Burdock Carrot Kimchi

In the past (before grocery stores and global shipping) February was a hungry month. It was a time when the winter stores were thin and the fresh tender greens were only beginning to poke through the earth. Many cultures relied on their fermented stores to provide them with fresh crunchy tastes and vitamins. 

Our winter eating challenge is a little different now. Our dilemma is knowing what to choose from the cornucopia we have available to us. (Fresh raspberries in winter—how far did they travel?) Seasonal eating in the temperate climate, at the latitude where you live, can leave you looking at a lot of root vegetables in February. One of these roots is the homely burdock, or gobo (its Japanese name), which looks like a dirty stick next to the bright carrots and crimson beets. Go ahead, look twice at this root. It is healthy and makes a delicious ferment. You’ll find it in the vegetable section of natural-foods stores. Look for roots that are still firm, not limp like an old carrot. Select those that are about the thickness of your thumb; any bigger than that and they tend to be woody. 

The reputation of burdock, or, as it’s called by its botanical name, Arctium lappa, bounces between nuisance weed to flower gardeners and essential to herbalists and chefs. 

Burdock has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. It’s said to aid digestion and alleviate arthritis and some skin disorders. This list goes on, and the reason is that this “weed “belongs to the class of herbs known as adaptogens, which work to balance the system. This group of high nutritive and medicinal broad-spectrum plants includes perilla, spikenard, nettle, and ginseng.

As a biennial in its second year of growth, it can be seven feet tall, its many branches sporting mature seed heads that reach out and command attention by sticking to the passerby—hence the nuisance weed reputation. You can hardly read anything about burdock without the anecdotal tale of its role in the invention of Velcro. 

1948. Switzerland. Walking dog. Burs stick to dog. Mind wonders. Microscope reveals hooks. Violà. George de Mestral invents Velcro. Not to be left out, it has been included here—along with a recipe for Burdock Carrot Kimchi:

Violà. Burdock-Carrot Kimchi

Burdock oxidizes to an unappetizing gray-brown when shredded and exposed to the air. Although in the beginning, the color makes you think the burdock must have been scraped off the forest floor, after some hours in the anaerobic, soon-to-be-acidic environment of the brine, the brighter color of the freshly shredded root returns. 

We find this condiment to be a perfect and tasty way to incorporate burdock into our diet. It’s a satisfying snack in the middle of the afternoon — a dollop of Burdock-Carrot Kimchi and a few slices of raw cheese.

Makes about 2 quarts 

We like our kimchi spicy, but we leave just how hot up to you. 

2 pounds burdock root, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise

2 pounds carrots, thinly sliced crosswise

1 bunch scallions, greens included, cut into 1-inch slices 

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Crushed red pepper flakes, or unsalted gochugaru , to taste (use a pinch for a mild flavor to 1 tablespoon for fiery-hot)

1– 1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or  1/2 cup fish sauce

Combine carrots, scallions, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Peel the burdock root and thinly slice crosswise; then quickly squeeze on the juice of the lemon, to help the root retain its color. Add the burdock, lemon zest, and pepper to the bowl, mixing to combine.

Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the salt or fish sauce, working it in with your hands; if you are not getting much brine, let sit, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes. Taste for salt. It should have a slightly salty flavor but not an overwhelming saltiness. Add more salt if needed. Then toss and massage again for a few minutes to get everything mixed. At this point you should see brine at the bottom of the bowl. Transfer your vegetables into a jar or crock, a few handfuls at a time, pressing to remove air pockets. More brine will release, and you should see brine above the veggies.

Top the ferment with a 1-quart Ziplock bag. Press the bag down onto the top of the ferment, fill it with water, and seal. Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 7-14 days. 

Check daily that the vegetables are submerged, (remember the veggies need to be anaerobic) and scoop out any scumthat develops. Using a utensil, you can start to test the ferment after one week. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s pleasingly sour, the flavors have mingled, and the pungency of the kimchi spices have developed. Tighten the lids and store in the fridge. This ferment will keep, refrigerated, for one year.

Kimchi Season

In Korea late October or early November is the fall pickling season.  Kimchi is an important aspect of Korean cuisine—it is served with just about every meal. There are fermented flavors for different occasions and a taste for every palate—sophisticated, fruity, crunchy, pungent, sour, mild, refreshing. Varieties may include everything but cabbage—how about buckwheat sprout kimchi or squid kimchi?
In light of the season we thought we’d share some things you may not know about venerable kimchi.

Top Ten Random Kimchi “facts” (and facts is loosely defined)

10. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
During gimjang, or kimjang, (kimchi season) many employers give their employees bonuses to facilitate a good time shopping for piles of kimchi ingredients.

9. Imagine Mountains of Napa Cabbage (and Peppers and Garlic—Oh My!)
All this shopping for cabbage, garlic, ginger, peppers, and radishes takes place at farmer’s markets that spring up all over the country this time of year.

8. Celebrate
In Gwangju, South Korea there is an annual Kimchi Festival—which you missed this year. It was at the beginning of October. Maybe your travel plans will land you at the 21st annual next year. I have seen parade pictures that include mascots dressed as Napa cabbage.

7. Field Trip
There is of course the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul whose mission is to educate the world about kimchi. One of the sections includes dioramas for each step of the kimchi making process. Or, if you are the literary type the library boasts over 2000 books on the subject.

6. Disease Fighting
During the 2005 outbreak of bird-flu scientists at Seoul National University lead a study that fed infected chickens kimchi to test its effects on their health. A week later, 11 birds had begun recovering. "We found that the chickens recovered from bird flu, Newcastle disease and bronchitis. The birds' death rate fell, they were livelier and their stools became normal," said Professor Kang Sa-ouk.

5. Care Packages Korean Style
Mothers of Korean soldiers being deployed to Vietnam in the 1960s weren’t sent off with cookies—but with onggi pots filled with kimchi.  In 1967 a diplomat visiting Washingon was said to have missed kimchi more than his wife. 

