Pork and Pickles

These are a few of my favorite things


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Fermented Carrot Pickles

I stumbled across a recipe for fermented carrots the other day (here) – what a great idea! We have a lot of carrots left from the CSA share and while we’ve been eating raw carrots with dinner quite frequently I thought it would be nice to do something different with them. And after discovering how much I like the kimchi I made in October, I’ve been thinking about making lots of fermented pickly foods.

This is pretty simple, like most fermented pickles. Slice the veggies, mix with salt and squeeze/pound them to break down cell walls and get the juices flowing. Add flavoring agents and work them in some more, then pack everything into a jar and let it sit for a couple weeks.

I set the blade on this thing to give me 1/8" slices.

I set the blade on this thing to give me 1/8″ slices.

I opted to use my mandoline to slice the carrots since I was cutting up so many. I love this thing, but the blade is super sharp – don’t get cocky using it! I sliced my thumb pretty badly last year and am now more than a little afraid of it. They sell them with blade guards for a reason!  You can absolutely do this with a knife, but it’s going to take a lot longer and you’ll have more inconsistent slices. Neither of which is going to negatively affect the finished product, for the record!

I ended up with about 8 cups of sliced carrots, which was probably about 12-15 medium carrots. I tossed them with a couple tablespoons of kosher salt and then mixed and squeezed the heck out of them. Then I sliced up a few cloves of garlic and grated a 3″ piece of ginger and mixed those into the carrots, squeezing some more. I also added a couple dried peppers, probably cayenne, from which I’d removed the seeds and then crushed in my hands. This part’s totally optional, as are the garlic and ginger, but will contribute a whole bunch of delicious flavor!

Mixed and squeezed!

Mixed and squeezed!

After all that squeezing, you should have  a bit of liquid coming out of the carrots. At this point I didn’t have anywhere near enough liquid to cover the carrots once they were stuffed into a jar, plus I had to leave the house for a while, so I just covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for a few hours while the salt did its thing, drawing more liquid out of the carrot slices.

I sanitized a regular mouth quart jar, #12 stopper, and airlock (from Northern Brewer), stuffed all of those carrots in, making sure to press them down so everything was under the liquid, and popped the stopper and airlock in. It’ll sit on the counter for a couple weeks, until it stops bubbling, and then I will eat them!

Go baby go!

Go go lactofermentatio!

If you don’t want to deal with an airlock, you can also just put some salt water in a ziplock bag and fit it into the mouth of the jar. That’ll help keep everything submerged and still allow excess gases to escape. You *can* just ferment it with a lid on too, but you’ll want to vent the jar every day or two. Trust me.

Fermented Carrot Pickles

  • 8 cups thinly sliced carrots (10-15 medium carrots)
  • 2 TB kosher salt (use about 1/2 that volume if using finer-grained salt)
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 3″ piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp crushed pepper flakes, more or less to taste (or use fresh minced chilis) (optional)

In a large bowl, mix carrots and salt and squeeze or pound until carrots begin to exude juices. Add ginger, garlic, and pepper and squeeze some more. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 3-4 hours, then pack into sterilized jar and seal with stopper/airlock or a baggie of salt water.

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Cooking By The Seat Of Your Pants

“Cooking by the seat of my pants” is a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s a skill I started to hone when I was young and broke and vegetarian and worked at the grocery store – I saw my customers buying interesting fruits and vegetables and knew which staple goods were cheapest. I’d come home with a bag full of canned beans and whatever (canned) vegetables had caught my eye, plus the quinoa I had just discovered, look at my purchases, and say “What the hell am I going to make with this??” I’d cook the quinoa, dump in a can of beans and tomatoes (or corn, generally), mix in powdered garlic, and call it a couple days’ worth of lunch.

My ingredient choices and cooking skills have evolved a bit from that point, but this is still a skill I practice regularly. I put it to use at work when it was my turn to make the soup of the day or when I had a bin full of frozen bananas and needed a dessert. I put it to further use when I started shopping at the farmer’s market and came home with a giant box of tomatoes and red peppers. And these days when our CSA is in full swing and we’ve got a freezer full of pork and beef, I have to figure out how best to use stuff up before it goes bad but also keep in mind that I have three other people in this house who can be some of the toughest customers ever.

