I learned this great quick ferment from Hang in the fall of 2021, and I'm honored to share the recipe here and also to spread some knowledge about Vietnamese ferments. Since Vietnamese-style cauliflower is easy to prepare and ready quickly, it's a great beginner's ferment. Plus, it's a tasty bring-along for an impromptu barbecue the following weekend. A really great summer seasonal ferment! Hang calls this dish cauliflower à la Hanoi style.
I got to know Vietnamese cuisine when I lived in Berlin in the 1990s and was in love at first bite. Phở, summer rolls, and bánh mì, I couldn't get enough of it and went feasting in Vietnamese restaurants and snack bars when time and student budget allowed. However, fermented cauliflower was not on my list of dishes at the time, as this crunchy ferment was not offered in restaurants.
Fermentation has a centuries-old tradition in Vietnam, and quick ferments are very popular
There are more than 50 ethnic groups in Vietnam, all of whom have and maintain immense knowledge of fermentation processes. They create unique flavors. Traditionally, wild fermentation is used, meaning that most fermentation processes utilize the microorganisms of the produce or the environment. Nem chua, sour fermented pork, and Đồ Chua, fermented fruits and vegetables, are examples of popular wild ferments intended for quick consumption. And despite the growing industrialization in food production, fermentation is still commonly used for preservation.
Fermented vegetables are very popular in Vietnam. From eggplant to lotus root, everything is fermented.Hang Quin
For preparation, the vegetables are cleaned, sometimes peeled, dried and then placed in brine* in airtight containers for 1-3 days for fermentation. In addition to vegetables that are also commonly fermented in other countries, such as cabbage, cucumbers, mustard, garlic and onions, in Vietnam people also ferment lotus roots, eggplant, jackfruit, bamboo shoots and raw mangoes. Also, of course, cauliflower.
* 2-7% salt with sometimes up to 3% sugar
- 1 small head of cauliflower
- 1 bunch of scallions
- 1 liter water
- juice of 1 lemon (30 ml)
- 2 tsp rice vinegar (10 ml)
- 20-30 gr. salt
Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and the spring onions into rings. I find it quite nice to have variety when eating, so I cut them into small and slightly larger pieces.
Make a brine with water, salt, lemon juice and vinegar. Hang's traditional recipe uses lemon juice for acid, which she substitutes with distilled vinegar only when she doesn't have any lemons. I like the combination of lemon juice and rice vinegar extremely well. But you can decide for yourself what you like and prepare this ferment with the acid of your choice.
The quantity fits into a 1.8l swing-top jar. You can use any other vessel that allows gases to escape without letting oxygen in. The vegetables should be completely under the brine. For this you can use weights, or, like Hang, place a heavy plate on top of the vegetables. Wedged shish kebab sticks also work quite well.
Place at room temperature. After only 3-4 days the cauliflower is ready to serve.
How does fermented cauliflower taste?
Fermented cauliflower after a short fermentation period tastes pleasantly sour, salty and crunchy and overall very harmonious. The aroma of the allium is well perceptible.
The acidification process proceeds very quickly. If you don't like it that sour, chill the container to slow down the fermentation process. The first time you can just leave the jar, or some of the contents sit to find out at what acidity level it tastes best to you. Please take out the fermented food consistently with clean utensils, otherwise it can easily spoil.
How to eat fermented cauliflower?
Like all other vegetable ferments, fermented cauliflower is fabulous as a snack. Pure, dipped in various sauces, such as Nước chấm or sweet soy sauce, I like it nearly best. As a side dish with Banh Mi or as part of a tasty salad, cauliflower also goes down really well. We also like it sliced on sandwiches, and of course as a sour note in all kinds of stir fries.
Is that even fermenting if citric acid or vinegar is used?
If you add just a little acid, lactic acid fermentation still takes place. Many fermentistas even use this technique deliberately, but with the lactic acid brine of a previous ferment. This is called backslopping, the idea being to give the ferment a good bacterial start.
I'm not a fan of backslopping as such, because the bacteria take a shortcut due to the already lactic acidic environment and no longer reliably go through all stages of their life cycle. This can lead to a not so balanced taste. However, it is not dangerous for health.
With some ferments, however, I really appreciate the addition of acid because it changes the flavor profile. Curtido for example tastes very delicious when you add lime juice to the ferment.
If you are interested in the science: Acetic acid bacteria and lactic acid bacteria grow at a pH of about 3-4. If you don't get below that by acidifying, lactofermentation takes place.
- Hang Quin
- Nguyen La Anh, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213453015000464
- Vu Nguyen Thanh (Food Industries Research Institute), Nguyen Thi Viet Anh, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305910163_Ethnic_Fermented_Foods_and_Beverages_of_Vietnam
- Spektrum der Wissenschaft, https://www.spektrum.de/lexikon/biologie/acidophile-mikroorganismen