Last week I hosted another exciting gluten-free cooking class in Denver. This time we made some farm fresh treats that were not only good for the body but also good on the tastebuds.
In the class, which I named “Pickles and Pico,” I taught the fundamentals of making fermented pickles and homemade pico de gallo. I share both recipes below so you, too, can make these delicious treats at home.
Please note that Sprouts Farmer’s Market provided me with a gift card to purchase supplies for the class, and this post also contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for more information.
First, I want to talk about how to make fermented pickles.
In order to make pickles, you need pickling cucumbers. I pre-ordered some from the Pallizzi Farm in Brighton, CO. Pallizzi has a booth at the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market and I know I can rely on the staff to provide me with truly fresh and delicious pickling cucumbers. My husband’s grandmother, Bubu, has ordered her pickling cucumbers from Pallizzi for many years.
When I placed my order, I told Pallizzi I wanted 2″ and 3″ pickles, this way they would fit nicely in my wide-mouth mason jars.
When I arrived at the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market last Wednesday, Pallizzi had pickles waiting for me. I also picked up some fresh dill and garlic for my pickles (as well as some jalapenos, green peppers, cilantro and red onions for my pico – more on that later).
As I walked around the farmer’s market, the scent of the dill intoxicated me. Several people came up to ask me what I was doing – and I answered, “I’m making pickles.” I got so much attention – you could say I was kinda a big dill. 🙂
Before my class arrived, I scrubbed the pickles and soaked them in a cold water bath. Pickles will soak in liquid, so the bath helped them plump up and become firm.
Why Fermented Pickles?
In my class, I discussed the difference between pickles you buy on the shelves of grocery stores vs. homemade lacto-fermented pickles. Store bought pickles are preserved with chemicals, high heat and vinegar. While these processes effectively kill the bad bacteria, which no one wants in their pickles, it also kills the good or beneficial bacteria – the stuff you want and need to maintain good health.
When you take the time to ferment your own pickles, you actually kill the bad bacteria while encourage the good bacteria to grow. That’s why pickles are a natural probiotic. Fermentation converts the sugars found naturally on the surface of fruits and vegetables into lactic acid, a natural preservative.
Lactic acid also dramatically increases the nutrition content of your food. The vitamin and enzyme levels of your food go way up. The fermented pickles are easy to digest and leave behind billions of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Bacteria is essential to gut and whole body health – you just want to make sure the good bacteria are in charge to ensure a healthy, happy microbiome!
The way to trigger lactic acid is by salting the produce you want to ferment. Salt creates an acidic environment that kills off E.coli while allowing good bacteria to flourish. Be sure to use sea salt or Kosher salt. Table salt contains iodine, which you don’t want in your ferment.
How to Create a Successful Fermentation
There are a few things you can do to ensure a successful fermentation:
- Keep pickles completely submerged in water to prevent oxygen exposure, which will ruin your ferment.
- Always store pickles out of direct heat and sunlight and in a cool area, if possible.
- Always store your containers on a baking sheet to catch leaks – just in case.
- Keep your jars sealed. Carbon dioxide will try to escape so the container may pop or leak. It’s perfectly fine. Some people recommend that you “burp” the container if it looks like it’s gonna blow – this will allow some of the carbon dioxide to quickly escape. Just be sure to seal it back up quickly to keep the oxygen out.
I’m currently experimenting with The Easy Fermenter. This nifty mason jar top allows carbon dioxide to escape without allowing oxygen back in, which the company says allows for a mold-free ferment each and every time. I used one of The Easy Fermenter tops on one of my pickle jars – I will update you later on how it ferments vs. the regular mason jar tops. (P.S. What I’ve seen after six days is that I can see bubbles more clearly in the jar using The Easy Fermenter than in my regular jars.)
After 2-3 weeks, you can taste your pickles. If they taste crunchy and are fermented all the way through, they are done. If not, seal the jar and ferment them longer. Once the fermented pickles are ready, put them in the fridge and enjoy at your leisure.
