Soy sauce makes just about everything taste better, and there's a lot of options to pick from. There's aged soy sauce, shoyu and tamari, for starters, and then, pertaining to this post, there's flavored soys. You can add soy sauce infused with ramp or wild onion leaves to the list.
Before I made this, the only infused soy I'd had was mushroom soy, which is pretty common at Asian grocers and can be good if you get a decent brand. It's also the thing that gave me the idea for this for ramp leaf soy, which, with two ingredients, makes for a fun, minimalist study in creative fermentation and layering deep, rich flavors.
Originally, my idea was this: puree some ramp leaves with soy, allow it to macerate for a month or so, strain and bottle. Easy right? Yes, and you can do that, and it will taste like ramp soy sauce. I made a version that was ok, but, after you've tasted the incredible aroma that comes from fermenting ramp leaves, like me, you may be wondering if there's a deeper flavor to be coaxed out here, and there is.
For the second version I wanted to ferment the leaves before adding them to the soy, or figure out a way to ferment them in the soy, to trap as much of that rampy flavor we all know and love inside the liquid medium.
Knowing that salty liquids make things float, on a hunch, I tried out an experiment. I sliced up a bunch of ramp leaves, pureed them with the soy, let it sit in a cambro (one of those restaurant tics I can't shake) and let it age for a while.
An easy fermentation hack
My hunch was right. Salt makes things float, pushing leaves to the top. But, there was still enough soy coating the layer of floating leaves to allow fermentation to occur.
I watched each day, noticing what happened as the mixture transformed into something completely new and different than the first simple infusion I'd made.
After a week, the leaves were giving off the weapons-grade aroma of fermented ramp leaves I crave. My first thought was to strain it, but, after considering it for a moment, I thought better of it, and left the soft, pureed leaves in the sauce.
Puree the finished product, or not
Leaving the pureed mass in the soy does a couple things. One, it allows the leaves to continue macerating and penetrating the liquid, changing and developing over time with age.
Two, it cuts the salt a bit in the finished mixture, not a lot, but enough to make it so I could enjoy a little more of it as a condiment than I normally would.
That being said, if you wanted to strain out the ramp leaves after the fermentation, you can, and it will give you a rich, potent nectar.
The finished product is hands-down the best infused soy sauce I've tasted, and it just couldn't be easier or more fun to make.
As far as using the finished product, it's more than just a condiment for rice, here's a few ideas.
- Anywhere you use soy sauce.
- Mix the soy with citrus for a wild riff on ponzu. For each half cup of ramp leaf soy, add about 2 tablespoons of lime or lemon juice.
- Combine the soy to taste with honey or maple, along with a splash of mirin and use for a dip for grilled fish, especially hamachi kama (tuna collar).
- Add you favorite hot sauce either alone, or in combination with the two previous methods if you like some heat. Using some ramp sriracha would be the ultimate.
- Use it as a marinade.
- Use in place of salt in your favorite salad dressing.
- Mix it with mayo and lemon or lime juice, along with some toasted sesame oil for a nice, creamy sauce for fish, chicken or vegetables.
- It's not traditional, but adding a splash to cream sauce, especially one made with shallots deglazed with brandy, is a very good sauce for shrimp and fish.
Fermented Ramp Leaf Soy Sauce
- 1 Quart mason jar or other fermenting vessel
- 1 15 oz bottle of soy sauce-your favorite brand Avoid any that contain caramel coloring, hydrolized soy protein, or corn syrup.
- 8 oz fresh ramp leaves, washed, cleaned and dried You don't have to use this much, if you want, cut it down to 4 oz, especially if you want a thinner sauce.
- Slice the ramp leaves into 1 inch pieces, then put into a blender, add the soy sauce and puree.
- Pour the mixture into a container, top with a lid, and allow to ferment for 7 days, stirring occasionally. Consider doing this in the garage as the smell will offend most people. You can leave the soy out for up to two weeks.
- After the mixture is fermented, strain the sauce through cheesecloth wearing gloves. Squeeze as much juice as you can from the leftover leaves.
- Alternately, just use the sauce as-is. It will be a little thick, which isn't necessarily bad.
- Pour the finished soy into a wide container like a bowl and allow to settle. Skim any green foam that rises to the surface, you may not be able to get all of-it's ok, just get as much as you can (this is also purely cosmetic, but worthwhile).
- Transfer the sauce to a container and store in the fridge or in a pantry, the high amount of salt and fermentation make it shelf stable without need for canning.
You’re totally missing out if you’re not pickling the bulbs too!
I like the bulbs just fine, and we have lots on the private land I harvest from, but with the current climate about ramps and sustainability as it is, it's a lot easier for me to share fun things people can do with the leaves. You'd be surprised at the amount of angry emails and messages I get if I even share a picture of the bulbs.
Even when I dig, I often end up with more ramp leaves I can figure out what to make with them. This sounds wonderful.
Yep it’s a great one to try. Most people have excess leaves, I know I do.
