My favorite thing about spring is the beginning of foraging, gathering your own food. One of the very first wild foods that becomes abundant in this area is ramps. A wild onion that tastes like a leek crossed with garlic, it grows in the woods where there is plenty of shade, often on a hillside. Like all wild-crafted foods, ramps should be harvested with respect and a consideration towards sustainability and responsibility.
Ramps can be added to so many dishes in the springtime, from scrambled eggs and quiche to stews and casseroles. We have lightly sauteed them and put them on top of cheeseburgers and mixed them in with ground beef for meatballs.
I also love to put the leafy green tops into some of my favorite sauces, like pesto and chimmichurri, replacing the onion or garlic for a unique yet familiar flavor.
Being the fermentation nerd that I am, I of course have to find a way to ferment these beauties, both to prolong their season in my kitchen, and to add a special (read: strong and funky) flavor to whatever they touch. When you use the green tops for a sauce or saute, you can save the white part on the bottom--like you would find on a scallion--and ferment it in a salt brine.
My favorite ferment using ramps is a sauerkraut that captures the goodness of early spring: Ramp and Nettle Sauerkraut. The onion/garlic flavor of the ramps with the green, almost spinach-like flavor of the nettles are a perfect way to liven up traditional sauerkraut. You are adding a lot of minerals as well, and creating a probiotic-rich way to preserve these great spring treats as long as you like.
This recipe makes 1 gallon of kraut, but can easily be modified to make a bigger or smaller batch.
Ramp and Nettle Kraut
Makes 1 gallon
6 lbs green cabbage, finely shredded--usually 3-4 heads depending on size and density
2 cups ramps, coarsely chopped--I use the whole thing, but you can just use the green part if you like
4 cups young nettle leaves, loosely packed and chopped
**You will need to wear gloves when handling the nettles, as they will sting when raw and unprocessed.
The act of chopping and pounding in the kraut will get rid of the sting, so it will be fine to eat these
raw after the kraut is finished with no sting!**
2-3 Tbs sea salt, or to taste--should taste decidedly salty, but not overly so, measure to taste
Combine the cabbage, ramps, nettles and salt in a large bowl. Using gloved hands, massage the salt into the vegetables, squeezing and crushing as you go. This will help to break the cell wall of the cabbage and release its water, therefore combining with the salt to make a brine. Massage together for several minutes until the cabbage has become softened and some water has been released--you may need to take a break!
Working in batches, transfer the mixture into a glass jar or fermentation crock. I use a canning funnel to make this part easier. Pound the mixture in as you go, pressing with your hands, a wooden spoon or a kraut pounder to get as much air out as possible and compressing the vegetables in to make room for the rest.
Continue until all of the mixture is in the jar or crock. Press down one final time after all of the veggies are in, attempting to remove as much air as possible and pushing up as much brine as you can.
Place a weight on top of the mixture and cover with a lid or cloth.
Let sit in a cool, dark place for approximately 14 days, tasting after 7 for doneness. When ready it will have a tangy flavor, softened texture, and a slight effervescence that you find with lacto-fermented kraut.
This will store for about 1 year in the fridge or cool root cellar if the vegetables are kept well submerged below the brine at all times.
We love this on eggs in the morning, or alongside a nice grilled bratwurst!
Brine & Broth
I am a nutritionist in Southwest Wisconsin, focused on traditional, nutrient-dense foods. My goal is to provide you with simple and delicious recipes that fit into real life, and information for choosing healthful real foods. Enjoy!