A Harmony of Flavors

Monday, August 24, 2015

Indian Dinner for My Husband's Birthday

It has been 12 days since my last blog. Life continues to be a bit hectically busy, but mainly in very good ways.

A niece was getting remarried after losing her husband to leukemia some years ago, and I offered to make their cake. I had not made a wedding cake with buttercream frosting for a very long time. My practice was sorely lacking. I had various things working against me. For one, the meringue powder was a different brand. The only brand I had EVER used before was Wilton. I knew how it worked and what things worked like. The roses I made just would not hold shape well. The color would not come out properly. The buttercream frosting, also using the off-brand meringue powder (as a stabilizer, particularly during hot days), just would not work right. It was too hard, but after adding tiny amounts of liquid, just acted gooey. 

I had the cake iced with the white buttercream the day before the wedding and was going to put on the very deep red roses the morning of the wedding. I had added Cornelli Lace to alternating sides of the cake layers. Wedding morning I got up to find that one side of the top tier - the side I had chosen as the best looking to be presented to the front - had had a bubble and actually blew out! Thank all that is holy that it was not on a side with the Cornelli Lace, because there would have been no repair possible. And then, as if all that was not enough, it had to also be one of the hottest days of our summer. Not THE hottest, but 97 degrees is way hot enough, in my book. Still, the venue was quite dark and hid a multitude of sins. At least I know the cake was tasty! 

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma

My husband and I love Indian Food. We are not Indian and have never been anywhere closer to India than a few Indian restaurants here in the US. I love to cook, and I love spices, so discovering the sheer array of spices used in Indian cooking took me to new heights in my explorations. With his birthday coming up, I asked what kind of meal he would like and he said pot roast. Now, as far as I am concerned, that would have been very easy, but certainly not what I would consider a special birthday-present kind of dinner. I asked about a Lamb Curry? He lit up at that and said "yes, Please!"

I tried to ask which of the many dishes I have made would be preferable. He said he has loved them all, so it was my choice. I chose to make Lamb Korma and Mattar Pulao, or rice with peas. The Lamb Curry (Lamb Korma) is one I had made some time ago and refined to where I particularly liked the flavors and the colors. I had followed recipes for this dish from some cookbooks and it always came out looking pallid and unappetizing, despite tasting pretty good. The recipe I used yesterday is (click here ->) this one, that I wrote about on November 15, 2014. 

The accompanying dish he asked for was one of the rice with peas dishes. and I made Mattar Pulao, or peas with rice. 

Mattar Pulao

Mattar Pulao

serves 6

1 cup basmati rice
2 teaspoons ghee or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch saffron, crumbled
1 (1-inch) piece true soft-stick cinnamon
3 whole cardamom pods
2 cups water
1 cup frozen peas

Place the rice into a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add in the ghee, salt, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom pods and water. Bring to boil, lower heat and cover. Cook at low to medium low for 15 minutes. About 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the peas to heat through for the last minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Along with chutney and some (store bought this time) Naan bread, that was the dinner my husband asked for. I decided to add in the Palak Paneer, or Creamed Spinach with Milk Cheese, just because it is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I have had excellent versions and not so excellent versions of this dis when dining out, but I love it no matter how I have eaten it. Here is my version of this dish:

Palak Paneer

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma
serves 6

2 packages (9 - 10 ounce each) of chopped frozen spinach
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
2 onions, finely minced
2 - 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece fresh ginger, finely grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), crushed
1/4 teaspoon red powdered dry chilie

1/2 gallon whole milk
2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup plain yogurt (or more if needed)
1 cup heavy cream (more if needed)

At least a day in advance, or up to 3 days, make the paneer: In a large pot, bring the whole milk to just under a boil. Stir the 2 cups of yogurt to soften the texture and add into the hot milk, stirring over low heat. It will take about 15 minutes for the curds to fully separate from the whey. The whey should be almost clear and take on a greenish tinge. If the liquid part is still white, even though it is separated, it is not yet ready (see progression in photo below). Pour the curd into a large strainer lined with cheesecloth and allow to drain. Fold the cheesecloth over top and set a plate over top and place a weight on the plate to press into a firm patty. Refrigerate until needed. The paneer is ready once it has firmed completely. It can be used as is or it may be fried prior to use. 
             yogurt added            |           after 5 minutes            |         after about 10 minutes       |     green whey and it is done

Make the Masala: In a small, dry skillet over medium high heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, stirring constantly. Once toasted, turn onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, grind in a spice grinder, and then combine with the remaining masala ingredients and set aside. 