4.  Kimchi is Out of this World
When Korea sent its first astronaut to the space station they felt he must go with kimchi. It turns out kimchi posed a bit of an issue to turn into spacefood. There was concern about bringing the bacteria into space—partly due to contamination and partly do to fear of explosions with the pressure changes. One team developed inert kimchi cans, another in plastic packaging.

3. How Much Kimchi Do You Eat?
Per capita, South Koreans eat 77 pounds of kimchi per year.

2. Kimchi-fed Eggs
If you have backyard chickens and want to try something it is said that you can feed them kimchi—there are specialty egg producers feeding kimchi, or at least the resultant lacto-bacillus to their hens. I have read online claims of healthier hens with healthier eggs. Some even claim the eggs contain lactobacillus. I must admit this seams farfetched that the lactobacillus lands in the eggs but I can’t account for the science either way. I can tell you when I go through the effort and expense of making kimchi the last thing I would do is feed it to chickens. That said…

The pig who didn't like spicy kimchi

1. Pigs Don’t Like Spicy Kimchi
When we first made kimchi commercially we had a gallon or so of peppery-brine left at the bottom of the crock after packing countless jars. (Now I know the stuff is an elixir of the Gods—but at the time it seemed like excess.) We decided to take it to our pig who enjoyed all manner of scraps and gobbled up our cheese making whey. He dug his snout into his trough and drank the brine, when he came up his mouth was open and he ran to his water bucket. We dumped what was left in the trough and brought him apples as an apology.

Pickle Babies :: Fermenting the season's end

Baby Pickles - From garden to brine, pre-fermentation

In the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, the weather and I are dancing—two-stepping in and around the autumnal edge of the garden—the killing frost. A cloudy day means I can push cleaning out the garden one more night and one more day of ripening fruit. A clear sky in evening after a glorious fall day often means that frost will skitter across the landscape. Some mornings before sunrise I stand with the brittle chilled hose spraying ice-cold water on plants to abate the coming damage. Because of the terrain and waterways it has frosted a few times in the last week but not landed in the garden. Beyond a few cold singed high flung top leaves of the squash plants, the hard frost has not landed as a death blanket across the tender annuals. I still had time.

It is of course double edged like most things in life—oh please frost take out the endless stream of work, picking and preserving—but it is also the end of homegrown warm season bounty. Often, even the years when I don’t think I can possibly pluck another morsel, lift another crock or empty a steaming hot canner, the threat of frost spurs me on. I can’t see food go to waste. I drag flat boxes, buckets and baskets to fill as every last green tomato, pepper and basil leaf gets harvested.

This year the cooler, damper temperatures brought with them a flush of garden activity. Squash and cucumber plants hardly productive in August sprouted new flowers and fruit in one last effort to fulfill their task of birthing seed. These pinky thick zucchini, the quarter-sized patty pans, lemon cucumbers, the dimensions of maybe a walnut, will never reach maturity. But they are abundant, can be eaten at any stage and make wonderful bite sized pickles. 

Fermentation happens - three days in brine, notice CO2 bubbles in dill seed head

Fermentation happens - three days in brine, notice CO2 bubbles in dill seed head

End of the garden medley (where bite-sized veggies shine)

Makes one gallon

a few pounds of mixed (any combination) immature squash and cucumbers, enough to fill a gallon jar to the shoulder,
10 or more whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pickling spice or:
1½ teaspoons mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon dill seed, or better a couple of fresh dill seed heads
2 bay leaves
3—4 whole hot dried red pepper such as cayenne

Prepare Brine:

3/4 cup unrefined salt

1 gallon water

optional: grape, oak, or horseradish leaves to top ferment, the tannins will help keep things crunchy

If the squash still have their blossoms, you can pickle them as well. Take care that they are still whole and not wilted. Rinse off any dirt.

You don’t want any part of the blossom if using cucumbers. Scrub them in water; take care to trim the stem and make sure the blossom end is clean as it contains an enzyme that will soften your pickle. Crush the garlic cloves slightly with the back of knife, just enough to break them.

Pack veggies into a few wide mouth jars, or a 1-gallon jar. (If using a crock, you will pack into jars later.) Mixing in garlic and all other ingredients as you go, distributing equally.
Pour the salt brine over the cucumbers. It must cover all of the vegetables.

If you do have a grape leaf or other tannin leaf, this would be the time to add it.

Place a smaller jar filled and sealed with water on top for weight. If your little future pickles are packed and wedged tightly you will not need to place a weight on top. Just cover the jar, but do not tighten lid—it needs to breathe out the CO2. If you are fermenting in a jar you can watch the process. At this point the vegetables will be an incredibly vibrant. It will look as if all the colors are magnified. As they start to ferment you will see the colors turn drab. This change is a result of the acids interacting with the chlorophyll. The brine will get cloudy–this is a normal part of the lactic acid production. If you are fermenting in a crock, no worries all this will be happening as well.

After four days of fermentation time on your counter you will have half-sours in a about six days the flavors will all be stronger and more sour.


Practicing Kraut Non-violence: Pressing Not Pounding

Unknown artist captures the dangers of pounding—this was tacked to a bulletin board of a small scale sauerkraut producer. 


Bare feet stomping on shreds of cabbage in barrels hits a decidedly European collective nostalgia. (Have you ever heard of a kimchi stomp? Nationwide kimchi making season—yes, kimchi pounding—no.)

Across the country, festival goers shuck their shoes and jump into barrels to feel cabbage and brine squeeze between their toes. It offers a chance to get grounded, literally, in their food. (I hope that at the end of the day this particular cabbage gets fed to a compost pile.)

My guess is that the stomp mythology comes from a few places. From experience, I know that when great quantities of garden freshness are being preserved during the harvest season, it is an “all hands on deck” kind of a time. Sauerkraut needs pressed evenly through the vessel, whether it is a crock or barrel. What a great job for the kids—wash your feet and press this down, fits the need of any humming homestead. For a few minutes the kids are contained, entertained and helpful. It doesn’t get any better than that.

