Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Whole Tomatoes Fermented in a Brine



Intro
Translated literally from Russian it would sound more like "salted tomatoes" but it is, in fact, tomatoes fermented in a brine. This condiment-type food is the way how Eastern-European people were preserving tomatoes for centuries. Also this is a second favorite accompaniment to a shot of vodka. Why second? Just because first one, hands down, is a pickle, of course, according to Russian drinking traditions. Even if you don't drink, fermented tomatoes is a great addition to any meal, just ask my husband about it - fermented tomatoes is one of his all-time favorite food.

What it is
It is whole tomatoes kept in brine until they soften and acquire special sweet-and-sour briny tingling taste.


Variations
Per your taste, they can be more or less spicy. Traditionally, in Ukraine, we all add dill as a herb to a brine. Although other herbs, celery and peppers can be added.

How it's served
As a condiment, it is goes very well with any more-or-less mild food. For example, we like it with any type potato dishes or any meat, especially grilled one.

Some side comments
- It is acquired taste, but as soon as you really got into it, you'll love this stuff. Eastern-European cuisine, specifically Ukraine, where I'm from, has a long list of traditional fermented food - from cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes to apples and watermelons. All of them are important part of everyday meal for us who come from Eastern Europe and grew up on this type of food.


- Fermented tomatoes are at its best after about one week: after fermenting at a room temperature for 3-5 days and being in a fridge for a couple of days.

- My husband adores brine, left from fermented tomatoes - it has balanced sweet and salty taste enriched with tomato, herb and garlic flavors. For centuries, in Eastern Europe, this brine was the best remedy for vodka-intoxicated bodies and was the first thing in a morning as an after-party drink. Fortunately, it is not a huge importance for us personally, we just enjoy tomatoes, and brine in a totally sober condition :)

Here is slightly different recipe for fermenting tomatoes. In that recipe, I use plum tomatoes, cut in half and seasoned with a finely grated garlic. Those are for impatient people, like me, because tomatoes are ready in day or two. Downside - they keep in a fridge not as long as fermented whole tomatoes.

How to store it
It will keep in a fridge for a long time up to a few months. It will continue to ferment, even in a fridge and taste will change to a more briny.

Tips
- Smaller size tomatoes fit perfectly for fermenting. Although sometimes I cut tomatoes in a half if they are large. In this case they will start fermenting faster and already in 2-3 days jar can be transferred into a fridge.

- Best way to wash dill is to drop whole bunch into big pot with cold water and shake herb with your hand lightly - dirt and sand will fall on a bottom and all damaged leaves will float to a top. Pick bad leaves. Then, with hands, lift herbs out on a paper towel and leave them to dry a little bit. To store herb leftovers, wrap them in a dry paper towel, put in a plastic bag and place in a fridge - it will be ready for you and keep nicely for several days.

- I like to peel garlic this way - place separated cloves into small fold-in sandwich bag (no need for zip-bag!), twist the top and bang it several times off the counter or your husband (if he deserves it :); or rub bag between your palms. Garlic will release a bit of juice which will facilitate peeling. Now, just open bag, use knife to peel cloves (I still use knife because I like to cut off tiny woody end of clove). Get peels into the same bag and throw it away - nice and clean. 
Fermented Tomatoes


 
about 30 tomatoes (I used plum tomatoes but any will do)
1 small bunch of fresh dill
15 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 liters of water
1 tbs of whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 tbs kosher salt
9 tbs sugar

- To make a brine, in a pot, bring water to a boil, add salt, sugar, black pepper and bay leaves. Turn heat off. Let brine to cool down to a warm temperature. In an hour or two test water with your finger - it should feel warm.

- Meanwhile, wash your tomatoes. With a fork, make holes in a base of tomatoes for a brine to penetrate better.

- Pack tomatoes in a clean jars, fairly tightly. Do not overfill jar though, leaving area above jar's upper curve, below rim, free to be able to cover your tomatoes with brine without sticking them from a liquid. Please note, that on my pictures below, my jars are a bit overfilled - my fermenting experience allows me to step away from a rules, you know :), to have one extra fermented tomato to devour.

