Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Lacto-fermented, or Cultured, Adventure

We've been on a fermented foods adventure for about nine months now, having expanded our initial yogurt-kefir foray with nondairy sources. Some people call it "lacto-fermented" because they use dairy-sourced whey in their recipes. Others use vegetable whey and may call it "cultured" instead.

Why did we start down this road? My DH does not tolerate dairy very well, and given that we are 50+ and digestive enzymes are on the downswing, I felt it was prudent to begin to rethink our diet.

There are many, many excellent sources of information on the Internet on this subject, and I'm going to list a few for you at the end of this post in case you want to do some further reading. But know this - we feel good. We rarely reach for an antacid any longer. Our digestion is so much improved. And I do believe it's because we've made some deliberate changes in our diet, part of which involves regular fermented foods at the table.

Having spent most of my life in southern New Mexico, when David and I got married, his culinary experience changed from the boring frozen pizza/Chinese takeout/greasy fries and hamburger that plagues the palates of so many uncared-for men. He had to learn to eat fresh roasted green chile, chopped and cooked with onions and tomatoes and garlic and served with eggs and tortillas. He found out what burritos are, as well as tacos and quesadillas. And some of these dishes begin with the traditional chips-and-salsa appetizer.

Here's my recipe for fermented salsa, which he takes every day in his lunch:

Fermented Salsa
 1# fresh tomatoes (plum mixed with a slicing variety)
1 medium white or sweet Mayan yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, fresh or fermented
1-2 fresh serranos or jalapenos, or a fresh jalapeno and several Big Jims, roasted and chopped
2 T. fresh oregano, rinsed and dried and stems removed
2-3 T. fresh cilantro, rinsed and dried and stems removed
1 T sea salt (I use either Celtic gray or pink Himalayan)
Juice of 2 fresh lemons or 3 fresh limes, depending on your taste
2 T whey (the water in the carton of yogurt that you normally drain off or toss out)
Note: if you don’t have whey, add an additional tablespoon of salt

It’s probably a good idea to wear rubber gloves if you’re going to handle hot chile peppers, but I never do. But I have also learned to keep my fingers out of my eyes for the next several hours afterward. Just a note of caution.

You’ll need a squeaky clean glass wide mouth quart canning jar for your fermenting vessel. Handy thing about it, the amount in this recipe fits a quart jar, so you really don’t have any mess unless you want to use a food processor. That makes it easier than all that crazy chopping, but it’s more cleanup. Your call. But my directions will be for using a food processor.

First off, try to get organic produce for this recipe. It’s not hard to grow most of it in the back yard, but of course you would have had to start it back in March ;-) Wash and core the tomatoes and toss them into the food processor. Some folks like their tomatoes blanched and peeled and seeded for this step, but I’m a tomato purist and eat the whole thing, skin and all. Haven’t died yet. Pulse the tomatoes until they’re chopped to your liking, and then transfer them to your quart jar.

Next, peel and cut the dry ends off the onion. Quarter it, toss it into the food processor and then get your garlic in there (more on fermented garlic below). Pulse the onions and garlic until they’re as fine as you want, then transfer to the quart jar.

Cut off the tops of the chiles with a sharp knife, remove the seeds and membranes, and toss the peppers into the food processor. Add the oregano and cilantro. Pulse it fine. Transfer to the jar. You want to make sure there’s at least an inch of head space (the space between the salsa and the jar opening) because it will bubble a bit.

Of course, if you’ve chosen not to use a food processor, you can chop up all the ingredients by hand and add them to the quart jar as you go.

By now you have almost a whole jar of pre-salsa. Add to it the salt, lemon juice, and whey, put the lid on the jar, and shake it up good. You may need to add a little filtered water if your tomatoes weren’t all that juicy. Once it’s well mixed, take off the lid and cover it with a piece of foil. Set it out on your counter for 3 days (don’t stir it until the end), give it a good stir (it will have bubbles around the edges, which is exactly what you want), and put a lid on it. Refrigerate. Keeps for weeks, if people don’t eat it up first.

Best with organic, non-GMO corn chips, though also good on top of tacos, scrambled or fried eggs, in salad dressing for taco salad, on baked or (gasp) fried potatoes (you get the idea).
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Since it's harvest time, I recently found myself inundated with a variety of peppers from the gardens of good friends, as well as my own. This next recipe was so incredibly easy, and it's been tasty as well.

Fermented Peppers
A variety of peppers - bell, cubano, jalapeno, etc.
Whey
Sea salt
Filtered water

I washed all the peppers I wanted to ferment and let them drain while I scoured and rinsed with hot, hot water a half-gallon canning jar. I had a variety of colors to choose from, so I wanted to make the bottle visually interesting as well. Hey, sometimes you have to make things pretty to get somebody to try something new, okay?

I cut off the tops of the peppers, opening them up sufficiently to easily remove the seeds and membranes, then cut the stems out of the cut-off top so as not to waste that part. I then sliced the peppers into rings, tossing them into the canning jar as I went along. Once the jar started looking full, I used a wooden spoon to tamp them down so I could get it good and filled.

Once full, I added about 2 tablespoons of sea salt and 3 tablespoons of whey, and then covered the whole shebang with filtered water, leaving an inch of head space at the top of the jar, and put a lid on the jar so I could shake it up. Then, I replaced the lid with foil, let it sit on the counter for three days, and voila! Fermented pepper rings! I put a lid on the jar, shook it up good again, and then refrigerated it.

