Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What To Do With Garden Cucumbers And Veggies
Make Probiotic-Rich Fermented Pickles

Living, probiotic-rich pickles.

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My New Crock
I received a beautiful fermentation crock from Ogusky Ceramics for my birthday (thanks Matthew, Alina and Sammy!) and I couldn't wait to try it. I know I mention this ever chance I get but consuming lots of probiotic-rich fermented foods is one of the most important things you can do for your health. One of the many ways to do that is to make your own pickles. I don't mean the kind that you find on the store shelves pickled in vinegar. Those pickles do not have any probiotic value. I mean the kind that are made from the simple process of fermenting your veggies in brine and spices. You won't believe how easy it is!

And you don't need a fancy crock like this to ferment foods. You can use a big glass jar like I did when I shared the Curtido Kraut recipe in June. But I must say, I've been really enjoying this crock.

Fermentation crocks handcrafted by
Boston potter Jeremy Ogusky

Cucumbers plus....
Today I'm pickling cucumbers with some padron peppers (for some zing) since I have tons of them in my garden. But you can pickle any vegetable using this technique. You also don't have to use "picking cucumbers" and can use any cucumber you want. Just pick them early and don't let them get too fat and full of seeds. The dull skin varieties with thin skins are probably a better choice than those with shiny thick skins. Never use cucumbers that have been waxed.

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Spicy Fermented Cucumbers
Raw Vegan, Dairy and Gluten Free

Requires a glass or ceramic containment vessel

Brine (2 tablespoons of pickling salt to 4 cups water)
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, skin removed
Other pickling spices and herbs (optional)
2 fresh grape leaves or other tannin source
Enough cucumbers for your vessel
Handful padron peppers, several jalapeƱos cut in half, or small amount of crushed red pepper to taste (optional)

Make the brine by adding 2 tablespoons of pickling salt to a quart of spring, distilled, or filtered water. (Chlorinated water can inhibit fermentation). Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.

I learned the hard way that all salt is not equal when it comes to pickling. You can use other types of salt but make sure that they do not have anti-caking agents or your brine will end up cloudy. I also avoid iodized and sea salt. If you use kosher salt, you also may have to change the amount of salt you use per quart of water. 

A note about Kosher salt. Morton's uses anti-caking agents so avoid using that brand. Diamond Crystal is good but it's less dense than pickling salt so you have to use more of it. Some people weigh the various salts, but when I try to decide how much to use, I compare their sodium content. For example:

Table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium per teaspoon.
Pickling salt has 2,360 mg per teaspoon (about equal).
Diamond Crystal Kosher salt only has 1,120 mg per teaspoon.

So if you were using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt instead of pickling salt, you would need 4 tablespoons per quart of water versus 2 tablespoons of pickling salt.

Pickling salt is also very fine and it dissolves much more easily than Diamond Crystal kosher salt so from now on I'm just going to use pickling salt.

Once you've made the brine, place your spices in the bottom of the crock. Ironically my husband and I are not big pickle fans so we avoid the usual pickling spices like mustard, coriander, and dill. But we love the subtle taste of garlic, pepper, and bay leaves and the zing of spicy peppers so that's enough for us. So select the pickle spices that you enjoy.

Cover the spices with a fresh grape leave or another source of tannin like oak leaves. You can even add a teaspoon of loose tea to a half-gallon jar. See the Cultures for Health website for other tips to keep you pickles crunchy. Since we have a vineyard, we have plenty of fresh grape leaves so that's what we use.

Slice the cucumbers in half inch slices and cut the tops off of the padron peppers. If using jalapeƱos, slice them in half lengthwise. Now place your cut up veggies on top of the leaves. Leave 2 to 4 inches of headroom.

Pour enough brine to cover your veggies by at least 1 or 2 inches.

Place something over the veggies to keep them submerged in the brine during fermentation. My crock came with a top but you can use a small plate. If you are fermenting in a quart jar, you can weigh down the veggies with a smaller jar filled with water and capped (like I did in the Curtido Kraut recipe.)

Cover the fermentation crock with a small dish towel or dinner napkin and set in a quiet corner of your kitchen. Peek in once a day to see if it's bubbling. If mold forms, just scoop it out. It's best if the temperature is between 65 and 85 degrees. 

Let fermentation progress for one or two weeks. The best way to see if the pickles are done is to taste them. 

When completed, place the pickles and the juice in a Fido jar or a capped mason jar and store in the refrigerator. If you live in a cool climate, you can store them in a cool root cellar. They should stay crisp for several months. 


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