Maraschino Cherry Cake
Make the creamed spinach: Thaw the spinach and squeeze as much moisture out as possible. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the ghee and saute the onions until golden. Add in the chopped tomatoes, with the minced garlic and ginger and the salt. Then add in the masala mixture. Cook, stirring until the mixture is fairly dry. Add in the reserved spinach to heat through. Add in the 1/2 cup (or more if needed) plain yogurt to thin the mixture, and then add in the cream as needed to make the mixture a sauce. Stir in the paneer, cut into squares (either as is, or fried and browned) and heat through.

After this splendid meal, the cake my husband prefers is the revised Maraschino Cherry Cake, recipe found here. A thoroughly un-Indian finish to this meal, but delightful nonetheless!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fermenting Basil for Pesto

I have had a lot of really big changes in my life recently, and not a lot of time for the things I have traditionally been doing - like blogging! I have continued to make ferments. Starting new batches of Sauerkraut and Picalilli are repeats, but I have also put together a fermented riff on the Hot Pepper Mustard that I had traditionally cooked and canned. I had started a pesto to ferment and just yesterday took that to completion. 

Fermented Pesto finished to Stage Two

The pesto recipe I most love is one I called My Favorite Pesto, and one I have continued to make year after year, because it tastes great to me and serves my purposes. Since learning about fermenting foods, I have seen that people ferment herbs, herbal flowers and many other tender greens that I would not have thought to put to this purpose. There are things that can ferment, and there are some that cannot. Cheese is already fermented, and if it is going to be added to pesto, I felt that using it from the beginning would be illogical. I could be wrong, but for that reason I left it out. I also left out the oil and butter I usually add, as they would give rise to the possibility of botulism (read about that here) if the oil sat on the surface. 
Finished Pesto below, fresh batch above

So ultimately, the idea was to process the basil and parsley, salt, garlic, pine nuts or walnuts and some whey and allow that mixture to ferment, and only then add the remaining ingredients (cheese, butter and oil) to finish off the pesto. I have a very vigorously growing basil plant and I cut some of the stems and brought them in to make the first batch. I didn't quite have enough parsley to use the half and half mix of basil and parsley that is the norm in my regular pesto recipe. I started with 2 cups of very firmly packed basil leaves and one packed cup of parsley. I had intended to add some pine nuts to the initial Stage One ferment, but completely forgot to add them in, so instead they went into the mixture yesterday as I finished the pesto.

New Stage One batch of Pesto, ready to Ferment
When doing research on whether anyone else has done a ferment of basil or pesto ingredients, I found quite a few, with all of them recommending a fermentation time of about 2 or 3 days. In that short time, there is no apparent fermentation even started, so I left it in the dark on the back area of a counter and continued to let it go. I had added enough whey to cover the top after placing the mixture in its jar, and then added a piece of stocking filled with glass marbles to weight the mixture down. I ended up using this fermented mixture to finalize the pesto yesterday, after 19 days. I could still see no apparent sign of fermenting. There were no noticeable surface bubbles anywhere. There were some bubbles showing throughout the mixture, though they were not actively popping to the surface. Still, I opted to continue with the finalization and see how it would taste. This is what I did:

Fermented Pesto

2 cups basil leaves, firmly packed
1 cup parsley leaves, firmly packed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 ounces / 6 tablespoons whey (drained from plain yogurt containing live cultures)
2 - 3 tablespoons more whey to cover the surface

Color difference in Stage One and Stage Two Ferment
Place the basil and parsley with the minced garlic and salt into a food processor. Process until fine, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed. Add in the 3 ounces of whey and process fine.  Have a clean jar ready and pour the mixture into the jar, with care to keep the sides of the jar clean. It becomes far more difficult to keep all the fine herbal mixture submerged if there is already a mess of particles around the jar sides. Top with some kind of weight to keep the mixture submerged, and top with the added whey to create the anaerobic separation from air. Cover and allow to ferment for anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks.

3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, optional
2 - 3 total ounces good quality Parmesan and/or Romano cheese 
2 tablespoons butter (this makes it pasty and nicer to spread)
1/4 cup olive oil

Remove the weights from the jar of fermented Stage One pesto. If the whey has stayed on top, some may be poured off to use in the next batch of fermented pesto. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the fermented mixture to add to the next batch, if starting right away.

