9th April 2020

Food / George Blower

Vegan by Default: How To Lacto-Ferment

61 11 mins 2

LLeith-trained George Blower started his culinary career learning the ropes from eco-chef Tom Hunt with seasonal, minimal waste cuisine at Poco. Then, after some time with Nuno Mendes at Taberna Do Mercado and Origin Coffee, George created his ever-growing supper club, Blower’s Place, offering a seven-course vegan-by-default tasting menu for 30 guests roughly every 8 weeks. Here he focuses on challenging the status quo of what vegan food is.

George believes that sourcing incredible food from local producers, cooking it inventively and pairing it well, is how we can all get on board with a more plant-based diet. He's also a chef at the award-winning zero-waste restaurant, Silo, in Hackney Wick, and is currently at this time of crisis fermenting everything in his path.

“So, what exactly do you eat as a vegan?’’ My grandmother exclaimed over a summer barbeque a few years back. This, along with, “how do you survive on just fruit and veg?” and “what about chocolate and ice cream” were all phrases I’d kind of got used to over family dinners back home. Their version of my new-found ‘regime’ was one of back-to-basics rationing. Merely surviving on veg and grains, devoid of flavour, chew or umph.

My friends on the other hand, envisioned scenes of me preparing rainbow-like bowls of overnight oats for breakfast, avo, tofu and quinoa Instagram inspired plates for lunch and basically the same thing just heated and reconstituted for dinner. As for dessert? Well obviously this would be fruit, more fruit or peanut butter. I’m sure these are conversations that have been played out in many other families too.

However, in a relatively short space of time, we’ve come quite a long way and I’ve moved towards a more plant-led, rather than exclusive plant diet. This is something I see more and more people doing. Anna Jones inspires us to cook by the seasons, predominantly with plants. Tom Hunt teaches us how to buy local and minimise waste without sacrificing pleasure, people or the planet. Then, for the fine-dining dinner party folk amongst us, Richard Buckley and Chantelle Nicholson demonstrate how to impress. Douglas McMaster opens our minds to cooking with the whole ingredient and has been a fundamental part of my learning as a chef.  Amongst all of this however, I feel there is a gap in the market, one in which I am aiming to fill.

My approach is to create food that is vegan, by default. It’s to source local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients, and to prepare and cook them innovatively in a way that minimises waste and ramps up flavour. Dishes that stand on their own two feet, not as a substitute. Not on a separate menu to suggest they’re not worthy of being centre stage. A meal within its own right that we can all enjoy without it explicitly needing to not contain meat, fish or dairy. After all, we don’t go out for dinner and say, “may I have a look at the meat menu, please”, do we?

It’s also about not trying to recreate a sausage or turn cured beetroot slices into a faux-salmon spread. I’ve nothing against these foods, I actually admire the brands and chefs coming up with these creations, making it easier for more of us to eat plants more often. For me, however, it’s about shouting and celebrating ingredients and elements which have always been vegan. Scrap tofu scramble and avocado for breakfast and think smoked squash butter and kimchi on sourdough instead. Chocolate mousse made with the water from a tin of chickpeas (aquafaba), so velvety and luscious you wouldn’t know dairy wasn’t used. It’s about not compromising on flavour simply to try and replicate something we know. I want to get you excited about what’s new, using ingredients we’ve always had.

So, I welcome you to the first in my vegan-by-default series here at Some Good Ideas.

Lacto Fermentation
I get that this may sound a little weird. This is the process that gives us delights such as sauerkraut, kimchi and cucumber pickles. It’s something I frequently use, and that at Silo we incorporate into many of our dishes. It can unleash a whole host of flavours, textures and aromas, and really bring a wow factor to a plant-based dish or in fact any dish that you make. It’s also great for your gut and preserves the life of your vegetables too.

The reason I’ve started with a technique, and not a recipe for the first in this series, is that it’s something you can then apply to any cooking you do in the future.

The Chemistry
Lacto fermentation works with salt to kill harmful bacteria present in the vegetable and allows healthy bacteria to flourish. To achieve this, you simply create salt brine and submerge your vegetable into it.

The process takes two stages, both of which are invisible to the eye. The first sees the salt killing off the bad bacteria, so that process two can commence, where the good bacteria (known as Lactobacillus) can get to work converting the natural sugars and lactose present within the vegetable, into lactic acid. It’s this acidic environment that preserves the veg and produces some really interesting flavours, such as:

Delicata squash smelling like pineapple juice. Roasted and puréed pumpkin taking on a whole new tropical flavour of mango, papaya and passionfruit. Rhubarb losing its intense acidity and balancing out to a more mellow sweetness, with a pleasing pop and crunch when bitten.

George Blower

It really is a bit of a Russian roulette not quite knowing what you’ll get from each vegetable. Raw veg is more commonly used, but you can also apply it to purées/mashes, pulp, scraps and peelings. And as it’s only salt and water! It makes for a very thrifty method.

What you’ll need:
A set of digital scales
A vessel to ferment your veg in. Anything will work, but ideally a jar with a lid that will comfortably fit whatever you choose to ferment.
A vegetable to ferment. I’d recommend starting off with something like carrots, radishes or asparagus, both of which are in season right now.

1. Place the jar on the scales and zero/tare it off. Add your vegetable, left whole or in batons, and top up with water to fill the jar. Record the total weight of veg and water, then remove from the scales
2. Pour the water off into a large bowl and place this on the scales. Here is where we create our brine. Pretty much all lacto fermentation is done at 2% of the total weight of water and veg, in salt. You can experiment by going down as low as 1% or as high as 3%, but any more or less won’t result in a great product. Take the weight you recorded earlier and multiply by 0.02. This will give you a percentage of salt to add to the water.  (So for example, if we had 1000g total weight of water and veg, we’d do 1000 x 0.02 = 20g salt). Whisk to dissolve.
3. Place a lid loosely on top and leave out at room temperature for 3-5 days. Be sure not to tighten the lid as we need air for gases to escape. It can also be useful to place the jars on a tray or dish, to catch any brine that bubbles out the jar as they ferment.
4. After day 3 give it a taste and if it’s good for you, then pop it in the fridge with the lid sealed. This will drastically slow the fermentation. If you fancy a bit more funk, or to see how it’ll develop, give it another few days.

Note: If fermenting chillies to make your own hot sauce you’ll need a 7% brine and to leave them for two weeks. Chillies are more prone to mould, and so need a higher percentage of salt to counter this.

And there you have it. How to lacto ferment pretty much any fruit or veg you have. You can then enjoy these as you would pickles or other ferments. In salads and sandwiches for lunch, or alongside your supper.

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George Blower

Leith-trained George Blower started his culinary career learning the ropes from eco-chef Tom Hunt with seasonal, minimal waste cuisine at Poco. Then, after some time with Nuno Mendes at Taberna Do Mercado and Origin Coffee, George created his ever-growing supper club, Blower’s Place, offering a seven-course vegan-by-default tasting menu for 30 guests roughly every 8 weeks. Alongside founding Blower's Place, George is also a chef at award-winning zero waste restaurant, Silo, in Hackney Wick.

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