- Distribute garlic and coarsely chopped dill evenly between jars, right on a top of tomatoes.

- When brine is cooled down (about temperature of your shower :)), pour it in a jar, completely covering all tomatoes. 

- Make sure all tomatoes are covered with a brine. Those sticking out, will make your tomatoes prone to mold. If you've got some stubborn tomatoes, floating to a surface, cover jar opening loosely with a plastic wrap and place smaller clean glass jar, filled with a water, as a weight. Do not use anything metal, something made of non-reactive materials, such as glass or ceramic, would be appropriate. Make a couple of wholes in a wrap for fermenting gases to escape.

- Place jar lids on a top, if your tomatoes are completely covered with a brine and you are not using weight as described in a previous step. Keep lid ajar for fermenting gases to escape. 

- Let tomatoes seat on a counter for 3-5 days (depending of your room temperature).  On a second or third day you will notice that brine becomes milky - it is the way it should be. 

- On a third day you can try your tomatoes. Most likely, it won't be ready and will taste differently but not quite right, so let them seat in a room temperature more. As soon as you decide they are ready - transfer jars into a fridge. Next day, cold, they will taste amazing.

- Do not be afraid to error on either side deciding when to stop fermenting process by placing tomatoes in a fridge. Often it is matter of taste - some likes it mild, some likes it fizzy as carbonated water. Fermenting will continue in a fridge but very-very slowly, so eventually your tomatoes will become more fermented. Enjoy! When you will get used to its special taste - please, try to control yourself and do not eat tomatoes right from a jar, one by one, in a one seat! :)
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IN PICTURES

Pot with a brine is cooling down.

Prickle your tomatoes with a fork.


Pack tomatoes into jars.


Washing dill...

Lower part of your dill bunch with a think stems is just perfect for brining tomatoes.

Nice and tender dill tops I'll save for my salads.

Pouring warm brine into jars.

Standing..Day 1.

Day 2... Not much of a difference.

Day 3. Note that brine becomes more cloudy - that's how it should be.

Day 4. Yes, it is definitely cloudy. Do not forget to flip over that upper tomato sticking out of a brine :). I decided to leave jars on a counter one more day. Tomorrow they will go to a fridge and tomatoes will be ready to eat.
Cold, juicy, right from a fridge it will go with anything - right now I'll be eating it with simple ciabatta bread and cheese.
Enjoy fermented tomatoes as is, whole, piercing upper end with your teeth, sucking cold refreshing juices out (have napkins handy!) and then biting into a glossy sweet&salty flesh.
Or cut them in a half for more controlled consuming :) Eat it with a skin - it's a fiber and good for you and you can skip on your artificial fiber drink today!

Day7... tomatoes are disappearing from a jar.

Isn't it pretty site?

51 comments:

  1. Just followed the recipe and am now IMPATIENTLY waiting for them to be ready!!! if they turn out, it will make my week :)

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  2. I've loved these at the Russian and Ukranian restaurants I've frequented. I just started a batch today and can't wait to eat them all!

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  3. Just did a mini batch. I like mine on the soda side so I'll let it ferment a full week.

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    1. I know what you mean. I like that extra tang too. Also, when all tomatoes are gone, we just love to drink the brine - it's so refreshing and dill-y - just keep in mind the sodium level is pretty high there.

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  4. Well, my mini batch came out really well considering I just winged the exact measurements and ingredients (I had no fresh dill so I used some dried up flake stuff). I made a full batch on Monday and used The exact measurements and ingredients. It doesn't seem to be in full peculation (my word for fermentation) till day 4 or 5. I'll throw this batch in the fridge in a few days (8/26).

    AWESOME Recipe, Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I'm glad you like it. Try to use fresh dill; in fact, I never used dry so it's good to know it works for you!

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    2. This FULL BATCH I used Fresh Dill. Day 5 and they're in full peculation mode.

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  5. When I lived on Long Island, NY (I live in Virginia now)I'd make a special trip to Little Odessa(Brighton Beach, Brooklyn)once or twice a year. I'd usually pick up assorted exotic deli meats, a pound of salmon roe and some fermented tomatoes. They used a not so ripe orange tomato and the brine would be in a wooden vat. Your recipe taste EXACTLY like it.