Place the nuts and cheese into the food processor and process until fine. Scrape the remainder of the ferment into the processor with the butter and oil and process until well combined. Pour into a clean jar and refrigerate. 

Yesterday was when I opted to finish Stage Two of the pesto and refrigerate. I had another new batch of basil leaves and parsley ready to go, so I did set aside about 1 tablespoon of the liquid (whey) from the top of the jar, plus one tablespoon of the actual basil ferment to "jump-start" my next batch. This time my basil plant had grown so much that I ended up with a full 4-cup measure filled to bursting with clean basil leaves. I used 2 well-packed cups of parsley, 6 cloves of garlic, 4 tablespoons of pine nuts, 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, 2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (not normally added to pesto, but lime juice is supposed to be good for fermentation). I added in a smaller amount of whey, along with the tablespoon of liquid reserved from the top of the previous jar, and the tablespoon of fermented pesto mixture. All of this well processed, I started over in a new, clean jar, topped with weights and some whey and it is now on the counter, covered to keep dark, and we shall see how this batch comes out! 

The fermented mixture with its added ingredients does not taste much different from freshly made pesto without the fermenting time. Still, for whatever it may be worth, it seems a tasty experiment!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My First Batch of Kombucha

Last week I wrote about Kombucha, giving the basics: what it is, how it's made, and other benefits, proven or not.

Pomegranate Flavored Kombucha
No matter how one looks at it, it is really tasty, to my palate, and so far it appears it is acceptable to my husband's palate also. Yesterday was 7 days fermenting. The pH registered at about between 2.5 and 3.0, so that was right on target. I opted to do a secondary ferment using fruit juice, so I poured off two bottles of plain kombucha, to taste as a baseline and then added 2 ounces of pomegranate juice to each of the jars, before filling with Kombucha. This will re-ferment on the counter for another 2 or 3 days, or until it tastes right and is fizzy. 

I was so excited last week, the day my SCOBY was to arrive - that I completely forgot to take any photos of it when it came! The temperature of SCOBY and the tea must be the same, so it took some time and monitoring to have them become equal. And then I slipped the SCOBY into the tea - set it on top of the fridge, covered and thought - DRAT! forgot to photograph. 

I had planned to get photos yesterday when draining and making the new batch of tea - and again I forgot. That said, the kombucha was delicious! I am hoping the pomegranate juice (from a jar) will also be as good as I anticipate.

Plain Kombucha in front and Pomegranate Kombucha behind
The one thing I had wondered about receiving a SCOBY in the mail - is there any waiting period? As in, maybe it could be in shock from travel and need a grace period. Do you think I could find an answer to this? I looked online and just could not find an answer. So, yesterday when I uncovered the kombucha, preparatory to draining it into containers, there was no new SCOBY on top! I certainly wondered at that, because everywhere I read it said that with each batch a new SCOBY will form. Obviously I was not entering the right question.

As I saw no new baby SCOBY, I looked online for that concept and found that yes, if the SCOBY is weak, it may not produce a new SCOBY the first and even possibly a second time, but eventually, given its preferred diet of sweet tea, it will recover. I hope next week to see a new baby SCOBY on top. Meanwhile, there was nothing wrong with the one I got, because the tea was fermented nicely and the flavor was very similar to the store bought bottle (only better!). 

I used one gallon of boiled water, 2 tablespoons of black tea, steeped for 10 minutes, then sweetened with 1 cup of cane sugar. Actually, since it is taking such a very long time to cool the tea, this time I steeped the 2 tablespoons of tea in one quart of boiling water, then sweetened it and added in the other 3 quarts of water. This way it only took 5 hours for the tea to cool to the 77 degrees of the SCOBY! 

I am using the continuous brew method. I bought a large 1 1/2 gallon glass jar with spigot. I drained off the tea, leaving about 2 cups in the bottom of the jar, and added the new batch of tea on top. 

It remains to see the flavor of the pomegranate kombucha, but it surely looks pretty. The plain is delicious. This is fast becoming a love affair!

July 30, 2015: Three days later . . . 

