Darina Allen: Perfect dishes for fermentation and pickling

IT’S unbelievable how quickly fermentation and pickling have become mainstream.
Darina Allen: Perfect dishes for fermentation and pickling

At a dinner recently I was sitting beside a teacher from a local school who was waxing lyrical about his jars of sauerkraut and kimchi and the health benefits. Readers will know I’m not a fan of sell by dates and best before dates for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that they have inadvertently served to disempower us, as more and more shoppers have come to rely on them rather than their common sense to judge whether food is safe to eat. My advice used to be, examine it, smell it, taste it but if you can hear it — throw it out — no longer the case now as our bottles and jars of fermented food bubble away in the pantry and Bubble Shed.

A few weekends ago our fermenting team including my daughter-in-law Penny Allen, our dairy queen Maria Walsh and some friends, drove all the way to Rossinver in lovely Co Leitrim to attend a fermentation course. They are all fermenting nerds with quite a bit of practical experience under their belts but they returned on a bubble of excitement having spent the weekend at a brilliantly run and deeply informative event, a ‘Weekend of Fermentation Madness’. A Fermentation Dinner at Sweet Beat in Sligo kicked off the event organised by Gaby and Hans Wieland from the Organic Centre.

There is unusual agreement that our modern diet is causing many challenges not least the gut problems that so many people are troubled with these days, partly as a result of eating a cocktail of highly processed foods. Ted Dinan, professor of psychiatry and a principal investigator in the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork, has done very interesting research on the connection between the gut biome and our mental health.

More recently, Dan Saladino of the BBC 4 Food Programme did two segments on the indigenous Hadza tribe who live in remotest Tanzania. They are virtually the last remaining hunter-gatherers on Earth. They live on seasonal berries, roots, wild honey and the occasional feast of roast porcupine. Interestingly their gut biome on average is 40% richer than any of the rest of us. They grow no food, raise no livestock and live without calendars or rules. Their rich store of gut bacteria is of huge interest to the world of science and medicine. We can’t easily achieve that complexity on modern diets but we certainly can enhance our gut flora by changing our diet to predominately fresh naturally produced real food and include some fermented foods on a regular basis.

Sauerkraut is super easy to make as is this quick kimchi recipe given to me by David Tanis. There are several books to start you on your journey and watch out, you can get properly hooked on the “bubble thing”. Look out for Fermented by Charlotte Pike and more recently Ferment, Pickle, Dry by Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska-Poffley which teaches you how to preserve foods using ancient methods of fermenting, pickling, drying and recipes to enjoy them in.

Penny’s (Sauerkraut) Kraut-Chi

At its basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice. It has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content. The basic recipe for sauerkraut is 2 tsp of Maldon sea salt to 450g (1lb) of cabbage. Any other vegetables in season can be added once they are finely sliced or chopped. Avoid potatoes as they can become toxic when fermented. Weigh the vegetables after slicing and calculate the amount of salt needed. Below is a recipe we enjoy.

Makes 1 litre/900g (2lbs) approximately

500g (18oz) organic cabbage — red, green or a mixture, finely sliced

150g (5oz) onion, finely sliced

2 green peppers, finely sliced

150g (5oz) carrots, grated on a coarse grater

1 chilli, finely chopped

4 teaspoons Maldon (or similar) Sea salt


1 x 1.5 litre (2½ pints) Kilner jar or crock

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Pack into a large jar or crock. Pack a little at a time and press down hard using your fists, this packs the kraut tight and helps force water out of the vegetables.

Cover the kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the jar or crock. Place a clean weight on top (a jug or container filled with water works well). This weight is to force water out of the vegetables and keep them submerged under the brine. Cover the top with muslin or a light cloth to keep out flies and dust. Press down on the weight ever few hours to help extract more liquid from the vegetables. The liquid should rise above the vegetables. If the liquid doesn’t rise above the plate level by next day, add some salt water (a basic brine is 2 teaspoons of salt mixed in 600ml/1 pint of water) to bring the level above the plate.

Place in a cool area and allow to ferment for 4-5 days. At this stage the kraut is ready to eat. As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well. It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time.

Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska Poffley’s Fermented Hummus

Makes 250 ml/9 fl oz jar approx.

250 g (9 oz) chickpeas, cooked

1 small garlic clove, sliced

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 2 lemons

60 ml (2¼ fl oz) olive oil

1 tablespoon tahini

150 ml (5 fl oz) whey or water kefir

Blend all the ingredients, except the whey or kefir, in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Add the whey or kefir and mix well.

Cover and leave at room temperature for about 10 hours, then transfer to an airtight container and chill in the fridge.

Use within 3 days.

