Fermented vegetables are not only an easy way to get your probiotics, but a quick  way to preserve fresh produce with minimal fuss. Although the foods need refrigeration once they are prepared and last several months as opposed to the year or more with canned goods, the simplicity of this process has us hooked!  

The only equipment you need other than the vegetables, a chopping board and a good knife are salt, water and jars with lids.

Almost any vegetable or combination of several can be cultured. Basically you just cut it up and put it in a jar with a brine (salt water), leave it for a few days until it ferments to your taste. One of my favorite go-to sites for fermenting is Cultured Food Life by Donna Schwenk. She has an entire section on fermenting vegetables here. Another great resource is Sandor Katz’s classic book Wild Fermentation. Check these out and try a few of these recipes. Once you get the idea, you can start experimenting and come up with your own favorite combinations of vegetables and flavorings. 

If you’ve never done this before, I recommend starting with carrots because in my experience they’re the most foolproof.

Fermented Carrots*

You’ll need:

  • Salt to taste (starting with 2 tsp)
  • 1 qt water
  • Carrot sticks (about 4-6 carrots) Herbs, if you’re inclined

Make a brine by mixing the salt and water until the flavor is a little bit too salty to taste. (It has to have enough salt for the fermentation and the flavor will mellow). Pack the carrot sticks into the quart jar and add the brine until they are covered by liquid. Add the herbs.

Leave the jar on the counter for about three days to ferment. They should taste bright and crisp. Then keep them in the fridge.

Tasting note:
Try adding a slice of fresh ginger or a garlic clove for more kick.

*You will also find this recipe in the new, up and coming “Bread and Beauty,” cookbook, a project celebrating and supporting Maryland’s  beautiful Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, over ninety thousand acres of land dedicated to growing food!  Follow this link to get your own copy. Also a terrific gift idea for the foodies in your life. 

Here are a couple of tips for fermenting vegetables:

  1. Some vegetables tend to get mushy, especially if there is not enough salt. Place an oak or a grape leaf over the top of the vegetables before closing up the jar, making sure the water is still covering the leaf. The tannic acid helps keep them crisp.
  2. Cut off the blossom end of cucumbers before adding to the brine, which removes an enzyme that might keep out the crunch.
  3. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and if something doesn’t turn out to your taste, don’t throw it out too quickly. Lots of times it can work perfectly mixed up in a salad or soup.
  4. Fermented vegetables can last several weeks or even months in the fridge. There’s no danger of “bad bacteria” because the fermentation cultures the probiotics, or “good bacteria.”  Obviously if something tastes or smells bad, however, don’t eat it.