Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa

Ah, Nigella Lawson. When I saw her new cookbook at the library I had to pick it up. I was shocked at it's weight, promptly ran home, and set it on my kitchen scale. 3 lbs, 12 oz. (1710 g.) of reading material, kitchen preferences, and generally good photography awaited me. I actually like reading Nigella, since she seems to be a person who writes exactly as she thinks, not pondering too long over the usage of particular words since she's hungry and wants to get to the point. I tend to like the ideas in her cookbooks as well, many of them are highly adaptable and quick since she famously loves to eat well but not too involved.

Reading through the introduction and her "batterie de cuisine" one night before bed, I couldn't help but notice the differences she and I share. She dislikes cast iron for it's heft (calling herself a "lazy wimp"), I grow to love it more every day. She sings the praises of her local canola oil (which - I'll bite, she makes me want to try - calling it's flavor "gorgeously mustardy and nutty"), I have been using olive or coconut oil religiously for over a year. But peppered in among the differences are the things that I also can't live without: the cast iron enameled Dutch oven, the bottle of vermouth, the box of vinyl gloves that protect my sensitive skin from such kitchen demons as lemon juice, chile pepper residue, raw corn and potato believe it or not...

Reading a detailed list of what people like and why is actually one of my favorite things to do. It highlights exactly why I like someone or why I should continue reading their book to get to the recipes. It lets me know why the book will be valuable to me as a resource long before I ever get to the one thing that is indispensable to me, the one thing in the book that I'll be addicted to for a long time, maybe even forever.

Early on in the book, under the heading of Easy Does It, comes a recipe for Jumbo Chili Sauce. Calling for red peppers and 3 1/2 cups of cilantro leaves, it piqued my interest. If there is one out of season thing I buy regularly all Winter and Spring long it's cilantro. Trucked in cilantro never lasts as long as the stuff grown steps from the kitchen, or picked up at a farm market, yet it beguiles me every time I stand amongst the produce thinking about what looks good, what's the cheapest, and what I have a taste for. Cilantro it seems, no matter the cost, always makes the cut.

It goes without saying then that I usually have some that needs using up, when the leaves around the edges start turning yellow 48 hours after their arrival home, reminding me always of the brevity of life. I am hopelessly addicted to this fermented raisin cilantro chutney, which I just made another small batch of the last time I was in this predicament, so I thought I'd try lacto-fermenting up some Nigella-style sauce. I cut the recipe in half, using all the half bunch of cilantro clamoring for my attention on the counter. I also blended the sauce on the well-combined side, masking all the bright red of last year's red peppers. It may not be the prettiest thing I've ever made, but the flavor is indeed it's saving grace.

I used already roasted, seeded and peeled red peppers that I had in my freezer, you can use canned or roast some up fresh yourself. You can play around with proportions to what suits you - after all that is the way of Nigella. I only let the ferment go about 24 hours, but when I make it again (and make a larger batch), I'll let it go 3 days at room temperature before transferring to cold storage. You can also blend it more on the chunky side, it may be a more attractive red instead of a muddied mustard yellow...

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa (adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Kitchen book)
  • 6 oz. roasted red peppers
  • half small bunch cilantro, thick stems removed but some stems ok
  • half a lime, plus half a lime's zest
  • 3 chiles de arbol, rehydrated in boiling hot water for 10 minutes or so to soften
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. whey
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 small garlic clove
Blend everything except cilantro in a blender or food processor until as smooth or chunky as you like it. Add in cilantro, and blend (pulse) until chopped or blended to desired consistency. Pack into a clean jar (I left too much headspace in the photo above, but didn't worry about it since I knew I was going to eat it all right away!), and let sit at room temperature for 3 days in a more appropriately-sized container to ferment before transferring to cold storage.

Eat it on everything.

In classic Nigella fashion, I began thinking of all the stuff I could eat as a vehicle for this condiment. Yesterday, I had to pack a lunch for the Boy-O and I to eat at the museum we were going to after I picked him up from school. I knew I needed this sauce, and at the same time eyed a leftover half block of silken tofu in the fridge. I used an immersion blender to mix a heavy few tablespoons of my new favorite thing, the tofu, and some cashews for thickening and delicious sandwich filling was born. I wished I had some fresh sprouts to go with it, but made do with the butter lettuce that also called my name last time I shopped. The spread was so good, I could also see making some pasta and adding some height of the season cherry tomato halves, but sadly I'll have to wait awhile for that.

dip/sandwich spread.

