Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Recipe: Preserved Jalapeno Peppers, Lacto-fermented

We don't need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables – the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers – to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences. – Jane Elliot 

About half as many jalapenos as you will need. Tank goodness they're cheap.
Photo: °Florian, Flickr ccl
So I’m starting to really get interested in the lacto-fermentation (no vinegar) way of preserving foods. This is veggie no. 2. The first was successful cabbage. This time it’s jalapenos.

My brother in-law loves pickled jalapenops. I usually make him a couple jars for Christmas. My usual recipe can be found here. They have onion, carrot, garlic and spices in the pickling mix.

This year he’s going to get lacto-fermented jalapenos. Jalapenos and salt – nothing else. They should be interesting. I’m not sure what they will turn into but if the difference between cabbage and sauerkraut is any indication they should be delicious.

Slice the peppers the "long" way as opposed to in rings.
Photo: BenSpark, Flickr ccl
Lacto-fermentation is the act of preserving vegetables through the use of healthful bacteria. The most common one is lactobacillus. It’s one of the common good bacteria in yogurt. 

To lacto-ferment you extract juice from whatever you’re dealing with (it can be vegetables, fruit or some meat) by massaging it with salt. The act of massaging breaks down cell walls and liquid is released. In effect, you’re making brine from the juice of whatever it is you’re preserving.

In the case of jalapenos, the liquid was quite green. Rather “lurid” to say the least. It’s now been about half as bright green after a week. The colour has started to tone itself down somewhat to something natural looking.

The trick with the salt and brine is that you’re preserving your subject for a short time with salt, until the good bacteria have a chance to increase and take over the job of preservation.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying (rotting) bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. Lactobacilli are everywhere, present on the surface of all living things and especially on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground.

Some words to the wise. Use gloves when you’re massaging the jalapeno slices. If you have any small cuts in your hands the jalapeno juice will sting terribly. I didn’t have any cuts or abrasions but my hands still burned after I was done for an entire night. This was after I had washed my hands with soap and water at least 4 times. So wear gloves.

Peoples in the past knew how to preserve their harvest. It’s only in the last century or so we have divorced ourselves from a veritable treasure trove of kitchen lore. And they call it progress…

The jalapenos have now begun to loose a little of this colour.
Preserved Jalapenos
Makes 2 x 500 ml jars
1 kg fresh jalapenos (2.2 lbs)*
2 tbsp sea salt 
(plus 1 cup water mixed with 2 tbsp sea salt if necessary)

Wash the jalapenos well to remove any surface dirt or chemical spray.

Trim off the ends close to the stem. Then cut the jalapenos in long slices with the seeds still in the peppers. Repeat until all the peppers have been sliced.

Place the slices in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the 2 tbsp of salt.

(Put on clean, untreated rubber or latex gloves.) Slowly begin to squeeze the slices of jalapeno making sure the salt is well worked into the flesh. As you proceed, you will see green liquid forming in the bottom of the bowl.

This isn't necessary. I got nervous.
Continue to massage the slices until they are reduced to about 1/3 their original volume.

Divide the pepper slices between two sterilized 500 ml mason jars. Tamp the peppers down tightly into the jars. Divide and pour the green brine over the peppers.

If the liquid does not come up to cover the slices, mix the remaining salt with the water and top up the jars.

I took an extra step that I probably didn’t have to. I processed the jars for 15 minutes in a hot water bath. I was feeling a bit unwary. But everything seems to be going along well so far with the jalapenos.

*Purchase the number of jalapenos you reasonably think it will take to fill the jars when sliced. Some jalapenos are heavier than others, so weight isn’t a really accurate measure when purchasing them.


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  1. Completely confused. Why are you adding sugar? If you sterilized the peppers for 15' prior to fermentation, where does the lactobacillus come from?

  2. Good catch. I meant add the 'salt'. I write these pretty early in the morning and sometimes I type the wrong word. You don't have to process. I was just feeling afraid. They did ferment and the person I gave them to as a gift said they were the best jalapenos they had ever had, so go figure.