Just Poured, left                  |          after 20 seconds, right
Today makes three days since I decanted my first Kombucha. The plain is delicious, and I love it. But - once the secondary ferment takes place, with the addition of juice or any other flavoring agent, it becomes far more fizzy and active. In the case of the addition of 2-ounces of pomegranate juice to the jar, the flavor is amazing! The fizz-factor is really up there. In general, I do not drink anything fizzy. Even Champagne takes some work to get through. About the only sparkling wine I have used repeatedly over the years is the Italian sparkling red from Banfi called (these days) Rosa Regale. In past, this was called Brachetto d'Acqui. It is a lovely flavored sparkling wine, reminiscent of raspberries and rose petals. While I will not say the flavor of my Pomegranate Kombucha is alike, this is the only thing that even comes close in my taste memory. The bubbles respond the same way, filling the glass immediately and then coming down, slowly. After pouring, it took over 20 seconds for the bubbly fizz to come down from near the top of the champagne flute to about 1/4-inch thick. The flavor is mosst lovely. Once getting past the bubbles, I do love this stuff!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy Birthday with Upside Down Cake

My dear sister-in-law had a birthday 2 weeks ago, but she was busy at the time and we couldn't get together. Normally I make a nice dinner and whatever dessert she prefers. She is in love with peaches. This year I suggested a Peach Upside-Down Cake, something I had not made in ages. We celebrated together yesterday evening.

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Her dinner menu request was the Individual Bacon-Wrapped Meat Loaves, a la Michael Symon, my Green Beans with Gorgonzola and oven fried potatoes of some kind. I made the potatoes in my own version of the Dried Onion Soup potatoes, where you peel and cut potatoes into cubes about 1-inch square and mix them with one packet of dried onion soup mix and 1/4 cup oil. Toss well, place into an oven safe casserole and bake at 400 degrees, tossing them once halfway through, for about 45 minutes total. The difference was that I used my own Dried Onion Soup Mix for this.

Peach Upside-Down Cake
As I have been on a no sugar and few carbs menu for about 3 months while adding in myriad fermented foods (and losing 7 pounds so far in the bargain), I didn't want to make a big birthday cake and have too much around the house. Too much temptation for a sweet tooth like mine! This cake was just perfect. While sweet, it was less so than a two layer cake with frosting between and outside the layers. My preference would have been to use fresh peaches, but was unsure of the right timing for those perfectly ripe peaches, so I opted for the safe route and bought canned peaches. 

This cake is made with buttermilk and is very moist and tender. The maraschino cherry garnish was just for a pop of color, more than any flavor. I cut the cherries into quarters and tucked one little quarter at the outside edge of each peach slice, as a sort of punctuation mark. Here is the recipe:

Peach Upside-Down Cake

Peach Upside-Down Cake
makes 8 servings


1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can peach halves 
maraschino cherries, optional
pecan or walnut halves, optional

1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), at room temperature

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon peach flavoring, optional
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water for the topping. Stir gently over medium high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Cover the pan tightly and cook for about 4 minutes, to ensure all the sugar crystals have melted from the sides of the pan. Have ready a 9-inch cake pan, or an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish and spray with cooking spray. Remove the lid from the caramel and allow it to cook for 8 to 12 minutes more, or however long it takes for the mixture to become a light amber in color. Set the prepared pan onto a surface where the heat will not cause damage (such as a cool burner on the stove. As soon as the caramel reaches light amber color, pour it into the prepared pan. Allow the mixture to spread evenly to cover the bottom of the pan. Let the caramel cool for 4 to 5 minutes, until it has begun to set. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the peach halves and slice thin wedges, about 5 or 6 per half peach. Once the caramel has set, place the peach wedges decoratively onto the caramel. Be careful, as the pan will still be very hot. Decorate with bits of cherries or nuts if desired.

Make the cake: Cream the stick of butter and add the sugar, beating until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a few seconds to combine, after each addition. Add in the flavoring(s). In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Begin adding about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk, then another third of the flour mixture, then buttermilk and then flour, until the mixture is well combined and no remaining dry flour is visible. The batter may be stiff. Spoon the batter carefully over the peach slices, gently smoothing the batter to the edges, being careful not to dislodge the peaches.

Bake the cake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with only a crumb or two still attached. The top will be deep golden brown. Immediately invert the pan onto a plate large enough to accommodate the cake. Let the cake and pan remain inverted for about 4 or 5 minutes before carefully lifting the pan up and off the cake. This resting period should help all the fruit to release easily from the pan. Serve slightly warm, if possible, though it is mighty fine cold, also!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Finally on the Kombucha Wagon

In all my posts about lacto-fermentation so far, I have yet to mention Kombucha. I had heard of Kombucha (pronounced: com-BOO-cha) many years ago, but somehow it just never called my attention, and I have gone along all these many years blithly ignoring anything to do with it. I had never tasted it, never bought a bottle, never knew anyone brewing it and never had anyone offer me a SCOBY.

