Tuesday, March 29, 2005

In the cabbage patch

I had two heads of cabbage sitting around that I was meaning to make in to sauerkraut, but didn't have time.

One of the reasons I didn't have time is that on Thursday night I went to see a speaker on parenting issues. In particular, power struggles. One of the main lessons for me was that getting enough sleep is important for family harmony. And one way to encourage that to happen is to turn off the TV & computers after dinner.

So Saturday night we did just that. Now I needed something to do. So I invited my 3 1/2 year old to join me for making sauerkraut.

I figured it would include some of his favorite things:

- Hitting. Cabbage instead of people
- Salt. Lots of it.
- Time with Dad.

So I cleaned the counter, and started slicing cabbage. His job was to grind coarse sea salt on to the cabbage, load it in to the crock, and then grind some more salt.

He would step every minute or so to take apart the salt grinder, or to eat salt off the counter. He knew I was watching, so he would try to hid behind his hand or turn away. Heh.

Finally we got all the cabbage loaded in to the crock, and I put the plate on top. It was too tight a fit, snagging on the sides of the crock. Then I remembered Sandorkraut's advice to put some of the previous batch on top to help it get going. I added enough to hold the plate up & stop it from binding.

The new batch is now fermenting away, and the previous batch is packed in to jars in the fridge. I had some with dinner last night. Yum.

I also started a sourdough starter last night. Combine flour & water. Stir daily. Feed it every 3 days or so. In a week you'll have "naturally leavened" dough, ready to go. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A crock of...

Last week

Nice weather last week, and I celebrated by walking to/from work, instead of taking the bus. I haven't really done any exercise since the weather turned wet in the fall, so my body needs this.

I stopped at the Uwajimaya to look at fermenting stuff. What a find. They have all kinds of asian vegetables that will be great for fermenting. Kimchi goes on the todo list.

They also have raw fish for making sashimi. I bought a 1oz strip of tuna (only $26 / pound!) and ate it on the walk home. It feels really odd to be gnawing on a strip of raw flesh while walking in the suburbs. I’m sure I’ll get used to it…

There’s always a small risk of getting sick from eating raw food. If it’s clean, fresh, and carefully prepared, and your body is health, the risk is pretty small. Just to be on the safe side, I drank a tall glass of Kefir when I got home. (The good bacteria in the Kefir will compete with any bad bacteria elsewhere.)


Saturday we went to a super-thrift-store. It's an odd beast, the cross between a Walmart and a flea market. You never know what you'll find, and it will take a couple hours to really browse the whole store.

Since I got in to fermenting, I've been looking for ceramic crocks. I prefer to keep live foods in ceramic or glass, avoiding plastic and metal. But I hadn't found a real crock until now. Most of what google finds are small and decorative, not for cooking. I did find that the Harsch fermenting crock starts at only $110!

So I was excited to see crocks at the thrift store. They had at least 8, for under $10 each. Jackpot! I bought 3. They didn't even charge for all the dust that had collected in them!

I also picked up a set of 4 glass plates to use as lids, a meat pounder, and an old-fashioned hand blender.

We then went to the local gourmet natural grocery store. It's expensive, but because of St. Patrick's Day they had organic cabbage on sale for $0.79 / pound. I bought 4 cabbages to supplement that cabbage that was already in the fridge.

At home, I thoroughly washed all the new stuff & cleaned the kitchen. Then I cut up 3 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. I salted as I went, loaded it into a crock a bit at a time, and beat the crap out of it. The idea is to pack it down enough that the juices come out of the cabbage & cover it. This will keep mold and aerobic bacteria from growing on the cabbage. (The salt also helps, keeping the bad bacteria from growing, only allowing Lactobacillus to grow).

While pushing down pretty hard with my fist, some cabbage slipped & I twisted my wrist. It hurt, but wasn’t strained. 10 minutes later I did it again. (2 days later, one of the muscles in my forearm is sore, but I’m ok.) I did break the crock, however. A crack down one side & across the bottom. Oh, well. For $6, I can let it go.

We had been low on milk for a while, so I paused the kefir production by putting it in the fridge. We bought 5 bottles of milk (1/2 gallon each) at the store. This milk is really tasty, and non-homogenized.

