Monday, May 11, 2009

Operation: Lacto-fermented Cukes

What to do with a 1.5-foot-long cucumber from a greenhouse vendor at the Greenmarket? You can always enjoy it fresh of course...or slave away making a pointlessly small quantity of pickles...or create a Kramer-style pizza...

OR you can transform it into lacto-fermented sliced cucumbers! I had never had anything like this in my life until I opened my first jar tonight...

It all started Friday evening when I was feeling pretty ambitious in the kitchen. I realized I had all the ingredients necessary to try my hand at lacto-fermenting for the first time, but since I didn't have a meat hammer I would have to go with cukes since they don't require any pounding or pressing to release the juices. I washed and sliced the cucumber, then placed it in a one-quart jar with:
  • 1 tbsp. mustard seeds,
  • 2 tbsp. dried dill (since I didn't have fresh),
  • 1 tbsp. Celtic sea salt,
  • 4 tbsp. whey,
  • and 1 cup filtered water.
I made sure the cucumber slices were covered with liquid, and that the top of the liquid was at least 1" below the top of the jar. Then I closed the jar tightly and let it sit on the counter until this evening when I put it in the fridge (whole cukes will need 3 days on the counter at normal room temperature before transferring to cold storage, but the sliced ones only need 2 days). Lacto-fermented products are supposedly better the more they age (to a certain extent), but I'm not that patient so tonight I decided to try my LF cucumbers. They were very soft, not crisp like pickles, but with this amazing salty-fizzy-dill flavor. They are actually really delicious and leave a refreshingly-effervescent feeling in the mouth, with a pleasant after-taste. They're hard to describe -- you really should try this for yourself. We eat lacto-fermented sauerkraut in our house, and kim chee, but the cucumbers are totally different.

This was so incredibly easy -- seriously anyone can do it. If you hate lifting a hand in the kitchen this is for you since there is nothing more rewarding that spending about 5-10 minutes preparing something and then sitting back and letting lactobacilli do the work for you and produce a completely different product than you started with! Lactobacilli are found on and in every raw veggie and fruit (if I understand correctly), and this process of fermenting creates an environment in which these bacteria can reproduce and preserve the veggie/fruit in question. Whey is needed for preserving fruits in this way, while whey and/or sea salt is needed for preserving veggies. These bacteria are extremely helpful to humans, providing help with digestion (read: less burping, less gas, improved "transit" time, and easy digestion that you don't have to notice or think about), creating a stronger immune system (since our gut is the most important part of our immunity), and actually increasing the nutritional value of the food and your body's ability to absorb the nutrients. Plus they taste great!

If you're still hesitating, consider this:
  • in classic French cuisine, lacto-fermented cucumbers were always served with sausages and other preserved meats -- not only a delicious practice, but a wise one as well since "this vegetable is able to dissolve precipitates of uric acid and thus prevents the formation of stones, often caused by meats and sausages, foods rich in uric acid." -Claude Aubert, Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels
  • a 1999 Lancet study found that Swedish children who ate lacto-fermented veggies had lower rates of asthma, autoimmune disorders, and skin problems; drinking raw milk and avoiding vaccinations provided additional protection
Of course, obtaining natural old-fashioned whey might be a problem (unless you belong to the TNG like we do), so I will post about how to make your own whey from a container of yogurt. Soon, I promise.

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