What is Kombucha?

Black Tea
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made using said SCOBY and sweet, brewed tea. It has to be tea. Real true tea. Flavored teas may run the risk of killing off the SCOBY if they have certain oils added (think Earl Grey tea), and herbal teas do not have the true tea that the SCOBY lives and feeds on. The yeasts need sugar to ferment, so real sugar is needed to brew Kombucha. Honey or other kinds of sugar or sugar substitutes will not suffice. Real tea (black, oolong, green, white) and real white sugar (preferably organic, dehydrated cane sugar) are all that is needed, plus the SCOBY, to get started. The tea can be plain teabags or loose tea, as desired. I happen to have a lot of varieties of loose tea.


A SCOBY, an acronym for a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeasts is a very strange looking and feeling culture that grows on the surface of Kombucha. This is a kind of which came first scenario. One needs a SCOBY to brew Kombucha. Brewing Kombucha yields new SCOBYs. The SCOBY is similar to a vinegar "mother." They are not the same, and a vinegar mother would make some very off-tasting Kombucha. Once Kombucha is brewing, if it is left for too long, will get sour enough to use as a vinegar substitute in things like salad dressings, but do not use it for canning and preserving, as the pH is too variable.

So What does Kombucha Taste Like - and What if I Don't Like Tea? 

One reason I never got interested in Kombucha was that somewhere I read that it was made with a mushroom. I have nothing against mushrooms, and eat them often. But hearing about yet another health food fad, using a mushroom - well, I was unconvinced. 

I do love tea. Rea tea, camellia sinensis. I love black teas, green teas. Oolong has never quite become a favorite, and I find white tea too mild. I like tea that really packs a whallop. I do not like sweet tea. But what if you don't like tea? Well, for starters, once the sweet tea is fermented, I feel it bears little resemblance to what the original flavor was. As the Kombucha is fermenting, it is also eating up the sugars in the process. Yes you may have a small alcohol content in the beverage and it does tend to become fizzy. I am also not a soda drinker, do not care for fizzy drinks, even champagne - though I will drink a beer on occasion. Kombucha will tend to get fizzy, more so the longer it ferments. 

I don't know who came up with the idea that a SCOBY is a mushroom. It is not.  There are a couple of sites (among millions, it seems) that seem to have more detailed information than others. One is Kombucha Kamp, and another is Food Renegade.

Two SCOBYs, courtesy of another informative site: www.Yemoos.com/kombuchaFAQ.html
As for what it tastes like, I cannot give a definitive answer. So far I have tasted two store-bought bottles. The first was one with fruit juice added. This requires a secondary ferment, I have found. It was very fizzy, tangy and quite delicious. Not terribly sweet, which was good. I had been having troubles keeping my blood glucose numbers in check, so I was concerned. So far, after two bottles over 4 days, I have had no rise in blood glucose levels, so - so far, so good. The second bottle I bought was GT's Enlightenment Kombucha, plain. It was also quite good, and this time I was more interested in what a plain Kombucha tasted like. Lightly sweet, very fizzy, but I cannot precisely put a finger on the actual flavor. For sure it does not taste like tea. 

The fact that my blood glucose is remaining stable after these drinks is good. For one thing, the two bottles had listed only 8 gm sugar per serving - a far cry from most sodas out there. The fact that this is a fermented beverage, with all that implies (lots of pro-biotics and health benefits), is what actually made me sit up and take note.

A Disclaimer on the Health Benefits

To date, as I have read in many articles, scathing or otherwise, there is no real evidence to suggest health benefits from drinking Kombucha. Kombucha can ferment down to very low (acidic) pH levels, at which point that is like saying vinegar will go bad and make you sick. This is my own common sense talking here. I have no scientific background or knowledge. Fermenting foods at home, one should always be aware of cleanliness, but anyone who cooks should also be aware of cleanliness. Again, this is simple common sense. Using dirty hands to put the SCOBY into your tea will probably be introducing some interesting bad bacteria. It is debatable that the SCOBY can eventually kill all of that off, before the brew is finished. Clean containers, clean utensils, clean towels and clean hands are always required. Common sense. 

Health "officials" make no claims that Kombucha has any kind of health benefits either. However, as I am fermenting so many other kinds of foods, I thought this could certainly be another source of some probiotic action. 

