Lacto-Fermented Pickles

I love Mark Bittman. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian introduced me to sourdough by making it so easy, it didn’t cross my mind to get caught up in elaborate preparations or find myself a pedigreed strain.

Similarly, I tried making refrigerator pickles from his Kosher Pickles, The Right Way recipe and they came out salty rather than sour, which I found delicious. Later, I realized that all I had to do in order to get the lacto-fermentation that would produce the probiotic benefits and familiar sour flavor was to leave them out longer than the 12-24 hours in the recipe recommended. I’ve had success pickling cucumbers, kohlrabi, and fennel, and I look forward to experimenting with more vegetables as the summer progresses.

The only important variables seem to be a) deciding what vegetables to pickle, b) finding a way to make sure the vegetables stay completely submerged, and c) brine strength. Varying the spices is fun, but doesn’t affect the science project. As it turns out, I lucked out by following Mark Bittman’s recipe using a glass baking dish with a lid. Inverting the lid over the dish handily keeps vegetables submerged, while putting a plate underneath collects runoff water (the vegetables will give off water at first, and the water will dribble out the sides).

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Mark Bittman’s recipe for Kosher Pickles, The Right Way calls for 2 pounds of cucumbers, 1/3 cup kosher salt, spices, and enough water to fill the bowl. This obviously doesn’t create a brine of a precise strength, but it doesn’t matter because the pickles are only intended to be cured at room temperature for 48 hours, and stored in the refrigerator for a week or shorter.

What I found in practice with my particular bowl was that I could see visible results of lactofermentation (bubbles and cloudiness) within a day, and taste the results over the course of several days (the pickles went from being merely salty to pleasingly sour). So even though the amount of salt seemed to be way more than in many other recipes, I trusted that the science project was proceeding as expected.

I am honestly unlikely to veer from this formula, which is convenient if imprecise:

  1. Put about 2 lb of vegetables into the glass dish, along with any desired spices.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water, dissolve 1/3 cup of salt into it, and then add ice cubes until the brine is cool enough to handle.
  3. Pour the brine over the vegetables. Then pour water on top until the container is filled.
  4. Top with the inverted lid, making sure that the vegetables are fully submerged and no air comes in contact with them.

After a day or so, the brine will start to turn bubbly and cloudy, a sign that the fermentation process is working. You can jumpstart the process by including some brine from a previous batch of pickles, but it’s not necessary.

A footnote about food safety:

Most bloggers claim that pickling is fairly idiot-proof because a) bad batches happen rarely, and b) a bad batch will smell and look foul and no one in their right mind would eat it. The important thing is to keep the vegetables fully submerged in order to prevent the growth of mold, yeast, and fungus. While I did read one scientific paper about how the Listeria bacteria can survive the fermentation process, I’m not sure how it’s relevant. Pickling doesn’t kill the Listeria, but you would have gotten sick if you’d eaten the raw cucumber anyway. Cooked food is safer, but no one cooks cucumbers.

In conclusion, I feel safe making pickles that ferment at room temperature for under a week, are stored in the refrigerator, and are consumed quickly. I suppose the probiotic benefits would be greater with a longer ferment, but I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the very good (and easy).

What vegetables can be pickled? Almost anything. Cucumbers, obviously, but also root vegetables like radishes and onions, and fruits like peppers and green tomatoes. I’ve read that it’s best to pickle beets with other vegetables because of their high sugar content, but that’s easy enough. And pretty much anything goes with spices as well – fresh herbs, peppercorns, dill seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds.

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Baked Whole Salmon

I bought a whole frozen 1.5lb salmon for about $4.50 a pound at the farmer’s market, which is extremely cheap by farmer’s market standards. Googling for recipes turned out to be a bit tricky because I didn’t want a recipe, I just wanted to bake it. As it turned out, this recipe from Livestrong was a pretty good starting point. Here’s what I did (though all the flavorings are actually optional – what matters is the fish):

  • whole salmon
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the lemon in thin rounds. Rinse the salmon in cool water. Scale as needed (run a knife lightly over the scales to get rid of them). Put the salmon on an aluminum foil-lined pan (cut off the tail if it doesn’t fit). Rub olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides and in the cavity of the salmon. Arrange the lemon slices in a row inside and on top of the salmon. Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and put it in the oven. Bake for approximately 35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Fish Head Stew

This fish head stew turned out to be quite good. I made the stock in the Instant Pot, but cooked the stew on the stove top. The consistency of the stew is intended to be like a very soft porridge – spoon-feeding consistency for a toddler.

  • Two King Salmon fish heads and trim
  • 1 cup millet
  • 2/3 cup frozen green peas
  • 2/3 tbsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Put the salmon trim in the Instant Pot with 6 cups water and salt. Cook on High pressure for 20 minutes (this could probably have been way less – I’ll try 10 minutes next time).

When the stock is done, transfer the liquid to a pot on the stove, bring to a boil, and add a cup of millet. Let the millet simmer for about 20-30 minutes. While the millet is cooking, work with the fish heads over a colander to extract the salmon flesh and remove the bones. There will be a lot of tedious little bones.