At the opposite end of homestead preservation this is another scene this time from the early industrialization of sauerkraut production. Barrels the size of small houses were filled with cabbage. Since the success of fermentation is based on the cabbage being completely submerged, men in rubber boots with pitchforks was the best way to ensure the cabbage evenly distributed and immersed in the brine.

But what does this all mean to the home or even farmstead fermentista? The goal is to allow the salt to work into the cells of the cabbage to release the brine. The question is: Should you pound your kraut?

I am not a pounder. I used to pound when my batches were a few cabbages small, but when we started processing hundreds of pounds of cabbage it became clear that this physically demanding workout was not sustainable. We learned it didn’t have to and we let the salt do the work. It saved our shoulders and our kraut stayed crunchy.

If you enjoy pounding by all means pound away. Just be careful to not hammer, beat, clobber, pummel, grind, crush, pulverize, or mash your cabbage. Too much pounding will render your resultant kraut mushy. And watch the edges of your crock. I have seen first hand and heard many tales of woe about what enthusiastic pounding can do to the rim of a stoneware crock when accidentally caught by the mallet.

All you have to do is thoroughly mix in the salt and massage the cabbage or other vegetables for a few minutes—as if you are kneading bread dough. Then let it rest covered for a half hour, or more for larger batches. Check it. If it is weeping enough, start pressing it into your jar. If not, agitate it more and let it sit a little longer.

Properly pressed kraut

When your  cabbage (or other vegetables) are juicy, they are ready to tuck into a jar or crock. Place a little in the bottom of your vessel and apply pressure until you see or feel the juice. Add more salted vegetable and repeat; this will keep your veggies crispy and safely fermented.

Kraut tampers—old and new

This is the part that is probably the most important step—PRESSING. (Don’t forget keeping your vegetables under the brine conquers evil every time.) Pressing is defined as applying pressure or continuous force; it is a slow steady motion. You want to bring the brine to the surface of the vegetables with this pressure. After pressing with my fists or fingers for awhile, I started to look for a more comfortable way to make kraut. I was talking to our friend Jerry, a grandpa with a wood shop, and a week later he had turned wooden tampers of multiple sizes; a few small ones which fit nicely into the tight spaces of a crock or jar, one with holes in the bottom to allow the brine to flow through, and lastly, the one for our 10–gallon crocks. It was a block of wood affixed to what looked curiously like a raft paddle handle. When I asked, I learned it was the next incarnation of a paddle that had worn out its serviceable life on the Colorado River.

Green Strawberry Pickles

Lacto-fermented green strawberry kimchi

Lacto-fermented green strawberry kimchi

Pickled green strawberries are all the rage these days. The chefs are using their creative souls on this trendy ingredient and the food writers and bloggers are spreading the word. This seasonal darling is landing in chutneys, salsas, and whole green pickled nuggets. These pickles are seasoned with anything from tarragon to orange rind and are served with seafood, parsnip puree, or desserts. Reading the blogs it would seem anything goes.

Since we are talking about pickling we thought we would throw our lacto-fermented two cents into the mélange. This is for the fermentistas out there. You know who you are. You have tossed vinegar aside in favor of lacto-ferments in crocks and jars. You have a bit of an addiction and you look at all veggies with an eye to ferment. “I wonder what fill-in-the-blank would taste like fermented.” All right, maybe that is just my quirky personality and the rest of you fermentistas are more reasonable.

“I need green strawberries,” I told my friend Mary in early spring. She doesn’t question these kinds of requests, she is used them. Besides, her fermentation mantra is “the experiments must continue.” We went and looked down two rows of plants that seemed to reach the horizon line. They were green – way too green, hard, and small. I had to wait.

The culinary green strawberries are actually white. This is the stage right before the orange blush that eventually turns red and ripe. They are tasty, not pithy or astringent like some unripe fruit. I would describe them as slightly acidic and faintly sweet – a cross between a not-quite-ripe honeydew melon and a kiwi. The texture sides with the melon. They have not yet developed their sugars and that is exactly why one can get away with fermenting them. (Too much sugar in a lactic-acid ferment and it turns alcoholic.)

Look for green strawberries in your own garden, at a u-pick, or at a farmers’ market. To ferment them, either slice them thinly or dice them. Mix in a teaspoon of salt per pound and a half of berries. Allowing them to make their own brine this way will give you a much stronger flavor. Play with your favorite salsa or chutney ingredients. Here we are working on green strawberry tulsi basil chutney, green strawberry mango salsa and kimchi.  The recipes we are working on for the upcoming cookbook haven’t been refined yet, but green strawberry kimchi is our favorite so far.


Rhubarb Fool(s)

Rhubarb fermented with ginger and cardamom

A few days ago I was having tea with my dear friend Vicki, and she was telling me about a meal she cooked recently for her family. That is what we foodies do—talk about food. Sometimes it is recent meals, sometimes the amazing vegetables growing in our garden and how we will prepare them. Yes, I admit that it's strange, sitting around talking about good food while sipping tea and secretly competing to see who can make the other more hungry.

“...and I made a rhubarb fool for desert.”

“Whoa, hold on, what pray tell is a rhubarb fool?” I interrupted.

“You have never heard of a rhubarb fool? It is a simple old style desert. I think it is from England. You take rhubarb that has only been slightly cooked, just simmered soft, but not so soft that it falls apart. When that has cooled you fold it into whipped cream.”

I confess that whipped cream might just be one of my favorite pleasures, next to butter. (hmmm a theme...is this the place to admit that buying our first dairy cow was all about the cream. We shamelessly named her ‘Buttercup’.)

Christopher happened to be out of town this week, not that he wouldn’t support what happened that night at dinner, but it makes a better story. I came home with visions of fool and told the kids all about it and made the executive decision we would eat a few leftovers before having the rhubarb fool for dinner.

As I was dashing down the hill, paring knife in hand, to our massive rhubarb plant, Dmitri said. “Don’t you dare ferment it.”

“Oh I won’t I assured him.” I knew I wouldn’t tonight, but I would bring some extra stalks with me and see what would happen. I had fermented rhubarb before but this time I was looking for a different flavor.

