How to Make Lacto-Fermented Carrots: Caraway and Ginger “Kraut-Slaws”
I planted carrots in the spring and am just now getting around to using them! It has been dry in the garden so they are not the sweetest or most tender carrots for eating fresh. With that in mind I decided to make a big batch of lacto-fermented carrots. I made two “flavors”—Savory Caraway and Ginger—but the process was the same for both batches.
Lacto-fermentation is: Harnessing the transformational power of lactobacillus bacteria to preserve food.
Let me explain: Consider a cucumber. If you leave a cucumber out on your counter for a few days it will start to soften, leak liquids, and eventually decompose as naturally occurring aerobic (oxygen-loving) bacteria do their work of “breaking things down” (like what happens in a compost pile).
Now, instead, take a fresh cucumber and submerge it in a somewhat salty brine. The air–water interface acts like a bouncer at a night club, controlling which bacteria are invited to the party. The brine is an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment, so only certain bacteria are able to survive. Specifically, you want to invite (by “invite” I meant create a hospitable environment) the anaerobic lactobacillus bacteria which convert naturally found (or added) sugars into lactic acid during the fermentation process, creating probiotics and a tart or sour flavor (like old fashioned pickles). The salt acts as a preservative while the lactobacillus bacteria (present on the skin of vegetables) fully colonize the ferment and begin transforming it into “pickles.” Vegetables, drinks, and dairy can all be preserved (and transformed) using lacto-fermentation and for a large portion of human history it was a primary food preservation technique.
After harvesting the carrots I rinsed them well to remove any dirt, but I didn’t scrub them or use any sort of “sanitizer.” The lactobacilli live on the surfaces of vegetables so when I am processing for fermentation I don’t scrub or peel them. However, I do carefully wash all of the bowls and utensils and my hands—I don’t want to introduce any “un-welcome” bacteria or other crud.
For sauerkraut I usually roughly chop the ingredients, but for the carrot “Kraut Slaw” I used the grater attachment of a food processor. This gave me a more coleslaw-ish texture and saved me a LOT of chopping!
#1 Savory Caraway Ingredients:
- Grated Carrots
- Finely Chopped Garlic
- Whole Caraway Seeds
- Whole Mustard Seeds
- Salt (good quality sea salt!)
#2 Carrot Ginger Ingredients:
- Grated Carrots
- Grated Golden Beets (just a small amount that I had on hand—not crucial to the recipe)
- Finely Chopped Ginger
- Whole Coriander Seeds
Finely chop (or grate) the garlic (for the Savory Caraway batch) or ginger (for the Ginger).
A note about amounts. I lean towards the folk-method of preparing food. As in, I rarely measure out ingredients. I decide amounts based on flavor and ratios (“that looks good!”). If I am trying a new ingredient or new method of cooking I will look a several recipes that relate to get “an idea” of how to use an ingredient. And then I wing it. For these recipes I will give some rough estimates.
For one quart sized batch:
Carrots: two average sized food processor-bowls full but not packed tight.
Ginger and/or garlic 3 tablespoons—to taste, of course! (a thumb sized piece—ish)
Spices: enough so that in a “bite” you would get a couple to a few seeds.
Salt: about two tablespoons, or a sprinkle on every handful : )
Combine the ingredients in a a big bowl/pot. Mix really well so the salt gets evenly distributed.
Tightly pack the mixture into a clean, non-reactive container (use glass jars or ceramic crocks, not metal or plastic as these can leach toxins into your ferments) leaving one and a half inches of airspace at the top. In this case I used quart and 1/2 gallon canning jars. After tightly packing the ingredients into the jar the liquid should cover the solids so that the chunks of carrot etc. are not exposed to oxygen (remember, you are going for an anaerobic environment). I found that my dry carrots didn’t have enough moisture in them to do this so I had to mix up a little brine to pour on top. The brine is 2 1/2 tbsp of salt dissolved in 1 quart of water. I pour this on top of a ferment I am starting that doesn’t have enough moisture of its own.
So, you have the ingredients packed tightly into the container and there is enough liquid to cover the solids. Now find a smaller jar/container/non-reactive weight to hold the “floaties” down. In this case I used a smaller mason jar filled with water inside the big jar—the water gave it enough weight to compress the carrots. Finally, loosely cover with a lid (or rubber band some cheesecloth onto the jar) to keep the flies out. Do not tighten the lid—the lactobacilli off-gas carbon dioxide and if too much pressure builds it can explode the container. Set the whole thing on your counter, but out of direct sunlight, where you can watch it ferment.
Over the next day to three days you’ll start to see small bubbles form and maybe even some foam will rise to the surface. Check that all the chunks remain fully covered by liquid. The warmer it is the more quickly this process will happen. I like to taste-test mine after two days! In warmer weather I usually let things ferment for two to four days before moving it to cold storage (the fridge), but I like a crunchy texture and a mild flavor. Some people like a more “sour” ferment. Keep tasting yours and when it tastes good to you, move it to the refrigerator (or root cellar if you have one). The cold slooooows down the fermentation process and it will keep in the fridge for months.
If at any point your fermented food smells awful, putrid, or rotten, listen to your senses and don’t eat it. If it smells good but there is a little bit of mold on the top, scrape off the mold and try it–does it taste good and make you feel good? If in doubt, don’t eat it. Otherwise, enjoy your lacto-fermented carrots as a side dish, on a salad, with eggs, on a sandwich, or straight out of the jar (using a clean utensil, of course)!