice when buying purple cabbage sauerkraut one time that the carb/sugar content of red cabbage was high. I appreciate sugar was probably added in this made product but do you think red cabbage is more carby?

    • What The Fat? What The Fat? says:

      Hi Terri,

      it’s likely that the simple carb counts on food often include fibre as carbohydrate, and that most of that carbohydrate won’t be digestible. But fermenting cabbage to sauerkraut will convert most of the sugars in it to lactic acid, acetic acid, and other products of fermentation. The carb content of foods like cabbage is probably only something you need to consider if you’re insulin-dependent and eating a very low carb diet.

  • Avatar Julie Greig says:

    Yum, thanks Craig!

    I’ve just baked yet another loaf of your Low Carb bread from WTF book – it is the best bread! I had it toasted, spread with butter while hot, added my favourite mix of bacon & mushrooms cooked in some butter, add 2 tsp Dijon mustard and 3/4 bottle of cream – simmer til the cream reduces and thickens – pour over the toast. Heaven!

    I really appreciate how you include the carb count with each recipe, very helpful.

  • Avatar Debbie price says:

    In your recipe you don’t burp or have an airlock top you seal yours tight what is the difference

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