On top of the usual reasons I cook this way, this week I have an additional reason – our oven died! While I’m waiting for the new (fancy sexy exciting) one to be delivered, I’ve challenged myself to focus on making meals that are made on the stovetop or crockpot rather than looking for things that can be done without an oven. It’s a minor distinction, and perhaps it might not make much sense to some people, but I do much better with a challenge when it’s framed the right way. I have a tendency to focus on what I *can’t* do and don’t want to head down the road of being unable to cook anything because I only want to eat things that require the oven (bread and cookies, for example).

I’ve been craving hearty winter foods lately, specifically this lentil dish that a friend had once brought to a party. I never got her recipe and haven’t been able to replicated it, so the memory of that dish had been stashed away on a dusty shelf in my mind. Something knocked it loose and it’s been underfoot all week. I checked the pantry and found a bag of french green lentils, also called lentils du puy, rather than the brown lentils that the were in the original dish. I grabbed some brown rice, which seemed like a good addition to what I remembered. I found carrots and celery in the fridge onions and garlic and a jar of tomatoes in the pantry. And curry powder, because it sounded perfect. I wanted coconut milk but was out, which ultimately was for the better – it would have been far too rich (but so tasty!) with the delicious delicious coconut milk. Everything pretty much just went into the pot together, along with a whole bunch of water, and simmered until it was all cooked and delicious. And because I was scavenging in the pantry, I pulled out a jar of the kimchi I’d made last fall, and put a bunch of that on top. I ended up with a huge pot full of this stuff and might just eat it all myself rather than share – it turned out to be exactly the food I’ve been craving while not tasting much at all like the food memory I was shooting for.

LUNCH!

LUNCH!

Lentils du Puy with Brown Rice and Vegetables

  • 2 TB coconut oil (substitute butter/lard/oil at will)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, quartered and cut into 1/4″ chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 TB sweet curry powder (my favorite kind)
  • 1 quart home-canned tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh, frozen, or commercially canned tomatoes), liquid included
  • 1 cup french green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 cup short-grain brown rice
  • water
  • salt

In a 3-quart or larger pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook over low heat until it starts to become translucent. Add celery, carrots, and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Stir in curry powder and cook until it becomes fragrant, then add lentils, rice, and tomatoes. Add water to cover everything and bring up to a boil. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook, stirring periodically, until the rice and lentils are tender. You will probably need to add more water at some point – I ended up adding a total of about 5 cups of water in addition to the liquid from the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and serve. I found the addition of kimchi to be delightful, but I know it’d be great with a dollop of yogurt or no topping at all.

Chopped cabbage would be a delightful addition to this recipe, if you had it on hand, as would spinach, kale, or some other hearty green. Modify to your heart’s content, omitting the curry and substituting in whatever spices or herbs you have on hand.


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Kimchi

I got up this morning and said “You know what sounds like a good project for today? Sauerkraut!” We got a head of cabbage in our CSA box this week and I don’t really love it cooked, so I’ve been struggling to find a use for it since my favorite cabbage roll recipe really let me down the last time I used it. Sauerkraut is always a good use for cabbage – aside from being delicious, it’s very nutritious: cabbage is high in Vitamin C and fermenting it gives an end product that’s full of beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus, among others, which is important for digestion).

You’ve noticed, though, that this post is titled “Kimchi” – in paging through my copy of Nourishing Traditions to see what they had to say about fermenting vegetables, I found the kimchi recipe, which sounded WAY better to me than sauerkraut. I don’t know about you, but to me garlic, ginger, and chilis > caraway pretty much every day. Plus, I had all the ingredients on hand! (Scroll down to the bottom for the TL;DR version)

Clockwise from upper right: Cabbage, knife, 2 TB sea salt, carrots, dried chili pepper, garlic, ginger.

The measurements on the vegetables are pretty flexible, but you’d be wise to use the amount of salt specified below. Everything gets shredded or grated or minced and mixed together, then squeezed or pounded to release the liquid from the veggies.