The ferment-free fool was amazing and our fool bellies were so full it was embarrassing, especially when Christopher called.

Here is a recipe for the rhubarb that I fermented.

Fermented Rhubarb infused with Ginger and Cardamom

1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) rhubarb stalks, sliced
1 scant teaspoon pink salt, Himalayan or Redmond Real Salt from Utah, these salts have a higher mineral content and are sweeter
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Placed sliced rhubarb, salt, ginger, and cardamom in a bowl. Massage all the ingredients together. When the salt has coated all the rhubarb and it is starting to weep, cover with a towel. Allow to sit for a half hour then press into a quart jar.

When the brine is above the rhubarb weight it down and allow to ferment on your counter for four to five days.

This on on its own makes a tasty condiment. However I was determined to make a 'fooled-you' rhubarb fool.

"Fooled-you" Lacto-fermented Rhubarb Fool


Last night the rhubarb was deliciously fermented, strawberries and cream were purchased. I began to put together my vision of a fermented rhubarb fool. My children begged me not to mess with the known dessert–in the spirit if it ain't broke don't fix it.  

"At least try it in a small amount first." 

"That's not how I roll." It always throws them off when I use their slang. 

I placed one cup of the above fermented rhubarb in the food processor with two cups of fresh strawberries and 3 tablespoons of sugar. I processed this and grated in the zest of one lemon. I then whipped a pint of heavy cream.

Instead of folding in this strawberry-rhubarb sauce I layered it like a parfait.

It looked great. The same aforementioned children, remembering their full fool bellies, asked if we could eat dessert first. We did while the lasagna waited.

Two interesting things happened.

The kids loved it and apologized for doubting me. The other thing is our bellies were happier. The fermented rhubarb was lighter on our digestion. We all enjoyed our lasagna and there was no groaning with tight bellies when we left the table.

Spring Cleaning

Sauerkraut Frittata garnished with chives and dandelion petals

     Every fermentista I know has a batch of kraut that languishes in the back of the refrigerator—the place where the orange marmalade jar (a gift from Aunt Zelda who visited Great Britain a few years ago), prickly pear pickles (she went to Arizona last year), and the unloved krauts reside. Sometimes the rotation in the back of the fridge is longer than anyone of us would care to admit and we don’t have to.

     So this kraut, stepchild that it is, is technically good—as in, it isn’t rotten.  It tastes fine, creamy even—as in too soft.

     We could go into the why is my kraut soft? But this post isn’t about the why. It is about solving the dilemma of a kraut that you don’t want to throw out and don’t want to eat. This is normal. Many of us get very attached to our batches of live food and we feel terrible, like we have let them down, by sending them into the compost pile.

     There is help. It is Springtime, time to purge the old krauts to make way for all the delicious fermentation that you will be doing with the spring vegetables that are bursting forth from the waking ground. While I have no tricks for the marmalade or cactus pickles, I can share some ideas for the soft kraut.

     Use soft textured krauts in dishes where a soft texture is appropriate and pleasing to the palate.  A scoop of the kraut cooked in a stew is one example.  Because eggs are also so abundant this time of year one idea is a frittata. (Should I admit there are 16 dozen duck and chicken eggs in our refrigerator as I write this?)

     A frittata is essentially a flat omelet that has the stuffing baked into it. It has the flamboyance of a quiche without the work or the gluten of the crust.

     The beauty of this recipe is that it can be varied easily just by changing the type of kraut. And it is important to say—this is delicious with perfectly crisp kraut as well. Please feel free to play with this recipe; change up the kraut flavors or the herbs.  For a richer dish, add smoked salmon or Italian sausage.

Sauerkraut Frittata

1 ½ cups raw sauerkraut, drained

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

6 eggs

pinch of salt and pepper

a scant ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter

optional: 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

     Preheat oven to 350ºF.

     Sauté the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until caramelized, set aside.


     Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper, nutmeg, the second tablespoon of oil and the garlic. Beat lightly.


     Gently squeeze the kraut to remove most, but not all, of the liquid. Stir the kraut and the cooled caramelized onions into the egg mixture. This is also the point to add the optional salmon or sausage.


     Preheat a well-oiled 10-inch heavy skillet on medium-low heat.  Melt the butter in the skillet and pour in the egg-kraut mixture.  This will set the bottom nicely. Immediately transfer to the preheated oven.


     Bake 20 - 25 minutes or until set.


     Remove from oven and sprinkle optional parmesan on top.


Spring Tonic—Radish Fennel Ferment

Radish Fennel Ferment

     I wanted to come up with a recipe that welcomed Spring.  I desired a flavor that was cool and crisp just like the season. I fancied a ferment that was light—both in taste and in color. I imagined a pastel-colored ferment to compliment the light pink and white blossoms of early spring.

     I wanted to use radishes for two reasons. The first is that red radishes are quick growing in cool temperatures. They are one earliest available local vegetables in a temperate climate. The second is that radishes are a food we should be eating to help our bodies come out of winter. In Traditional Chinese Medicine radishes are a wonderful tonic for the liver and gall bladder. Radishes break up fat and phlegm, and regulate bile flow—in a sense consuming radishes get your juices going.

     I decided to keep this ferment unpretentious. I chose fresh fennel to combine with the radish. I thought the light aromatic flavor would compliment the more watery, spicy radish. Nutritionally, I also knew that fennel is great for digestion. Fennel is also rich in vitamin K2 which works in the circulation system by breaking up "debris" in blood vessels. Vitamin K2 is also important in your diet if you are taking oral vitamin D. Here is a link for more information on fennel and fermentation.

      This ferment is very simple. You can start it today and in 3 or 4 days you can enjoy it. It is tasty sprinkled on a green salad or along side protein rick foods such as hard-boiled eggs.

Makes 1 pint

1 bunch small radishes, such as Cherry Belle or French Breakfast

1 medium fresh fennel bulb

1 ½ teaspoons salt

     Remove the stems and wash the radishes. Slice very thin, using the slicing blade on a hand grater or food processor. Place in a bowl. Cut the thick root end off the fennel bulb and also slice it as thinly as possible. Put this in the bowl with the radishes.  Chop any fennel frond and put it into the bowl as well. Save the thick fennel stocks for something else. Add the salt slowly. Massage it in and taste after about half the salt has been added. Keep adding the salt until you just taste it. You should be able to taste the salt, but the salt should not dominate the flavor.