I love kitchen projects for things like condiments. It allows me to eat the way I want to, without subjecting the boys to super spicy and fermented flavors if they should choose against it. I've been known to make a leftover lunch for myself using up spoonfuls of numerous half-filled jars with minuscule amounts of whatever I ate for dinner the night before. I like to hoard things I love with the best of them, but for some reason, I don't find it necessary with condiments. The next batch will taste different, and be as addicting I'm sure. I may even add more chiles, and it could then be worthy of scrambled eggs.

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa on Punk   Domestics

More on the Lacto-Fermenting Addiction.

I am a little perplexed as I begin this post. First off, try as I might, I just can not understand food chemistry. A product of small town America, where the sciences were not stressed (except in farming matters), I just did not pay well-enough attention in my little 3rd floor high school science class... and even if I did, I'm not sure that at the time I would have found it very interesting. It's too bad, since I read this description of lactic acid fermentation over and over again, even out loud, in hope that the chemical breakdowns would make sense to me. Though I'm painfully visual, even Alton Brown's comical yet scientifically accurate approach to educating viewers on the "why" and not just the "how" of cooking leaves me smiling but still bewildered.

Obviously, then, I'm no expert then to teach anyone about the "why" of lacto-fermented vegetables. I mean, I can read recipes and see why they would taste good, but can not make out why they won't spoil in many months of cold-storage after lactic fermentation has taken place. I can tell you that the health benefits, cost efficiency and certainly the flavor involved in such experimentations are all the reasons I need to be hooked! Throw in the minimal time effort, and you have the stuff obsessions are made of.

First off, it seems to me, that pretty much anything can be fermented. A clean, quart jar (glass, of course) serves as an airtight local for the vegetable to take up residence in, and salt is added to preserve the vegetable until the lacto-fermentation kicks in. So far, I've been roughly following recipes in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. A concise excerpt she has written explains a great deal about the process and multiple benefits of this live food process.

If you are vegan and do not use whey, most of her recipes involving vegetables up the salt content to preserve the vegetable. I am hoping a science-minded reader will let me know why it is that salt can stimulate the lacto-fermentation process without the inclusion of pro-biotic rich whey, since I can't seem to make any sense of that part!

The above photos are of Sally's kimchi recipe. So far, this is the only lacto-ferment recipe that I opened after 3 days at room temperature and the jar bubbled over with excitement onto my counter. Even after the lid was off for a couple of minutes, tiny bubbles were still making their way to the surface, evidence that this is a living food. It's packed with garlic and ginger, and tell-tale heat of hot red jalapeno, an addition I just had to make. It is gorgeously orange due to the shredded carrots, a jar that just plain looks like Fall to me.

After that project matured and went into the basement refrigerator for cold-storage, I made her spiced beets which were really only flavored with the seeds of a couple cardamom pods and salt:

The liquid level should come up to over the top of these...

I opened them yesterday to check on them, but as I'm reading more I realize that I should probably curb my curiosity to checking after the 3 day mark, since oxygen interferes with the fermentation process. I even read an article by someone who was considering using an airlock method for her lacto-ferment veg. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I can retro-fit one into a canning jar lid...

But by far, my favorite experiment so far is the "Tomato Pepper Relish" or salsa. I brought back some tomatoes from my last visit back to "the Farm", and I intended to can salsa with all of them. I did can 7 pints of hot wax pepper salsa (a recipe adapted from The Complete Chile Pepper Book), that has a vinegary base and great flavor. But then I did save out enough peeled and chopped tomatoes to get a couple of different jars of this lacto-ferment salsa:

Unlike it's canned brother, it is vibrantly dark red and packed with a whole bunch of cilantro. The flavors are so fresh and explosive since it doesn't cook at all - it just hangs out on the counter for 3 days and then goes to sleep in the fridge. I used lime juice in my second jar, and did not use any water in either of her salsa type recipes. I had quite a bit of liquid from the tomatoes, and my vegetables were fully submerged, so I omitted it. The recipe below is Sally Fallon's, and I noted any changes. For my second jar, I added the juice of one lime.

