Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pickles and Relish and Peppers, Oh My!!!

One of my most favorite things in the world is fermentation. Wine. Beer. Kefir. Kombucha. Pickles. Sauerkraut. All of these things can be made in your home, each imparting their own valuable qualities to your diet. You can buy many kinds of relishes and pickled things at your local store these days, but most are made with vinegar as the pickling agent instead of lactofermentation over the course of days or even months (as is the case of traditional sauerkraut). These items are also heat sealed in jars or cans, a process which kills all the good fermented probiotic qualities it may have had.

None of that is necessary. You don't need vinegar. You don't even have to can your ferments in a pressure cooker like my Swedish grandmother. Letting your veggies sit out in salt water for a few days may sound kinda gross, but that's how everyone's grandmother used to do it. All you need are veggies, clean water, glass jars, salt and time. Like many of the things I make at home, this recipe takes a week or longer. But for only 30 minutes max of work and letting nature do the rest, you can have pickles and relish straight from the kitchen, no preservatives and no ingredients you can't pronounce. Let's do this.

Here we have my very happy red pepper plant. There's a kung pao pepper plant and two Hawaiian pepper plants. They've been on my lanai for three months and they grew from tiny little plants into towering and abundant bushes producing more hot peppers than Dave or I can eat. So rather than try to dry them and make chili powder (I doubt they would dry well without a dehydrator in the warm humidity of Hawaii), I decided to make a hot pepper relish. Maybe some day I'll be adventurous and try to make my own sriracha sauce. I'd call it rooster sauce... or some dirty variant of that.

Let me tell you how I made the relish. Making your own lactofermented dill pickles will be in the next post! You can see the step by step process there.

For this relish you will need 2 cucumbers, scrubbed and roughly chopped into chunks. 10 or so thin peppers. You could probably use poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, even habaneros if you're feeling dangerous. I used what you can see grows on the plant above. They are about four to five inches long but maybe only as big around as a thumb tack, so they're kinda small. Use your best judgment. If you want it hotter, use more, if you want it only slightly hot, use less. Put the cucumber pieces in batches into a food processor or food chopper. Ultimately you want cucumber chunks the size of relish like you'd put on your hot dog at a ball game (the thought of ball park hot dogs makes me vom a little...). Next, cut up the peppers into thin slices. Put all of the cucumber chunks and pepper slices into a large bowl. The cucumbers are pretty liquidy, but don't throw that away! Keep it! Add some garlic (1tsp or a few cloves) if that's your thing, add some fresh dill chopped up if you want. Then, add 1tbs sea salt or non iodized salt, sprinkle it all over so it mixes in well. Now, for the weird part. Add three or four tablespoons of sauerkraut juice* or whey*. Mix this all together in the bowl with your hands or a spatula. I recommend hands. It's much more fun that way. 

Once it's all nice and mixed, scoop out the mixture and start putting it into jars like you see here, filling them about half full. Then take another glass jar that is smaller and will fit into the top of the container and mush down the relish. You might want to do this over the bowl, because a ton of liquid will fly out of the top if you're not careful. Remember keep the liquid. It's got all the good stuff. Once you fill the jars about two thirds full with compacted relish, put a regular sized jar top on the mix. The jars above are wide-mouthed pint jars, so the regular sized lid fits perfectly inside. If you don't have one of these, or you're using your old glass peanut butter jar instead, find something (like a circular piece of plastic cut from those cheap plastic cutting boards or even a plastic baggie full of water) to put on top of the relish to keep it completely submerged. Floaters and non-sunken relish can mold on the top, which will make you very sick. As long as water maintains a barrier over the food, it'll be fine. Take the liquid left in the bowl and pour it over top of the lid slowly, making sure not to rustle up the pieces of relish and ruin your perfectly mushed mix. There's about an inch of liquid in my jars as you can see in the picture. If you don't have enough liquid, add some filtered water to give a good liquid barrier between the air and the relish. Now, cover the jar with something porous enough to let air in and out, but keep dust and bugs (and fur) out of the relish. Coffee filters, paper towels and clean kitchen towels work well. Toilet paper and kleenex do not. Put it in a warm place like near your TV or computer so it can do its fermenty thing. After a day or two you will notice bubbles forming, which is exactly what you want. Things are happening in there! Creating oxygen and fermenting your food! Whoo! Science! 

Give your ferment five to seven days before moving it or testing it. Then, when the time seems right and your cucumbers went from bright green to olive relish green, fish out the lid and test your relish to see if it tastes good to you. If you like it a little more tart and vinegary, mush it back down and cover it back up for another day or two. If you like it the way it is, drain some of the liquid and slap a real metal lid on that puppy and stick her in the fridge. 
Now you have relish. 
You're welcome.

Stay tuned for post #2 for the day, which will be a step by step of how to make dill pickles!

*I, as you will see in my next post, make my own sauerkraut, so I had this readily available. If you're a normal person and don't hoard fermented cabbage in your fridge, there are other options. First, you could use double the amount of salt and double the amount of time. Cucumbers ferment like cabbage, something about naturally growing bacteria on these veggies that allows them to ferment without help from other sources. Second, you may not yet be 100% on the paleo wagon and have some yogurt sitting in your fridge. If it's plain, take that baby out and strain it over a cheese cloth or a fine sieve to separate the whey from the yogurt. You can use that liquid. Third option is to curdle some milk with lemon juice or vinegar, scoop out the curds and use the leftover whey to start your lactoferment.  So many options! Who knew you could even do stuff like that??!? Your grandmother's mother, that's who.


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