Raw Sea Kraut

I have been harvesting the last of the winter greens over the last few weeks. It’s summer now, and I need to plant tomatoes and corn, not cabbage. Plus the greens were all starting to bolt, so it was time. 

At first I thought I would can some sauerkraut, but I was feeling lazy.  A little bumble bee in the back of my brain starting buzzing something about making raw kraut, that it is one of the laziest but also coolest projects to do with extra greens.

The reason that I can’t stop fermenting all my extra vegetables, in addition to the fact that sea kraut and kimchi are totally delicious and incredibly good for you, is that the whole process is so easy.

Sterilize jar.

Mix up greens with salt and any other things that make you happy.

Put the greens into the jar.  Wait for awhile.

Salty cabbage greens morph into crunchy sour tasty delicious healthy snack for eating all the time, with everything.

Plus, the fermented greens have superpowers now and can somehow last for months in the fridge (or for quite awhile unrefrigerated as well, though they will keep fermenting and the taste may change, becoming more sour than you want.)

In a nutshell, fermentation is one of the oldest and simplest food preservation methods available.  I think part of the reason I am enthralled by the whole process is that you purposely leave food unrefrigerated and let bacteria start infesting your jars. Years of restaurant work have engrained food safety rules in my head, and when I break them I feel like I am robbing a bank or stealing cars. 

Rules are made to be broken. They are just holding you down, man. 

Go grab that last cabbage in the garden and make some raw sea kraut!

Raw Cabbage and Seaweed Sauerkraut

This sauerkraut tastes like the ocean. The recipe is my own twist off of a basic raw sauerkraut recipe in Liana Krissof’s book Canning For A New Generation. It’s a great book to have in your pantry and I highly recommend it for any preservationist. 

makes: 1/2- 1 quart, depending on your cabbage size (mine was small)

cooking time: about 20 minutes of active cooking and then a week or so of waiting

Ingredients:

  • 1 savoy cabbage
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. dried seaweed, I used wakame (see note for more info. on seaweed*)

1. Wash cabbage, remove core, and slice into thin strips. 

2. Sterilize a quart sized jar while you are working on step#3.

3. In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine cabbage, seaweed and salt. Knead the ingredients together, working the salt into the cabbage leaves. Gradually liquid will start to form. Keep going for about 15-20 minutes, and then transfer the mixture to the sterilized jar. It should fit and the liquid should just barely cover the sliced up cabbage. If it doesn’t, keep working the cabbage and salt together (or, in a step which would make this recipe take forever, make a brine, wait for it to cool, and add a little bit to the jar to cover the cabbage leaves). 

4. Weigh down the chopped cabbage with something to keep it below the surface of the liquid. Krisoff’s book and a few other sources suggest a ziploc bag filled with water, but I did it like this:

This is a half-pint sized jar with the lid attached and a long string running underneath the ring of the jar. It perfectly fits inside the wide-mouth quart sized jar that I used for the sea kraut. Drape the string over the sides of the quart jar and screw the ring on to hold the pint jar in place.

If you don’t have this perfect jar combo lying around, just use a ziploc bag.

5. Set aside the jar and wait about a week. You’ll see small bubbles forming, which means that the cabbage is fermenting. After the week is up, give the jar a smell and a taste. If should be pleasantly sour and crunchy. If it’s not sour enough, just wait another few days. At this point, I put the jar in the fridge to keep the flavors pretty much right where they were, but the sea kraut doesn’t necessarily require refrigeration.

How to eat this lovely kraut? I put it wraps with sliced fresh vegetables and on salads. You can make little lettuce cups with sea kraut, bell peppers and grilled chicken or tofu. You could use it in a sandwich. Serve it as a side with stir-fry and rice. The possibilities are endless.

For more information about fermenting, read this article from the Washington Post.

*Note: Dried seaweed is often available in the bulk food section of natural food stores. Wakame is delicious and just the right size for mixing into the kraut, but… funny story…. I realized when I was writing this that I had also used hijiki seaweed, and that several governments have apparently issues warnings relating to hijiki since it contains high levels of inorganic arsenic. You learn something new every day, right? It’s still safe to eat, just in small amounts. Read about it here. I think in the future I’ll just stick with wakame or dulse and avoid the hijiki altogether.

Mother’s Day Watermelon Pickles

The ladies in my family are all preservationists.  My mom never once bought jam when we were growing up- she always had a sweet little pantry in the basement with sour cherry, blueberry and raspberry jam, icicle and bread and butter pickles, and canned apricots in syrup.  When I moved to California, before I started making my own canned goods, I begged her ship me out packages of jam since I couldn’t stand the stuff from the grocery store.