Please tell me a brand name of what you consider high-quality soy sauce - if appropriate.
I used San-J tamari for this but feel free to use what you like.
What makes a high quality soy sauce? What should I look for in the ingredients? I've never seen the brand you mentioned.
So, it can be a little confusing at first. Look for "naturally brewed" and check the ingredients to make sure there's no corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy protein, or caramel color. Cheap soy is very salty and flat tasting. There's also lots of other differences, but they're beyond the scope of this post. Hope that helps. When in doubt, get the bottle that's more expensive.
Now I can't wait for my ramp leaves to pop up Alan! How can we get you to write a permaculture cook book next? (please, please, please)
Yeah they're just starting to poke up in the Twin Cities. As for permaculture, growing things isn't something I've put effort into learning (I kill most things I try to grow) so it would be a while. I've thought it would be fun though.
Can you use just popping out garlic scapes as an alternative to using ramps? I have garlic growing in my garden and want to use some of them for this recipe. Thoughts?
You should be able to do that using the same weight. Lots of oniony things probably.
Peter M Rawski-Martignacco
Why not submerge the ramp leaves instead of letting them float? Mold growth possible if not coated enough?
If you press them down the salt concentration will probably be too high to ferment, but it could work. It’s fine as long as you stir it once in a while.
You had me at "weapons-grade aroma"! I can't wait. But I've got eight ounces of chopped up ramp leaves (I weighed them, on a postal scale!) and 15 ounces of soy sauce, but nothing's floating. The soy sauce is just barely to the top of the pieces of ramp. I'm using a kimchi pot and there's ceramic weights, but you think maybe I shouldn't use them? Let them sit wherever they are and stir it every couple days to make sure everybody's coated?
Yeah just stir it once in a while. As soon as I can get some more leaves I'll put up images of the container I used-a 1.5 quart square deli container, with high sides. The leaves may not appear to float if the container is too shallow.
> Mix the soy with citrus for a wild riff on ponzu.
Hmmm... I wonder how Zanthoxylum leaves or berries would be for the citrus component.
You could add some to the ferment. I might strain it though, or add them in a bouquet. I'd think they'd work pretty well.
Could I exchange garlic chive leaves for ramps? Haven't found ramps in Western Colorado...
Yes, that should work just fine, just a slightly different flavor. I'm going to add a list of alternate plants as a lot of people have asked.
Thanks a lot, it will be a while before they come popping up, but it will be a great way to
use all those leaves. Your recipe sounds just great
Thanks yeah I was surprised at how well it worked. Sometimes the stars align and I don't have to obsess over variations.
Thank you for your blog. It's a true joy.
I wonder if garlic mustard might also be an option for this fermentation? I think I'd exclude flowers, stick with leaves, maybe stems (need to taste/test), and solid buds. I just fermented my first sauerkraut using grated broccoli stems in place of cabbage, so a new world is open for me.
How I use extra ramp leaves: in equal parts with baby stinging nettle and baby spinach to make a seasonal take on pesto. No harm tossing a few fiddleheads with the pesto pasta for a mature woodland primavera. The tang from the nettle offers a nod to gremolata. If the ramp taste is too strong, I "dilute" the total greens with more spinach and/or add parsley.
Thanks Val. I would stick to alliums here, I haven’t had good experiences fermenting brassicas other than cabbage. Sometimes they’re not good.
How tight should the lid be on your fermentation container? Should it be loose? I'm wondering if there will there be gases / CO2 coming off the fermentation that create pressure?
It should be tight. There will be some CO2 but it's nothing crazy.
I just got this going and am very excited. The quantities of 8 oz ramps 15 oz soy sauce make a very thick mix, i was expecting a more watery ratio. The smell is indeed pungent. Can't wait to try it. Thank you!
I need to get some images up of the exact container I use-it has high sides like a deli quart container. Shallow containers may work a little differently. Just stir it every few days.
Hi I grew up in Jamaica most paw paws we had were huge some weighing up to 25 lbs not as sweet as the small ones today
Im about to do this after finding a bunch of Ramps in Northern, MI. Im trying to figure out the container. I have a bunch of quart mason jars, with fermentation weights and lids which allow gas to escape. Would those work, just no lids like you're suggesting due to the high sodium content?
Also - could I blend the mixture up as you suggest, and then strain - as a compromise to the taste/texture?
Jay, just use something tall, a mason jar is fine. It's fine to leave the cap screwed on too. And yes, you can totally puree and strain. I'd try drying the leftover pulp and mixing with toasted sesame seeds for a riff on furikake.
Thanks! And sorry, I said lids, but I meant don't use the weights - correct?
You're blog is awesome. I just found some morels and am also making ramp and morel butter to put on steaks all summer long!
Yes. You do not want to weight it down, just stir it once in a while. The soy left on the leaves is plenty to allow them to ferment. The good thing, is that even if someone uses a container that’s too shallow, it will still make a good infused soy, it just won’t be quite as strong.