How to Ferment with Spices at Home386
with Ashlee Redger
Test Kitchen Chef
Here’s a guarantee: if you come to my house for dinner, I’m definitely going to give you a walking tour of my menagerie of home fermentation projects (you won’t even have to ask; I’m very generous in that way). I’ll
make let you smell my sourdough starter (oooh, yeasty!), taste the latest batch of kraut, and if you’re lucky, poke the kombucha SCOBY culture (yes, I know it looks like an alien).
Of course, I know fermentation isn’t everyone’s “thing.” When I find a fellow brewing foodie, it’s the feeling of community and shared interest that I imagine sports fans have, without having to know the difference between a fullback and a linebacker (spoiler: I don’t). I love talking and learning from other, more experienced ferment-ers because even with the myriad of things I’ve attempted, I’m still just a beginner. Here are a few of the projects I have tried, and how I spiced ‘em up.
Making sauerkraut is surprisingly easy. A head of cabbage, a hearty sprinkle of salt, and some special massaging time later, you’ve got a jar of future kraut, submerged in its own liquid. I added some whole caraway seeds for a simple, classic version, but I’ve also heard of adding juniper berries, ginger, and/or dill seeds. Give it a week and you’ve got some delicious sauerkraut ready to add crunch to grilled bratwurst, pierogies, or basically anything else.
Oh, kimchi. I had such a fun time making this for the first time just a few weeks ago. I took a one-person field trip to the Asian market to pick up Napa cabbage, fish sauce, and sweet glutinous rice flour (which was a debated ingredient—some kimchi recipes insisted on including it, some didn’t mention it at all). I printed out several recipes, from Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles cookbook to an actual Korean grandmother’s recipe and wrote up my own version using a conglomeration of their unique aspects. I used traditional Korean gochugaru chile flakes to add piquant heat, but you could also think outside-the-box and use our Piri-Piri Spice, Berbere Ethiopian Style Seasoning, or even Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Spices (now that’s fusion).
I made the kimchi in the Test Kitchen but took it home to watch it over the weekend. While it did make my kitchen smell strongly of cabbage and fish, I didn’t mind because I knew what was in store. When I finally tasted a fermented sliver of cabbage—coated in a pureed mix of ginger, garlic, daikon radish, and chile flakes—I was glad I had over a half-gallon of the stuff. Since then, I’ve added it to rice, stirred it into noodles, made soup with it, and yes, ate it straight out of the jar.
Kombucha is what originally sparked my interest in fermentation. I’ve had my culture going continuously for the last 3 years. My SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) has propagated so successfully that I taught workshops and shared its “offspring” with people all over the Denver area. If you’re wondering, yes, each new SCOBY did get its own name (SCOBY-doo, SCOBY Bryant, and Big Poppa are a few of my faves).
While I occasionally “spice” up the tea (the stuff that the SCOBY lives in and ferments), I usually like to keep a continuous brew going of black or green tea and add flavors in the “second fermentation” stage (when the carbonation happens in the bottles). I’ve used all sorts of things: a simple syrup made with hibiscus to sweeten the drink, Cubed Crystallized Ginger and a strip fresh lemon zest for extra zingy-ness, or even Raspberry Extract for easy fruity flavor. My absolute favorite way to make kombucha is to add lavender or dried rose petals (or both!) for a super floral sip. I also have rose water and orange flower water in my cabinet, waiting for their turn in a future batch of ‘booch.