Taken from Ferment Pickle Dry by Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska Poffley

Baby Courgette Kimchi

Makes approx. 500 ml/18 fl oz jar

8-9 baby courgettes

60g (2¼oz) coarse sea salt


1½ bunches of spring onions or 1 leek, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

1 cm (½ inch) piece of ginger, skin scraped off and grated (1 tsp)

7 tbsp Korean chilli flakes or dried chilli flakes

1 -2 tbsp sea salt

1 tsp sugar

Cut the courgettes lengthways 3-4 times, but don’t cut them all the way through. Rub the salt into the cuts.

Place the courgettes in a bowl and pour in enough water to cover. Leave to soak for 1 hour, and then rinse them well.

Place all the ingredients for the paste in a bowl and mix with a fork.

Work the paste into the cuts in the courgettes, and then pack the courgettes upright in a large sterilised jar and seal with a lid.

Leave to stand at room temperature overnight, then transfer to the fridge and leave to chill for 2-3 days before eating. This can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Taken from Ferment Pickle Dry by Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska Poffley

Water Kefir

With water kefir you can turn sugared water into one of the most vibrant, probiotic-rich drinks you can make at home!2 tablespoons water kefir grains

2 tablespoons water kefir grains

2-3 tablespoons organic raw cane sugar

4 unsulphered dried apricots or other dried fruit.

Approximately 1 litre (1¾ pints) of water — must be free of chemicals

Slice of unwaxed lemon

It is important not to use any metal utensils or brewing vessels while making water kefir.

Stir the sugar into approximately 250ml (9fl oz) of hot water until it dissolves, then add remainder of cold water and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Place the water kefir grains into a 1 litre jar, pour in the cooled sugar water, and drop in the dried fruit.

Cover the jar loosely with a lid, or with a cloth secured with a rubber band to allow air in but to prevent stray debris from spoiling your water kefir. Allow the water kefir to ferment for 2 to 3 days. The longer it ferments, the drier and less sweet it will become.

When the water kefir acquires a flavour that suits you, strain it using a plastic strainer into a jug. Discard the dried fruit (or eat it) but reserve the water kefir grains which can be immediately reused or stored.

While the water kefir can be enjoyed as it is, after its initial fermentation, you can also ferment it a second time. Secondary fermentation allows you to flavor the water kefir, and the secondary fermentation process, which occurs in a tightly capped bottle allows carbon dioxide to develop, producing a fizzy water kefir.

Transfer the bottles of water kefir to the fridge to slow down fermentation and enjoy

Second Fermentation

After transferring you water kefir into a bottle add a handful of one of the following to your taste.

fresh or frozen raspberries

fresh or frozen strawberries

several crushed mint leaves and juice of 1 lemon

10-12 dandelion flowers in full bloom

6-8 elderflowers or a large handful of elderberries

Leave to ferment for another 12 – 24 hours with a lid on. It’s a good idea to release pressure every so often particularly if your kitchen is warm as secondary ferments have been known to explode! Keep tasting to understand when your ferment is ready to your liking.

Caring for your Kefir Grains

Water kefir grains are alive being a Scoby (Symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts) and therefore require looking after to ensure they produce the best kefir for you.

Occasionally it is beneficial to give your grains a mineral feed.

Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska Poffley’s Whey Fermented Muesli

Makes approx. 300 g (10½ oz)

3 tbsp oats (rolled or porridge)

3 tbsp millet flakes

3 tbsp spelt flakes (rolled)

3 tbsp quinoa flakes

2 tbsp hazelnuts (whole or chopped into large chunks)

1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp cranberries

1 tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)

1 tbsp flaked almonds

150 ml (5 fl oz) whey

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or a large 700 ml/24 fl oz jar. Add the whey, then cover the bowl or jar with kitchen paper, a lid or a plate.

Leave to soak for 8-10 hours or ideally overnight in the fridge. This muesli will keep for up to 24 hours.

Note: other ingredients can be added including roasted buckwheat or rye flakes, walnuts, sunflower seeds and raisins.

Taken from Ferment Pickle Dry by Simon Poffley and Gaba Smolinska Poffley

Hot tips

We love West Cork Food: Walking Clonakilty Food Tour takes place every Friday from June until August, rain or shine, taking in some of the most iconic of local food producers in Clonakilty. The tour weaves a tale of history and tradition alongside innovation and community where good food is at the heart of the charming town. A chance to meet the producers in person, hear about their own personal food journey and taste their beautiful food. Cost is €45 per person. Book online www.flavour.ie

Enniscorthy Rockin’ Food Festival: It takes place on August 4, 5 and 6 (August Bank Holiday Weekend). The Food and Craft element of the Festival takes place on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6, August. Artisan Food, Craft & Beer Markets, Free Live Music, Family Fun and so much more. www.enniscorthytourism.com

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