Bite: Bottling it up
There’s more to fermentation than beer and bread, and a pair of blogging Flemish sisters have the recipe book to prove it
Alan Hope on Flemish food and drink
Say the word and most people – especially in Belgium – probably think of beer, but there’s more to fermentation than turning barley into bliss. It’s omnipresent in the kitchen – cheese and bread are both products of fermentation, as are yoghurt, olives, zuurkool and pickles. It’s the perfect method of preserving fruits and vegetables in season for those times when they’re no longer available, as was the case in most of human history and is still the case if you’re concerned about the carbon footprint of, say, your asparagus.
Unlike the fermentation that takes place in the brewery, this sort produces no alcohol, or not enough to be concerned with. Instead of using yeast to consume starch and produce ethanol and carbon dioxide, this type of fermentation uses lactic acid to preserve foods, while also substantially changing their flavour. Fermented foods contain beneficial enzymes, vitamins and probiotics which aid digestion.
It really couldn’t be simpler. Lacto-fermentation takes place in the presence of a brine – a solution of salt in water, with the addition of aromatics like pepper, coriander seeds or herbs, and the optional addition of some liquid whey, which is easily obtained from supermarket yoghurt strained through a cloth overnight – with the added bonus of some thick, Greek-style yoghurt as a by-product. With the involvement of vinegar, the food becomes a pickle, but the process is substantially the same.
By stumbling from one internet recipe to another, I’ve had varying results with fermented garlic, radishes, baby turnips, carrots and cucumbers, as well as pickled radishes, spring onions and dill pickles. Then I went looking for the next level, and thanks to the Brussels library system I was able to sample a whole shelf full of books on and around this subject, before coming across one which is far and away the most useful.
It’s called Ingemaakt (Potted), and it’s by Geraardsbergen-born sisters Els and Iris Debremaeker, who have also been running their blog The Yummy Blogsisters (in English, even) since 2010. Els is also a personal chef. The book contains recipes for chutneys, preserves, pickles and other preparations like potted cherries, aromatic oil and vinegar and versions of Indonesian sambal or chilli sauce, Middle Eastern preserved lemons and Japanese umiboshi (pickled plum sauce). Not to mention the old favourites, including dill pickles, kimchi, piccalilli and a variety of chutneys. Any one of the recipes can be tarted up in a pretty bottle or jar to make a welcome gift.