Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fermented Onion Relish (Homemade and Corn-free)

I just had to share my new favorite fermented veggie combination. I accidentally bought too many onions even for me to use before they went bad. I needed to find something to do with them because I refuse to waste food. I have since read another excellent idea but I will go into that later. Right now I want to share the secret to the best relish you will ever eat. It is super simple, too.

I sliced a lot of onions (I don't remember how many but probably close to a bag) into quarters and then turned them and sliced thin slices from each quarter. I put them into the dishpan then sliced several red bell peppers so that the slices were approximately the same size. I didn't measure anything (as usual) but used about a 3 to 1 ratio of onions to peppers (mainly motivated by the high price of organic red peppers). Feel free to adjust according to your taste. I salted them and stirred them. I added quite a bit of hot red pepper flakes (one of my favorite seasonings) and let them sit undisturbed for about 30 minutes. When I came back to it, it was pretty juicy so I packed it into mason jars and waited for four days. This is my favorite vegetable ferment so far. We can't get enough of this onion relish, the first quart was gone in three days!

I am about to start frequenting garage sales in search of a food dehydrator. I have been reading a lot about preservation methods in preparation for spring and summer. I am determined not to be in the same dire straits next winter that we were in this one. Having to depend on the grocery store is not a very pleasant option when you are corn allergic. The average local produce department is atrocious and there are very few frozen or canned options available that are corn-free.

I have some excellent tips I picked up from one of ladies at the Avoiding Corn Delphi Forum about dehydrating and preserving foods. Here is an excerpt from her post:

I also have excalibur dehydrators, they are pretty much the Cadillac of dehydrators. I love mine, I highly recommend them to anyone that thinks they will dehydrate very much food. It has a nice range of heat settings and allows me to dehydrate almost anything! I do fruits and veggies, I caramelize onions in the crockpot then, dehydrate them and use them for flavor in so many dishes. I dehydrate leftovers (sometimes planned overs) and use that food when I travel away from home, just add water! I make croutons, "instant" rice, the list goes on and on.  (tomatoes dehydrate very nicely)

You can probably see what caught my attention in that paragraph. I can't wait to try the caramelized onions even though I don't have a slow cooker or a dehydrator. I do spend a bit of time every day slicing onions. It is appealing to think that I could instead spend an afternoon slicing and caramelizing and dehydrating and be done with it for a while.

23 comments:

  1. This looks quite awesome! I've been dipping my toe into easy ferments (with beet kvass) but I really want to get more involved with it, because it's both fun and tasty. I'll have to give this one a try.

    I have an IgE corn allergy as well as multiple other food allergies and celiac disease, so the more I get away from hidden corn sources like citric acid, the better! I seem to be able to tolerate small doses, but I'd like to be able to get off of it entirely.

    Caramelized onions should also freeze well if you want to get started without a dehydrator, though obviously they don't work for road trips that way. I'd freeze them in "pucks" in a muffin tin and then pack those in another bag or a jar, using muffin liners for easy separation of the pieces. Chopped onion can also be frozen raw, but I don't mind chopping onion so I just keep them around fresh. I do hate buying a bunch of celery and using three stalks in a recipe and having the rest go bad, so I now chop it up and freeze it in one cup portions.

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  2. Hi flit,
    Thanks for the idea about freezing the caramelized onions. I have frozen fresh onions (Vidalias are a very fleeting thing) and peppers as well, but I just didn't think of freezing them caramelized. I would avoid muffin liners, though, because most have corn in them. Thank goodness Ziploc bags aren't made from corn (yet).

    I hardly ever buy parsley or celery for that very reason - I can never use it up before it goes bad. Why haven't I been freezing those, too? Great idea!

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  3. Celery freezes well in a bag or wide-mouthed container; parsley you can use two techniques: either freeze it chopped and squished into a long thin cylinder (you can twist it into a piece of plastic wrap) and break off what you need, or freeze it with water in ice cube trays and then wrap the finished cubes. The first doesn't keep quite as long but is better in preparations that you don't want extra water in.

    Most of my extra parsley ends up in stock and salads. I freeze onion trimmings, parsley stems, veggie skins, etc. until I have enough to make a batch -- anything that's basically good but maybe a little wrinkled or discolored is still good for stock, and even the papery onion/garlic skins help flavor it. I freeze extra rice, quinoa, and roasted veggies too, as well as the typical soups/stews; short grain rice is great because I can roll it into balls first so it's very easy to portion. I've even frozen some full meals into ziploc bags for homemade convenience food.

    I didn't know that about muffin liners, though I should have figured that they make that wax paper out of something, ugh! Thanks for the tip. I guess I should check on mine (I use mostly foil, which should be safe, right?) and parchment paper, which I think is made with silicone but for all I know it has other stuff in it too. I've been wanting to get out of plastic, but plastic definitely beats corn. Though I have started freezing anything reasonably liquid or that I won't want to fast-thaw in glass jars, which I love and is a good way to re-use canning lids.