Add the salmon flesh and any stock that dripped through the colandar to the stew. When the salmon bits are hot, add the frozen green peas. Stir and remove from heat.

When we served the stew to Nora, we also added some leftover baked salmon we had in the refrigerator. This was a tasty addition, but not strictly necessary.

Ramen-Style Noodles in Pig Trotter Broth

I bought two big pig trotters at a farmer’s market, then let them sit in the freezer for a while because I didn’t know what to do with them. This is a more time-consuming recipe than chicken broth because of all the extra steps (roasting, cooling to skim off fat), but it’s very good. The pork broth makes for a nice, gelatinous ramen-style broth.

  • 1 pig trotter
  • 1/2 pound pork stir-fry meat (optional), finely sliced
  • 5-6 shiitakes, soaked in boiling water until soft
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 head of Napa cabbage
  • 2 bundles of udon noodles
  • soy sauce to taste

Roast the pig trotter in the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes per side. More is probably better, but I still haven’t figured out what’s optimal. Any temperature between 400 and 450 and any time range between 20 minutes and a full hour probably works – more is better, but the perfect shouldn’t undercut the very good.

Put the pig trotter in the Instant Pot with a bay leaf, 2/3 tbsp salt, and water between the halfway and 2/3 of the way up the pot. A splash of cider vinegar too, if you remember (it’s supposed to help pull minerals out of the bones). Cook on high pressure for 2 hours.

Remove bones, pull off and reserve meat (there won’t be much, but it will be very tender). Let cool in refrigerator and skim off fat. This removes most of the gamey odor, which I personally am not a fan of.

Make the rest of the soup the stovetop. Stir-fry the onion and carrots on the bottom of a large pot. Add the shiitakes and broth. When the broth is boiling, add the stir-fry pork. Cook for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the stir-fry pork is done. Add the reserved meat from the broth and the noodles and cook until the noodles are done. If desired, add a small amount of soy sauce, to taste.

I added the extra stir-fry pork mainly for Nora’s benefit. She enjoyed the broth and was willing to eat the veggies and noodles, but only if there was a little bit of meat on the spoon.

Vegetarian Eggflower Noodle Soup

I haven’t been blogging much because, frankly, Nora hasn’t been eating much new food. But she has thankfully resumed eating my fish and chicken stews, and she’s been sampling odd things – for example, she loved dipping breadsticks into pesto, and she was willing to eat small amounts of peanut butter and hummus after having rejected them for a while. She also finally drank cow’s milk – or rather, half-and-half for my coffee at a restaurant when she was hungry and food service was slow.

This veggie noodle soup is quite strongly flavored with ginger and chili pepper. The secret ingredient to the broth is the egg. It gives the soup a nice rich mouthfeel and keeps the chili pepper from being overpowering. Nora didn’t eat a lot, but she didn’t reject it either, which I’ll count as a win. (She was willing to eat the noodles and cabbage, but not the carrots. I didn’t even try offering the shiitakes.)

  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 head cabbage
  • several cloves of garlic
  • 6 coin-sized slices of ginger
  • 1 dried chili pepper, minced and optionally de-seeded
  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 eggs (or more, for richer soup)
  • 2 packages of udon noodles
  • olive oil for sautéing

Soak the shiitakes in boiling water until soft. Slice the carrots, ginger, and garlic, mince the chili peppers, and sauté these ingredients in the bottom of a stockpot. Slice the shiitakes, chop the cabbage finely, and add them to the pot. Add plenty of water and salt (I add more as I go along, adjusting to taste) and let simmer for 10-20 minutes until the vegetables are almost to your preferred consistency. Then add the udon noodles.

When the noodles are done, ladle out a cup of the hot soup. Beat the eggs in a bowl and slowly add the hot soup a little at a time, whisking briskly. Then pour the egg mixture back into the pot while stirring it. This will give the soup an eggflower texture and slightly thicker consistency. If you like, pick out the ginger slices before serving. (I don’t bother.)

If you don’t have time to rehydrate shiitakes, wakame is a good substitute. I’ve made the stew both ways. And, of course, wakame and shiitakes together would also be good.

Sourdough Pan Bread

We’ve been maintaining a sourdough culture for several years. It survived dehydration and rehydration when we moved from Seattle to LA and has been going strong ever since. It is based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, which made sourdough seem so simple that it didn’t occur to me to get lost in the vines and groves of sourdough geekdom on the Internet. We bake bread and pizza with it all the time.

