Fermented Vegetable Salad
James Beard Foundation, NYC
- 2 to 3 pounds assorted, hearty vegetables, such as green cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, kohlrabi, daikon, red pepper, or others
- 6 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as necessary for additional brine
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 dried hot chile pepper
- 1 teaspoon assorted spices, such as coriander seed, yellow mustard seed, whole star anise, crumpled bay leaf, or your favorites
- 2 or 3 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, sliced, or other onion, such as red onion or shallot
- 1 small bunch dill and/or a handful of other herbs, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup olive oil or other vegetable oil
- Apple cider vinegar to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the vegetables: slice the cabbage; cut the cauliflower into small florets; peel and slice the carrots, kohlrabi, and daikon; slice the pepper; or otherwise prepare whatever you are using. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will ferment. Pack the vegetables into lidded nonreactive container(s) (plastic, glass, or ceramic).
Make the brine: dissolve the salt into 2 cups water that you heat in 1 minute intervals in the microwave or over the stove. Once the salt is dissolved, add 6 cups cold water to cool the brine to room temperature. Add the peppercorns, chile pepper, and spices.
Pour the brine over the vegetables to cover. If you need more brine, make it in the same ratio by dissolving 3 tablespoons of salt into 1 quart (4 cups) water. Cover the container(s) and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 5 days to ferment to the desired doneness. Open the containers at least once each day to release any gas that builds up (also called “burping”). I like to taste them each day so I know how the flavor is progressing. On the first day, you won’t see any change. On the second day, you might see some bubbles. By the third day, there will be more evidence of fermentation: bubbles, a distinct smell, and the brine will begin to get cloudy. Some gunk may form on the top. Don’t worry about this. It is normal.
When the vegetables have reached their desired doneness—a good tang, maybe even a little fizz—it’s time to stop the fermentation. Lift the vegetables out of the brine and rinse with cold water. Place in a clean container. Strain the brine over the vegetables and refrigerate until ready to use. (Chef’s note: Save the brine to use it for subsequent batches of pickles. It can be used up to five additional times and can also be used to cook with. You can add it to salad dressings, some soups, savory baked goods, and other condiments, the way you might use miso or soy.)
To assemble the salad: combine the fermented vegetables. Add the cucumber, scallions, dill, herbs (if using), and olive oil. Toss and taste. Adjust the acidity with vinegar if necessary and season with pepper. The salad will keep two or more weeks in the fridge.