12-MONTH FERMENTATION CHALLENGE: Month #8 – LACTO–FERMENTED BELL PEPPERS RECIPE / HOW TO FERMENT BELL PEPPERS
Tomato leaves in salsa? Kimberlee, are you trying to poison me?” asked my husband accusingly. I had just revealed the secret ingredient in this delicious fermented bell pepper “salsa” and although I was experiencing slightly murderous feelings after he woke me the previous night with his loud, sonorous snoring, I assure you this recipe is not toxic.
But before I get into the details as to why this fermented salsa won’t kill you, you may be wondering why I’m making bell pepper salsa in the first place. The truth is I wanted to make tomato salsa but I had read in the book, Fiery Ferments, that fermented tomato salsa can resemble the flavor of something gone bad. Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? No? Not to me either. Instead, the author suggested a “mock” tomato salsa recipe using peppers and tomato leaves. I was skeptical but I decided to give it a try and I’m so thankful I did. It exceeded my expectations! You can’t even tell the difference between these fermented bell peppers and traditional tomato salsa. My overly-suspicious husband couldn’t believe I hadn’t used a single tomato.
I have to add that this is one of the most delicious ways to get the probiotic benefits of fermented foods. Next to lemon ginger water kefir and spiced rhubarb with oranges and cinnamon, this is my favorite ferment to date.
Are tomato leaves poisonous?
I can 100% guarantee that you will not die from eating this salsa. We are all still alive over here at The Old Walsh Farm. But are tomato leaves toxic? Although all parts of the tomato plant contain varying amounts of the toxin, tomatine, it appears to be harmless, according to this New York Times article by Harold McGee, the American author who writes about the chemistry and history of food science and cooking. For example, for years, you may have enjoyed fried and pickled green tomatoes, which actually contain high levels of tomatine.
McGee adds that recent studies have shown tomatine may even improve our immune system and inhibit cancer. Who knows if this is all true? I wouldn’t eat pounds and pounds of tomato leaves but I wouldn’t be afraid to add a few snippets to my favorite pasta sauce or this fermented pepper recipe.
HOW TO FERMENT BELL PEPPERS
Note: This recipe is adapted from the mock tomato salsa recipe in the book, Fiery Ferments by Kirsten K. & Christopher Shockey.
Easy Fermented Bell Peppers & Tomato Leaf “Salsa”
- 500 ml mason jar
- plastic Ziploc bag
- Stainless steel knife
3 sweet bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 small hot pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
5 sprigs (about 2 tbsp chopped) young tomato leaves
3 garlic cloves
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
Wash and chop the peppers, onion, cilantro, tomato leaves, and garlic cloves.
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and mix until it reaches the consistency of thick salsa.
Pack the mixture into your jar, pressing out any air pockets.
Top with a quart-sized ziplock bag. I gleaned this trick from the book, Fermented Vegetables. Simply press the plastic down onto the top of the ferment and then fill the bag with water and seal. The bag will act as both a follower and weight. No need to buy any fancy equipment. Then screw on the lid (but not too tightly).
Set aside out of direct sunlight at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) for 5 to 7 days (I let mine sit for a full week).
Once the salsa is finished fermenting, remove the plastic bag, place a clean, small round of plastic or parchment directly on top of the paste. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge. It will keep refrigerated for up to a year.
FAQ – HOW TO FERMENT PEPPERS
WHAT IS LACTO-FERMENTATION?
Lacto fermentation is the ancient art of pickling long before there was canning. Basically, vegetables are fermented by lactic-acid bacteria, which are found on the surface of all fruits and vegetables. How does it work? During fermentation, bacteria eat the vegetable’s sugars, which release lactic acid. This acid acts as a preservative and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. The process doesn’t require heat so you retain all of the raw vegetable’s vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
ARE FERMENTED BELL PEPPERS GOOD FOR YOU?
You may have heard that fermenting turns your food into natural probiotics. So, instead of popping a probiotic pill, you can eat fermented foods, which, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola of Mercola.com, actually contain 100 times more probiotics than a pricey supplement. In fact, one serving of fermented foods contains 1.5 billion to 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria compared to 50 million to 10 billion per pill.
One quick search on the Internet will result in tonnes of information on the health benefits of probiotics from boosting your immune system and improving digestion to reducing inflammation and detoxifying your body. I don’t know if it’s all true, but I think I feel better after eating a few spoonfuls of fermented pepper sauce. I think you will too!
HOW MUCH SALT IS IN LACTO-FERMENTED PEPPERS?
