Lacto-Fermented Butternut Squash

Lacto-Fermented Butternut Squash

I’ve written about CheU Noodle Bar a few times before because it’s one of my favorite places to stop for a quick slurp in Philly and they have loads of ferments on their menu.  From kimchi to  hot sauce to the chewiest (cheu-iest?) noodles, CheU has had my husband and I on a string since our first visit.

One fermented item in particular has been particularly alluring to me over my many visits there: a fermented winter squash that they include in a few salads.  They include it in cooked dishes, so it’s not necessarily a probiotic wonderland, but the complexity of the taste had me willing to sacrifice some microbes to give it a try.

jar of butternut squash

A few cubes of unpeeled squash top the peeled strips. I found a version with unpeeled chunks to be a bit more vigorous.

I assumed CheU must use a starter, because the skin of most winter squash is inedible and for something this prone to soften, you wouldn’t want to wait for fermentation to kickstart over the course of a few weeks.  As luck would have it, I attended the Philly Chefs Conference where Ben Puchowitz, the chef and co-owner at CheU, was speaking on a panel.  So I asked him one of the really tough, pointed questions: “How do you ferment your winter squash?”

His response: no whey or starter, just chop, salt and let it go for three days.  “It gets soft,” he said, “but you’re fermenting it for the flavor, so that doesn’t really matter.”  So thank you, Chef Ben, for the gift of this squash, because with absolutely no seasonings other than salt added, I am smitten. I also love the reminder that fermented foods, even fermented vegetables do more than give us probiotics.  They are often worth making just for the the flavor!

Lactofermented Winter Squash from Phickle.com

This squash pickle won’t last forever in the fridge, but it won’t need to.

My plan was to make these and cook with them, but I’m on my 4th batch and none have yet survived to be used in a recipe: they are quickly devoured, straight from the jar.  And while some pieces do indeed get soft, plenty are still crunchy enough to make them worthy of the name pickle.  In either case, everything I love about squash is enhanced in the fermentation process. The nutty, sweet, fruit and creamy notes come through, and there’s the acidic tang of fermentation to highlight them.

Next time I make this pumpkin chili, I’ll be sprinkling  these guys on for sure.  I can also see substituting the raw squash in this Mark Bittman recipe with fermented squash. Most often, though, I’ll be chomping these guys straight from the jar.

Recipe after the jump.

Seasonal goodness that won't last very long before mushing.  The good news is that you'll eat it so fast it won't need too.

Seasonal goodness that won’t last very long before mushing. The good news is that you’ll eat it so fast it won’t need too.

LACTOPICKLED BUTTERNUT SQUASH

yields one quart. Inspired by the amazing fermented squash at CheU Noodle Bar

I put a few chunks of unpeeled, thoroughly washed squash in the top of my jar.  I don’t enjoy eating the peel, but I wanted to introduce as much lactic acid bacteria as possible and common knowledge holds that more bacteria live on the skin than in the flesh. This worked very nicely and did get a bit more active than the batch I did without.  When you’re done fermenting, you can either compost those pieces or cut off the rind and enjoy the flesh.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon salt, dissolved into 2 cups of room temperature, filtered water

How-To

  1. Peel the raw squash. Leave a small section of squash unpeeled so that you can include it at the top of your ferment (see above).  Peeling hard squash is a pain in the ass, so please be careful not to get impatient and slice off a finger.  I normally peel squash by roasting it for a few minutes and then peeling, but you do not want to heat your squash in this instance.
  2. Cut the peeled squash into pieces.  My favorite of the 3 sizes I’ve tried was thin strips.  I made them with the mandolin last time and they’re great! You can cut them that way or into chunks or strips or whatever you like best. Cutting the pieces with peel on them into different sized/shaped pieces will help you find and remove them after fermentation.
  3. Place peeled, chopped squash into a one quart vessel. Add the unpeeled pieces of squash to the top and pour brine over the whole shebang.
  4. Submerge the squash using the ghetto jar method, pickle weights or your preferred method and cover it.
  5. After five days of fermentation, your squash will be ready. remove any weights, put the proper lid on the jar and store in the fridge. They won’t last long.

