If you’ve ever tried naturally-fermented pickles, you’ll never go back to vinegar-based ones. The flavor is much more complex and so much better tasting, as well as full of health-promoting probiotics. And, while it may seem daunting, fermented pickles are actually simple to make.
Long before pickles were made by pouring vinegar and spices over vegetables, they were made using the same type of brining and submerging processes that brought us sauerkraut. Over the years, companies and home cooks opted for using vinegar since the resulting pickles were completed in shorter periods of time, which meant higher profits for them. However, the slow food process of making pickles through fermentation is far superior. That’s because the flavors are more naturally-developed and less acidic than vinegar-based pickles.
Chop your cucumbers or zucchini (both work well) into the size of pickles you’d like. Alternatively, use pickling cucumbers and leave them whole since their small size lends itself to fermentation. Place them in a crock or wide-mouth mason jar. Pick a crock or mason jar that’s close to the size of the amount of produce you’re preparing. So, if you estimate that you have enough cucumbers for a quart jar, use that size. Be sure to leave room for some weights at the top to hold everthing submerged under the brining liquid.
To prepare a brine, which is just a salt-water solution, you’ll mix 3 tablespoons of finely-ground sea salt per quart of water. You’ll need enough to cover the vegetables to prevent them from rotting. You’ll pour the brine over the vegetables, place a plate over the ingredients if you’re using a crock and then food-grade weights on top of the plate to hold everything submerged in the brine. If you’re using mason jars, you can purchase fermentation weights that fit wide-mouth jars and submerged your cucumbers or zucchini in the brine. Cover and allow the vegetables to ferment.
You’ll also want to add various flavorings to your pickled vegetables; they can include herbs and spices, onion and garlic, chilis to add heat or any other flavor you might like.
You can experiment with a wide variety of vegetable pickles. I’ve shared my recipe for Spicy Dill Fermented Pickles below but I make a wide variety, including Taco Pickles (which are small enough to fit in a taco shell, hence the name), veggie pickles, zucchini pickles and good old-fashioned dill pickles. You’ll notice that the cucumbers in my Spicy Dill Fermented Pickles are cut into long slices. Of course, feel free to try whatever suits you best, keeping in mind that you’ll need to keep them submerged in the brine and the smaller the vegetable size the harder that can be.
You’ll need to use sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt instead of iodized salt since the iodine prevents the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
While most pickles available in grocery stores are made with white vinegar and have few, if any nutritional benefits, these ones rely on the traditional method of fermentation to develop the flavors and boost the probiotic benefits of the pickles. Fortunately, once you’ve tried these delicious dill pickles and discover how easy they are to make you’ll be happy to leave the less healthy pickles behind.
- Makes approximately 2 quarts.
- 4 large or 6 medium-sized cucumbers
- 3 dried cayenne chili peppers
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- 4 sprigs of fresh dill leaves
- 1-1/2 quarts or 6 cups water
- 5 tablespoons sea salt (not iodized)
- Cut the cucumbers lengthwise in quarters. Place in the fermentation crock or jar of your choice. Add the chili peppers, garlic, and dill leaves.
- In a pyrex or glass pitcher, combine the water and salt. Stir until dissolved. Pour over the cucumber mixture until all ingredients are submerged + an additional 1/2 to 1 inch to cover. Use fermentation weights or previously boiled rocks to keep ingredients submerged.
- Cover with a lid and allow to ferment in a cool, undisturbed location for five days to one week, or longer if you prefer a tangier taste.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight Extend Your Life.