Ingredients to make homemade pickles - cucumbers, mason jar, salt, with linen dish towel in background on concrete counter
The Real Dill – How Do I Get Started Pickling at Home?

The buzz is everywhere. Eating fermented foods is great for your gut health. But what sorts of foods are fermented, and how can you incorporate them into your daily diet?

Pickles may first come to mind. Many shelf stable brands, however, are brined with vinegar, which is NOT the same method of preservation as fermentation. While a “quick pickle”, which uses vinegar, salt and sometimes sugar, and other spices to quickly change the flavor profile of the vegetable, can be quite tasty, it won’t contain the beneficial probiotics created by natural fermentation.

Fermentation occurs when a vegetable is submerged in a salt brine at room temperature for an extended period of time, and where as a bi-product, the good bacteria that is so healthy for your gut multiplies. This method can be used with cucumbers to create pickles, or cabbage to create kimchi, sauerkraut, or curtido. Many specialty supermarkets carry fermented foods, which are almost always found in the refrigerated section.

It’s also quite easy to ferment foods yourself. Doing so at home is more economical and gives you the control to create the flavor profile that you most enjoy.

The best part about pickling at home is it requires very little prep work, and no special equipment. Most of the “work” happens as the vegetables sit in the salt brine, and the good bacteria, found on the peel and in the environment, does its magic.

Basic rules to follow for fermenting at home:

1. Make sure all of your utensils, jars, and your hands are clean.

2. Use your senses. If the food smells “off” or you see visible signs of mold, toss it. I once followed a recipe for fermenting chickpea flour batter. When I opened the jar after a few days the odor was so overwhelmingly bad, I knew I should not consume it.

3. Make sure that the vegetables are completely submerged in the brine. Any amount of cucumber, or shred of cabbage sticking out over the liquid has the potential to grow mold and turn rotten instead of ferment.

What you’ll need to ferment vegetables:

1. A mason jar with a lid, size depending on how much you want to make, but a 1 quart jar is often a good size.

2. Sea salt, kosher salt, or pickling salt. Don’t use table salt, which can have anti-caking agents or additives.

3. Your vegetables.

Pickling recipes:

There are many recipes online for kimchi, curtido and pickled vegetables. Explore and find ones that suit you and your tastes. I’ve got two super simple recipes to get you started, one for basic pickles, the other for a mild cabbage ferment that is great on tacos, pupusas, or just a snack. Once you get the knack for it, you can add your own flavorings like garlic, dill or peppercorns to the pickles, or spicy jalapenos to the curtido for a kick.

Basic Pickles

If you’ve never pickled at home before, this is a great place to start. Cucumbers, water, and salt are all you need, plus the magic of time. After a few days on the counter, you’ll be rewarded with a probiotic rich snack. Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with flavorings such as garlic, dill, peppercorns or fennel seed.
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Curtido is popular in El Salvador, where it is most often served with pupusas, and is also common in other Latin American countries. It is a simple mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic and oregano. Seasoned with salt and left to ferment at room temperature for a few days, it transforms into a deliciously healthy probiotic-rich slaw. Use it on pupusas, in tacos, or enjoy as a snack.
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