I will always remember hugging my mom goodbye when I moved away from Ithaca …  My boyfriend and I had been together for about a week when we packed up my crappy little Chevy Prizm with everything I owned and hit the road with exactly $400 to get from New York to California. Everyone had ominous predictions involving me turning into a meth-addict and living in a gutter. Well, we drove away exactly eight years ago today, and we are still together, and (so far atleast) no meth addictions or gutters.

I can’t remember exactly when my mom sent me that first box of jam, but I remember how happy I was. Each jar was carefully wrapped and labeled, all of them delicious, and all of them were the perfect reminder of home and family from 3000 miles away.  Ever since I was little, we would go to local farms and pick blueberries or strawberries or whatever else was in season.  My siblings and I would eat more than we picked, and then we would go home and mom would make all kinds of beautiful pies and jam.

I can’t leave my grandmother out of these stories…  She’s a true southern gal, raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The parallels in our lives are striking, and the red North Carolina dirt is part of who I am, even though my farm is in the Northern California mountains. When I was a teenager, we drove my grandma out to her childhood home. I remember gazing out at the fields where she had grown up, my grandma lost in thought, a sea of memories flooding the air around us.

my grandma molly in 1944 - the photo that my grandfather carried with him during world war II

Inspired by Mother’s Day, I would love to share my grandma’s recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind. Most people haven’t had pickled watermelon rind before, but it’s the best pickle I think I’ve ever had. Crunchy, sweet, spiced with cinnamon.  (To be fair, my dad is the watermelon-pickle maker these days- he’s perfected his own version with lemongrass).  This recipe embodies the preservationist spirit, making sure that no part of the fruit goes to waste.

Last year, right before the frost, a farmer that I know gave me a whole case of unripe melons. They are perfect for this recipe, since they have the most amount of rind. You can use normal melons too, though.

pickled watermelon rind

(Look up at the picture in the header. Second jar from the left is also pickled watermelon rind).

My Grandma Molly’s Pickled Watermelon Rind 

Cooking Time: This is a three-day process, with about 2 hours of active cooking time.

Makes about 12 pints (the original recipe doesn’t specify how much it makes, so I’m estimating this amount. You might end up with a few more or a few less).

Ingredients:

  • 1 large watermelon (do not use varieties with thin rinds)
  • 3 quarts of water for soaking
  • 2 trays of ice cubes
  • 3/4 c. salt
  • 9 c. sugar
  • 3 c. white vinegar
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 tbs. whole cloves
  • 6 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed

1. Prepare watermelon: Enlist friends and family to eat the pink part, but save the rinds instead of throwing them away. Using a sharp knife, remove the tough, dark green skin, leaving behind only the pale green part. Cut the prepared rind into 1″ squares, or whatever shapes work. You may end up with some triangles and trapezoids, but it will taste good whatever the shape.  You should have about 12 c. of prepared rind. 

2. In a non-reactive container (I use my big canning pot), soak the prepared rind with the 3 c. of water, salt, and ice cubes for 24 hours.

3. (Day 2) In another non-reactive pot, combine sugar, vinegar, water, and spices (tied together in cheesecloth). Boil for 5 minutes to make a syrup. Add in lemon slices.

4. Drain and rinse watermelon rind. Cover with water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain again, and return back to the non-reactive pot. Pour the prepared syrup over the cooked rinds, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. 

5. (Day 3) Sterilize jars, wash lids and rims. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. 

6. Remove spice bag from the rinds. Heat the rinds and syrup to boiling, and cook until translucent, about 25 minutes. Pack the syrup and rinds into sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ head space. Process 5 minutes. Let stand 3-4 weeks before eating. 

These are so, so delicious, especially with old-fashioned buttermilk marinated fried chicken and gravy.  If you make them once, they will become a pantry staple in the years to come.

Mom, grandma, I love you very much.

PS. I have a lot of great stories about my grandpa’s tomatoes and my dad’s vegetable garden and concord grape jam, but I’ll save those for father’s day.


How To Cure Your Own Olives (Because Homemade Pizza Is Better With Homemade Olives)

Months ago, when I was shopping for blood oranges and oysters at the Allemany Farmers Market, I ran into these beauties:

Fresh olives! I couldn’t believe it, and grabbed a huge bag of them.  Olives are so delicious, and the thought of curing my own was majorly exciting.  Of course, I had literally no experience purchasing or curing olives, but the anticipation of a new project was too much to bear…

Now that I’ve learned a little bit more about what I’m doing, I’m summarizing it here so that if any other crazy folks randomly buy pounds and pounds of olives without knowing what they’re doing, the power of Google will bring us together to make olive perfection.  So here goes:

  • The color of the olive is determined by the ripeness (not the variety).  Green olives are the least ripe, with shades varying all the way to black, the most ripe. When selecting olives for  curing at home, look for unbruised fruit, and avoid the very dark, jet black shades and pick slightly lighter shades. Olives that are that dark are not always firm enough to hold up well during the curing process and most people make olive oil with these.  Note: Since I don’t know what I’m doing, I actually cured this exact type of super ripe olives, and while the texture isn’t quite perfect – they are a little soft – I made my own olives, damn it! and they taste great!
  • Fresh olives are bitter and inedible, so you have to cure them to make them taste awesome.  There are a lot of different methods, including brine, dry salt, water and lye, all of which function to pull the bitterness out of the olives over varying periods of time.  The olives actually ferment during this time, which means develops the flavor and makes you a preservation superstar and a wizard in the pantry.