     It will produce enough brine without much time or effort.  Press the mixture in a quart jar. Weight it down, making sure all the vegetables are under the brine. Allow to ripen for 3 – 4 days in a cool out of the way spot on your counter.



Fermenting Sweet Potatoes

Pressing sweet potatoes to create brine

     It was a simple question. My son asked, “Are these sweet potatoes or yams?”

      I confidently answered, “they are sweet potatoes.” My mind however was exhibiting some doubt; I visualized standing in the produce section in front of the sweet potato display—Jewell yams. I had brought home Jewell yams but I also knew I had identified Jewell yams, Garnet yams, Japanese sweet potatoes, and Beauregard, all as sweet potatoes. Uh-Oh, I thought, what is the difference? My first pass of “asking google” left me more confused than enlightened.  The important thing I came away with was that sweet potatoes and yams are not related botanically, the nutritional content is very different and that sweet potatoes are soft and sweet while yams are starchy.  I read posts that referred to the yam as white and the high beta-carotene content of the yellow and orange-fleshed sweet potato. This did not map to my experience in the grocery store. The tubers that were labeled as sweet potatoes had white flesh and the tubers labeled as yams had rich orange flesh.

     It was getting late; I am a morning person and I was realizing this was a bigger project. The next morning I went and talked to the produce manager. He told me about the orange-fleshed yams and the white or creamy-colored sweet potatoes.  I realized the confusion was bigger than my own. It was in the markets and marketing. 

     All my supposed “sweet potato” ferments had been with the orange-fleshed “yams” for no other reason than they are my personal favorite and the color is beautiful. I bought 10 pounds of a creamy pale variety of sweet potato thinking I had not even begun to try to ferment sweet potatoes.  I shared my confusion with Christopher; “I bought sweet potatoes for an emergency ferment."

     He said, “I wonder if the phrase ‘I bought sweet potatoes for an emergency ferment’ has ever been uttered in human history.”  I wasn’t sure he got the gravity of the situation.

     I went back to researching the difference, it turns out most tubers in the grocery stores in this country are indeed sweet potatoes even when labeled yams. I had been fermenting sweet potatoes along.  True yams are grown in Africa and in the Caribbean and very few ever end up in our US grocery stores—especially not in rural southern Oregon. If you happen to find a true yam you will not be confused. They are larger, they have rounded ends, their skin is tough—almost bark-like, and the flesh is sticky.

     So why all the confusion?

     I did learn there has been confusion for many years. Here is the beginning of the second chapter of a book written on sweet potatoes in 1896: “Since the little word “Yam” is the cause of great confusion in the nomenclature of sweet potatoes, especially in the Southern States, it may be well to give some space here to the discussion of the vegetable of which the word is more properly the name.  The word Yam…is of African origin and means “to eat” in several dialects…”

     It is believed that when orange-fleshed, softer-textured sweet potatoes were introduced in the southern United States, growers wanted to differentiate them from the more traditional, white-fleshed types.  The African word nyami was used by the slaves to describe the southern sweet potato as it reminded them of the starchy, edible root from lily family of plants that they knew from their homeland. It was adopted as yam for these softer sweet potatoes, which incidentally are in the morning glory family and most likely native to the Americas.

     Now that we know the difference let’s talk about fermenting them.

“Lactic-acid fermentation also has some other distinct advantages, e.g., the food becomes resistant to microbial spoilage and to development of toxins (Kalantzopoulos 1997). Sweet potato, in tropical regions, is consumed in the households of small farmers and poor people. Night blindness is a major physiological disorder among these people due to vitamin A deficiency, which can be alleviated by regular consumption of orange-flesh (b-carotene-rich) sweet potato either fresh, boiled and as lacto-pickles.”–S.H. PANDA, M. PARMANICK and R.C. RAY


     Sweet potatoes are considered the world’s seventh most important food crop. A study was done in India in 2006 to see if lactic acid sweet potato pickle would be viable for small-scale industries. They deemed lactic-acid fermentation as “an important technology” in developing nations. They were interested not only in the nutritional benefits but also the “hygienic” potential because it is a safe way to process food. The study concluded that sweet potatoes could be pickled and that the flavor was pleasing.


     We are going to say the flavor is more than pleasing. It is amazing.


     Use sweet potatoes as you would carrots. They respond and look quite similar in a ferment.

Sweet Potato Ferment

Makes 2 quarts

5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

5 cloves garlic, finely minced

3–4 dried tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated

1 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cayenne powder

1–2 tablespoons salt

In this ferment there is no shredding. Instead we are slicing the sweet potatoes quite fine. This is best done with the slicer side of a grater or the slicing blade in your food processor.

Add the rest of the ingredients, then it is the same—salt and submerge.

Allow to ferment for about 2 weeks.

Creative Fermentation Technology

Mail Attachment.jpeg

Fermentation technology has adapted itself to social demands. During the survival food age, fermentation was used mainly for food preservation and condiments production. In the convenience food age, it was used for flavor production and other ingredients for industrial mass production of food. The 21st century is called the era of tailor made goods satisfying personal demands, and together with the health benefit demands, fermentation technology finds new challenges…

Creative Fermentation Technology for the Future, Cherl-Ho Lee
Graduate School of Biotechnology, Korea University

This quote speaks to a lot of what I have been thinking about fermentation, specifically vegetable fermentation, with its current coming-out an artisan food in its own right. I see these new challenges more aptly termed new opportunities, ones that stretch what we know about the behavior of vegetables with lactic-acid fermentation.  The new food artists – the fermentistas – are pushing the limits of this time-honored process by trying vegetables beyond cabbages, thereby unleashing flavors we didn’t know existed.


For some it's flu shots, for others kraut shots...

