Lacto-Fermented Escabeche

It’s our lacto-fermentation week! Read my intro to the week here, and our first recipe, roasted salsa, here. Today’s lovely recipe comes from Sarah who blogs at Heartland Renaissance. Thanks Sarah!  I can’t wait to try it.

You could say that I’m a bit of a taco connoisseur.

I can’t help myself, really. I grew up in a largely-hispanic farming community in the Sacramento Valley of California. A third of the kids in my (bilingual) grade-school class were children of migratory workers, with six or seven of them spending half of the year with us each year, as their parents worked in the community nearby, and half the year in other schools, as their parents followed the ripening crops. I was surrounded by good, authentic Mexican food and took it for granted, that is, until my parents moved us to Alaska when I was in the eighth grade, and I realized that not everyone knew the nuances of a good refried bean. . . Alaska introduced me to the joys of eating and fishing for fresh ocean fish (I lived in the Salmon Capital of the World! Literally!) but in terms of Mexican food? We were a few too many thousand miles away to find the good stuff.

After I graduated high school in Alaska, I went to college where it was warm and dry, New Mexico! There I became re-aquainted with authentic Mexican food, became enamored with New Mexican cuisine and, as a penniless college student who visited Mexico regularly on the weekends (yes, that Mexico. Before it became so dangerous to cross over!), I enjoyed strolling through the mercado and became familiar with some of the best, least expensive food in the area, the humble taqueria.

One of my best meals, ever, in my life, was in a little, un-air-conditioned, family-run restaurant off the main strip in Juarez. Featuring maybe six tables, it’s front window was lined with roasting, whole chickens on spits, the juices from the chickens sizzling down on top of each other, which the grandmother tended. The granddaughter took our order, her mother cut off fresh chicken from the spits and served it on top of fresh corn tortillas she had cooked to order on a big barrel-drum griddle located in the middle of the “kitchen.” Served with a baked potato (no rice and beans here) and a few wedges of lime, with a bowl of fresh salsa, a bowl of pickled vegetables, and a squeeze bottle of homemade, ultra-spicy orange hot sauce on the table, we were left to glory in the juicy feast. Yum.

True Mexican food is simple food prepared well. Braised and roasted meats, served on fresh tortillas with a bit of cortido and a wedge of lime. That’s all you need. Add a spoonful of fresh salsa or chomp on a pickled jalapeno or carrot from the bowl on the table and you’ve got me hooked.

My favorite taqueria condiment? Escabeche.

Escabeche, or Jalapenos en Escabeche are basically a Mexican pickled jalapeno. Far better than those little Nacho rings you buy in the store, escabeche is flavored with onions and garlic, frequently carrots, sometimes radishes or cauliflower, and is a pickled treat that I love to snack on. I’ve seen escabeche pickled in vinegar, and heat-processed in cans my whole life, but my favorite version is one that I developed last year, a lacto-fermented version of escabeche, and one that I’m happy to share with you below!

I love snacking on the crunchy carrots that have been soaking in the spicy brine, while my husband prefers the peppers. If served at a restaurant, there’s a very good chance I’ve made my way through the bowl on the table, before we even get our food! I make mine with a majority of jalapenos with a few sweeter peppers thrown in. Make sure that you use fresh, blemish-free, firm peppers when you make this. Enjoy on the side of a Mexican dinner, or straight from the jar.

Lacto-Fermented Escabeche
makes about 4 pints

    * 4 cups of sliced hot and sweet peppers
    * 4 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal into 1/4″ ovals
    * 6 cloves garlic, minced
    * 1/2 of a medium sized white onion, sliced into half rounds and separated
    * 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
    * 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
    * 1 Tablespoon sea salt
    * 4 Tablespoons fresh whey
    * water

Special Equipment: Plastic Gloves, Clean, sanitized jars and lids

First, put on your gloves. Seriously, put them on. I bought a box of 50 disposable gloves at the pharmacy in my local grocery store for about $5.00. If you don’t want your hands burning for the next three days and/or have to do things with your fingers that you don’t want jalapeno juice soaked into them (such as changing your contacts, rescuing rocks out of your baby’s mouth, etc.) put on some gloves.

There, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Second, with your gloves on, slice up your peppers and place them in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except for water and mix with your hands. Allow to set for a few minutes.

Into your clean, sanitized jars (still wearing your gloves!!) start bottling your vegetables. Push down gently, but firmly on the vegetables, packing them in firmly until they just reach the lower lip of the jar, about 1/2″ from the top. Continue until you have all of your vegetables in jars (don’t worry if the last jar isn’t quite full), making sure you have a fairly even mix of peppers, carrots and the peppercorns are evenly distributed. Press down on the vegetables in all the jars once more.

Now, to each jar, add a little water (filtered is best, but I just used the stuff out of the tap) to fill the space in between the peppers and to just cover them. Poke a chopstick in and stir to allow any bubbles to release and to make sure the vegetables are completely submerged. Cap and keep on your counter for about two days before transferring to cold storage. Allow the flavors to mingle for about a week before tasting. The flavor will be of a traditional cooked jalapeno en escabeche, but much fresher and crisper.

I would note that this lasts several months in cold storage (refrigerated or in a cold root cellar, if you have one available), but I’ll be honest and tell you that I still have a jar left over from last summer’s batch in my fridge! Carrots are still crunchy, and we are almost to the bottom – just in time to make more this jalapeno season!


