Ferment This: Rescued Root Veggie Pickles

Refrigerator crisper drawers invite egregious procrastination. They allow unassuming veggies to hide until they’re past the point of no return – soft, soggy, sometimes slimy. Eww. In my efforts to avoid wasting food, I am occasionally horrified at what I find in there: lettuce that appears to be sporting a coating of pinkish ectoplasm, a severely shriveled and rubberized carrot, a desiccated and scraggly scallion…they haunt the crisper drawer and remind me that wasting food is a character flaw. Today, however, I managed to salvage some of the sorriest specimens and turn them into something tasty.

Properly preserved in cool conditions with appropriate humidity, root vegetables like rutabagas and turnips may last the winter, even if not in a refrigerator. Before refrigeration, people stored these homegrown veggies-with-longevity in their root cellars. That required a lot more skill than throwing purchased veggies in the crisper drawer do, and yet I still sometimes find a nascent compost heap in mine.

I discovered the rubbery golden beets (and I adore golden beets) in there a couple of weeks ago. I admit to feeling guilty about it: these were lusciously crisp root veggies a few months ago, and now, they looked and felt like disembodied internal organs. I initially toyed with the idea of throwing them into the next batch of vegan dog food, but I wanted to assuage that guilt and do something amazing with them now. So I turned to something that is nearly always guaranteed magic: fermenting.

Half an orphaned rutabaga (and those veggies are as hard as wood, seriously!) and three small, past-their-prime golden beets would make pickles that we could enjoy during the austere winter months. After peeling the beets (the rutabaga was already peeled), I chopped everything into fat matchsticks and stuffed them into a quart jar, alternating rutabaga (in its staid beige steadfastness) and golden beet (with its teasing turmeric tint).

Once the jar was packed full, I poured in brine (1.5 tablespoons of sea salt dissolved in about 2 cups of water) and then topped it off with a tablespoon of kombucha tea vinegar as the starter. I’ve used kombucha tea vinegar as the starter for fermented jalapeños before, and it’s fantastic – and dairy-free, if that’s a concern. Alternately, dairy whey could be used.

In a couple of weeks, the pickles should be ready to eat and will go into the refrigerator for storage. They’ll add a nice sour pop to meals – a very pleasant way to wake up the palate. No gustatory ennui allowed here! And they’ll provide some welcome probiotic goodness. So the next time you find that ever-so-slightly-yielding root veggie in your crisper, think probiotic pickles!

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