Briny Lemonade

Briny Lemonade

The brine from pickling shredded vegetables is pure vegetable juice. Remember, this liquid is achieved by shredding your vegetables, often cabbage, and through the further breaking down of the cells with salt and pressing. When these concentrated vegetable juices undergo fermentation they become a rich cloudy elixir containing not only the properties of the vegetable but an increase in vitamins C and B along with the additional beneficial bacteria (probiotics), enzymes, and minerals produced by the process. Kraut juice is also high in electrolytes. Folk remedies in many cultures have found healing in fermented vegetables and the resulting brines.

Brine was a precious commodity when we made small batches of kraut with only a tablespoon or so left over at the bottom of an empty jar, but when our kraut making became commercial, with 10-gallon batches of kraut or kimchi, we were faced with a huge surplus and very little space to store it. It seemed wrong to send it down the drain, so we purchased a couple dozen glass, USA-made shot glasses and took a few bottles of brine to market to see what would happen. Turns out people loved it and it became a mainstay. We happily made a dent in our surplus, 1.5 ounces at a time.

Christopher usually took on the job of bartender and identified four types of shot drinkers.

The Natives

Usually Eastern Europeans who grew up depending upon sauerkraut brine after a late night at the discos.  Given our market was on Saturday, we provided relief to more than a few.

The Drinkers

Often it would be the woman of a couple that ventured to taste the kraut, with the man hanging back just at the edge of the canopy, out of the sun but not close enough to commit to tasting anything.  Our small chalk written sign that read “Brine Shots $1” proved a siren’s song to these men, eventually pulling them in with a crumpled dollar bill in hand.

The Believers

Some folks do their homework and understand gut biota.  For them a shot of brine is an inoculation, a quick infusion of the healthy microbes. They were the  regulars, coming every Saturday and leaving a little lighter.

The Naughty Ones

There are people that want to knock back a shot glass in the middle of the street in the middle of a market. They would often giggle or make a dramatic play of it, convinced they were somehow being mischievous.

This blog is about flavor and the enjoyment of fermented foods, so if your first reaction is still–ick, yuck, no way, really? –or if you simply don’t like brine straight up, try making plain sauerkraut brine into “lemonade”.


1 cup sauerkraut brine
3/4 – 1 cup unrefined sugar or honey
one whole lemon thinly sliced
1 cup warm water
3 – 4 cups cold water
optional variation: grate in a little bit of fresh ginger to taste

Make a simple syrup with 3/4 cup unrefined sugar or honey and 1 cup warm water. Mix until your sweetener is completely dissolved.

Place your syrup into a pitcher and add the sauerkraut brine, cold water and lemon slices. Give the lemon slices a twist to release some of the lemon juice as you are putting them into the pitcher. Add optional ginger at this point.

Let this sit for about a half hour to allow the flavors to mingle.

Serve over ice for a refreshing summer beverage, or serve room temperature for a cozy healing beverage.

Lastly if you are interested in some of the science behind cabbages and their anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties you might want to check these links out.

The Journal of Food Protection in September 2006 published a study that found that the juice from brassica oleracea leaves (members of the cabbage family) was effective in inhibiting the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli O157:H7, E. coli HB producing thermolabile toxin, nontoxigenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Food Chemistry Toxicology published a study in October 2010, wherein researchers found that a “bio-converted product of cabbage” (fermented kraut brine) displayed potential anti-candida effects. It concluded that fermented cabbage juice (kraut brine) has potential therapeutic value of medicinal significance to control Candida species including clinical isolates.

The Year of the Ferment

“Last year, we canned. This year, we ferment." Bonnie Wolf told NPR listeners this morning as part of her commentary on what to expect on your plate in 2013. Kimchi and fermented vegetables are trending up.

We thought it would be fun to share some recipes that will put you ahead of the trend.  Whether you are going to a New Year's Eve cocktail party or you're simply staying at home playing games and munching on snacks while trying to stay up until midnight, these snacks and perhaps a "crocktail" will add fun to your evening.

 Pickle in a Blanket

Pickle in a Blanket

  • 3–4 whole fermented dill pickles, your own or a brand such as Bubbies
  • 2–3 oz chevre or cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3–4 slices of a naturally cured pastrami

Lay out the slices of pastrami (the blankets) on a cutting board. Spread a thin layer of chevre across one half of the pastrami.  Lay a pickle on the edge of each “blanket” and roll the pickle in it.  Slice into rounds.

Smokey Dates

This hors d’oeuvre speaks for itself.  Sweet, smoky, tangy!

  •  6 medjool dates
  •  Smokey kraut (plain kraut works nicely as well)
  •  Optional: 12 small thin slices of a flavorful aged hard cheese

Slice the dates lengthwise. Remove pit, if needed. If using cheese slice to fit inside the date. Stuff dates with cheese and top with kraut, first squeezing out any excess brine; otherwise omit the cheese and tuck a bit of kraut in each date.

Kimchi Mary

This is quite delicious, especially when made with a brine from a hot and spicy kimchi.

  • Kimchi brine
  • Fresh lemon
  • Vodka
  • Salt
  • Pickled  veggie skewer

Mix kimchi brine, juice of one lemon, vodka.

Rub lemon round rim of glass, then dip rim of glass in salt.  Pour in kimchi vodka mix.  Garnish with skewered fermented veggies.



Ignored Ferment--Surprises!

Fermented Eggplant Baba Ganoush

Fermented Eggplant Baba Ganoush

For the last year a two-quart jar has sat silently in our refrigerator–waiting. It has remained in its place while hands reached past it for many other jars of fermented vegetables; onions, peppers, kimchi, sauerkraut of all flavors. I am pretty sure nobody else in my family noticed it, even though two-quarts takes up a lot of real estate in our crammed refrigerator.  They all tend to look past unknown things in jars, as they are wary of their mother’s experiments. I would look at this ferment, a slightly grey color, and think "maybe tomorrow" as I reached for anything but the eggplant.