Anyone wanting to start brewing their own Kombucha should read carefully all the information out there, particularly form people who have successfully been brewing for years. I have spent countless hours online reading, reading, printing instructions, notes, memos, pictures and what I can get my hands on. Be well acquainted with the process, the whys and wherefores, make sure you have the proper utensils and only then venture into buying (or finding someone with lots of baby SCOBYs) your first SCOBY culture.  

Vessels for Brewing Kombucha

It is stressed everywhere I have read to use glass for fermenting Kombucha. From a small, one-quart batch in a mason jar to large 2-gallon beverage jars, they should be glass meant for food. Crystal will leach lead. Most metal vessels will leach metals into the brew. No matter how great the ceramic, it is still advised against using ceramic vessels as it is possible to leach lead from the glaze. So, glass it is. Plastic containers, unless they are specifically made for long-term food storage are advised against. Myself, I would not use a plastic container anyway. That said, I did buy a large jar yesterday at Target. It has a spigot, which is plastic. I pray this little bit will not be a problem. The reason I got this kind of jar is that I want to start a Continuous Brew, draining finished Kombucha from the spigot, and adding fresh sweet tea to the top.  

My First SCOBY

I ordered my first SCOBY and received it in the mail yesterday. It arrived in a sealed plastic pouch, inside a very sturdy small mailer envelope, inside another larger mailer envelope. Well protected. Inside the plastic pouch was the SCOBY and about a half cup or so of Kombucha. The SCOBY itself is generally a pancake shape, can be very thin, or grow to be very thick as it forms new SCOBYs.  It is usually a brownish yellowish, can be uniformly colored or blotchy. It may have raggedy bits hanging off of it, which are yeasts, a by product of the fermentation process. These come off easily, with clean hands. It kind of looks like a weird jellyfish. It feels somewhat like squid; pliable, smooth. 

I had my tea brewed, sweetened and cooling hours before it arrived. IT is important that the SCOBY be added to tea that is not too hot - or even very far from the same temperature as itself. My tea was still a full 10 degrees warmer than the SCOBY when it arrived. I set them side by side to acclimate. I added the SCOBY to my tea late yesterday afternoon. Most places state to let it brew for about 7 days, in a warm dark place. Some say on top of the fridge - where it certainly is not dark, in my house. I covered the mouth of the jar with a tea towel, held in place with a rubber band to discourage insects. Then I used a large flour sack towel to cover the jar from light. I will taste it at around 6 days to see how the ferment is progressing.

And that is where things stand around my house!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Ideas for Side Dishes

I have two "salads" to talk about today. One is Guacamole: everyone already knows guacamole. And the other is a new mixture. I saw somewhere online a picture of white beans and artichokes, and thought, "Ooh! I have those in my pantry!

For the Guacamole, I have always made mine simply, as I learned in Guatemala. Smash the avocado a bit, sprinkle with some salt and lime juice. Taste. Adjust those two seasonings. And voila! Sometimes I take the time to chop scallions to go in it, and somethimes I have added Gorgonzola crumbles, somewhat a la Nigela Lawson's "Roquamole". Love that addition, BTW! It is stellar.
Guacamole with Fermented Hot Pepper Relish

This time though, as I have been making fermented foods, about 13 days ago I had started fermenting a Hot Pepper Salsa. In The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz advises that although the fermentation process at room temperature should not be exceedingly long, the salsa should be kept in the fridge for 3 or even 6 months before using, as the flavors will continue to develop, getting better and better with time. Provided, of course, that one can keep themselves out of the jars, because it smells heavenly! When I made the pepper salsa, I used a large variety of peppers, some hot, some not. The amount came out to be just a bit more than I was comfortable putting in the one large jar I had available, so I put a little bit of it into two little jars. One of these I gave a friend as a gift, and the other I kept, to be my sampler and taste tester.

Fermented Hot Pepper Salsa
Let me say, this sampler is not going to last. I am finding it difficult to stay out of it, now that I tasted the results! It is hot, but just a nice amount of hot. No mouth-searing, but just a gentle burn. Yesterday morning I had an omelet and spooned out some of the salsa on top of the omelet. Bliss! Heaven. O-M-G, good! And after tasting it, I thought it would be good mixed into guacamole. 

