Fermented kale — superfood? Yes!
Delicious? It depends.
As a firm believer in fermenting for flavor and that good-for-you-food can and should be tasty, too I admit that I have discouraged the fermentation of kale. Mind you this is my go-to favorite fresh green, I am not a kale hater.
The thing with fermented kale is that it is not for the delicate palate—okay, fair enough, some might argue that sauerkraut isn’t for the faint of heart. Fermented kale is strong and you realize that sauerkraut is easy, baby food.
I also realize that fermented kale is not something to be ignored. Instead it has become a challenge to make a good kale ferment. I found the motivation a few weeks ago in Colorado. Christopher (my husband and co-author of Fermented Vegetables) and I spoke at six events as part of the first annual Culture Colorado, a week-long festival celebrating fermentation.
Apparently it was good kale harvest in the Denver area this year, as at least one person at every event asked, “I have so much kale this year. Can you ferment kale?” This was immediately followed by a few more who nodded their heads. I was reminded how here in So. Oregon if we have a lot of kale in the fall we will have good overwinter eating. In the high elevation of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains it will freeze, so capturing that abundance is important.
The Himalayans have solved this problem with Gundruk, a traditional sun fermented product. I have had only poor results with this ferment but I have recently read Himalayan Fermented Foods by Jyoti Prakash Tamang and learned that the ferment is then dried before using. I have always tried to use it raw. Stay tuned—I have a new batch going and will be writing about it later this fall on my own website.
I have been working with kale to help folks who want to ferment to preserve and have come up with some tips.
• Prepare the kale by removing the stems and working with just the leaves. Chop these into small pieces. Kale tends to stay tough so no need to keep the already tough stems.
• The flavor is strong; hard to describe—not just simply more acidic but strong, and the texture is a little tough (see above) I also find that kale ferments accentuate the salty flavor, no matter how carefully I salt and I have no idea why. Mirror this with bold flavors. Ferment kale with lots of garlic, chiles, smoked salts, chipotle, curry or other unflinching spices.
• One option to combat the tough texture is to blanch your kale leaves quickly (about a minute) in boiling water and then submerge them in ice-cold water. Drain. Chop and salt these leaves to make your ferment. Because you have killed the lacto-bacillus (LAB) it is important you add other fresh veggies or even a little bit of previously fermented brine to get the process going.
• Use kale as an ingredient in another ferment or sauerkraut. I like a ratio of 4:1 cabbage and kale. This universal recipe for foraged greens is actually perfect for kale.
I realize there is a problem with the above recipe—when you have bushels of kale to preserve, you may not want to end up with ten gallons of kraut. What to do? My favorite solution is to make a kimchi—inspired kale ferment. (Okay you’re on to me—everything is good as kimchi)
Yield a little over one quart
• 2 bundles (or 1 pound) kale greens, stems removed and sliced very thinly
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 large rinsed, unpeeled carrot grated
• 1/2 cup shredded daikon, or other radish
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 jalapeños, or other hot pepper, minced
• 2 tbsp goji berries (optional)
• 2 to 3 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
• 3 to 4 tbsp Gochugaru (Korean Kimchi chile flakes) or 1 tablespoon chile flakes
• 2 to 2-1/2 tsp salt
1. Rinse the kale leaves and remove the stems.
2. Place them in a pile and roll into a tight bundle; this makes it easier to slice thinly. For smaller pieces chop the slices. (Optional: prepare kale by blanching as described above before chopping. This recipe has plenty of other veggies containing the LAB so you don’t need to add fermented brine to culture. You may want to try it both ways and see what you prefer.)
3. Massage in the salt and add the rest of the vegetables and spices. The raw kale doesn’t produce as much brine as its cousin the cabbage, but you will have enough to submerge your vegetables. If you choose to blanch the kale you will have plenty of moisture.
4. Press into your favorite fermenting vessel—crock or jar. Follow the instructions for you vessel. Be sure to weigh it down and manage for keeping everything anaerobic and under the brine. Here you will find instructions for fermenting in a jar.
5. Allow to ferment for 7 days at room temperature. You will know it is ready when it taste acidic like a lemon or a pickle. If it isn't sour or you would like it more sour. Press everything back down and let it ferment for a few more days.
6. When it is ready store in the refrigerator, it will keep for 6 to 8 months.
Kirsten K. Shockey is the author of Homebrewed Vinegar, coauthor, with her husband, Christopher Shockey, of The Big Book of Cidermaking; award-winning Miso, Tempeh, Natto & Other Tasty Ferments; Fiery Ferments; and the best-selling Fermented Vegetables. Kirsten is the co-founder of Fermentation School a collective of food authors and teachers who are fermenting a better food system for land, people, and the microbes on which we depend. You can see more of her work at her website FermentWorks. Read all of Kirsten’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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