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  4. I need to start saving my scraps and peels in the freezer for stock again. I have gotten out of the habit lately, but I need to get back to it. I love cooking in large quantities and freezing extra portions in the freezer. It takes the same amount of time and effort to cook the whole bag of brown rice as it does to cook only a few portions so I always cook the entire bag and freeze portions in Ziplocs now. I learned that trick from Battling the MSG Myth. I also use my large roasting pan a lot more often now than I ever thought I would. We love roasted vegetables and I can do large quantities and freeze the extra. I know a lot of people freeze bread and muffins, but we don't eat a lot of those items. I would definitely freeze biscuits and muffins if we did.

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  5. Kristy,

    Thanks for grabbing the gardening badge! I have been enjoying your blog as well :D In case you didn't know, Annette at Sustainable Eats is holding a fermented carnival next week. Friday, I believe. You need to link this one up! I'm so trying this ferment, looks awesome!!! Have a great weekend!

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  6. Diana,

    I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for the heads up about the fermented carnival. I am quite addicted to fermenting now so I can't wait to see some of the other recipes, too.

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  7. Thanks -- this looks great! My goal for april is to try a fermented food. This would be a great first time option.

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  8. This really is delicious to eat on the side with almost any meal. I love how easy ferments are and the fact that no special tools are needed to get started.

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  9. I just started reading through your blog and I love it! :) I thought this might be useful to you (you can find more of the episode in the sidebar, this is just the most relevant part imo):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfI0NKl-Kq0

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  10. Thanks Charly. I love Alton Brown, I just wish someone would warn him about all the hidden corn he is eating. I love his method of making jerky, but I'm not sure you can find filters that don't contain corn. I'll have to check on that.

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  11. That is true! I was thinking of that right after I posted. I wonder if there's a way you could make a shelf out of screen that you could use? It might even turn out better than his.

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  12. I've been thinking about it, too! I think the hard part would be making screens the right distance apart so that the food wouldn't fall down and pile up at the bottom as it dried. There would need to be some kind of cushioning agent to hold them in place as they shrank like the air filters do. I'm stumped about what I could use that wouldn't contain corn (or fiberglass), though. Let me know if you think of something since this would be an ideal way to dehydrate things in the air conditioning without a dehydrator.

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  13. Ok, I was lying awake last night thinking about this. I have come up with an idea but I'm not sure how well it would actually work. What if you take a box fan and lay a cloth on it and tape it down with masking tape and then put down your items to be dehydrated, put another piece of cloth and then tape it down and then bungee cord a metal grill grate to it so that it holds everything in place when you stand it up? This seems so silly to even type out but I think it might work.
    My second idea would be to put cloth on milk crates and lay the fan down on top (the holes in the crates would allow for breath-ability). I'm not sure if the plastic would contain corn, though (or if the fan would be effective while lying down). In this second method, the fan would weigh down the food so it didn't fly off.
    I haven't figured out what kind of fabric would work best, though.

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  14. I think that is genius! I think cheesecloth would work great and you wouldn't have to tape it on, just using the metal grill held tight with bungees would hold the cheesecloth in place. It might be a little cumbersome to check on the progress, but you also wouldn't have to wait until it cools to see if the food is dry. How about instead of a metal grill grate, you could use one of the plastic front or back guards from an identical fan? I think you are onto something here and a box fan is much cheaper and multi-purpose than a dehydrator. :^)

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  15. Ooh, that is a great idea! :) They are definitely cheap enough to take apart and use for parts. Yay, now I want to make one.

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  16. While I don't think our method would work for marinated jerky or anything messy, I believe it would work great for herbs, veggies and fruit. I can't wait to try it.

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  17. Anything I trim off fruits and veggies I juice!...i.e. broccoli stalks, asparagus ends I snap off, excess celery, parsley, cilantro and all herbs. The extra stuff adds up and is so good in you! Lacto-ferment recipes are next for me now...I am new to all this but wish I started years ago!

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  18. Hey Firechicksf, I know how you feel. I have discovered so many great things as a result of these allergies and always enjoy learning more. That's a good idea about juicing stalks and leftovers.....I save most of that stuff for broth, but some is inappropriate for broth but would be great in my veggie juice.

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  19. I'm new to lacto fermenting. Does it matter how much salt you add to your peppers and onions? Thanks so much! BTW I'm loving your blog!

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  20. Hi Carrie,
    Thanks. Lacto-fermenting is highly addictive! I have read guides that give exact measurements according to weight ratios, but I just add salt until the vegetables taste like a salty salad. If you desire more precision, this is the best site for lacto-fermentation advice and specific information about salt: http://www.wildfermentation.com/resources.php?page=vegetables

    BTW, I just made a slight variation on this relish by adding organic pickling spice and a little sugar. It is delicious!

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  21. Kristy, would I need to sterilize the jars, like before canning? Or if I washed them with soap + hot water, would that be plenty?

    I bought a bag of organic onions and thought I'd dip my toe into the lacto-fermenting pond by making an onion relish :-).

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  22. Preferably, they should be sterilized, but I have just washed mine in scalding hot water and soap before and it was fine. If you don't sterilize, you run the risk of something undesirable taking over your ferment, but really it might happen anyway once every blue moon.

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