My senior year of college, while I was student-teaching my way into an education degree I already knew I didn’t want, I had an advisor named Heather. Heather was fantastic. She wore dark-rimmed glasses and crisp, collared shirts, and her short brunette hair was always cut neat and kept perfectly in place. Though I’d never taken one of her classes, I’d known her since the semester before, when one Saturday afternoon we’d both shown up to help a friend paint a new apartment. Moving her paintbrush against the wall like she was Mr. Miyagi in “Karate Kid,” she’d stood next to me in the living room, nodding for me to follow suit, “It’s like makeup, Shanna: blend!”

Some people who are quick to teach like this can be terribly off-putting, always demanding to be heard, but not Heather. Her brand of counsel combined with an otherwise warm and soft demeanor to make her the best kind of maternal, like a big sister who shared all her secrets. We’d have our weekly phone calls to discuss my kids and how they were taking to “Silas Marner” or what I should do about the funny boys who tried to flirt with me, and she’d have me both cracking up and taking notes while she dispensed adages like “monitor and adjust!” for handling a classroom. I loved her.

Those days are almost a decade ago now, but I’ve known a lot of other Heathers since then, people who have chartered a path in a way that makes me want to follow. There was Kelley who taught me about newspaper reporting; Liz, who showed me how to knit; my dad, who demonstrated firsthand the value in being self-employed. And when I met Tim, he’d stand next to me in the kitchen, baking cookies without a recipe or, putting cucumbers in a jar with water and salt to make pickles—the way hundreds of generations had set the example before us—and I learned what it was to lacto-ferment.

lacto-fermented salsa

We’ve been doing a lot of lacto-fermenting in our kitchen this summer. This has been in part because of all the vegetables we’ve had on hand, in part because of a few fermentation cookbooks that have come our way. In addition to sauerkraut and pickled okra and garlic carrots, we’ve made a moist and dense chocolate carrot kefir cake, adapted from a zucchini version in “Cultured Food Life.” We’re experimenting with making our own mead as I type, the jar of it sitting at the bottom of our buffet.

Also, there was this lacto-fermented salsa, from “Real Food Fermentation.”

salsa and chips

In my world, just as the concept of blending brush strokes came through Heather, the idea of lacto-fermenting came through Tim—but it originated far before us. Lacto-fermentation is basically just the natural process whereby the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid through the presence of a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. It’s been used for centuries, since far before the advent of refrigerators and freezers came along to preserve produce shelf life. Lacto-fermented foods are tangy, delicious and loaded with probiotics, that buzzword you’ll hear us talking about when we say kefir or yogurt or kombucha.

salsa_chips

This salsa recipe is, no question, going to be placed on regular rotation in our household, if not for the good bacteria, then for the taste. In the one or two weeks it lasted in our kitchen, we ate this salsa on sprouted corn tortillas brushed with coconut oil and toasted in the oven; piled it on top of tacos from Baja Burrito; and ate it with chips again. It’s hot enough to get your nose running but not so hot to have you crying, and in my book, that’s the mark of a winner.






Lacto-Fermented Salsa
Adapted from “Real Food Fermentation
Makes one hot and tasty quart of salsa

Ingredients:
1 cup of sauerkraut brine*
2 bullhorn peppers, diced
2 cubanelle peppers, diced
3-4 tomatoes, died
1 small onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tablespoon of sea salt
black pepper to taste

Optional:
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1/2 cup diced cilantro

Ingredients:
Place all diced vegetables in a quart-sized mason jar. Add 1 cup of sauerkraut brine, salt and spices. Add purified water until mason jar is almost full, leaving one inch from the top but covering all the vegetables with liquid completely. Close up jar. Leave out on counter for 3-5 days and then place in fridge. It will continue to develop in the fridge and get better with a little time. Should continue to be good for at least one month, but probably longer as the good bacteria (as a result of the fermentation) protects it.

*Typically, you wouldn’t need to use a sauerkraut brine (just water and salt), but because in salsa there are so many different ingredients involved and they all ferment at different rates, adding the brine ensures it will all be protected. If you don’t have brine on hand, look for a brand like Bubbie’s (available at Whole Foods), which lacto-ferments its sauerkraut and pickles.

**Disclosure: We were sent review copies of both books mentioned in this post but all opinions expressed are our own.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Lan | angry asian

    so dw made salsa for us recently, it was similar to what you made, except for the sauerkraut brine. what i’d like to know is how you managed to not start eating right away? our salsa lasted all of 2 days.

    i like how you drew comparison to learning from your adviser, your friends, dad, husband. i feel that way about the food blogging community, i’ve learned so much in these last 4 years about nourishment, nutrition, whole foods and honest eating.

  2. Kelley

    I’m charting a new course and scared to death — after 7 years out of the newsroom, I’m back at it, this time as a freelance contributor. Got my first assignment yesterday. Did my first interview last night. It was such a rush! Now, to figure out how it’s going to fit in with home, husband, precious ones, school runs … I’ll let you know when I’ve got it figured out! ;-)

    Oh, and about the salsa: Yum! My sister-in-law, who grew up in Honduras, taught me a very similar method and it’s a slam-dunk every time.

  3. Sarah

    This looks wonderful! I have Sandor Katz’s fermentation book but have never actually used it… I just can’t seem to get started. But this recipe looks totally doable, and I have most of those ingredients in my fridge right now, including the Bubbie’s Sauerkraut! So I might just have to give this a whirl tonight, thanks!

  4. Kasey

    I loved your description of your advisor. Like you, I have a handful of names that stand out in my mind for showing me the way to doing certain things differently, or helping me see the world in a different light. It’s funny how big of an impact people can make on us; some of them might not even recognize it! I’ve never tried lacto-fermenting anything, but now I’m quite curious.

    1. Shannalee

      I agree, Kasey—and it’s encouraging to think we all influence each other all the time, in many ways! Would love to hear your thoughts on fermenting if you try it; dramatic though it sounds, the notion has changed my world!

  5. Katie

    That’s so cool that you’re making your own mead! It’s an idea I’ve toyed with a lot, as I love mead, but the quantities of honey needed are a bit astounding. I haven’t experimented at all with lacto-fermentation – cool and informative post :-)

    1. Shannalee

      thanks, Katie! I’m actually new to mead (BUT I LOVE IT) and you’re right: the amount of honey is wow. We’ve been getting ours from a local farmer and just biting the bullet, and I have to say, when we drank glasses last night, I would have sworn to you it was worth it.

  6. kickpleat

    I’ve been meaning to make my own sauerkraut lately, but I kept putting it off. I never knew you could ferment salsa too! This sounds incredible and I’m very curious. Your photos and stories are lovely as always.

  7. Pingback: mango pomegranate guacamole | morestomach

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