I started by grating the carrots and ginger. I peeled the ginger because it wasn’t organic and also because I rather enjoy peeling ginger. I did not peel the carrots because they’re organic and I’m selectively lazy. I grated both on the fine side of the box grater, but it would have been just fine to do it in the food processor instead.

Shredded carrots and ginger. The spoon was for peeling the ginger – do you know this trick? It’s so cool! I also used the spoon to scrape the ginger off the grater, since the fibers got stuck on there pretty well.

Once you’ve got the carrots and ginger grated, it’s time to start on the cabbage. To start, cut the cabbage into quarters, then remove the core.

Before

After

Just cut along that diagonal line from the center of the cabbage down to the base and either compost the core or save it for snacking. Once you’ve got the core out of there, cut the cabbage quarter in half from top to bottom. Technically this isn’t a necessary step, but since I don’t like long strands I cut the cabbage into eighths. Slice the cabbage as thinly as you possibly can. A good sharp knife helps with this, but mostly it just takes practice. They make special tools for this, which can be great if you’re doing a large quantity, but for just one head of cabbage I’m not going to the basement to dig that thing out.

This is the first quarter of the cabbage, with the carrots and ginger.

Now, one head of cabbage takes up a lot of space once it’s shredded. In order to not have a huge mound of cabbage to work with at the end, I worked in batches. Shred a quarter of the cabbage, put it in the bowl with a quarter of the salt, and squeeze the heck out of it. Repeat three more times.

This is all of the cabbage, plus the carrots and ginger, shredded and salted and squeezed.

At this point, all that’s left to add is the garlic and chili.

This is roughly 3 large cloves’ worth of minced garlic. Maybe 1.5 TB or so.

You guessed it – throw it into the bowl and squeeze the veggies. You should have a noticeable amount of liquid collecting in the bottom of your bowl by this time – keep it all in there, because it’s going to cover your vegetables as they ferment!

This is what you want to see!

Divide your vegetables and liquid between two clean and sanitized (either boiled or chemically sanitized) quart jars and press down on the veggies until they’re covered with liquid. Put a lid on the jar and set it aside for several days to ferment.

See how the liquid is covering the veggies?

I posted about this project on Facebook this morning and several of my friends chimed in with suggestions based on their experience. One person suggested using white plastic reusable jar lids, of which I have an ample supply. Another friend shared a link to a DIY airlock lid project, which uses the regular two piece jar lids and an airlock (which you can get from a homebrew supply store, such as Northern Brewer). I was all set to use that when another friend commented that she ferments in regular Mason jars (as opposed to wide-mouth) and uses a #12 stopper and airlock to seal the jar. Since that was a bit easier than the DIY project, I stopped by Northern Brewer for some stoppers and airlocks. I’ll still try the DIY project, since NB didn’t have stoppers big enough for wide-mouth jars and I would like to ferment in half gallon jars, which of course only come in a wide-mouth version.

All ready to go!

This really is simple – you just put a little water in the airlock and insert it into the stopper, then insert the stopper into the mouth of the jar. The airlock allows the fermentation gases to escape while keeping outside air from entering the jar. You can absolutely ferment this in an unvented jar, but you may want to vent it once a day or so (more frequently if your house is warm) to avoid damaging the lid.

Nourishing Traditions suggests letting this ferment for 3 days, then transferring to cold storage. I’ll probably let it go until the airlock stops bubbling, and then it’ll either go in the back of the fridge or into the basement with the other canned goods. Our basement gets pretty chilly in the winter, so it’ll keep nicely down there. You could heat process this to seal the jars for longer-term storage, but that would kill all of the beneficial bacteria that developed during fermentation. Plus it would lose the great fresh crunch of a raw product.

Korean Sauerkraut, aka Kimchi (adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

  • 1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 TB grated ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TB sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes (I used some dried chili we had, about 2 peppers’ worth)

Combine all vegetables and salt and pound or squeeze until vegetables have released their liquid. Pack into sanitized quart jars and press down on vegetables until they are covered by their own juices. Cover (either with an unvented lid or a lid with an airlock as discussed above) and allow to sit at room temperature 3 days or until fermentation has slowed. If using lids with airlocks, replace with unvented lids. Move kimchi to cold storage until needed. Eat!