In her first book, The Cultured Club, fermentation expert Dearbhla Reynolds teaches you how to turn simple ingredients into superfoods by using one of the world’s oldest methods of food preservation. Here, she tells us about what drew her towards fermentation and why everyone should give it a go.
An Adventurous Cook
“I have always had a great interest in food from an early age thanks to my mother. I was offering to cook the family dinner as a teenager. I had fun, not sure what my family thought of it back then! “An extravagant cook” my mother would often say. Being naturally excited about food was brought to a whole new level of fun many, many year later as I entered motherhood and I embarked upon my many fermentation experiments. It seemed to be an endless topic of new discoveries, not only in food but in health. These foods were not only a very exciting new taste but their benefits seemed to be extensive. Having mastered this skill as part of my kitchen I have really noticed many different benefits. The biggest one being that creating a meal is very easy. It can be as simple as cooking a protein, adding some fresh/steam veg or a salad and then adding in a ferment. Using simple foods combined with the complex flavours of a fermented food is a perfect marriage. The dish taste vibrant and alive.
Secondly, I do not waste food. If I see a rather neglected bit of fresh food, I will include it in a ferment to preserve it. This has lead to some more extreme home economics projects, which my mother (an ex-home economics teacher) could only be proud of. I feel that understanding the value of this lost skill has lead me to understand the provenance of food and how today we really feel entitled that our food is cheap. Understanding the effort and energy that goes into food production only deserves the respect to choose it wisely and use it respectfully. When you tap into this idea, you really don’t want to waste anything.
I have become a wizard at stocking my pantry, as having whole foods available is paramount. At this stage I feel like i could shop with my eyes closed. It involves only a few isles of a mainstream supermarket, so another bonus is my grocery bill is small. This allows me to afford foods which SHOULD cost a lot of money such as proper olive oil, local raw honey, nuts, You can whip up something super nutritious in seconds either to eat straight away or to ferment out for later when you have a well stock pantry to use!
I have been known to make mayonnaise at 8.00am in the morning for school lunch as we have just run out!
The Essential Starter Kit
Fermenting at home is really quite simple. You need a jar with a tight sealing lid.. preferably a flip top lid with a rubber seal. Alternatively you can use an old-style crock pot. A knife. A chopping board, some vegetables to ferment and some salt. The most difficult aspect is allowing our bacteria-phobic minds to get out of the way and trust this process. We worry that we will be create something bad. Yet by following a good recipe, you really cannot go wrong. Contrary to what you may think, you probably like fermented foods already! Yoghurt, pickles, cheese, salamis, beer, wine, miso, chocolate, coffee….all fermented. However the yet undiscovered tastes of foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, fermented relishes etc can be a little strong , or simply just different to begin with. If you want an hands-down crowd pleaser, make a fermented salsa (recipe below). It is so alive and vibrant on the tongue. I love playing with interesting flavours and food chemistry such as making some miso eggs. And if you are looking for some full flavour, health in a jar, dive straight in and make some kimchi.
Makes 1 litre jar
- 8–10 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 red or green peppers, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1–2 garlic cloves, minced
- juice of 1 lime
- handful of fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 tsp fine sea salt (add more if needed)
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- pinch of smoked paprika
1. This is an easy one. Simply mix together all the ingredients in a bowl, then pack into a clean 1-litre jar, making sure you leave 2.5cm of headspace at the top of the jar.
2. Close the lid and allow to ferment for at least three days at room temperature. Salsas have always been one of the more lively ferments and it makes a lot of noise. As the carbon dioxide escapes it brings some of that lovely juice with it, so place the jar on a dish to collect the juice and open it with care (although personally, I don’t mind being covered in salsa juice).
3. Once it’s ready, transfer to the fridge. It will keep for at least six months once opened.
Vietnamese Pancakes With Kimchi
- 200g rice flour
- 1 small egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
- 1 tbsp coconut oil, for cooking
- 200g kimchi
- 100g mung bean sprouts
- 30g mixed black and white sesame seeds
- 1/2 bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
- 1/2 bunch of fresh mint, chopped
- handful of fresh Thai basil, chopped
- sesame oil, for drizzling
- pinch of black pepper
1. First make the batter. Put the rice flour, egg, turmeric and salt in a bowl. Slowly pour in the coconut milk, whisking to avoid lumps. You’re after a thin crêpe batter, so add more coconut milk (or water) if necessary. Set aside to rest.
2. Melt the coconut oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Pour in a quarter of the batter and swirl it around to coat the pan. The edges can be thinner than the centre, which means they’ll be crispy. Once the underside is golden brown, flip the pancake over and cook the other side. Remove and keep warm while you make the remaining pancakes.
3. To serve, place a warm pancake on a serving dish and pile the kimchi, bean sprouts, sesame seeds and herbs on top. Drizzle with sesame oil, season with a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and serve.