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    1. Nice to hear that you like crazy Russian food :)

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  6. WOW, this batch came out really really well. I experimented with one bottle of with 5 tomatoes and threw in some white vinegar (about a half a cup) for an extra kicker. The vinegar gave it some pickle attributes. Well, I just plowed through the entire batch I made, time to start another one. :)

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    1. I found out if you use green tomatoes they last forever. I just found a small jar in the back of the fridge ( it needed a real good cleaning ). They were still pretty firm and tasted great, even after 5 months. :)

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  7. I've always loved these at Russian weddings and from my bro's mother in law. Thanks so much for posting up the recipe, I will definitely try making my own. Is it a similar recipe to make Russian pickles?

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    1. Recipe for pickles is somewhat different. I'm getting a lot of cucumbers this season off my mini-garden and planning to make pickles soon (will post the recipe of course) :)

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    2. Awesome, looking forward to it :)

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  8. Can you do the ferment without sugar? I can't do sugar in any amount. Also I do not like dill so I think I would use basil.

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    1. Yes, you can omit sugar. In this case fermentation process will use natural tomato's sugar but fermentation will take longer. Addition of sugar in my recipe above, enhances the taste and speeds up a process of fermentation. Good luck, enjoy!

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    2. Hi Olga,
      Thanks for the recipe. I tried it and it is very good. But one of my jars has some slimy-ness in it. It has like mucus in it. Is this normal?

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    3. Over the time, fermentation process may cause some sort of slimy consistency to the liquid but just to some degree. If it's seems to you too slimy and unpleasant - just throw it away. Very rarely, fermentation goes wrong for who knows what reason. Sometimes even if you use clean jars in a first place, thoroughly wash your vegetables and so on, some weird bacteria sneaks in. Although I never heard of people would be sick from fermented food poisoning or something like that. Have fun :)

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  9. Thank you very much for this recipe. I tried it last week with a bag full of tomatoes that a friend gave me, and they are delicious! I picked the last of the cherry tomatoes yesterday, and now have them in the brine, doing their happy thing. Each day I push the top tomatoes down into the brine, and lick my fingers, yummy. I would like to share this with my blog followers, may I please have permission to link to this? My blog is www.sewwhatyvette.com if you'd like to see what kind of stuff I write about.

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    1. Yvette, I'm happy you've got great results fermenting tomatoes! No problem, go ahead with a link on your blog..

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  10. Hi there :) These sound amazing! Do you know why the lids must be left ajar during the fermentation time? Could some stray, unwanted contaminant/bacteria get in? If sugar wasn't used, do you have an idea about how much longer the fermentation would take?
    Thanks! Becs :)

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    1. Hello! I leave lids ajar because my mom and grandma did exactly that. This way you let gas, created during fermentation, to escape from a jar. A lot of bubble are also trapped in a lower part of jar. Experienced fermented food makers are always poke a content of a jar with a long sticks to let that air out. This procedure is especially important when a large quantities of fermented food are made. For example, in villages when people were making sour cabbage in a barrels.
      Regarding food safety, bacteria, etc. Fermented food practiced by family cooks for centuries all over the world. Theoretically, always there is a chance of some pathogenic bacteria sneaking in. That is why it is important to stick to good hygiene rules during fermented food preparation. Nothing crazy though, just nicely cleaned jars, washed vegetables and clean hands. My mom, my grandma and countless people that I know made fermented food and I don't know single occurrence fermented food would cause poisoning or even mild digestive problem.
      About sugar.. You can omit one. There is always natural sugars in your vegetables for a fermentation process. Although fermentation will take longer, may be day or two longer. Also, IMHO, you will lose in taste.

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  11. Hi Olga, I am trying this for the first time tonight. I have a big restuarant size maionaze jar full. Can hardly wait to see how it goes. I love traditional foods of any kind, and am excited to taste my first Russian food!
    Jude

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  12. When I was studying in Kiev the lady that I stayed with made giant jars of these from beautiful yellow tomatoes grown at her dacha. They were so tasty and beautiful that I have wanted to make them myself for years. I found some yellow plum tomatoes and decided to use your tutorial. Unfortunately it is now day 4 and there is mold floating on the top. I only made half a batch to try it out so I just halved the recipe. Is this normal or do you know what I may have done wrong? I really want this to work for me.

