Get Fresh with Fermented

Text and photos by Kerri Conan

They say fermented foods are an acquired taste. And I say the best way to hop that train to Funky Town – and get the zing without the dang – is to cut them with fresh ingredients.

One of my favorite combinations – and Mark’s – is sauerkraut and cabbage. Perfect with smoked sausage and fatty roast pork or tossed with egg noodles, these two forms of the same vegetable illustrate exactly how well opposites attract. The preserved cabbage contributes acidity and pleasantly musty flavors, while the fresh leaves provide bright grassy notes.

Start by sizzling red onions in butter or olive oil with a light sprinkle of salt until caramelized but not yet jammy. Add equal parts drained-but-not-rinsed sauerkraut and chopped green cabbage to deliver crunch two different ways. The last time I made this, I also included skin-on pink lady apples. When the fresh cabbage is crisp tender, stir in pepper, dill, and some coarse mustard. (A local purveyor here in Lawrence, Kansas, makes the rich fermented condiment shown in the last photo but even smooth Dijon will work.) Then taste and decide how much more salt you want.

The result makes an awesome warm salad for lunch alongside a scoop of vegetarian chili beans. Sweet, salty, sour—all in balance. Some other ideas for bringing together fermented and fresh:

  • Try combining crumbled cooked tempeh—a dense and tangy cake of fermented soybeans and sometimes grain—with cooked or canned beans for soup or salad.
  • Chop a few dill or sweet pickles to toss with fresh cucumbers for a simple salad. Use some of the brine in the dressing; chopped chives or green onions are optional.
  • Make trendy shrub-ish beverages by adding unfiltered apple cider vinegar to cider or freshly pressed fruit or vegetable juices.
  • Splash some kombucha (fermented and flavored tea) into hot or iced herb, green, or black tea.
  • Instead of throwing it out, use the sludge-like “mother” at the bottom of a vinegar or kombucha bottle in soups and stocks. The heat renders it inert, leaving behind just the right amount of, well, funk.

Posted in Produce

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