I discovered a pancake recipe that turned out to be much more like a fluffy flatbread. These are delicious and to my mind, more convenient to make than a loaf of bread because the only activity happens the night before, in the morning, and right before cooking with no rise time. Not having to wash a food processor sticky with dough also saves a lot of time.

http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/sourdough-recipes/fluffier-overnight-sourdough-pancakes/

Here is my take on the recipe, based on my Mark Bittman starter:

  1. Feed the starter its usual 2 cups white flour and 1 3/4 cups warm water in the evening.
  2. In the morning, stir the starter down and measure out 1 3/4 cups of starter. Put the rest back in the refrigerator.
  3. Mix the 1 3/4 cups starter with 1 1/4 cup white flour. Let the dough sit until dinnertime.
  4. Put a cast-iron pan on the stove at medium heat (for the sake of speed, I use two pans simultaneously).
  5. Beat 2 eggs in a bowl with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking soda and use two forks to mix it into the starter. This will not be the easiest task, as the dough will be sticky and it will take a while for the eggs to be mixed in.
  6. Add oil or butter to the pan and wait for it to get hot.
  7. Make pancake sized-dollops of batter on the pan (it will be thicker than pancake batter) and spread them into circles. Cook on one side for a few minutes, then flip and cook on the other side.
  8. Serve immediately.

I’m not convinced I need the baking soda at all, but I have yet to try the recipe without it. The original recipe called for 1/2 tsp baking soda, and I halved it on my second try with no difference in taste or texture.

Instant Pot Salmon Stew (Boneless)

I’ve been in the habit of purchasing whole fish so I can use the bones for stock. This stew is made from a salmon filet and leftover stock, and therefore skips the step of cooking the fish on its own and removing the bones.

  • 1lb salmon filet
  • 1 to 2 cups salmon stock or water
  • 1 cup millet
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bunch kale, washed and chopped
  • 2/3 tbsp salt

Add the millet, salmon, 2 cups liquid (salmon stock + water), salt, and vegetables to the Instant Pot. Cook for 20 minutes on High pressure.

There were a few small bones in the stew, but this didn’t end up mattering. An adult could have eaten them without noticing and I just picked out the ones in Nora’s portion.

Instant Pot Chicken Stew

The chicken soup I made in my Instant Pot before was okay, but I’m discovering that a longer-cooked stew with less water and a browning step is truly delicious.

  • Half of a whole chicken
  • 2/3 tbsp salt

Any or all of the following vegetables (whatever’s in the fridge)

  • 1 onion
  • 2-4 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 bunch chopped kale
  • 1/4 head shredded cabbage
  • 1 Acorn or Delicata squash, cut in half with seeds scooped out

Brown the half chicken using the Saute function. Add the salt, 1 to 2 cups of water or chicken stock (depending on how much water you expect the veggies to add), and a pile of vegetables (don’t worry if the kale makes a mountain right up to the top, as it cooks way down). Cook on High pressure for 25-30 minutes (depending on the quantity and temperature of food in the pot, though it’s hard to go wrong).

When the stew is done, remove the chicken, pull the meat away from the bones (I like to do this over a colandar), and return the meat to the stew. (I freeze the bones to make a big batch of stock later.) If you added a squash, remove the flesh, throw away the skin, and add the squash back to the pot. Stir to mix all the ingredients.

Instant Pot Vegetarian Tomatillo, Bean, and Squash Stew

I haven’t tried this on Nora yet, but it was a big hit with everyone else (my mom and husband). As with all my Instant Pot recipes, quantities are approximate and substitutions welcome.

  • 1 cup dried white beans
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • about 3/4 lb tomatillos
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 large onion
  • several cloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 heaping tbsp salt
  • 1 heaping tsp cumin
  • black pepper

Soak the beans and chickpeas in boiling water in the Instant Pot for 2-24 hours (depending on schedule convenience). Drain the water and rinse the beans thoroughly. (The soaking is skippable, but I think it helps with gas.)

Microwave the squash for 5 minutes and let it cool (also skippable, but makes peeling much easier). Halve it, scoop out the seeds (save them for roasting!), and peel the squash (I used a knife to cut away the flesh). Cut the squash into rough chunks and put it into the pot with the beans.

Dice the onion. Mince the garlic. Peel and halve the tomatillos. Seed and mince the jalapeno. Add the vegetables to the pot. Add stock or water to about the level of the beans (I could have gotten away with less, since the vegetables juice out so much). Add the salt, cumin, and a generous grind of black pepper.

Cook on high pressure for 25 minutes.

When the stew is done, use a potato masher to mash the soup. The squash and tomatillos will basically dissolve, leaving you with a greenish soup and very soft beans.

Instant Pot Black Bean and Barley Stew

I’m discovering that I like keeping track of my Instant Pot recipes so I know how much beans and salt to put in, and how long to cook for. But the rest is open to improvisation, and it always somehow comes out good. Instant Pot cooking seems to be very, very forgiving.

  • 1.5 cups dried black beans
  • 1.5 cups pearled barley
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (optional, for soaking)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 dried chili pepper, minced
  • 1.5 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Soak beans and barley in boiling water with apple cider vinegar in the Instant Pot for 2-24 hours. Drain and rinse thoroughly until water runs reasonably clear. (I’m pretty sure soaking is optional, but I’m still in the habit of doing it if I have time.)

Fill the pot with water or broth to 2 inches above the beans and barley. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook on the “Beans/Chili” setting for 25 minutes.

Just before serving, pour the olive oil on top and stir it in. (Optional, but tasty.)