Like mom jeans and every TV show you loved 20 years ago, fermenting is an old (ancient, even) thing trending with a new generation.
You're probably most familiar with fermenting in the form of beer, which is fermented during the brewing process, and wine. Pungent sauerkraut is also a poster child for fermentation, as are sourdough bread and kimchi.
Things can get super technical fast when talking about fermenting foods — fermented beverages like kombucha use a culture called a SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — and somewhat confusing when trying to figure out the difference between this and pickling.
They're both methods of preserving foods that have been used for a very long time. But while fermentation is a type of pickling method, not all pickles are fermented.
For fermenting to happen, live bacteria need to eat at the sugar and carbohydrates found in food until the product is transformed into something else, usually something more acidic. New bacteria are formed in this process, and that's what preserves the food.
This process often starts with a brine solution of water and salt. Pickles undergo the same process, but you can also quickly pickle them by soaking them in vinegar. Still with me?
I explored this quicker pickling method in the recipe below. Red onions are pickled in about 30 minutes thanks to the introduction of vinegar plus salt and sugar.
This is a template recipe for almost any kind of vegetable, and any kind of vinegar. Distilled white vinegar is not a good idea, but the ones more suitable for consuming, like red wine, white wine and apple cider, are ideal for this sort of thing.
It's a useful weeknight cooking technique, an easy way to add another element of flavor to most dishes. Consider adding pickled onions to the following for a tart, crunchy kick:
Feta and Avocado Salad
In a bowl, combine 2 cups spinach or mixed greens, half of a diced avocado, ¼ cup feta cheese, ¼ cup chopped walnuts and a handful of pickled onions. Top with a creamy dressing and serve.
Grill or saute some skirt steak until cooked through. Slice then divide between two corn tortillas. Mix together 1 diced tomato, ½ cup diced pickled red onions and a handful of chopped cilantro. Spoon atop steak, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Butter one side of two pieces of bread, and place both butter-side down in a hot skillet. Top with 1 slice cheddar cheese and ¼ cup pickled onions per piece of bread, and let cook for a minute or two. Smear ¼ cup goat cheese on two other pieces of bread, then top bread in skillet with these two pieces. Flip sandwiches over, and let cook on the other side for 2 minutes or until cheese has melted.