 

Ferment Pickles Probiotic

34 comments

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Denyse,

      Many people use whey as a starter but, as I mention in the text, I don’t. Since this is a relatively short ferment, I didn’t feel that speed was necessary, but if you do, you can always add whey.

      Do be aware, though, that I didn’t test the recipe with whey and whey can definitely cause problems in vegetable ferments. If it gets slimy or very mushy, whey would be the likely culprit.

      I hope that helps!

      Thanks for reading!

      Amanda

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Sherrie,

      I know! CheU is so good. I haven’t been there in a couple months and I’m having withdrawal symptoms.

      As for classes, good news on that front! I have two potential venues to look at very soon and I should be able to start scheduling my own classes again in March. I’m so excited about that! I hope to see you there!

  1. Lindsey Beech says:

    I’ve been following you because I want to start fermenting foods and this looks like a good, easy recipe to start with. I’m super excited and will let you know how it goes!!

    • Amanda says:

      Awesome, Jeanmarie. I am a big fan of these. If peeling squash were less of a pain, I’d be making a quart of these every other day and using the resulting pickles as the base for my lunch salads!

  2. Sean says:

    Would it make sense to mix the peels in with uncut pieces? So you could get the bacteria and not worry about separating the chunks with skin?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Sean,

      I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying! My best suggestion is to put the unpeeled pieces at the top, in a different shape cut than the pieces you’re going to eat. That way, they will be easy to spot and remove before you dig in.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Priya says:

    Gonna give this a try! I ate at Bar Tartine in San Francisco last month, and I’m haunted by their cultured squash with pumpkin seed oil… it was a super soft spread for bread, like pureed squash doused with pumkin seed oil, but it was loaded with fermenty complexity and acidic tang. I’m going to try to cut up the squash nice and fine and do a longer ferment in hopes that they break down and get all squishy, and I guess I can always puree the ferment if it’s too firm and I demand squish!

    • Amanda says:

      That sounds awesome, Priya. These will mush pretty quickly, so you don’t need to go too small if you don’t want to. I’m definitely going to give that spread a go as well!

  4. Priya says:

    Great to know, thanks Amanda! It’s already doing its thing on my countertop… will report back if it’s a success!

    By the way, thanks for your blog… it’s so demystifying and empowering. I’ve made a ton of ferments in the few months since I discovered phickle! You kick ass. :)

    • Amanda says:

      Thank you so much, Priya! Kind words like those definitely inspire me to keep at it! I look forward to hearing how your spread turns out.

  5. Maegan says:

    Hi Amanda, butternut squash doesn’t grow well for me but I easily grow 100 lbs of pumpkin and acorn squash in my backyard. Do you think either of these would be able to be substituted in this recipe?
    Thanks for sharing your fabulous ferments! I’ve made several of your recipies and have fallen in love with fermenting.
    Maegan

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Maegan,

      Thanks for writing! So glad you’re a fellow lover of the ferments.

      I definitely think that you should try pumpkin and acorn squash. I can’t imagine that the results would be wildly different. Of course, I haven’t ever tried those guys so, there could be an odd difference, but I would be surprised.

      My next squash ferment will be kabocha, I think, because the peel is edible. Not having to peel uncooked squash sounds very fun to me after four batches of the butternut.

      Let me know how it turns out!

      Amanda

  6. Karin says:

    Hi Amanda,
    I know that this recipe calls for thin strips but I wanted to grate the butternut squash instead. Does the ferment duration time change if I wanted to grate rather than strips?
    Thanks,
    Karin

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Karin,

      You definitely need to reduce the time if you do grated pieces. I can’t tell you how long since I’ve never done it that way, but I would definitely try with a small batch. You may end up with a container of mush (delicious mush) since the structure of squash can veer that way anyway.

      Let me know how it turns out!

