Fermented Salsa and homemade Corn Chips

You know when a person’s enthusiasm for something is contagious….meet Matthew Calderisi. He’s the ultimate ‘fermentation fanatic’. Having been a restauranteur  in Montreal, before coming to Barcelona many years ago, he has always been very interested in food. His years of experience fermenting foods started when his Korean friend Donald’s mum taught him to make Kimchi, back when we was 12. And he’s been playing with fermentation ever since! He is truly a deep well of knowledge; I only knew a limited amount about fermented foods before….just a vague notion that they are good for you. Matthew’s buzzy energy when he talks about fermentation is exciting, as well as intriguing. He started by telling me that fermented foods are fun…and I’m already beginning to agree with him!

Matthew is a teacher by nature and likes to share his knowledge with anyone who is hungry to learn. This is something he will expand on when he opens Ferment9 (the country’s only dedicated fermentation lab and workshop) in the new year. At the moment the details of this fantastic new space are being kept hush hush, but there will be more about Ferment9 later!

A visit to Matthew’s house often involves sampling his latest blueberry water kefir or peering into the many jars of pickled goods, littering his counter top.

I’ve sampled cournichons, kimchi, cashew cheese, pickled carrots, sauerkraut, pickled scotch bonnet peppers, caramel cheesecake made from his own fermented cheese….the list is endless! We even made our own Gravadlax the other day, but that’s one for another post.

Being around Matt really piqued my interest in fermentation. I left his place last week armed with a bag full of jars, filled to the brim with fermented goodies…all full of helpful probiotics.

But more importantly I had a copy of the fermentation bible ‘The Art of Fermentation’ by Sandor Katz (as well as a big gap in my knowledge that I needed to fill).

The more I read, the more I want to know; fermentation truly is fascinating stuff. The number of foods we accept in our everyday lives without even realising are fermented is outstanding…bread, soy sauce, cheese, tofu, chocolate, fish sauce, beer, olives and wine. Especially when you consider peoples lack of knowledge or understanding of how good they are for you. I don’t want to preach about their health benefits, but the main facts I’ve picked up are that eating fermented foods introduces beneficial bacteria to your digestive system and helps you to absorb more of the nutrients from the food you eat.

The key seems to be to make sure whatever you are fermenting is fully submerged under water, to starve it of oxygen and stop it going off. Every food has it’s own specific amount of time to ferment, after this it’s more stable and free of normal deterioration (rot or mould) that you’d expect with fresh produce.

My trip to Matthew’s place earlier this week involved the usual sampling and learning. I was handed an ice cold glass of Tepache, which is a Mexican drink made from fermented pineapple (which is lovely and slightly fizzy on the tongue). The task for the day was to make a fresh batch of Fermented Salsa which is addictively moreish. Considering the jar of salsa we were eating had been first opened and kept in the fridge for 3 months and was still good to eat, was amazing. Free from chemical preservatives or any of the additives you find in shop bought salsa, this stuff is much better for you as well! We ate the salsa with corn chips, but it could just as easily go with a nice piece of white fish or in a sandwich. The recipe doesn’t take long, so get involved! You can snack away, without any guilt about the E numbers you are ingesting, and with the smug knowledge that the bacteria are doing your gut some good. We made a whopping 5 litres of salsa, but feel free to halve or quarter the amounts!

Salsa ingredients:

3kg ripe tomatoes, chopped

5 sweet onions, diced

1 large bunch coriander, chopped

4 green peppers, chopped

2 Italian chili peppers, chopped

4 limes, juiced

2 tbsp cumin seeds

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tbsp salt

2g sachet of vegetable starter

Salsa method:

To chop the vegetables we used a food processor, because we were making such a large quantity of salsa. First of all peel the onions and garlic, then core the tomatoes.

Blitz the onions and add them to a large bowl. Repeat with the tomatoes, chilies and peppers. Then add the coriander, garlic, salt and cumin seeds. Squeeze in the lime juice.

Char’s tip: Test your chillies for heat….if they are too hot don’t use the seeds. We used the whole chilies, flesh and seeds alike. Also don’t blend the tomatoes too much since they are mainly water, you want the salsa to have some texture to it.

We did a quick Litmus test, anything under 4.5 pH is good because pathogens can’t form.

We added a starter culture which is a small sachet of prepared bacteria which will begin the fermentation process. The starter is usually dissolved in liquid and added to whatever you want to ferment. You can ferment this salsa without a starter, relying on what’s called spontaneous fermentation. If doing this make sure you wash the vegetables really well before starting.

After mixing the salsa well, I ladled it into a 4 litre jar. Matthew cut the plastic mesh from a sieve and used this on top of the jar, to make sure all of the salsa was below the liquid level. This is a key part to fermentation, making sure there are no bits exposed to oxygen at the top of the jar.

Shake the jar to make sure there are no air pockets stuck inside the mixture, and seal with the clip lid. We used jar with an air trap, as the mixture will give off gasses when it’s fermenting. If you are making a small amount an air trap is not essential. Just remove the lid every day to ‘burp’ the salsa.

With time, as the food that is fermenting releases gas, the water level on the air trap is pushed up.

Salsa takes 3-4 days to ferment, after that it will keep for months! Put it in the fridge once it’s fermented to slow down any further fermentation.

Once the salsa is ready, you can crack on and make the corn chips to dip in it.

Corn chips ingredients:

300g corn flour

1/2 tbsp black sesame seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp Piment D’Espelette

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

100ml warm water

Corn chips method:

Pre heat the oven to 180º. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Add the oil, egg and water and combine with your hands until the mixture forms a dough. Wrap the ball in cling film and leave it to rest for half an hour.

Divide the mixture into 6-8 balls. Place cling film on your counter top, put a dough ball on top and cover with some baking paper. Using a rolling pin roll the dough ball out into a circle which is around 15-20cm diameter.

Sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top and press them in. Don’t roll the dough too thin, otherwise it breaks up (2-3mm is a good thickness). Repeat for all the dough balls.

Warm a dry frying pan over a medium flame and heat the dough. Cook for a few minutes until it starts to brown and flip over to cook the other side. Remove from the pan, break up roughly and place on a baking tray. Repeat until all the dough is cooked.

Bake the chips in the oven for around 10 minutes to brown them a bit. They should be crispy and snap when you bite them. They will keep for several days in a zip lock bag. Or alternatively serve them immediately with some of the salsa, and watch them go in minutes!