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    1. Don't worry, some white film, or white mold may appear on a surface. Transfer tomatoes in a fridge and keep them there from now on. Next day after transferring in a fridge, taste your tomatoes, they should be ready. You may want to rinse tomato before eating it, just to remove white speckles from that white film. In fact, white film (mold) always appears when tomatoes are fermenting for a while (even after transferring in a fridge at the right time).

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    2. Most likely, you left your tomatoes on countertop to ferment for a little longer that needed, or your room temperature was a bit higher and they fermented faster. But as I said, no worries, just pop them in a fridge and try them when they cool down (they are better cold IMHO). All fermented tomatoes, cucumber, earlier or later, get this white film on a surface, even if you transferred your jar in a fridge just in time. Also, that's OK to scale the recipe . The fact you scaled back could also contribute into the fact that your tomatoes become fermented faster.

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    3. Thanks for recipe. I had some white fuzzy mold on top liquid. It was fairly hot these last few days. I scraped off but still some film on some. You think it is safe to eat still?

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    4. Homesteader, per my experience, white film always forms on a surface, earlier or later. I'm sure it is safe to eat tomatoes in this case. I remember, in my childhood, when my grandma was bringing fermented tomatoes or cucumbers from a cellar, she was often rinsing them off from this white residue/film.

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  13. Did my Cherries today, didn't have any dill so used rosemary and garlic hoping it will still work.

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    1. I never tried it with rosemary.. very interesting! Rosemary is strong, but in a small amount can bring a lot to overall flavor.

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  14. Im going to try this tonight , 3 types of tomatoes , adding Hot peppers basil and oregano !

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    1. I guess it will make your tomatoes Italian :)

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  15. Im going to try this tonight , 3 types of tomatoes , adding Hot peppers basil and oregano !

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  16. I love the flavor of this brine and your instructions are so helpful as I am new to fermenting. I put it in large jars and plan to put a bit of Rosemary and garlic in some. And the other with the dill. Thanks so much! I will let you know how it turns out.

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  17. I love the flavor of this brine and your instructions are so helpful as I am new to fermenting. I put it in large jars and plan to put a bit of Rosemary and garlic in some. And the other with the dill. Thanks so much! I will let you know how it turns out.

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    1. Rosemary is very bold herb..wondering how your tomatoes turned out :)

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  18. Do you know the weight of the salt?

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    1. I found this online so I will try using this weight of non iodized fine salt since I don't have Kosher
      Amount : 6 tablespoons (tbsp of kosher salt)
      Equals : 108.00 grams (g / kosher salt)

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    2. Weight of salt depends greatly not just on how fine it is, but even what brand of salt you use. Although it's not a weight or volume of salt that is matter. It's more how "salty" your salt is. After all, use spoon quantity that I mentioned in the recipe as approximation and adjust accordingly to your taste for a next time you'll be making fermented tomatoes.
      Using non-iodized salt supposedly prevents chemical reaction that makes garlic become blue. But, from my experience, sometimes kosher salt cause change of color too. Note, that if it happens to you and garlic pieces become blue-ish - no worry, it doesn't mean it spoiled - it doesn't affect taste and your tomatoes can be consumed safely :)

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  19. I have used your recipe and it went well. There was a little tiny bit of mold, but I scooped that out. It turned cloudy about the 3rd day as you mentioned it would. About 3 weeks later I took a jar out of the refrig and it fizzed like soda, i.e. a continuous stream of tiny bubbles from all over the jar rising to the top. I checked the ph and it was 4.0. Being reasonable adverse to botulism or food poisoning, I have not tasted them. Is this bubbling normal? Thank you!

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    1. After 3 weeks in refrigerator, your tomatoes will be, most likely, over-fermented. Which is not necessarily means they are not edible anymore. They will be, like you said, fizzy and more sour. I know people who like it exactly like that. But in general, fermented tomatoes are at its best next day after you transfer them in a fridge and up to 2-4-week old depending on temperature in your fridge.

