Whole Food Adventures: Pickling

Pickling is the most traditional means of food preservation around, however in modern times most people have reserved pickling merely for cucumbers and relegated the practice to a mere handful of companies. Now, I enjoy a good kosher dill as much as anyone, but the fact of the matter is that Pickling is easy, and by doing it yourself, you can make absolutely any kind of pickle you want. Plus, you can pickle most any vegetables, so want to pickle something more than cucumbers? DO IT. And, it can be healthier than eating many of the vegetables straight, and certainly than buying pickles at the store.

There are two methods of pickling. The traditional lacto-fermentation process, and a heat and vinegar process. Both taste good, but the best nutrition comes from the traditional fermentation.

The heat and vinegar process involves heating water, vinegar, and usually some sugar in a saucepan to a gentle boil, and pour it over the vegetables you want to pickle in a seal-able container. Refrigerate for a week, and enjoy. Really good to do this with are baby carrots, with some crushed red pepper and dried chiles for flavor, and you’ve got what Alton Brown calls Firecrackers. However, while this is not unhealthy, it doesn’t have the same health benefits that the traditionally fermented pickles do.

One of the most classic fermented vegetables is Cabbage. Fermented Cabbage goes by many name. In Germany, it’s Sauerkraut. In Korea, it’s Kimchi. And it’s dead easy to make. You begin by coring a head of cabbage. My preferred method of doing this is to quarter (cut in half, then half again) the cabbage, and perform a diagonal cut to remove the nasty stem part of the cabbage. Then, cut the cabbage as thinly as you can. This may be easier with a food processor or a mandolin, but it’s far from impossible with a good sharp chef’s knife.

Put the cabbage in a large mixing bowl, I’d recommend stainless steel, and add a tablespoon of caraway seeds, and two tablespoons of whey, which is very rich in lactobacillus. Then, proceed to pound on the cabbage for ten minutes, preferably with a large wood mallet (see why I suggested a steel mixing bowl?). Anything fairly heavy should work fine, though. I used a partially filled mason jar last time. After about ten minutes, the cabbage should be pretty well broken down, and there should be a fair amount of water in your bowl. Dump the cabbage and water into a jar, and make sure that the liquid comes to just over the top of the cabbage. If you need to add a bit of water, that will be fine, but filter it first. The last thing our little bacterial friends need is chlorine.

Three days on the counter, and you’ll have a fine tasty jar of Sauerkraut. Oh, and don’t have the caraway seeds? Don’t fret too much. It’ll taste almost as good without them. And, this sauerkraut will improve with age. Finally, there are the nutritional aspects. Not only is cabbage a healthy plant to begin with, sauerkraut increases the Vitamin C content of the vegetable by a significant amount. 35% of the daily requirements, to be precise. Not to mention Vitamin K and Iron that our bodies can’t quite get out of cabbage to begin with.

Pickling is easy, and healthy. Admittedly, proper lacto-fermentation does require a bit of whey, but that’s a free by-product of home-made cream cheese, and if you haven’t already discovered the wonders of that, then you really should get on it.