Food & dining

Recipes: Curtido and mixed farmers’ market vegetables

To make a small contribution to the global fermentation revolution, it’s worth testing one of the simple recipes below in your home kitchen, after a stop at a late summer farmers’ market for the best vegetables of the year. Contributors Rich Shih of OurCookQuest and Jeremy Kean of Brassica Kitchen & Café offered their formulas for curtido and mixed farmers’ market vegetables, respectively. Before you dive in, make sure to research safe fermentation techniques online or in one of many good fermentation books that are now available.
Sam Hiersteiner

OurCookQuest curtido

If you’ve enjoyed sauerkraut before, this Salvadoran fermented vegetable mix is quite the treat. Just imagine kraut with the sweetness of carrots and tang of pickled onions. It’s typically served with pupusas to add crunch and acidity as a wonderful counterpoint to lighten up the richness. The awesome thing about curtido is the harmony of three basic vegetables creating a wonderful flavor combination that extends beyond just lacto-fermented cabbage. It also allows you to see the potential of using whatever veggies you have on hand to make a delicious relish or pickle by simply adding salt, mixing and waiting. Note: All cup measurements assume the prepared ingredients are pressed to pack as much as possible with a little force. Treat the vegetable and fruit quantities as a guideline. If any of them is a little more or less, that’s really OK. Rich Shih

1regular-size cabbage, thinly sliced (8 cups); reserve one outer cabbage leaf
3large carrots, grated (3 cups)
3medium onions, thinly sliced (3 cups)
1large apple, grated (1 cup)
1teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
1small bunch Thai basil, chopped fine (optional)
1teaspoon whole cumin seeds (optional)
Kosher or sea salt to be added based on total ingredient weight (make sure your salt is non-iodized)
1two-quart wide-mouth mason jar or equivalent non-reactive container
18-ounce mason jar or sealed Ziploc bag filled with at least 5 percent salted water (50 grams salt for every liter of water)

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1. Place a large bowl on a scale with its setting on grams and zero out the weight. Add all the ingredients to the bowl except for the cabbage leaf. Calculate 2 percent of total ingredient weight in grams and add that amount of salt. Getting the salt content right is important for the safety and flavor of the ferment, but if you don’t have a scale, the approximate measure is for every 5 pounds of vegetables to have 3 tablespoons of salt.

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2. Massage all of the ingredients and the salt in the bowl with clean or gloved hands until the juices from the vegetables create a brine that appears to be at least a third of the original volume. The vegetables should be streaming with liquid when you pick up a large handful and squeeze.

3. After you’ve massaged the vegetables and created the brine, pack all the ingredients into the large jar or other non-reactive vessel and pour in the brine leftover in the bowl. Press the vegetables down below the brine and place the cabbage leaf on top of the vegetables to keep them submerged. Place the jar or Ziploc bag with salted water on top to weigh down all of the vegetables below the brine. Cover everything with a clean kitchen towel.

4. Allow the curtido to ferment for 2-5 days at room temperature. Taste it every day after that until it reaches a level of tartness that you like, then remove the weights and cover the jar and refrigerate to slow down the fermentation process. The curtido should stay good for 6 months or longer in the fridge. If at any point in time something doesn’t look or smell right, consult an expert to help you troubleshoot what didn’t go quite right. It’s most likely to be something simple and easily resolved.

Brassica’s fermented farmers’ market vegetables

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This simple ferment is a beautiful way to make the best of hearty, firm summer vegetables like cucumbers, green tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and romano beans. It can be eaten by itself, on a sandwich, or in fried rice, like the Fried Sweet Rice on Brassica Kitchen & Café’s dinner menu. Jeremy Kean

1whole small head of garlic, cleaned of dirt and other hangers-on
1tablespoon mustard seeds
1tablespoon fennel seeds
2whole hot peppers (optional)
Kosher salt
Filtered water
1teaspoon of culinary lime (optional)
2pounds mixed vegetables (see above), washed, peeled where necessary, and cut into bite-size chunks
12-quart wide mouth mason jar or equivalent non-reactive container
18-ounce mason jar or sealed Ziploc bag filled with at least 5 percent salted water (50 grams salt for every liter of water)

1. Place the garlic, mustard seed, fennel seed, and hot peppers (if using) in the bottom of the mason jar or other non-reactive vessel.

2. In a separate non-reactive bowl, mix 100 grams of salt with 2 liters of filtered water and the culinary lime (if using) to create a 5 percent pickling brine. Taste the brine. It should taste very salty, but not inedible.

3. Pour the brine over the vegetables and spices in the jar, making sure it covers everything. If not, mix another 50 grams of salt and 1 liter of water and top off the jar.

4. Using the jar or Ziploc bag method from the prior recipe by Rich Shih, weigh down the vegetables so they are fully submerged under the brine. If a few spices float on the top, don’t worry.

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5. Cover the whole thing with cheese cloth or a clean kitchen towel and leave to ferment at room temperature for a few days. Bubbles should develop over the first few days, letting you know the ferment is underway. Taste the vegetables on day 3 and see how they are transforming, then taste each day after that until they have the right amount of sourness for you. If a pillowy white film appears on the top, you’ve got harmless kahm yeast that can be skimmed off (if it looks worse than that, consult a book, online resource, or knowledgeable friend). After 5 to 7 days, you’ll be ready to remove the weighting jar or Ziploc bag, put a lid on the fermenting jar, and move the whole thing to the fridge to slow down the fermentation. The pickles should stay good for 6 months or longer in the fridge.