You can continue to ferment the pickles for a long time. Some people enjoy pickles more softened, even months or years after they’ve been fermented! Before the advent of chemical preservation processes and refrigerators, farmers would use fermentation to preserve their bountiful harvest through the long winter months and beyond.
What to Look For in a Healthy Ferment
A successful ferment will show the following signs:
- Bubbles will rise to the top of the surface and air pockets may form inside the jars. This is carbon dioxide and the sign of a healthy ferment.
- The skin of the pickles will turn from bright green to an olive or army green. Also, the interior of the pickle will be translucent vs. white once fermented.
- The brine will turn cloudy – this is lactic acid. You want to see this happening.
- Pickles will sink in the jar vs. float. The pickles will be absorbing the salty water (brine). The cucumbers gravity increases while the brine’s gravity decreases.
- When you bite into a fermented pickle, it will have a carbonated, fizzy taste. This is great! Pickles will taste tangy and effervescent (carbonated). All good stuff!
What Could Go Wrong With Your Ferment
Not all ferments are successful. Don’t fret, it happens. If you see mold spores on top, it’s rotten, toss it. Also, if it smells horrid when you open the jar, it’s a bad batch. You might have forgotten salt, stored the pickles in too warm of an environment, or something bad got into the jar and you didn’t realize it. Again, it happens. Toss it and start over as there’s no use crying over moldy pickles.
How to Make Fermented Pickles
After I explained the process of fermentation to my class, we each made two jars of pickles. We had so much fun! I think everyone was surprised at how easy it is to make fermented pickles at home. Sometimes things seem much harder than they actually are – but pickle-making is no big dill at all!
The hardest part is getting the pickles packed tightly in the jar. You really have to use your muscles to get them in there. You don’t want to leave any space un-pickled! You can leave the pickles whole (which I like) or cut them. (Cut pickles may take less time to ferment, so check them after one week.)
In addition to the ingredients I mention in the recipe (garlic cloves, sea salt and fresh dill), I also bought some mustard seeds and black peppercorns at Sprouts Farmers Market. I told my students to vary their recipes and see if they can taste any difference.
We set aside our fermented pickles (we won’t be able to enjoy them for 2-3 weeks), and moved into making our own homemade pico de gallo.
How to Make Farmstand Pico De Gallo
As I mentioned, Pallizzi had green peppers, jalapenos, cilantro and red onions available, but he didn’t have tomatoes. So I collected all the ingredients I could at the farmer’s market, and then headed to Sprouts to fill in the gaps. I was so excited to see Sprouts had a great selection of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are prized tomatoes in my opinion.
As I understand it, heirloom tomatoes are made from the best seeds, handed down from farmer-to-farmer and from generation-to-generation. They’re made from the seeds that the farmer’s save each year vs. conventionally produced produce, which is made with genetically modified seeds purchased new from Monsanto each year. Heirloom tomatoes offer genetic diversity, which is good for creating a healthy gut.
We chopped the heirlooms, green peppers, jalapenos, red onions and cilantro, then topped our homemade pico with lime juice, sea salt and pepper. We mixed it all together and voila, we had homemade pico de gallo!
You can view and download the full pico de gallo recipe here.
Another Gluten-Free Cooking Class in Denver Success Story
Just before I host a cooking class, I complain to my husband how much work goes into the class and how nervous I am to teach it. I’m not a trained chef (just a passionate nutrition professional) and I host them in my home (which I worry seems unprofessional). My husband always assures me that I will do a great job and that my students love the personal touch my training and my home brings. (He always right!)
Just after a class, I feel amazing and inspired. My students tell me how much fun they had and how much they learned. I know my students have a healthy appreciation for fermentation and healthy eating. It makes me happy to see these smiling faces (and healthy bods!).
Each of my students went home with a reusable shopping bag from Sprouts and some tortilla chips (to scoop up their homemade pico de gallo), in addition to their two jars of pickles and contains filled with pico de gallo.
Want in on the fun? Check out my gluten-free cooking classes in Denver for a list of upcoming gluten-free cooking classes.