Salt is the MOST crucial ingredient in this recipe. It is a preservative and can keep vegetables edible for months…maybe even years!!! Can I get a “hooray” for salt! In fermentation, the salt draws juices from the vegetable’s cells and creates that lovely, cloudy brine rich with health-boosting lactic-acid bacteria. The salinity of the brine encourages good-for-us bacteria to flourish and inhibits the growth of bacteria and yeast that could make us sick. Salt also helps keep your vegetables crispy by hardening the pectin in the cells of the vegetables.
WHY DO I NEED TO USE SO MUCH SALT? I’VE HEARD SALT IS BAD FOR ME.
Once again, health experts are changing their minds. Recent evidence suggests that for many, salt reduction has an overall negative impact on several aspects of health. Recent study, after study, after study, after study have found many negative effects of a low salt diet. Yikes! It turns out that salt not only makes our food taste better, but it prevents problems, like insulin resistance, plaque formation, increased stress hormones, worsened blood lipids, and elevated aldosterone.
WHAT IF THE BRINE DOESN’T COMPLETELY COVER MY FERMENTED PEPPER SALSA?
The brine should cover the vegetables at all times or else they will start developing mold and yeast and your ferment may be ruined. The salty brine creates an environment that’s inhospitable to bad bacteria so as long as your peppers remain under the anaerobic safety of the brine, it is safe to eat. But any exposed portion will not be.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PEPPERS HAVE FERMENTED?
You will see bubbles of carbon dioxide gas in the salty water (brine), which means you’ve been successful and the brine has started to acidify. Now, you can start to taste test your salsa.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I BURP MY LACTO-FERMENTED PEPPERS?
If you are using mason jars, you will need to “burp” your fermented peppers. When you screw on the lids of your ferments, don’t place them too tightly in order to let some of the fermentation gasses escape. Soon you’ll see bubbles of carbon dioxide gas in the brine, which means you’ve been successful and the brine has started to acidify. This is the stage in which you will begin to “burp” your jar every couple of days if you are using a standard sealing lid. Simply unscrew the lid slightly and allow the gas to escape.
WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD I KEEP MY FERMENTED FOODS AT?
Most recommendations are to ferment between 55°F and 75°F (13°C to 24°C), which is especially conducive to L. plantarum and L. brevis lactobacillus bacteria, according to the book, Fermented Vegetables.
HOW LONG WILL MY FERMENTED BELL PEPPERS SIT ON THE COUNTER?
There isn’t a cut-and-dry date for when fermented peppers are done. It depends on the temperature of your home and how sour you like your salsa. It can take 5 to 7 days.
HOW LONG DO LACTO-FERMENTED PEPPERS LAST?
This fermented pepper salsa will keep refrigerated for up to 12 months.
HOW DO I STORE MY FERMENTED BELL PEPPERS?
Store your fermented pepper salsa in jars with the lids tightened in the fridge. It will keep for about 12 months.
EASY FERMENTED BELL PEPPER & TOMATO LEAF “SALSA”
- 500 ml mason jar
- plastic ziploc bag
- stainless steel knife
- 3 sweet bell peppers seeded and chopped
- 1 small hot pepper seeded and chopped
- 1/2 onion roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro roughly chopped
- 5 sprigs about 2 tbsp chopped young tomato leaves
- 3 garlic cloves
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- Wash and chop the peppers, onion, cilantro, tomato leaves, and garlic cloves.
- Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and mix until it reaches the consistency of thick salsa.
- Pack the mixture into your jar, pressing out any air pockets.
- Top with a quart-sized ziplock bag. I gleaned this trick from the book, Fermented Vegetables. Simply press the plastic down onto the top of the ferment and then fill the bag with water and seal. The bag will act as both a follower and weight. No need to buy any fancy equipment. Then screw on the lid (but not too tightly).
- Set aside out of direct sunlight at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) for 5 to 7 days (I let mine sit for a full week).
- Once the salsa is finished fermenting, remove the plastic bag, place a clean, small round of plastic or parchment directly on top of the paste. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge. It will keep refrigerated for up to a year.
Enjoyed these fermented bell peppers? Check out my other recipes in the 12-month Fermentation Challenge series:
Month #7 – SPICY FERMENTED GREEN BEANS WITH CURRY & GINGER
Month #6 – SPICED LACTO-FERMENTED RHUBARB WITH ORANGES & CINNAMON
Month #5 – EASIEST FERMENTED SAUERKRAUT RECIPE
Month #4 – LACTO-FERMENTED RADISHES WITH DILL
Month #3 – FERMENTED GINGER CARROTS
Month #2 – FERMENTED ZUCCHINI WITH DILL AND GARLIC
Month #1 – LEMON GINGER WATER KEFIR
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