The most appropriate method for my olives was a brine-cure.  It’s easy as pie- all you need is salt, water, and a food-grade plastic or glass storage container to keep the olives in while they soak.  The whole process takes 2-3 months (depending on how bitter you like your olives) and you end up with a bitter, salty, tasty dark purple olive.  (If you’re interested in lye-curing, Hunter Gardener Angler Cook has a good set of instructions here.)

Brined Olives

Any variety of ripe olive will work for this recipe.  These olives are bitter and very flavorful, perfect for making tapenades, pastas, pizzas, salads and more. Some shriveling is normal because of the high salt solution in the brine.

Special Equipment: a large food-grade plastic container for curing, and a glass jar for storage (I would prefer a glass or ceramic pickling crock to plastic, but I don’t own one and had to scramble for a container since I don’t plan in advance. It’s really ridiculous.)

Ingredients:

  • uncured black olives (such as Mazanilla, Mission, or Kalamata): buy as many as you feel like you want to have on hand

for the brine:

  • kosher salt or pickling salt
  • water: If you filter your tap water, make sure you filter the water you’re cooking with as well. This helps ensure good flavor and that there are no strange minerals in your ferment that you don’t want to be in there.
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 fresh bay leaves

1. Make the brine first, it will need to cool to room temperature before you can use it so that it doesn’t cook the olives when you put them in. In a large pot, combine 1 gallon of water with 3/4 c. of salt, garlic, and bay leaves.  Bring to a full boil to dissolve the salt and infuse the water with the herbs and garlic.  Set the pot aside to cool.  Olives are in season in the winter, so it’s probably freezing outside, and you can just set the pot out on the back porch to make it cool faster.

2. Wash and sort the olives.  Pull out any bruised or strange looking olives and discard.  The sizes of the olives should be relatively uniform to ensure an even cure, so if you have a range of sizes, you’ll want to separate them into two or more different batches.  Put the olives into the container you will be curing them, and cover them with the brine. Make sure that the olives are fully covered with the liquid, which you can do by putting a ceramic plate on top of them to weight them down. (If there are a few that float to the top… no biggie… just keep an eye on them and discard if they start to look weird). Cover the container and store at room temperature for one week.  You may have some gas buildup in the container this week from the olives starting to ferment, so attach lids loosely or open the lid every once in awhile to check on them.

3. After one week, drain the olives.  Cook a new brine, this time with 1 1/2 c. of salt per gallon of water, and let it cool to room temperature.  Sterilize a glass jar (or multiple jars) for your olives. (Do this by placing the jar in the oven at 200 degrees for twenty minutes.) Pack the olives into the jars and pour the cool brine over them.  Feel free to add a bay leaf or other fresh herbs to the jars if you want.  Thyme, rosemary, and marjoram all would work well.  Attach lids to the jars. The olives will be ready to eat in two months, but if you want less bitter olives, wait another month.

4. As long as the jars are kept air-tight, olives will keep for a year in a cool, dark space. You may have some gas buildup, which could cause the lids to bulge or the brine to seep out, so you’ll want to keep half an eye on them while they’re in the pantry.  If you do notice this happening, just make a new batch of brine to top off the jar again and put the lid on tight.  You can also just put the jars in the fridge if you’ve made a smaller batch and don’t want to worry about checking on them.

finished olives

P.S. Once your olives are done you can do fun stuff like put them on pizza! I meant to photograph this pizza right when it came out of the oven, but instead we ate it, and now I’m photographing the one last leftover piece the next morning instead.  It was so delicious! Here’s a recipe for a basic pizza dough, which I then topped with about a cup tomato sauce from the pantry, 3 ounces of goat cheese, 1 c. of shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, 1/2 c. of caramelized onions, 1 c. of roughly chopped miner’s lettuce, and 1/2 c. of pitted olives. A little twist of fresh cracked black pepper on top, and pop that baby in the oven for about 15 minutes at 475 degrees.  Cook until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

P.P.S. Once you start making things like olives and preserved lemons, you’ll really feel like you have a sexy looking pantry.  At least that’s the feeling I had.  Not just jam on these shelves, no way.

just one little corner of the pantry space...

For more information about preserving olives, read this article from UC Davis.