I know most of the world seems to have taken to mixing chopped tomatoes into guacamole, but I just do not like that combo. I love guacamole. I love tomatoes. Just not stirred together. This Fermented Hot Pepper Salsa, on the other hand, sounded good. The result last night makes me think I don't know how I am going to ever again eat guacamole without this addition! If you try my Fermented Hot Pepper Salsa, I guarantee you will want more! The little jar is almost empty after two meals! This is so good I could just eat it spooned straight out of the jar. Yes, it was a royal pain to hand chop all those peppers. No, I did not have to hand chop, but wanted that even-sized texture. Maybe I will have to try using the food processor next time. And oh yes, there will be a next time!
Fermented Pepper Guacamole & White Bean & Artichoke Salads

The other dish I made last evening was the White Bean and Artichoke side dish or Salad. I am not sure which to call it by. Being a cold dish suggests it more likely to be termed a "salad", though there is nothing much of fresh veggies in it. I did use celery for a little crunch, but without overwhelming the flavors of the beans and artichokes. The result was really wonderful. It ended up that these two dishes were my dinner last evening. I made a quick "slap a piece of cheese between two corn tortillas and heat it" type quesadilla to go with the meal and I was one happy gal!

White Bean and Artichoke Salad 

White Bean & Artichoke Salad
Serves 4 - 6

1 (15.8-ounce) can white beans, drained, well-rinsed
1 (14.5-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh basil,sliced in chiffonade

2 tablespoons lime juice, fresh squeezed
3 tablespoons olive oil
a few grinds of pepper
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard

Slice the drained artichoke pieces into reasonable sized pieces. Combine them with the beans, celery and basil in a bowl. 

Separately, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients (or alternatively combine the ingredients in a small jar with tight fitting lid and shake) until emulsified and pour over the bean mixture and toss well. Allow the mixture to set for a few minutes to meld flavors and serve. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fermented Beverages are Added to the Growing List

Lately I am all about fermenting, and finding out more and more, daily. It appears there is almost nothing that cannot be fermented, adding amazing probiotics to the system. A couple of weeks ago, when cutting up a pineapple to use in a fruit salad, I kept aside all the outer peels and the core of the pineapple (without the green top). I saved them in the fridge for a couple of days, until I had time, and then placed these leavings into a large jar. I added in a cinnamon stick and then dissolved 1/2 cup of honey into about 6 1/2 cups of water and poured this over the pineapple leavings. I screwed the cap on, loosely, and set the jar in a dark corner of the kitchen.

When fermenting something sweet like this, it is highly important to stir the mixture very often, (I stirred about 4 times a day), in order to keep any molds from forming (as the fruit floats and is exposed to air). The liquid is very sweet, and the fruit is sweet, so the ferment can go on to creating wine, if left unchecked, but for an amazing lightly effervescent beverage, it is ready in about 2 to 5 days, depending on how warm it is in the house.

Since I cannot get my husband to eat either my wonderful fermented sauerkraut or the fermented picalilli I am loving so much, I figured one sure way to get some probiotics into his diet is with a beverage. When stirring the mixture daily, check it from the time it starts to exhibit myriad tiny bubbles at the edges of the jar. The ferment has begin at this time, and where to stop it will depend on your taste buds. I waited until I could actually feel that tiny bit of effervescence going on - not much, as I didn't want it alcoholic - but just enough to make it interesting. This happened at about 5 days in my kitchen. I strained off the liquid and put it into a container with a pour spout and gave it to my picky man. He loved it! 

For my next magic trick, I decided to use strawberry tops. If you are one of those who still uses a strawberry huller to pull out just the green calyx and core of the strawberry, then this will not suffice. However, if you, like me, just cut right across the top of the berry, to save time, then keep those strawberry tops! My second fermented beverage for my husband was a Strawberry Ginger Spritzer. Pretty much any fruits and peelings can be used this same way, changing out spices or other flavors as desired.

Strawberry Ginger Spritzer

Strawberry Ginger Spritzer

Makes 7 cups
Takes about 2 to 5 days, depending on temperatures

1 pound strawberries: tops cut off (use the berries for something else)
4 or 5 strawberries, sliced
5 slices fresh ginger, with skin on
pinch salt
6 1/2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup sugar or raw honey

Place the strawberry tops, sliced berries and ginger slices into a large glass jar, capable of holding at least 7 - 8 cups liquid. Stir together the water and honey or sugar until dissolved, and pour this over the fruit in the jar. Cover loosely with a lid (gases will build as the mixture ferments), or cover with a cloth, towel or cheesecloth, held on with a rubber band to discourage flies, fruit flies or other insects. Allow this mixture to ferment, stirring well 3 or 4 times a day with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. 