I have to admit, I had never even tasted the lacto-fermented eggplant. Last summer I peeled and sliced a small box of Japanese style eggplants, added basil leaf and salt. I let it ferment for a week and when it was done I tucked it in and proceeded to play this game of “maybe tomorrow” with myself.  A confession -  I have a fragile relationship with eggplant. When it is cooked just right, I love it. When it is not, well, I feel like I am five again moving it around my plate trying to figure out how to find a place for it that is not my mouth. I especially  don’t like it  when it is not fully cooked, so my insecurity was well-founded in that the fermented eggplant was indeed raw.

Yesterday I spent the day with a friend roasting eggplants. I was feeling friendly with eggplant so the day had come:  I had the appetite for eggplant. I reached into the refrigerator and pulled out the patient jar of fermented eggplant. I tasted it, and was surprised. I liked it. The fermented taste had taken on a lemony flavor. I immediately shared it with my friend and her young son. They both shared my enthusiasm.

Inspired, I made a baba ganoush, the Middle Eastern eggplant spread. No roasting, just tahini, a bit of garlic and parsley, and a food processor. Done. Yumm.

A Cranberry a Day...

Relish this chevre log

Cranberry relish might just be more American than Apple pie. (Gasp!) Let me tell you why I think so. Cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon and Vaccinium oxycoccus L., are one of the three commercial fruit crops that are indigenous to the North American continent. Wild cranberries are found from Maine to Wisconsin, along the Appalachians to North Carolina. Cranberries are now an introduced crop in the Northwest–Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The Native Americans used the cranberry extensively. This tart berry that is found growing in bogs and marshes was a significant food source and a strong medicine.  The native peoples ate them raw, they used the berries as an ingredient in pemmican, and they made a poultice for blood poisoning. They also prepared them in a way we might recognize today–sweetened with maple syrup.  It is widely agreed upon that cranberries were on the first Thanksgiving table, as the colonists had begun to incorporate cranberries into their diet.

We should also be including cranberries in our diet on a regular basis. Cranberries have a long list of health benefits; they are full of antioxidants, they are anti-inflammatory, they are thought to protect against food poisoning and various cancers. By fermenting them you will get all these benefits unadulterated by the sugar and other juice additives.

With fermentation you also have the advantage of buying them now, while they are fresh, in season, and regularly on sale because of their prominent spot on our holiday tables.  Once fermented they are preserved and you can continue to enjoy this tasty condiment throughout the year. 

I had fun creating these recipes, which debuted this year on our Thanksgiving table. The positive reception and the empty bowl at the end of the meal assures they will be back.

The first recipe is a  simple conversion of the traditional cooked cranberries with oranges to a raw fresh fermented recipe. I did not want to ferment with sugar and  found that adding juice-sweetened dried cranberries balanced out the tartness of the fresh ones. If this is not sweet enough, simply splash a bit of maple syrup or honey into the relish before serving.

For a festive holiday cheese log ladle the relish over log of plain chevre.

Cranberry Orange Relish

Makes a little more than a quart

2–8 oz. packages fresh cranberries

1 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

2 oranges–zest of one orange, and sliced sections of both

½ teaspoon salt

Wash the cranberries. Place in food processor and pulse a few times until they are slightly chopped. Put these in a bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Press this into a small crock or jar, making sure all of the air pockets are pressed out. The brine will be a little thick from the oranges; this is okay. Follow it with plastic wrap and the weights from your crock, or water-filled jar that fits in your jar.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 5–7 days. Refrigerate when done.


Another variation of this recipe is to add: 1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger.

Chopped cranberries ready for fermentation

The second relish is a surprise if you are used to the spiced citrus cranberries. It is bold; the cranberries and horseradish work together to make a relish fit for pulled pork or prime rib.

In the first attempt at this recipe I thought I would sweetened it with apple slices. I thought the apple would soften and the sweetness would balance the tart of the cranberry. The apples stayed crispy, which was nice, but they soaked up all the tartness of the cranberry, which was a little overwhelming.  I salvaged that batch for consumption by drizzling a few tablespoons of honey into it, but I won’t be repeating it. I made a second batch with fruit juice-sweetened cranberries. It was perfect.

Cranberry Horseradish Relish

Makes a little more than a quart


2–8 oz. packages fresh cranberries

1 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh horseradish root

(note: if you have never worked with horseradish root, work quickly, as the volatile compounds released can make you cry)

½ teaspoon salt


Follow the same procedure as above.

See previous post for:

Pickled Whole Cranberries

Pumkins in the Pantry

Lacto-fermentation Pumpkin Trials

It is the day after Halloween and the valley around me is waking up. The sun is just peeping over the ridge. It is reflecting off the gold and orange that is briefly dominating our landscape. Because we are in predominately conifer forest, this time of year the deciduous trees have just a few weeks to sing out their presence. As I look across the valley it appears as if there are many small bonfires scattered through the forest where the individual maples or oaks flame in their autumn color. The winding creek that rushes through the center of the valley is a ribbon of saffron yellow, and the female madrone trees are heavy with their small orange fruit. We string these like beads, they drape the windows were they will dry and decorate the view in the coming grey days.

Orange is considered a color that embodies the warmth of the sun and that is how is exactly how it feels to me. I have the sense that we are soaking up all that warmth to last us through the winter. This is especially happening in the pantry; the sweet meat winter squash and cinderella pumpkins are tucked on the slatted shelves and waiting to feed us slowly in the coming months. In the crocks there are squash krauts and pumpkin chutneys curing; they will add spice and comfort when served with hearty soups.

The photo I have chosen is from the squash and pumpkin trials I conducted a few years ago. From left to right: The chipotle squash kraut was amazing. The holiday kraut with pickled cranberries was also delicious. The squash chutney--definitely nice. The beautiful pumpkin pickles with cranberries--a disaster. The flavor was fine, the squishy chunks--well not so much.

I thought I would share our Holiday Kraut on this entry. It is a fun change to add to the Thanksgiving table.  Any winter squash will work though I prefer the sweet meat types of  squash. The first time I made it I began with whole cranberries that I had previously pickled. Now I make both ferments at the same time, and mix them together after they have both cured.

