If you want to make a dish that will stand out at your next summer cookout or picnic, try these fermented carrots with jalapeños. Fermentation is a traditional method of preserving foods, and unlike pickling and canning, it encourages and preserves the good bacteria that are beneficial for our health. Fermented foods are also high in vitamin C, and they have a delicious sour–salty flavor.
Bacterial imbalances in the gut have been linked to everything from allergies to anxiety. Including fermented foods as part of your regular diet can restore the populations of “friendly” lactic-acid-producing bacteria in your body, encourage a healthy immune system, and optimize digestion. Best of all, the fermentation process is mostly a hands-off activity that won’t require much work on your part.
This recipe is inspired by a meal I had at Sally Fallon Morell’s lovely P.A. Bowen Farmstead. Once you’ve mastered the process, you can get creative with your own combinations of vegetables and flavors!
Spicy Fermented Carrots
1 pound carrots, peeled, sliced diagonally
1 jalapeño, seeded, sliced into thin rounds
1 tablespoon fine-grained sea salt
¼ cup whey (see note)
Pure filtered water to cover
1 wide-mouth 1-quart mason jar with 2-piece lid
Note about whey: If you’re lucky to have a cheese-maker in your neighborhood, they may have whey for purchase. If not, you can easily make your own. Set a sieve over a bowl, and line sieve with a dish towel or cheesecloth. Fill with about 16 oz. whole milk yogurt (the amount of whey you’ll get will vary depending on the yogurt). Fold the dish towel or cheesecloth over the top of the yogurt, and leave to drain at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 1–2 hours, or until the desired quantity of whey collects in the bowl. You can use the strained yogurt in place of cream cheese, or as you would Greek yogurt. If you don’t have whey, you can omit it and increase the salt to 2 tablespoons. Your vegetables will obviously taste saltier with this method.
In a large bowl, toss the carrots and jalapeño with the salt. Fill the jar with the carrots and jalapeños, along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. As you fill the jar, use your fist to pack them in tightly (this is why a wide-mouthed jar is important!). Keep packing the vegetables in until you have about 1 inch of space below the top of the jar.
Add the whey to the jar, and fill the jar with water to cover the vegetables. Avoid allowing any vegetables to poke out above the surface of the water. Place the lid on the jar, and leave to ferment for about 3–5 days. A dark, out-of-the-way, room temperature spot is best. A low pantry shelf or the back of a cabinet will work if your kitchen doesn’t get too hot. In the summer, I use a shelf in the basement.
You can test the doneness of the ferment after about 3–4 days. A lid that pops when you remove it is a good sign that your ferment is ready to enjoy! You can also taste a carrot—it should be pleasantly sour and crispy. When the desired level of sourness has been reached, store the jar in the refrigerator for up to several months.
If done correctly, your ferment shouldn’t have any signs of mold or other unpleasantness. Your instincts are best, so if anything seems “off,” discard and try again.