How to make your favourite fermented foods at home

Fridge full of leftovers? Get creative in the kitchen and learn how to make some of our favourite fermented foods – from spicy Kimchi to salty sauerkraut.
  Published:  30 Aug 2017    |      8 minute read

Have you tried making Kimchi at home? I imagined that fermenting my own food would be slow and difficult – but when I discovered that many foods can be fermented in just a few days without any special equipment, I was hooked.

And it turns out that fermenting your own sides, salads and seasonings isn't just a route to cheap grub.

Fermented vegetable treats offer a cunning way to use up your leftovers and cut your food waste, which is great for the planet. They taste amazing, they're great for your health, and they make great gifts too.

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Wondering how to ferment your own vegetables at home? Here are 5 of my favourite fermented foods

1. Sauerkraut — a recipe for fermented cabbage

Homemade sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) preserved in 4 gift jars
Credit: The Leftover Queen at www.leftoverqueen.com

With only 2 ingredients, this Sauerkraut recipe isn't just inexpensive, it's idiot proof.

To make sauerkraut, you'll need:

  • 2 tbsp of salt
  • 3/4 of a cabbage
  • large glass jar

How to make sauerkraut:

Still wondering what sauerkraut is? The quick answer is that it's a simple and surprisingly tasty cabbage concoction.

Chop a cabbage of your choice into thin slices, cover with salt and mix. Cover your mixture with cling film and place something heavy on top to help the salt start drawing the water from your cabbage. Leave for 10 minutes.

On your return, massage for a further 3 minutes, and finally, empty the concoction into a large glass jar. Make sure you apply pressure with a spoon as you transfer the mixture to ensure enough juices are released to cover all your fermenting cabbage.

It helps if you keep your cabbage squashed together while you wait for the magic to happen, so I'd suggest adding a something with some weight, like jar of beans (or a cooking weight) on top of your fermenting cabbage. Cover your jar with a piece of cloth.

Your sauerkraut will be ready to eat in about 3 days — but you could leave it for up to 3 weeks if your tastebuds prefer super-fermentation.

2. Super easy kimchi recipe

Super-easy Korean Kimchi (fermented cabbage with ginger, onions, radish and chilli)
Credit: Chloe Lim on www.kfoodaddict.com

This traditional Korean recipe has been a table staple for thousands of years. It's packed full of probiotics and health-boosting vitamins (A, B and C) – and as a simple side dish, wow, does it add flavour to your plate!

If you're looking for a homemade gift that packs a real punch, DIY kimchi is a great low-cost option.

To make kimchi, you'll need:

  • 2/3 of a Napa cabbage, shredded (this is often called Chinese cabbage in the shops, and is easily available) – you can use the rest in a stir-fry or bubble and squeak
  • 1 tbsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of Korean chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tbsp of fish sauce (optional)
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • 3-4 spring onions
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 5-7 radishes
  • 1 carrot sliced (optional)

How to make kimchi:

Simply squish the mixture together for 5 minutes, ensuring the juices are released from the veggies. I like to add some carrots for extra sweetness, but there are plenty of imaginative variations of this recipe that you can explore.

Seal your kimchi in a jar and leave it for 3 days to ferment, opening periodically to allow the gas to escape. Then just pop it in your fridge or add a handmade label and wrap your DIY kimchi as a gift.

3. Fermented ginger carrots recipe

Easy fermented carrots and spices pictured in a jar
Credit: Friends of the Earth

If spicy cabbage isn't your bag, then here's a delicious alternative that will be loved even by the less adventurous fermenter. I like to eat these in cheese sandwiches, on the side of a curry, or simply popped in the mouth willy-nilly during a ravenous fridge raid – they're so scrummy.

To make fermented carrots, you'll need:

  • 3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of salt to add to water
  • 2 cups of water - or enough to fill the jar
  • 2-4 carrots
  • 1 tsp of cumin and a small knob of chopped ginger – optional, but really tasty.

How to make fermented carrots:

Roughly slice 3 cloves of garlic and place at the bottom of your glass jar. Next, add your carrot batons, salt and water, then place the ginger and cumin at the top, and seal.

Once the lid is closed, invert the contents to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Leave for 3 days, and you will have yourself a fiendishly-good fridge snack. the bright colours make for a beautiful bright gift too.

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4. Pineapple tepache recipe

Fermented fruit drink in a lovely jar
Credit: Mr.Icon on wikimedia.org - CC2.0

A long-established Mexican probiotic thirst-quencher to put fire in your belly and hairs on your chest. This is an excellent recipe to make use of otherwise wasted pineapple rinds.

To ferment your own pineapple drink you'll need:

  • Rinds and the core from one pineapple
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 cinammon stick
  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 tbsp of raw sugar (or substitute this with brown sugar)

How to ferment your pineapple:

Add the ingredients to a large glass jar and leave for 3 days. Simple.

Fancy making an altogether stronger brew? After 3 days, filter the concoction to remove any debris, and pour the juices into a new jar.

Wait for another 3 to 7 days (the more time, the more potent), and as if by magic, you'll have made a fruity cocktail your friends will love. This homemade gift is a great addition to any celebration.

Now I've mastered tepache I'm trying a new experiment. I've heard a lot about fermented Kefir, so I'm trying out making my own fermented Kefir milk drink at home. If you want to have a go, learn how to make Kefir here.

5. Pickled radishes recipe

Beautiful sliced picked radishes in a fermenting jar, with extra radish on chopping board
Credit: Amelia Crook on www.flickr.com - CC2.0

As far as I'm concerned, you can add these fermented beauties to almost any Asian-inspired dish to add depth of flavour, or as a side to refresh your palette.

With their bright, fresh colours, these pickled radishes look beautiful – making them a perfect homemade gift.

To pickle your own radishes you'll need:

  • 1 bag of radishes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp of salt
  • 3 cups of water - or enough to fill the jar

How to pickle radishes:

Add chopped garlic to the bottom of a small jar – an old jam jar will do – and place sliced radishes on top. Fill the jar with salted water and like most of our fermented treats, cover and leave at room temperature for 3 days to brew. Give them a shake every day to mix your pickle up.

After brewing, pop the jar in the fridge to keep.

If these tickle your tastebuds, try out these amazing dill pickled cucumbers for a DIY gift that you'll want to keep all for yourself.

What is fermentation?

Lacto-fermentation is the process by which sugars locked in foods are converted to lactic acid by bacteria, giving it that authentic sour tasting flavour.

During recent years, a number of studies have found that eating fermented foods is linked an overall improvement in digestive tract function, enhancement of the immune system and even a reduced risk of gut cancers. This means that fermented foods aren't just tasty, they're healthy too.

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