I used 1 quart to start a new batch of yogurt. Left it sitting in the oven with the light on overnight.

Kefir grains go dormant if they sit in the fridge too long, so I brought out all of my grains, even the backup grains I was keeping. I used them to start 5 batches of Kefir in various jars. I figured I had run up a “kefir debt”, and needed to pay it off.

The kefir I strained that night was mixed with flour for fermented pancakes. Combine 1 cup flour & 1 cup kefir. Let sit 7-24 hours, to predigest the wheat. Use in your regular pancake recipe.

I finished at 1:30am, too tired to make the other 2 heads of cabbage in to anything.


Sunday afternoon we stopped at Uwajimaya to get dinner. I bought supplies for miso (a tub of raw miso, koji, soy beans). I also picked up two 8oz strips of raw tuna. One I cut up and dipped in soy sauce to eat. Yum! The whole family liked it.

I brought out some of the just-decanted sauerkraut from last week. My wife says she likes it, which is wonderful. My son isn’t so interested, however.

I took a bunch of the freshly-made yogurt & hung it up to drain. I had a few false starts, where it just poured straight through the cheesecloth. Ended up using a linen napkin. The result could be called cream cheese, but we call it lebne. It’s awesome spread on bread.

After dinner I prepared 8 tomatoes for salsa. We also had a box of cherry tomatoes that I halved. Add to that 8 or so sweet chilis – the flavor of red, yellow, and green bell peppers, but they look more like a hot chili pepper. Then 4 small hot chilis. Ideally I would blanch, peel, seed, and dice them all. But I just didn’t have the energy, so I just diced them. I split into two batches – the hot chilis + 1 head of garlic, diced went into only one batch, since my son doesn’t like spicy food. Add whey from the lebne, salt, oregano, and lime juice. (Wanted to add onion, but didn’t have any). This is packed in to a jar & is currently sitting on the counter. My instructions say 3 days, but I’m tempted to go longer.


Work day today, not as much time or energy to ferment stuff. Walked home and picked up a strip of yellowtail from Uwajimaya. Wasn’t as nice to eat as the other fishes. Salmon was my favorite, but they add artificial color.

Came up with a big list of things to make tonight. There’s 2 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut, kefir to strain, the other strip of tuna from last night (to ferment), Arabic bread to go with the lebne, a “ginger bug”, a wild sourdough starter. Not enough time for all of it.

I found that the koji had been sitting unrefrigerated. I’m thinking that 24 hours isn’t a problem. But since my miso will probably take 18 months, I don’t want to take any chances.

The kitchen was a mess (which is fine) but the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes. Can’t do much with that. Started it up, but it takes so long that I can’t reload tonight.

Found that the yeast in the fridge was 3 months past the “use by” date. There’s a way to test the yeast for activity, but I’ll need to look that up first.

The series of disappointments put my in a crappy mood, so I did the minimum & got out of there. Kefir & fish. Chilling out in front of the PC with a fresh kefir in hand.

It’s 1am now. Should I go back to the kitchen, or call it a night?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Saurkraut and other ferments

We continue to do daily kefir. We use 2 1qt jars. There’s some space for air, some kefir lost on various surfaces, and I put a bit of the fresh kefir back in the next batch to help it get started. The upshot is that I actually get 1qt of fresh kefir out of each batch.

The amount we drink varies each day. I try to keep about a quart of fresh kefir in the fridge to give us some flexibility.

I have backup grains in the fridge that I will share with anyone who wants. I try to pull these out about once/week & run a batch of kefir with it. This gives me a little extra to store in the fridge, and wakes up the grains so they don’t go into a deep sleep.

For breakfast yesterday I made pancakes. Whole wheat flour, kefir, butter, salt, baking soda, bananas. Ideally I’d mix the kefir & flour the day before, to culture the wheat a bit. I’ve read that makes it easier to digest.

Saturday night I started another batch of yogurt. The first batch, from last week, was really good. Some of the credit goes to the very good milk we use. This week’s batch was much more sour, but still good. I plan to make Lebne with it, and use the whey that comes out to help get some other ferments going.

