Of all the places I’ve been, nowhere has been more culinarily diverse than Vietnam. The country is actually pretty damn big, so every region has an entirely different food culture and dishes to go along with produce locally grown and in season. (Yeah, turns out most people don’t eat food from other countries and out of season like us) One thing that is consistent, however, is nam pla. Found throughout the country as an accompaniment to most dishes, it is this special sauce that balances acidity, spice, sweetness, bitterness, and earthy funk (is that umami?)
Anise is a flavor you might be familiar with in what I would consider to be the national dish of Vietnam: pho. Oh that broth… don’t get me started. I would live and die to have that even as I’m typing. But I digress.
So anyway, I wanted to make a vinaigrette to mimic this perfect balance, but also incorporate an anise flavor, which I have here in fennel.
First of all, I want all the probiotics, so I pickled the whole lot.
A simple pickle brine is:
- Sterilized mason jar
- 1 TBSP kosher salt dissolved per Qt of water
So the whole thing with lacto-fermentation is safety from pathogenic bacteria. We want the gut promoting species here, not the ones that will make us ill. This isn’t canning, so it is even more important to stay safe, keep it all sterile, and let nature do its thing.
- Fill the jar with fennel fronds pretty tightly up to about the neck, but enough to get water around it all.
- Fill with brine above fennel line.
- I was also chopping up some kohlrabi this day, so I used the skins to pack the fennel below the waterline of the neck. This part is important. You can’t have ANY of the produce above the brine line. It will oxidize and grow pathogenic molds. I usually use part of the bulb itself to submerge it… but they make glass disks you can buy especially for this. I have used marbles, shot glasses… I get creative for gut health, ya heard?
- Put a couple paper towels, washcloth, or a coffee filter over the top and put a rubber band around the top so the jar can breath.
- Leave it in a dark cool corner for a few days, periodically checking to make sure it is all still submerged. This is because fermentation causes CO2 to form and bubble to the top, which can push the veg out of the brine and sully the pickle.
- After fermentation starts rolling, put the jar in the fridge with the lid on half way for 10 days or so. Keep checking to make sure the pickle is submerged. (I personally go many weeks, sometimes months because I LOVE sour)
Now We’re ready to cook!
Probiotic Fennel Vinaigrette
- ½ cup packed pickled fennel fronds
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- ⅛ cup toasted sesame oil
- ⅛ cup real maple syrup
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp. Sriracha (optional)
- Pinch of salt
Put this all in a high powered blender because you want this as a deep green puree. The fronds are fibrous, so they can be a bit chewy if not broken down well. Now you get all the flavor balance of a Vietnamese sauce with the added benefit of probiotics and can live happily with a fennel no-waste policy. This is good as a marinade, salad dressing, sauce for meat, veggies… whatever!