Lacto-fermentation is one of history’s most traditional ways of preserving food. Using naturally-occuring bacteria that are present in every living thing, this method of pickling things is also one of the healthiest. Made without added sugars, vinegars or additives, just sea salt and water are all you need to get started. In this seasonal late winter recipe, I’ve fermented watermelon radishes. See how it’s done!
Look up any “pickled” recipe online, and you’ll usually wind up with recipes calling for vinegar and sugar—and usually lots of it. But in traditional fermentation, living bacteria are allowed to grow and multiply (safely) within your foods, causing them to be preserved naturally. The process also increases the digestibility of the fermented foods while increasing the bioavailability of key nutrients inside.
Some fermentation recipes will call upon whey and other “starters” to jumpstart the process, but this method is really basic. It takes just water and sea salt—plus whatever you’re fermenting. The key to keeping your pickles going safely while they ferment is to make sure they are completely submerged in your brine. Anything left poking up above the water brine can lead to harmful bacteria forming.
Once you make these pickles, try out the same basic formula with whatever vegetables or fruits you fancy. (I’m personally a big fan of pickled fruits with Indian spices–cloves, cardamom, star anise–for an exotic spring/summer treat.) These will keep in the fridge for at least a few weeks, and usually up to a few months.
Lacto-Fermented Pickled Watermelon Radishes
Place sliced radishes and ginger in a large bowl.
Combine water and salt in a medium bowl; whisk until salt is dissolved. Pour water over radishes in a bowl. Place a small plate on top of radishes; all of the radishes and ginger should be fully submerged in liquid under the plate, with no food at all sticking out in the open. If there needs to be more liquid, add more brine to the bowl, with a ratio of about 1 teaspoon salt to 1/3 cup water.
Place a weight on top of the plate to keep it weighed down, such as a Mason jar, bowl or bag of grains.
Place a clean kitchen towel over the entire thing; let it sit on the countertop for at least 4 days and up to a full week. Check each day for liquids in bowl; if all vegetables are not fully submerged, add a bit more brine as needed.
All images by Kimberley Stakal