by Diana Zahuranec
I filled two scalloped blue bowls with homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, sat down, and taste-tested.
I was hesitant, but I was encouraged by the lack of mold.
After two weeks of pushing down the bottles that weighed on my sauerkraut and “kimchi” (which was not actually kimchi, but will be referred to as such because that’s what I wanted it to be), I balanced the heavy, full bowls of vegetables on a flimsy, plastic tray and carried them to the kitchen counter.
I removed the bottles filled with water, the plates, and then the bags (why all this? Here’s why in Step-by-step Fermentation). I began to pour the mix into large containers of what once held 1 kg of yogurt, but I stopped when I lost too much liquid.
I assumed that the liquid of fermented vegetables contains all the healthy nutrients that can be found in the vegetables themselves. I didn’t want to lose that, although I remain baffled as to what I could do with it, and haven’t found great sources backing up my Water-From-Fermented-Vegetables-Is-Healthy Theory (yet).
So I stuck my hand in and scooped it all out, pouring the liquid over top at the end. The liquids also help to preserve the vegetables when you store them in the refrigerator, and many say that the flavor improves as the fermentation slowly continues. And another reason to save the water: use a bit mixed in with the brine the next time you ferment vegetables, helping to jump-start the fermentation process.
According to Nourishing Days, ferments with 1-2% salt content will store for 4 to 9 months.
I filled two of those yogurt containers and some glass jars, or about roughly 13 cups of sauerkraut and kimchi from almost the same amount of vegetables. I had read that the vegetables will shrink as they lose their water, but the before:after ratio was nearly the same.
Success! They were both delicious. There was not a hint of rot. In fact, although many sources claim that it’s highly probable that you’ll lose some of your batch – especially a small one, like mine – due to air or uneven fermentation, I lost no more than a few shreds of cabbage.
Both were crunchy and flavorful. The pure cabbage had a more delicate flavor, and a bit of lactic acid tang. When I made the brine, I also added a teaspoon or two of yogurt whey to help . Sauerkraut naturally has a lactic acid flavor, so I’m curious to see if fermented vegetables without added whey would give off that taste as strongly. Fermentation Project Number 2?
The kimchi was spicy from the chili pepper flakes and chopped hot peppers I added, and the mix of vegetable textures was delightful. The tastes all ran together – a carrot didn’t taste much different from a chard stem. And the chard stems were tougher than I wanted; but on second thought, it’s great that everything retained its crunchy structure. Mushy vegetables can be the result of not adding enough salt; I also read on Nourishing Days that tannins keep the structure of the vegetables intact, so you may be able to add grape leaves, for example, to retain crunch.
And now I’ll admit that I tentatively drank the fermented water, out of curiosity and refusal to waste something healthy. Its flavor wasn’t offensive, just mostly salty. I decided it might be healthier to forgo the salt than to absorb the other nutrients in there. And drinking fermented water just doesn’t sound very appetizing.