My darling wife brought me a gift of a head of cabbage. Last night I chopped it up, covered it in salt, and jammed it in to a jar. I pushed down with various kitchen utensils until it looked well packed. The juices did come out enough to cover the top. A heavy glass filled with brine sits on top to maintain pressure. This will be sauerkraut (I hope).

My friend John Bain brought me some of his grandmother’s kimchi, which he says is the best. I’m no kimch connoisseur, but it was very good. German sauerkraut is a cultural transplant of kimchi & other Asian fermented cabbages. I intend to make kimchi in the future.

With St. Patrick’s day coming up, cabbage has gone on sale at the grocery store. We think of corned beef and cabbage as being very Irish, but we’ve forgotten that traditionally it was a fermented foot. Both the corned beef & cabbage were fermented.

Capt. Cook’s exploration of the Pacific was supported by sauerkraut. At the time, sailors would get sick a lot due to poor nutrition. Cook’s crew was unusually healthy, thanks to the 600 lbs of sauerkraut that he carried. Well, so I’ve read.

I’m going to take advantage of the sales & make a bit of extra sauerkraut over the next couple weeks. It will keep well :-)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Next fermentations

Sunday evenings seem to be a good time to get something started, and tonight I got a little crazy.

Ginger beer. Grated ginger, lime juice, water, salt, whey, sugar. Will let it sit on the counter for 2 days. It's suppsoed to be really good for quenching thirst after hard outdoor labor in the sun. I'll drink it anyway.

Potato cheese. Mashed potatoes, kefir. Will let it sit for 2 days, then strain through a cloth. We have a lot of potatoes, but don't really eat them often, so I figure this was a good choice. If we don't like it & throw it out, it won't be any worse than letting them sit on the fridge & grow something else...

Yogurt. It's an easy one, so I'm going for it. Heat milk gently on the stove. Add live yogurt as a starter. Let sit in the oven with the light on overnight. Move to fridge. Will use for:

Lebne. Strain yogurt through a cheesecloth. Spread on bread. I grew up eating this stuff.

I've asked my wife to buy a bunch of whatever organic vegetables are on sale. I'll ferment them, which means I'm preserving them to use over the next month.

Oh, and the other day we walked by a yardsale where they had a huge box of glass jars. $1 for the whole thing. Deal! Gonna need it....

Did I mention the kefir juice? Someone left a pint of juice here, and we don't drink much of the stuff (too much sugar). So I tossed a few kefir grains in & let it sit for the week. It has become more tart. Not sure how much longer to leave it until it's "good"...

Traditional Salsa

I've been reading up a bit on fermented & cultured foods. One of the things that I find fascinating is that these foods have been part of just about every traditional diet. Saurkraut, kimchi, tzatziki, and kvass were all traditionally prepared with active cultures.

Americans today eat very little live food.

One of the other commonalities I've found is that many of these foods are made in almost the same way:

- Cut/shred a vegetable
- add salt
- add whey or more salt
- add some ingredients for flavor (e.g., garlic, herbs)

Mix & press down into a jar. Add salt water ("brine") until it covers the veggies. Put a weighted cover on to hold the veggies under the brine. Wait 2 days - 1 week.

I tried this once to make ginger carrots. We had 2 bags of baby carrots, and I grated them all. Bad idea. Next time I'll use full-size carrots! I let if ferment for a week, but decided I wasn't ready for the unusual taste & threw it in the compost.

Next I tried kefirkraut. It's saurkraut made with kefir grains to get it going. I let it ferment for a week, tasted a tiny bit, and threw it out.

30 years of a diet without fermented foods. It's going to take me some time to get used to it.

Next attempt was salsa, with a recipie from Nourishing Traditions. Tomatoes, onions (didn't have any, so I skipped it), chilis (didn't have any, so I used a yellow bell pepper), garlic, oregano, salt, whey, water. Fermented for 2 days. Tasted it, and it was delicious. Let it sit an extra 1/2 day to get a bit more pungent. Moved to the fridge.

I used a spoonful or two with every dinner until it was gone.

Success at last.
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