Fermenting Seasonally: Fall Fennel-Celery Salad Topper Recipe

Reader Contribution by Holly Howe
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I like to have a nice green salad for lunch each day, but often don’t because of the time it takes to prep the various toppings. My aim with this recipe was to make preparing salad not only a breeze but to add nutrition and flavor by the fermentation process. This salad topper can be enjoyed on its own or tossed with lettuce, a bit of cheese, and a few chopped nuts.

The two main ingredients in this recipe, fennel and celery, both enjoy cool weather, so you will begin to see fennel at the markets in early fall. That’s when you know it’s time to make a few quarts of this salad topper to ensure effortless salads throughout the winter.

When purchasing fennel, look for small, heavy, white bulbs that are firm and have tightly packed layers that are free of cracks or browning. The stalks should be crisp, with feathery, bright-green fronds.

Learning to preserve produce by fermenting seasonally allows you to:

  1. Create flavor packed recipes. Recipe development is inspired by what I find each week at my farmer’s market. Seeing market stands bursting with fennel, celery, corn, and red onions one Saturday created this perfect combination for winter salads.
  2. Maximize nutrition. Fresh-picked produce has more nutrients than buying that same produce, shipped from across the globe. In addition, during fermentation the digestive action of the bacteria not only increases the levels of existing nutrients, but in many cases generates additional nutrients as by-products of their metabolism.
  3. Ensure fermentation success. When you ferment with fresh-picked produce, you stack the deck in your favor for success. From the moment produce is picked, bacteria begin to break it down. Not only is fresh produce less likely to mold, but the hard-working bacteria are able to generate a higher nutrient profile and a greater depth of flavor.

Fermented Fennel-Celery Salad Topper

Makes 1 quart (liter)


  • 2 cups (480 ml) fresh fennel bulb, quarter and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups (480 ml) fresh celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) red onion, quarter and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (240) ml slice off fresh corn, or frozen
  • 1–3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice of
  • 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) fennel leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3 teaspoons (15 ml) iodine-free salt

Chopped salad topper ingredients. Photo courtesy Holly Howe.


  1. Prepare the fennel (see Recipe Notes below), celery, onion, corn, jalapeño peppers, and lemon (zest and juice) and place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the salt. Mix thoroughly until salt is well dispersed.
  2. Taste. If the mixture tastes like a salty potato chip, you have the right amount of salt. If it tastes overly salty—like that gulp of sea water you accidently swallowed at the ocean—add a bit more sliced fennel or celery. If there is just a hint of salt, add the last teaspoon of salt.
  3. Pack into a 1-quart (liter) jar leaving 1-2 inches of headspace. Clean up any loose bits from around the rim and press the mixture down into your jar to remove any air pockets.
  4. Seal the jar using a fermentation weight and airlock lid of your choosing. If you don’t have a specialty weight, find a slightly smaller jar that will fit inside the neck of the jar you packed your ferment into. Fill it with water, cap it, and place it inside the jar. It will keep your ferment below the brine and safe from airborne molds and yeasts.
  5. Label your jar with the recipe name and the day you started fermenting. Place your jar in a small bowl to catch any brine that may overflow. Ferment away from direct sunlight for 4-7 days.
  6. Monitor daily, pressing down any bits that rise to the surface. Start tasting on day 4, looking for a bit of crunch with a hint of licorice.
  7. When fermented to your liking, clean up the jar, removing the fermentation weight and airlock lid. Add how long you fermented your Fennel-Celery Salad Topper to your label. Seal your jar with a regular lid and transfer to the fridge where your ferment will keep for 6-12 months.

Recipe Notes 

1. Prepare fennel by first cutting off the stalks. Cut the bulb in half and then cut the halves into quarters. Peel off any wilted or browned outer layers. Slice into thin layers avoiding the core. I use a mandolin for this.

Prepared fennel. Photo courtesy Holly Howe.

2. Feel free to changes up the texture of this recipe by dicing the ingredients instead of slicing. When fermenting, the basic rule is to keep ingredients close to the same size so they ferment at the same rate.

3. If you’re unable to purchase fresh corn, frozen corn can be substituted.

4. With hot peppers, the heat is in the seeds and the inner membrane. Vary the heat by how many jalapeños you use, how many seeds you leave in, and whether you remove the inner membrane. Wash your hands well after handling hot peppers.

5. Himalayan pink salt or Redmond Real Salt© are my favorite salts to use for fermentation.

6. If you are comfortable with weighing your ingredients and calculating salt by weight, this recipe uses 2% salt. To determine how many grams of salt to add, the weight of your ingredients would multiplied by 0.02. For example, an 800 gram batch of ingredients would call for 16 grams of salt.

Inspiration for edible alchemy.