Cookbook review: Adventures in fermentation

"Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World" by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, $35)

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"Sandor Katz's Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World" by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, $35)

‘Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World’ by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, $35)

Sandor Katz’s fascination with fermentation began decades ago in his rural Tennessee garden. His hunger to learn more has taken him all over the globe, from tropical villages to Arctic fishing communities, stretching his knowledge of this ancient practice far beyond sauerkraut-making.

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A self-described “fermentation revivalist,” Katz has conducted hundreds of workshops and written multiple how-to books — including his 2013 James Beard Foundation award-winning “The Art of Fermentation”— that have inspired a new generation of home cooks to try their hand at their own microbial experiments.

In “Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: Recipes, Techniques and Traditions from Around the World” (Chelsea Green, $35), he moves beyond the basics to share the lessons he’s learned from people who’ve invited him into their pickle shacks, tofu shops, kraut factories, sake breweries, and private kitchens.

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Katz recalls in the introduction hitchhiking through Africa on a post-college adventure and sampling wine made from the fermented sap of palm trees. Years later, he thought about how those villagers made those drinks without the special equipment or commercial products called for in modern winemaking manuals. He’s made it his life’s mission to keep simple, traditional fermentation practices such as these alive.

Chapters in his latest book are categorized by the underlying fermentation substance, or “substrate,” to show how recipes from entirely different regions relate to one another. The vegetable chapter, for example, includes instructions for the rice water pickles he learned from a woman in a Guizhou village, as well as one for whole sour cabbages shared by a gardener from Croatia.

Other projects you can tackle if you’ve got ambition: Mexican-Inspired Kimchi, Potato Tempeh from Switzerland, Lahpet Burmese Pickled Tea Leaves, and Ricotta “Miso.”

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Or, you can simply tag along on Katz’s adventures from the comfort of your armchair, admiring the creative ways diverse populations use this common practice to make the most of their food resources.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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