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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Erin says

    Will defently have to try this for my hubby. He always bought cans of pickled jalapenos for his sandwiches, I am sure he would love to have homemade. Between this and the salsa yesterday, I know I will be trying both. Mexican food is rather simple, as you say. It is always our fall back food when we don’t know what else to make. Can’t wait to go visit my in-laws this december to learn more about some of my mother-in-law’s cooking.

  2. says

    Can’t wait to try this! I live in Mexico but am visiting family in the states. I’ll be back there in just a few days. I am so going to make this next week once I’m done unpacking!

  3. Julie says

    Sounds good! No-sounds great! Please clarify about the peppers–do you mean a combination of hot and sweet peppers measuring 4 cups , or 4 cups each of hot and sweet peppers?

  4. Lauren says

    I will definitely have to give this a try! My husband and I have moved to El Paso (we’re stationed at Fort Bliss) from the upper-midwest and I’ve been struggling to figure out things to make now that I’m far FAR away from the local farms and farmers markets that I’m used to in the upper midwest. Thank you!

  5. Diane says

    I’m new to using whey and wondering what are my options to finding it. How is it stored? Do you need to use it right away? Forgive me if these questions seem elementary….it’s just a new area to me.
    Thanks so much!

    • Michelle Hink says

      Whey can last up to 6 months in your refrigerator. I get mine from a friend that has goats and makes feta, but you can make it yourself at home by putting plain yogurt (with live active cultures) in a cheese cloth over a glass bowl or jar overnight. The liquid yellow stuff is whey

  6. Beverly says

    I made this last summer and it is wonderful! We used it a lot on pizza. Just finished up the last jar a couple of months ago and everything still tasted great.
    I made some more about a month ago. This is definitely a keeper recipe for me!

    • says

      Many dishwashers have a sanitize option – that is what I normally do, just run my jars (and the rest of the load) through the sanitize option right before I use them. Otherwise, placing in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes is also a tried and true way . . . and is easy to do if you’re only doing a jar or two (common with lactofermenting). I’ve read that many in Europe sanitize their jars dry in a hot oven (good for when you’re preheating it for something else) but I don’t have experience doing that. . . here’s a link to someone explaining the oven system:

      Hope this helps!


  7. Diane says

    Thanks Michelle…okay, more elementary questions. Can you use any plain yogurt (nonfat, full fat, etc.)? How do you know it has live active cultures? Will it be plainly marked as such–do some of you your store bought yogurts lack the live active cultures? Thanks for helping us get started!

  8. says

    I just mixed up a batch of this & look forward to tasting it in a week & a half. I used sweet banana peppers (because we are getting loads from our garden) and a couple of homegrown jalapenos.

  9. Kristi B. says

    This is a thing of pure beauty! I have been so inspired about lacto-ferments recently, thanks much for these posts! I made Escabeche from this recipe late last week and I can’t stop eating it! (We haven’t even made it the full week in the fridge yet but it’s SO good!) I kept all the brine too and am adding that to eggs and on top of stir-fries etc. for extra kick and flavor. I think my favorite are the onions and carrots–I find myself saving those till last so I can savor them. Next time I’ll add lots more onion. I never use whey, as I’m dairy-intolerant, I just use 2 Tablespoons sea salt per quart lacto-ferment and I also add 1 Tablespoon or so of brine from a previous ferment (like ginger carrot sticks, etc.) This was nice and bubbly after 2 days on the counter (I keep a lid on loosely and have never had any mold growth). Have also fermented the dilled green beans, sweet bread-and-butter cucumber slices, and have sweet watermelon rind on the counter right now (hope it works–have only ever canned that before). Thanks again for the inspiration!

  10. Nance says

    I made this almost 2 weeks ago and am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s almost habit forming (in a good way)! My question is do you have any other ideas on what to do with the leftover liquid? It’s so flavorful and I imagine healthy, too. Might it be re-used for further fermenting? Any thoughts out there on this? Thanks. Dilly carrots sre next on my list:).

  11. Carrie says

    I just made this and am really looking forward to trying it when it’s ready. This is the first thing that I’ve lacto-fermented. Will I know if it’s bad? Mold? I hope it works because I’m excited to keep lacto-fermenting!

  12. Jennifer says

    Can you tell me why our escabeche might have gone soggy? The veggies aren’t crisp at all, just perfectly mushy. What did we do wrong?

    • Merrie says

      I find with lactofermented pickles the trick to making them crispy is to super chill them before you put them in jars. I soak my ingredients in iced water for at least an hour before draining and bottling. You can also add an oak or grape leaf to the bottom of the jar.

  13. Merrie says

    After making your wonderful salsa that I now eat almost every day I decided to make this today as I had a lot of Jalapeños in the garden (I’m in Australia). I can see it is going to be a great favorite here, just the combination of flavours. And I was able to use carrots and oregano from my garden too.

  14. Linda says

    I tried this about two months ago. I’m on my third batch. This recipe is very reliable (and tasty!) Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m new to lacto-fermentation. This helps me very very much, as I LOVE pickled jalapenos, and this enables me to prepare them healthfully!It’s a great way to extend the use of my homemade yogurt (I strain it to render whey). Heartfelt thanks:)

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