Lacto-Fermented Beets

by Meg Cotner on August 9, 2010

One of the things I’m going to talk about on Wednesday is lacto-fermentation, that traditional method of preserving food with salt and/or whey, that results in a more nutrient dense food that is high in vitamin C, and full of probiotics.  I want to have an example to show everyone at the talk, and I had some beets in my refrigerator, so I chose to ferment them.

whole raw beets

I love beets prepared many ways, and fermenting them is just one way to make them delicious.  I first learned about lacto-fermentation from Andrew Faust, a permaculture specialist based in Brooklyn NY, but formerly lived 8 years off the grid in rural West Virginia.   He taught a fermentation workshop in Sunnyside (sponsored by Food Not Lawns) that was really great and I learned so much!  It got me really excited about fermentation.

To make these beets, I used my experience from this workshop with a little guidance from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, a wonderful book about, well, fermented foods.  These foods range from vegetables to dairy, to beverages, and more.  It’s an awesome book.

The first thing to do is find yourself a non-reactive bowl.  I use a large pyrex bowl when I’m doing any kind of fermentation, be it LF veggies, working with sourdough, or soaking grains/flours.  Another material to use would be ceramic – just don’t use metal.

Prepare your beets – rinse them off to get rid of dirt but don’t scrub the outside or peel the beets.  There are microorganisms living on the outside of the beets (and other vegetables, too), that you want to retain to help with the whole fermentation process.

I used about a pound and a half of beets for this batch.  It might seem like a lot, but it compresses quite a bit.

The next thing to do is to grate the beets.  Those of you with food processors, you can just put them through that, but a hand grater works great.  I use a box grater.  Be careful of those knuckles!

grated beets

After you grate the beets, add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of sea salt; iodized salt is not recommended for this.  If you want your ferment to be saltier, use more salt.  I used a whole tablespoon because I’m going to use these beets as a flavoring for beans and grains, which I won’t salt.  Pound the beets with a wooden spoon, smashing them and mixing them together as you go.  Soon, the beets will start to break down and exude some liquid.

juicy beets

These beets got kind of foamy, probably because of the saponins within.

really juicy beets

Find yourself a very clean (sterilized is great, but thoroughly washed with soap and water works, too) glass jar with a lid – I like using canning jars with metal lids.  I also like to use a wide mouth funnel, which helps immensely when putting the beets in the jar.

the vessel

Put the beets in the jar!  As you put them in there, press down to exude even more liquid.

beets in the jar

This liquid is a kind of brine that will help protect the beets from exposure to outside air.

from the top

As you can see in this picture, there was space between my beets and the top of the jar.  So, I made a separate brine – 1 tablespoon sea salt to 1 cup of water. I poured it into the jar until there was about 1/4-1/2 inch left at the top.

pouring in the brine

After you’ve poured enough brine in, screw on the lid until it’s finger tight, but not too tight.  It’s good to turn the jar upside down a few times to let any air bubbles come up and release into the area just below the lid.

beets ready to ferment

Set your jar of beets in a dark, warmish cupboard.  After a couple of days, check the beets and see how you like them.  If you want them a little tangier, let them ferment for another day and check it, and so on.  If you like what you taste, store the beets in the fridge in the door.  The fridge is the best “refrigerator microclimate” for such things.

These beets – or any lacto-fermented food – are a living food.  Mine were so alive this weekend that they wanted to escape some!  Our warm summer no doubt has accelerated certain processes in the fermentation process; I doubt this would be the same situation in the heart of winter.

Apparently I tightened the lid just a tad too tight, so that the beets didn’t have any space to release their gas, so they pressed up against the lid as hard as they could!  The lid was slightly domed when I saw it on Sunday morning.  I had to release the tension so that I could check on them, and they exclaimed all sorts of fizzy sounds in the process!  I did spoon out a couple tablespoons of beets and added more brine to relax things.  They’ve been fine since then.

Of course, there are systems that are truly designed for fermentation.  The Harsch crock is one, regular crocks with a plate is another system, and there are fancy lids for mason jars.  My system has worked for me, and I’ve made some great LF foods this way.  Plus, it utilizes tools I have at home, at my fingertips.  One day I’ll buy a Harsch, I expect, but it’s not on my list for the moment.

I tasted the beets this morning and they are already tangy!  And a little salty, but they will be fantastic with black beans or millet.

Hooray for lacto fermented beets!  Yum.

holding beets

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