There’s something about doing things yourself that really makes me happy. Baking bread, creating condiments from scratch, or mixing your own tea blends are all things that I’m gung-ho about. But there’s one food ‘project’ that has really caught my attention lately: fermenting.
My first introduction to fermented foods (not counting the occasional sauerkraut on a veggie dog) was during our honeymoon. We visited the farmers’ market in downtown Austin, Texas which included Buddha’s Brew, a kombucha company with a variety of flavors for sampling. Neither of us had heard of such a thing, but we happily drank up the blueberry version whilst eating tamales and listening to the vendor explain the various health benefits to us.
Fast forward to three years later and nearly every counter in my poor, overworked apartment kitchen is covered in a myriad of jars and bottles containing bubbling ferments. In the last few months (especially thanks to three weeks off in-between jobs) I’ve started to seriously work on developing my fermenting from a fair-weather hobby into a real skill.
So far, I’ve perfected my own recipes—after drawing inspiration from various cookbooks—for lemon-dill sauerkraut, kimchi (see right, blog post coming soon!), and fennel-white peppercorn carrots. Obviously I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can even call myself an experienced fermenter, but I’m excited for the challenge.
Along with just being really delicious, fermented foods have a big health benefit: probiotics. These helpful little gut bacteria can help with an assortment of things, including digestion and boosting your immune system. Every time I have to take antibiotics, no matter the medicine’s strength, I’m always violently ill with a sick stomach. But if I take my meds with fermented foods (I usually drink a glass kombucha in the morning and eat a spoonful of kimchi at night) then my symptoms never get worse than a little nausea. Before, I would run out and purchase these items, but now I can just make my own ferments at home to keep illness at bay.
There are roughly a million other fermentation books that I’d like to add to my cookbook collection, but I’m starting small for now. These are the books that I’ve really been enjoying reading and learning from so far:
Ferment for Good: Ancient Food for the Modern Gut: The Slowest Kind of Fast Food—Author Sharon Flynn has created a career from her passion for fermenting, and you can definitely tell by reading her book. It’s an impassioned beginners guide that covers everything from the equipment you need to what all of the ‘scary’ looking changes are that occur when fermenting foods (most of which are perfectly safe and natural). Not to mention, she has some delicious recipes, most of which come with suggestions on how to mix-and-match ingredients to create your own unique ferments.
Fiery Ferments: 70 Stimulating Recipes for Hot Sauces, Spicy Chutneys, Kimchis with Kick, and Other Blazing Fermented Condiments—This book is hot! Literally. The recipes range from basic spicy relishes to sophisticated-sounding condiments (Habanero Carrot Sauce, anyone?) and each is sure to impress any heat-lover in your life. If you’re worried about making hot ferments and then not knowing how to use them, they’ve covered that too. There’s an entire chapter with delicious-sounding suggestions for using the recipes.
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World-I almost feel silly listing this because it’s such a well known book, but I’m doing it anyway. This is basically the bible of fermenting, written by Sandor Katz, the famed fermentation revivalist who credits these probiotic-rich foods with helping his health after an AIDS diagnosis. At nearly 500 pages, there’s a wealth of knowledge tucked in-between the two covers. Learn about which salts are best to use, traditional methods from a wide range of cultures, how to ferment non-dairy ‘cheese,’ and more!