      Amanda

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Susan,

      I’ve never found a peeler that works well for me on hard squash! So glad you have a solution that works for you, though! My normal technique is to soften them and then just slice off the skin, but obviously, I can’t cook them before fermentation, so I’m stuck with the struggle!

      Thanks for writing!

  7. Karin says:

    Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for your response. I have the butternut squash still on the counter–going to try and tackle it tonight. I have made the ginger carrots and preserved lemons, following your recipe to the letter except I used smaller containers since this is my first time fermenting. I have a question, how will I know if they are fermenting properly and when they will be done? I moved my carrots to the living room because it is a little warmer than the dining room where they were–they will be done in about 2.5 weeks. The lemons are in the kitchen, so that I can shake the bottle everyday as directed and they will be ready this Saturday if I am going by the recipe time. The smell is wonderful as I put pepper in the container with the lemons however the texture seems to be the same as when I first made it.
    Thanks again,
    Karin

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Karin,

      I generally ferment my carrots for a little shorter than my other ferments (1-2 weeks rather than 2-3). Since they are sweeter, they can veer towards a yeastier fermentation, so I like to keep my eyes on them, and let them ferment at normal room temperature, lest the get a bit slimy.

      As for the lemons. they should definitely be different in texture. Have you been re-submerging them after your daily shake? Even if they don’t look that different at the one month point, give them a tiny taste when you hit that date. Take a very small amount of peel. It should come apart much more easily than if it were a fresh lemon. The color should be somewhat altered, maybe a bit more translucent. Take a tiny bite (it will be very salty) of peel. If it feels at ALL like you’re biting a fresh lemon, don’t do it! It will leave you with a very lingering metallic taste on your tongue. My bet is that it will be fine though. A month of fermentation is a good way to start!

      I hope that helps!

      Amanda

  8. Rosemary says:

    I think Sean was asking about just putting some of the peelings into the jar, rather than setting aside a few “squash with skin on” pieces to use as a topper. It sounds like a good option to me, and I’ll probably try it. A couple of long strips of peelings would probably add more of the good little buggies than just a few centimeters of peel left on a few small pieces.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Rosemary,

      I used peelings the first time I made this and I preferred the alternate method I describe in the recipe. The peelings tended to get lost among the other strips and we even bit into a few, which I didn’t find pleasant. If that way works better for you, go for it! The easily identifiable pieces were a better fit for me.

      Enjoy!

      Amanda

  9. Karin says:

    Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for reminding me about the duration–I clearly got the two mixed up.
    So I grated the squash and let it sit for 2.5 days. I tasted it last night and the night before, It did not get mushy. The taste the first night was great and I suppose that I shouldn’t have let it go any longer but with my inexperience, I wasn’t sure. So I let it go till this morning and the taste and smell were off. So I rinsed off the squash (which I know is not the point of fermenting) and made the recipe up above substituting dried cranberries which I bloomed in the orange juice and it was GREAT!
    I tried the carrots after two weeks and they have the same funky taste and smell as the squash did this morning, which I tossed. Yes, I am submerging the lemons after I shake everyday and I just noticed that they have started to take a turn from what looks like a fresh lemon texture to a similar texture as the photos on your site. I plan on using the lemons in my hummus recipe but would love to know what other recipes you use them in.
    Thanks again,
    Karin

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Karin,

      I use my preserved lemons in almost everything I cook. I’ll puree a slice with olive oil and parsley for a knockout salad dressing, finely dice a bit of peel and toss it in salads, garnish soup or mix a tablespoon into any grain dish. I have also used to to make preserved lemon curd (recipe on the blog). That kills the good stuff, but is is a very special sweet treat for those who like subtle complexity in their baked goods.

      There are really endless ways to use it as an ingredient. It doesn’t seem to go bad, so storing it in the back of the fridge is a great way to keep it on hand forever.

      I’ll be posting another preserved lemon recipe this week or next week. It’s a bit of a splurge, but it is also pretty fun!

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