Keep an eye out for tiny bubbles forming around the top of the liquid. Using a clean spoon, taste once this fermentation begins. If it is not at all fizzy, wait another day or two or until it begins to have a tiny bit of fizz happening on the tongue. Once it is fermented to taste, strain the liquid into a glass or plastic jar and refrigerate. Keep in mind that the fermenting may still continue in the fridge. Keep the lid loose.

Then, as I was reading about Beet Kvass everywhere lately, and I just happened to have 2 1/2 beets in the fridge (having used 2 slices in the making of the Fermented Pink Onions a few days prior), I thought I had best find out what all the to-do was about. Beet Kvass is an Eastern European beverage, obviously made with beets, very popular in Russia and the Ukraine, among other places. It is fermented to taste and then the beverage is either drunk as is, for its tonic qualities (a VERY long list!), or added to soups or stews. The beets, once fermented, may be used for a secondary ferment. After that, they are either discarded, composted, or added to soups or stews. Waste not...

I love beets, when they are cooked. Raw, I have found, I am not fond of them at all, plus they make my throat feel raw and scratchy. So, I avoid raw beets! So with this Beet Kvass, I was very, very leery of how the taste might be, as the beets are not cooked, but only fermented. I needn't have worried. I guess I should know better by now that once a food is fermented the flavor profile is so different it is hard to believe. This tonic has salt added, making it a brined beverage. After tasting it at 3 days, I find I am eager to leave it fermenting for longer, to see where it goes. It can become very sour. When to stop is up to individual taste. It can be fermented for up to a month, if the flavor is acceptable. Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, says:

“This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are just loaded with nutrients. One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.”
The recipe for Beet Kvass is just about identical wherever you find it, with the main difference falling in the amount of time to ferment. Some people say two days. Sandor Katz talks of up to a month. As I say, taste and see where you prefer the flavor.

The other main controversial topic is to use whey or not to use whey. Whey (obtained from placing plain, unflavored yogurt into a coffee filter lined sieve and drained until reaching the amount needed, usually 1/4 cup) is used as a "starter" much as a sourdough starter gets fermentation rolling in bread. It will jump start the fermentation process and the time it takes will be less, if you are in a hurry. The flip side is that slower fermentation allows the formation of many more strains of lacto-ferments to form, making a more potent and healthful tonic. I chose not to use whey in this ferment. When eliminating the whey, more salt is needed. Salt is used to keep bad bacteria at bay until the ferment begins. Once fermentation begins, then any unwanted bacteria will be killed off in the fermentation process. I basically used the recipe from Wellness Mama, http://wellnessmama.com/9087/beet-kvass-recipe/, but here it is, without whey and with more salt.

Beet Kvass

Beet Kvass
Serving size 3 - 4 ounces, twice daily
Makes about 2 quarts

2 - 4 beets, scrubbed well, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
4 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt
7 cups filtered water

In a jar large enough to hold at least 2 quarts, place the beets and salt. Cover these with the filtered water and stir to dissolve the salt. Cover the jar loosely with a lid, or top with a cloth held in place with a rubber band. Keep out of direct sunlight. Stir daily 1 - 2 times. The beets will float, and molds might form if not moved enough.

Once the flavor is to taste, strain off the liquid, leaving at least 1/4 cup of the already fermented liquid in the container. Add salt and water again for a second batch and stir well. The fermented liquid acts as a starter, already having the strains of good bacteria in it to help things along. Refrigerate the finished Kvass.  

Some additions, if desired: carrots, fresh ginger. 

And lastly, for today, one of the first things that really caught my interest in The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz, is a beverage, again from Eastern Europe (some places cite Bosnia, others Romania) is a beverage called Smreka. Smreka means juniper, and the beverage is purely juniper berries and water. Period. I love juniper berries, but had not enough of them to make a batch to see how this would be. I got some juniper berries at our local health food store, Natural Abundance (or NatAbu, for short) yesterday while I was out, and first thing, I mixed up a batch of Smreka. It is so easy it is hardly a "recipe", but here it is, nonetheless:


Makes 1/2 gallon

1 cup juniper berries
1/2 gallon filtered water

Stir together the two ingredients in a large jar (double amounts if desired). Cover with a lid or a towel and secure with a rubber band. Stir daily. The beverage is done once all the juniper berries have fallen to the bottom of the jar. 

You can see in the photo here that a few have already started falling to the bottom, just since yesterday. 

The beverage is generally served sweetened, to taste, but is also delicious as is.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.