Lacto-Fermented Salsa (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions)
makes 1 quart
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • 1/4 c. whey
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 1/2 filtered water (I omitted)
Mix all vegetables in a bowl, and pound lightly with a wooden spoon. Place in a quart size wide mouth mason jar, and press down until liquid completely covers the tomato mixture. Leave at least 1 inch headspace in the jar. Cover tightly, and keep at room temperature (70-75 degrees) for about 2 days before transferring to cold storage (about 40 degrees).

As I quoted Fallon in my first lacto-fermentation experimentation post, your nose is your guide to how long these jars will be good in cold storage. I think several months is a given, but the few jars I've made will likely be fully consumed long before that. I hope to make time to get several more jars packed away with the last of Summer's wealth of fresh and local vegetables, and let them hang out for a while before eating them. I will say that it does take some re-tweaking of my brainwaves to remember that this food preservation method pre-dates any home-canning method and is a viable home-preservation method. I love this quote from Sandor Ellix Katz in his book Wild Fermentation, and find myself using it more all the time: "Cleanliness, not sterility". If you keep a clean home and a modicum of common sense, lacto-fermentation is probably the easiest form of home preservation you could experiment with!

One extra benefit is that you don't need to understand the science to know that it works, and that the results are delicious - good thing for me!

Newspaper Recipes: Fire Roasted Pepper Salsa

I think I would need to live 3 lifetimes in order to be able to try every recipe I have ever clipped from the newspaper. Lately I've been trying even harder to pare down my ever-growing collection using the following criteria:

a.) Is it too high in fat.

b.) Does it use ingredients that I usually do not have in the fridge or pantry.

c.) Is it so complex that I may only make it once (or have only made it once).

d.) Am I never going to make it, so that the little scrap of paper will end up in the endless purgatory of my hutch drawer.

Roasted peppers: like saturated pigment paints.

This recipe soared its way past my criteria, and even made its way into my handwritten moleskine notebook that I carry with me when I travel. It's so easy that it can be made in 10 minutes (not including the roasting...but you could roast the peppers anytime and even freeze them roasted), it's so versatile, that you can pretty much throw in whatever you love, and it can be served with or on top of anything and everything. Pretty much a winner all the way around.

As I recall, it was found about 2 years ago in a local free paper that I used to toss right into the recycle bin. After finding it, I then eagerly perused the paper each time it came before tossing it directly into the recycle bin. We don't seem to get that many free papers or even mail that much anymore, so I haven't seen any more free recipes from Mollie Katzen, who appeared at the time to have a syndicated recipe column. I have several of her cookbooks, so it was no surprise really that this recipe fit all of my keeping criteria.

So, here it is: keep in mind that really every ingredient is optional, and you can use whichever peppers you choose. I used some poblanos today, so I omitted the cayenne.

Fire Roasted Pepper Salsa - Mollie Katzen

  • 2 lbs red, yellow and/or orange peppers, broiled or grilled
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t. minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. salt or to taste
  • 2 t. cider vinegar
  • 1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1/2 t. sugar, optional
  • 1/2 t. cumin, optional

Grill (or broil, or roast at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until blackened in spots) peppers, discard seeds, and reserve any juice. Mince pepper flesh, stir in the rest of the ingredients. That's it. I don't even measure anything, just eyeball. Mollie's notes say you can add finely minced cucumber and diced avocado, but when I tucked it into the fridge next to some corn on the cob leftover from last night's dinner, I was thinking that may be a good addition as well.

I love this on eggs, grilled cheese or other sandwiches or on fish and added to miscellaneous taco fillings that make up the bulk of my diet.

And I love how it looks waiting to be used in the refrigerator. I love vinegar, and like to imagine that I could get about 2 weeks durability out of this salsa due to its addition...but it never lasts that long. I have to get a new pressure canner lid and experiment with canning some of this up. But I do believe that will be a project for next year.