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Whenever we mention eating fermented foods, the initial reaction from the undereducated is "Ewww, that makes me sick just to think about it." Hmm, yet these same people post every Starbucks trip on Facebook and talks about craving chocolate, two foods that have both undergone the fermentation process, as have beer, wine, tea, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, bread, yogurt, and many other "normal" foods. So before you turn up your nose and decide this post can't possibly be of any interest to you, let's look more closely at fermentation.
The most important aspect of fermented foods is that they are alive. Most of us understand the health benefits of eating yogurt, many of which pertain to the microorganisms (probiotics and enzymes) that are alive in the yogurt. Our body needs (and even craves) fermented foods to function properly. Man has evolved with fermented foods, initially as a means of preservation, and we have been eating these foods for thousands of years. Some ferments, such as yogurt, are not "wild", meaning a culture must be added to initiate the process, but the ferments we will talk about today are wild ferments. There is no need to add anything but salt in order to preserve cabbage, carrots, peppers, just about any vegetable, and even eggs.
We all know that pickles are simply pickled cucumbers. This is an example of a wild ferment. Kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled peppers and vegetables are other foods that ferment, or "pickle," by using the cultures that occur naturally on the foods, rather than adding them like yogurt or miso.
We started our fermentation experiment by making kimchi, but quickly progressed to pickling any appropriate produce that we found on sale at the market, including cucumbers, jalapenos, and carrots. Food that will spoil in a few days without refrigeration lasts for weeks once it has been pickled. Not only is this a great resource for those of us living simply, but fermented foods taste divine! I find myself craving kimchi, a food Dave was convinced I would not even try, much less request. We now keep two jars of kimchi: one "cooking" and one that we eat out of every few days. We try to let it ferment for four or more days before we start eating it, so that it has the full flavor and health benefit, but we have kept kimchi for over three weeks: still perfectly preserved and tasty.
Let's start with the basic kimchi recipe, to which you can add any vegetables or simply replace with cucumbers or peppers once you are ready to start experimenting.
Pull leaves off a head of cabbage. We don't cut the cabbage because it will spoil more quickly once it is cut.
Cut the leaves into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces.
Rub the cabbage with salt. This is easiest to do in a large bowl. Use 1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon salt for a quart of kimchi. The higher the temperature is outside the more salt you should use, keeping in this range. The salt inhibits the growth of "bad" bacteria until the "good" bacteria can take over and begin fermenting the food.
Add carrots, hot peppers, and garlic to taste. Hand mix all ingredients with the salted cabbage to cover them with salt, as well. Pack the vegetables into a quart jar.
Fill with water.
Place a "lid" made of a small piece of cabbage leaf that completely covers the top of the jar and sort of pushes the food into the water. This ensures that all the food is covered.
Place a real lid on the jar loosely and store it in a container to catch the liquid that is expelled as the food begins to ferment. This only happens the first day or so, depending on the temperature. The cooler it is the longer it will bubble.
Wait a few days and eat.
The first time you make kimchi, we recommend you try some every day, just so you know the changes it goes through and to find the day you start to like it best. As with everything, use a clean utensil every time you get into the jar and never put removed kimchi back into the jar. If you don't eat everything you have pulled out, throw it away rather than contaminating the rest of the jar.
By chance, we discovered a use for the extra juice left over once we had eaten all the pickled jalapenos. We had a few hard boiled eggs that were not going to last much longer before they rotted, so I put them in the pickled pepper juice. The next day we had wonderfully pickled hard boiled eggs for no effort, using what we had otherwise planned on throwing away.
Dave first learned of the health benefits and ease of fermenting foods from Sandor Katz and his book Wild Fermentation. The social, historical, and political issues associated with fermented foods are also discussed in this book. If you are still not sure about fermenting your own foods, you will be after reading any of Katz's writings. Give it a try. All you have to lose are a few leaves of cabbage. And you might just realize what your body has known all along: there is nothing "gross" about fermented foods. Another cup of coffee, anyone?
We have talked in the past about how some cruisers finance the dream, but MONDAY we'll get a bit more specific and share how we have found work in different ports, time after time. The reason for our success may not be what you are expecting.
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