Chopped jalapenos

Fiery Ferments

(Credit for the above photo goes to Jeffery on Flickr.)

I have been waiting for Fiery Ferments by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey since I first read their previous book, Fermented Vegetables, in 2014. I had owned preservation supplies and books for a decade without using them because I was afraid of killing someone. The Shockeys were the first to convince me that I was unlikely to be the Canning Killer enabling me to take the plunge. Fermented Vegetables works as both an inspiration and a solid reference book, the kind you can look to every time you are confronted with a new excess in your CSA box. Its only drawback, in my eyes, was that I wanted more salsas.

Now comes Fiery Ferments, to perfectly satiate that need. It covers fermented hot sauces, salsas, and other spicy items such as kimchi. After a beginning introduction on how to ferment, the Shockeys treat you to a history of the chile, which wasn’t always available worldwide for use as a spice. Prior to the chile’s expansion around the globe, the Eastern hemisphere had other solutions for how to spice up a meal, from the common horseradish and peppercorn to more unfamiliar ingredients. The Shockeys provide an entire chapter of recipes using early chile precursors before several chapters devoted to chile-influenced recipes. n addition to the core of spicy ferment recipes, the book also includes two further chapters of recipes incorporating these ferments, even in drinks and desserts. This book is as comprehensive as one book on spicy fermented foods could be.

Like Fermented Vegetables, Fiery Ferments really shines in the cheerful confidence with which the Shockeys teach. “First of all: you’ve got this!” they insist at the very beginning, and over the next several pages they convince me that I do indeed have this. I feel not only comfortable that I won’t be killing anyone, I have no stress about a ferment gone “wrong” at all. They describe possible troubles that may arise and how to course correct along the way. At the end, they even provide a “fermentation doctor” section that shows images to help you diagnose your ferment and fix it. They coddle the reader a bit, assuring them that it’s ok to use special products that let the carbon dioxide escape, if it makes them feel better, or to use the simplest of items they have in their kitchen like Zip-locs.  It will all work out.

They manage to provoke such confidence in me because they don’t just provide recipes and steps. They teach how fermentation works and provide a firm grounding on everything that can go wrong or right. Before you get to the first recipe, you have enough knowledge to make a hot sauce or pepper mash from any pepper combination. Before they teach how to make fun things like rhubarb kimchi, they teach how to make a universal fermented pickle. Even the recipes for using the ferments follow this pattern. Instead of a disparate grouping of things that just happen to have hot sauce in them, they focus on adaptable basics. There’s a discussion on how to make toasts and crostinis using ingredients of your choice and another on how to put together a balanced meal in a bowl. There’s not one sausage recipe but several, depending on your protein of choice. The recipes sometimes suggest which ferment to use but often instead just describe the category so that you can experiment with flavors on your own.

If I sound like a huge fan girl, it’s because I am. If you are interested in fermented veggies like sauerkraut or kimchi, I cannot recommend the work of Kirsten and Christopher Shockey highly enough.

Unfortunately, since fermentation is a long process, I did not have time to test recipes before this review like I normally do. The recipes I’ve used from Fermented Vegetables, however, have all worked out, so I trust the Shockeys.

Busy Sisters Cakes in a Cup

cookies and cream cake packet
I’ve been helping my friend beta taste a line of single-serving microwave cakes that she is making with her sister under the name Busy Sisters. Up until now, my favorite was the lemon, but she surprised me yesterday with a cookie and cream version that she made just for me. This concept is perfect for me because I will stay up late watching shows like Great British Bake Off and start to think that if I don’t immediately put a pastry in my mouth I will die. This has led to 11 p.m. trips to see where in Austin one can find nighttime tiramisu. The answer is “nowhere”. This lets me satisfy my pastry needs in under 2 minutes. I can’t wait until they start selling them commercially.

labneh on a plate

Labneh with Preserved Lemon

I have been participating in The Food in Jars Mastery Challenge and in February the goal was salt preserving. I made preserved lemons, which I had never even eaten before much less made. Making food you’ve never tried before is a bit scary. How do you know if you’ve done it correctly? Is this what it’s supposed to taste like? Have I actually made preserved lemon and not some other dish completely?

I still don’t know the answer to that question, honestly. I have, however, finally used my preserved lemons for something. I made a labneh based on this Bon Appetite recipe. The original recipe has more ingredients that I wanted, because I wanted the lemon to really shine through. It also involves taking labneh and adding liquid to it, which makes it more the consistency of Greek yogurt. As far as I can tell, the difference between yogurt, Greek yogurt, and labneh is water content, with plain yogurt being the wettest and labneh being the driest and most dense. Rather than add as much liquid back in, I made mine more cheese-like in texture. You can see how smooth the Bon Appetite one is compared to mine, but mine spreads much better on a cracker.

I used store-bought Greek yogurt and strained it for two days. To get the original Bon Appetit texture, you can probably strain it for as little as two hours. My yogurt was nothing fancy–just basic store brand, but everyone I served this too assumed it was a gourmet cheese. It’s that delicious, and easy to boot!

Labneh with Preserved Lemons
Servings: 1 cup
  • 1 1/3rd cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp preserved lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place a strainer or colander over a bowl and line with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Place yogurt inside and cover. Let sit in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

  2. Blend the mint, lemon peel, and 1/3rd cup of olive oil in a blender. I recommend a small processor such as a Magic Bullet because the quantity is so small.

  3. Taste the herbed oil mixture and season with salt and pepper.

  4. Stir the mixture into the labneh. Season with salt to taste.

  5. Drizzle remaining olive oil on top to serve.