I've used them in quesadillas, on pizza, and eaten right out of the jar with a sandwich. They're slightly acidic, as you would expect with a lactic acid ferment, but they're quite tasty.
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We use a good bit of garlic in this house, and because it's handy, I sometimes purchase already-chopped garlic in a jar. If you wanted to ferment that, you would open the jar, add an amount of sea salt to the jar appropriate to its size (using a 1 T per four cups ratio), twice that amount of whey, and mix it well. Cover the jar with foil and let it sit out on the counter for - you guess it - three days, give it a good stir, and put the lid back on before you refrigerate it. This adds a bit of zing to the flavor as well as a dose of probiotic bacteria that your intestines will love.

But if you want to try fermented whole garlic, try this method.

Fermented Garlic
However many crowns of garlic you want to get fermented
A clean canning jar (quart or half-gallon, depending on your volume)
A good sharp knife and a cutting board
Two identically-sized bowls

I found this video for how to quickly get the darned papery peels off the whole garlic, because the amount I was making involved using seven crowns of organic garlic. Not cloves, but crowns, the whole garlic plant minus the roots and the top. Here's the video:

http://www.saveur.com/article/Video/video-How-to-Peel-a-Head-of-Garlic-in-Less-Than-10-Seconds

It honestly works, but you do have to have identically sized bowls for it to turn out right. I just happened to have two 13-quart stainless steel bowls that were ridiculously too big, but got the job done without ruining my shoulder joints. Two smaller bowls are preferable, and I am now on the lookout at Goodwill for a match to the one I already have.

Once you have all the garlic peeled, slice off any remaining dried part that attaches the clove to the crown base, and any other parts that might be dried out. Sometimes that happens with garlic, and you don't want any brown spots because they can be a little chewy.

Add the peeled and cleaned garlic to your clean jar, leaving at least an inch of head space. If you're using a quart jar, add 1T. sea salt and 2T. whey. Cover with filtered water, mix it up good, and cover the jar with foil. After three days, it can be covered with the lid and stored in the refrigerator. Use just like you would use any other raw garlic clove, but with the added value of increasing your probiotic intake.
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Finally, one last recipe before I give you some reading to do. We love beets at our house, and they are so, so good for you. Lots of minerals in them that we need in order for many physiological processes to occur properly. We eat them grated raw into salads, and add them to chocolate cake on those rare occasions I make a cake. But here's a way you can get all the value of the beets, plus a probiotic kick.

Beet Kvass
3-4 fresh organic beets, leaves removed, scrubbed well but unpeeled
1 T. sea salt
2 T. whey
Filtered water
Clean quart jar

Initially, halve or quarter the beets; do not shred them. If you cut them in chunks you can make 2-3 batches of kvass from the same beets.

Add the salt and whey and fill the jar with filtered water, leaving about an inch of head space. If you do not have whey, you can still make kvass, but you should add another teaspoon of sea salt. Stir well, and cover the jar with foil.

After 2 days out on the counter, remove the foil and carefully remove any mold on top of the kvass. Root vegetables tend to encourage mold growth, but this in no way harms your kvass unless you do not remove it as soon as it begins to grow. If you let it go longer, it may grow some tendrils down into the kvass, which is not a problem, but you want to get it early if you can.

On the third day, you will see another layer of mold. Carefully spoon it out and toss it down the drain. Set up another scrupulously clean jar into which you will filter the kvass, with a funnel and a cheesecloth-lined strainer on top to catch the beets. Strain the liquid into the clean jar. Then, I like to strain it once more through a coffee filter. This takes time, but removes any unwanted particulate. I then store the kvass in a swingtop bottle (http://www.specialtybottle.com/swingtopbottlesmi.aspx) in the fridge.

To produce the second batch of kvass, dump the beet chunks into a bowl and rinse the fermenting jar with very hot water, scrubbing with a brush to remove any mold. Rinse the beets well and let them drain in a colander. Then, cut each chunk in half, exposing a new surface of the beet, and toss into the fermenting jar. Repeat the kvass preparation as before, adding salt and whey and filtered water to the once-fermented beets, keeping an eye on any mold production, and straining the kvass off from the beets. You can repeat this procedure three times with the same batch of beets. It's economical, delicious, and good for you.

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Finally, here are a few sites I would recommend for further reading on technique, benefits, and recipes.

http://kulturedkaraite.blogspot.com
You will be pleased with this site if you follow the biblical food laws with your diet.

http://www.cheeseslave.com and http://nourishedkitchen.com
You will have to sort through these websites if you follow the biblical food laws, but it's worth it. If I had the time and inclination, I would start a kosher cheeseslave website ;-)

http://nourishedandnurtured.blogspot.com
This is my friend Sara's blog. She has some great recipes and a section on fermented foods. She does not, though, follow the biblical food laws, so you will have to adjust accordingly if your family eats biblically.

3 comments:

  1. Actually, the term *lacto*fermented comes from the lactic acid that is formed during the process...it is what is doing the preserving. The whey is just a handy-dandy source of it to kick-start the process.

    Here's a recipe for Dilly Carrots that David might like. It is good for folks who aren't crazy about fermented foods yet.

    http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2010/08/lacto-fermented-dilly-carrot-sticks.html

    Love Ya!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Hey, thanks for the clarification! I think I was thinking milk-lactase and not lactic acid.

    And thanks for another recipe! ;-)

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