      Regarding botulism, chances of getting botulism from home-fermented vegetables are extremely slim. You can do your own research on a subject, but odds of getting the disease from honey or commercially produced food are much higher. Also, tradition of fermenting vegetables in practically all over-the-world cultures proves it safe. I grew up in a culture where fermented food was a staple and every household has it in their fridge at any point of time and I never heard anybody got sick from it.

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  20. Just a note of caution here. Food rots in the presence of oxygen. Fermenting ANY fruit or vegetable with the lid open to the air is a BAD idea IF some of the food is NOT under the liquid. You will get bad mold that way and it will contaminate the entire batch.

    The recipe is good, but the method above sucks and the pictures of those jars with food clearly sticking out of the top and exposed to air is awful to see.

    This is an age-old issue with any fermentation. There are 2 ways to overcome it.

    First way is to ensure EVERY piece of food is under the liquid and kept there. Saurkraut pots have ceramic stones which sit on top of the food and keep it weighed down. Other people put cabbage leaves on the top to try and keep the food under the liquid. It is a faff trying to do this.

    The second and far easier way it to buy Sterilock lids for Kilner Jars. Google http://www.sterilock.co.uk/. These lids have a little valve that allows CO2 to escape (so your jar won't explode) but crucially they prevent oxygen coming in. So what happens is a layer of CO2 quickly develops in the space above the liquid. Any food that is NOT below the liquid no longer matters because there is no air there only CO2. The lids are screwed on tight so the whole thing is safe and sealed and you can watch the food ferment nicely.

    Please do not ferment your vegetables with oxygen exposure unless you 100% are able to keep them under the liquid.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and tips. I just wanted to mention, that fermentation technique described in my recipe is the way my mother and me does in our urban situation when all we do is a few jars at most. My grandma, though, made fermented vegetables, tomatoes, cabbage, etc., in barrels and kept them overwinter in a cellar. In that case it was really critical to have a weight (heavy wooden lid and some rags beneath) to keep vegetables covered with a brine. But I'll take your point and are going to update recipe with a tip how to keep tomatoes submerged without sterilock lids you mentioned. Also, picture, where tomatoes are sticking out, is a picture taken after a couple of days tomatoes being in a fridge. At this point fermentation process slows down significantly and it is safe for tomatoes floating freely.. especially at a pace they are consumed :)

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  21. It really doesn't matter at what point your fermentation process has got to, whether it has just started, 2-3 days in or sat in the fridge. Oxygen will rot the food esp when the food is damp. Put a whole tomato in the fridge and it will be happy there for quite a few days. Slice a tomato in half and put those halves in the fridge and they will start to rot quickly.

    There is NO fermentation method imo that should ever involve the food being exposed to the air, at any stage of the process. Get the veg salted, get it packed in jars and ensure the veg in kept under the brine at all times. On a purely personal basis I don't see the point faffing about with weights in jars when you can buy Sterilock lids and/or use brewing airlocks. You don't really want to have to be continually faffing about with the jars/pots, openeningthem up during fermentation to push veg back down under the liquid. It's a hassle you don't need and just create opportunities for you to contaminate the food.
    With Sterilocks or airlocks, once you close the jar, it never needs to be opened for weeks until you are ready to eat it. Nothing rots even if the food is above the liquid because there is no oxygen present, only CO2. It's a no-brainer.


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    1. As with any food preparation, there is always a possibility of food contamination, spoilage, etc. I give the best advise I know. Also, I believe, normal internet user able to apply acquired knowledge adequately at his own discretion. The idea is making fermented tomatoes without any special equipment. My family does it for years. Actually most of the world does it, without sterilocks, for centuries. By the way, are you seller of sterilocks? Or may be you are commercial producer of fermented food?

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  22. I think I poured the brine in too hot, after two days the brine remains clear. Any ideas?

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    1. Sorry, my reply is coming late :) Fermenting speed depends on a your room temperature. Sometimes brine becomes cloudy later. Patience's a virtue :) I hope your tomatoes turned out delicious.

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