Pickled Cranberries

makes about a quart (assuming two 8-oz packages of cranberries)

1 - 2 packages fresh cranberries (one is enough, two will give you extra)
a few slices fresh ginger, or candied ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole cloves
brine: 1/4 cup salt to 1/2 gallon spring water
Place all of the ingredients into a crock or jar. Cover with the prepared brine. Be sure to use a weight that will keep all of the cranberries submerged. They really want to float, which makes sense since they are harvested by water that fills the bogs where they grow.
Ferment for 1 - 2 weeks.

Squash Kraut

makes approximately 2 quarts

1 - 2 medium heads cabbage
1 medium sized winter squash
3 - 4 tablespoons salt

Peel and grate the squash. Remove the outer leaves and core of the cabbage. Thinly slice or shred the cabbage.  The goal is to have roughly equal amounts of each.
In a large bowl mix together. Sprinkle in half of the salt and massage until the vegetables start to sweat. Taste. This is to make sure that you do not over salt the kraut. If you cannot taste salt slowly add more.  The goal is to taste the salt in a pleasant salty way, but never to be overwhelmed by the salt. If is good raw, it will be excellent fermented.

Massage the kraut mixture by kneading it with your hands until it is juicy.  Press into a crock or jar.  Make sure all of the vegetable is submerged under the resultant brine. Add weight and cover. On a counter this will ferment in about a week. It will be ready when it is still crunchy and pleasingly acidic.

To serve, mix cranberries into the kraut in a 1:4 ratio -- or whatever pleases you.

Lacto-fermented Cilantro

Pickled Green Coriander Seed

On the risk of upsetting those out there in cyberspace that hate cilantro, I have to say I love cilantro. There is some talk that there is a genetic component to the taste of cilantro that insights hatred. If this is you, you will not be interested in this entry. Instead you might want check out the website out there for cilantro haters.

Since I love cilantro, I am always disappointed when my cilantro plants begin to bolt. The leaves get thin as the plant reaches up to flower and go to seed. When this happens I can no longer snip the leaves adding to recipes at will.  This happens even when I grow an abundant amount,which means I have extra leaves that I could preserve. I have to face that the sensitive aromatic oils that give cilantro its flavor, disappear when dried. There is no sense in saving the extra.

My latest culinary experiments with lactic acid fermentation include pot herbs and aromatics, not in sauerkraut but by themselves. I have a collection of concentrated herb and spice pastes in my refrigerator that add instant fresh flavor to many meals.
In the last few weeks I discovered two things: a way to preserve the leaf and the aromatic flavor of green coriander seed.

Harvest these seeds while they are undeveloped and verdant. They are still soft, unlike coriander and the flavor lingers somewhere between the coriander it is becoming and the green fresh flavor of the cilantro it was.The seeds are only in this magical state for a few days, as they keep marching towards the mature coriander seed.

This is a new favorite. Unfortunately you need access to a nice bed of cilantro that is going to seed. You will want as many green coriander seeds as you can pick.  I was able to pick about a 1/2 a cup. You can also pick and save the green seeds in the refrigerator for a day or two while more mature.

Lacto-fermented Cilantro Paste

As much as you can pick, or 2 - 3 bunches of cilantro leaf. Finely chop the leaves. Put into a bowl and sprinkle with about a 1/2 teaspoon good salt, such as Redmond Real Salt. Mix in the salt and the leaves will immediately start to sweat. Press this into a small jar, until this brine is over the top of the leaves. Place a small piece of plastic wrap on this to keep this from evaporating. Use a brine-filled zip style bag to weight it down. Ferment on the counter for 3 days.

Pickled Green Coriander Seed

Pluck just the little green seeds off of the seed heads. Simply place whatever amount you can in a jar. Submerge this is small amount of a simple pickle brine. I have some made up and ready this time of year, as I am pickling almost daily. I use 3/4 cup salt to a gallon of water.

No Tears Shed

slicing onions

I felt overwhelmed planning for last week’s Fermented Condiments class, mostly because there were so many directions I could take. Dressings, relishes, chutneys, salsas, and my new favorite concentrated seasonings, any of these could take up the whole time. I didn’t know how many of the students where completely new to fermentation, so I wanted the hands-on project to be one with a guaranteed success rate.  I chose one of my favorites.  Fermented Onion Relish which is as simple as it is delicious.

When my eldest son, who worked in the commercial kitchen producing this in 200 pound batches, heard my plan he immediately said, “Are you kidding? Your going to have a room full of people chop onions?” I remembered the swimming goggles that fogged our vision and did not keep the crying sting from our eyes.  “Oh that is bad.” I said. I thought about it a lot. I decided there would be a few other vegetables to slice so that nobody would have to slice onions. We would make fennel chutney as well.  And, I justified to myself, we were talking about 10 onions over a class of 8.

Fast forward to Thursday evening. We have talked about fermentation, we have tasted a colorful array of fermented condiments; from salsa’s to spice pastes. The participants are happy, one woman tells me, “It is my goal to have in my refrigerator all of these varieties of condiments.”

It is now time for the hands-on portion of the class. We start with the onions. After a few minutes I am standing in front of my students who are dutifully slicing these onions.  The room started to fill with that familiar smell, I look around the room and we are only half way through.  I start to fret, maybe my son was right.

We endured, there was a huge hood fan in the kitchen and we took the onion ends to sit outside of the room. As the salt was added and the onions began to weep themselves the intensity cleared and we made it through.  Soon we where packing jars, talking about the fermentation time, and everyone went home smiling.  Whew.

Simple Onion Relish
4 -5 Onions
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp cumin
1 – 2 tsps salt
1 TBLS Sauerkraut brine (or raw whey)

In this relish the fermenting process is the same as in basic sauerkraut, shred, salt, submerge.

Note: Onions lack inherent Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), when combined in the sauerkraut crock, kimchi pot, or pickle jar this is not a problem, just a little bit of the other vegetables have plenty of LABs to jump start the process.  In onion only relishes and chutneys adding a little bit of sauerkraut brine is enough to inoculate the ferment and it will acidify as well as anything else.