Friday, June 26, 2015

Making Picalilli by Lacto Fermentation

My Sauerkraut with Apples, Caraway and Dill
A couple of days ago I wrote about the adventure of putting together my first-ever batch of home fermented sauerkraut. Not "pickled" as in vinegar and heat processing, but true ferment, allowing the salted cabbage to ferment on its own, on the counter. If it was cold, this process could have taken a long time; 6 months or so. As it is, with temps in the 80s and 90s here, even air conditioning will not keep the house cool enough to ferment anything for that long. It is supposed to yield a far tastier end product when fermenting in a very cool time. For now, I am happy with the results of my first experiment. 

I keep mentioning that I got the book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix
Katz. I was hooked from the beginning - from the intro or forward! I am not remotely being paid to say this. I became interested in the idea of fermenting foods, though I knew nothing about it, when perusing Amazon for something else. I got interested, searched through myriad books on the subject, read a zillion commentaries and finally settled on ordering this book as possibly the one I would like most as a start. In that, I was absolutely correct. This book was my own discovery, and one I am completely taken with at the moment. It is highly recommended - by me!

The very following day, I headed to the grocery store and came back with a cauliflower. I like cauliflower, most particularly in the Guatemalan style or with Indian Green Masala slathered on pieces and grilled. However, at this point in time, the fermenting bug had bitten, and I am well-hooked. I cast around looking for what to combine with what for tasty ideas. And somehow, totally out of the blue, the word "piccalilli" popped into my mind.

So what the heck is Picalilli?

I had only the very vaguest idea of what picalilli was that day. I had no real idea of what went into it, how it was made or what it might taste like. Still, to find out, I went online. Searching high and low, I came up with an idea that in the broadest sense, the British may have come up with this as something mimicking Indian "pickle". I won't even bother going into what an Indian Pickle might be in this blog, but suffice to say that in just about every recipe I found for piccalilli, cauliflower was prominent. After that, the additions seem to be completely at whim. Some of the vegetables I saw added into piccalilli are broccoli, carrots, green beans, onions, garlic, cucumbers, cabbage, bell peppers and the list probably continues, but you get the idea. 

My Fermented Piccalilli
My Fermented Piccalilli
Flavorings for piccalilli are almost always mustard powder and/or mustard seeds and turmeric. After that, again, additions can be diverse. Traditionally, piccalilli is cooked, and has flour added to thicken it into something like a corn relish or other thickened relishes. Some piccalilli is made very finely chopped in order to spread onto sandwiches, while others are made in larger chunks to eat alongside something. Either way, it is a condiment.

My idea to make piccalilli raw and fermented was just a whim, one of those light-bulb moments. I decided to try it out. Some things I wanted to do:
  1. chop the vegetables finely
  2. add in coriander seeds
  3. add a tiny amount of honey
  4. add in some fresh ginger
  5. add some fresh jalapeno
Since it would not be a cooked and thickened condiment, I figured I would try chopping very small so it could still be added onto a sandwich (maybe with some mayo to kind of hold it in place). I like the flavor of coriander seed, and it is common in Indian dishes, so I wanted that flavor. I love fresh ginger, so while that may not be common, I felt it would add something. The jalapeno was a whim, since I had exactly one in the fridge that needed using. Honey - I didn't want the mixture sweet. I have been having difficulties with my blood sugar numbers so I am avoiding sugars lately. My last dessert post (something featuring using sugar) was on May 31st, with a Rustic Rhubarb and Apricot Tart. I still crave sugar, but am avoiding for now. Considering the amount of vegetables I chopped for my piccalilli, I used about 1 tablespoon of honey. This was partly as a sort of starter, though I did want just that tiny touch of sweet.
Picalilli and sliced tomatoes for lunch
Picalilli and sliced tomatoes for lunch

After putting the whole batch of vegetables into a large jar and covered it with brine, I sat back and wondered if I would even like this - and if not, I was going to have a whole lot of something I didn't care for that I would have to eat. The fact that it contains both cauliflower and broccoli makes it absolutely and totally taboo for my husband. He is very firm in avoiding anything he thinks he won't like. As for me, I love cauliflower and broccoli and pretty much any and all cruciferous vegetables. The broccoli and cauliflower though need to be cooked, howsoever little! My digestion seems not to tolerate them raw. So once again here, I was really going on a limb in making this mixture. 

As it comes out, when I tasted it for the first time a few days ago, I was completely enchanted with the flavor combination. It did not taste of raw broccoli or cauliflower. I couldn't exactly say what it did taste like - again, as I have absolutely nothing to compare with, having never tasted fermented vegetables such as this, and never having tried piccalilli! It turns out my experiment was a total success. The one jalapeno, with seeds left in, was enough to give the whole batch just a little bit of heat, completely tolerable and totally enjoyable. More could be added, of course. For me this is perfect, though I could tolerate more heat. Here is what I did:

Lacto-Fermented Piccalilli

All vegetables, well pounded
All vegetables, well pounded
Makes about 1¾ quarts

1/2 cauliflower, cut in very small bits

1 head of broccoli, cut in very small bits
2 carrots, crated
1 onion, chopped small
1 fresh apple, chopped or grated
1 handful of green beans, cut small
1 chunk fresh ginger, minced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced, seeds left in
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 quart filtered water
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup whey (drained from yogurt)

2 types of meat pounders
Make the Brine: Combine the filtered water and salt with the honey and whey. The whey is not 100% necessary, but as it is a living culture, does help with jump-starting the fermentation. Stir until all the honey and salt are dissolved. You will likely not need all of this brine, but better to have enough.

Assemble all the chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Add in the turmeric, mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Squeeze the vegetable mixture repeatedly with hands or use a meat pounder or wooden mallet of some kind (piece of wood, round-ended rolling pin, etc). You should end up with about 2/3 to 1/2 the original volume of the vegetable mixture, once well pounded. This breaks down cell walls in the vegetables and allows the salty brine to penetrate more easily. 

Pack the vegetable mixture tightly into a large glass jar or a crock that will accommodate the vegetables, plus about 1 inch of brine to cover, plus a weight of some king to keep the vegetables submerged. Optimally, a container that will hold at least 3 quarts, so as to accommodate all this, plus a rise in liquid level as the vegetables release their own liquid, and then fermentation, that could cause bubbling up, and/or over the container, causing spillage. 

Pour the brine over the vegetables to cover by at least 1/2 inch or so. If you have a cabbage handy, use 1 or two outer leaves to cover the top of the vegetables, then set a weight on top. This can be a plate, with something heavy set on top to keep the vegetables down, or it could be glass weights (Crock rocks) found where lacto-fermentation equipment is sold, such as from Amazon. In smaller jars, I used the small glass stones often used for flower arranging (well washed), and tied them into a piece of clean hosiery as a weight. All equipment should be scrupulously clean, but not necessarily sterile.

How warm it is in the place where your piccalilli will ferment, will determine how long it will take to ferment. If it is quite cool, as in a basement at 55 to 60 degrees, it could be many weeks (or months) before fermentation becomes active. If it is quite warm, such as my kitchen at high 70 degrees, it will take only days. I left my piccalilli to ferment for about 12 days. I love the flavor at this point. During winter, I will try this in the basement and allow a much slower ferment to take place. Once it tastes good to you, it is ready. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Learning About and Trying Out Fermented Foods

I keep mentioning my current interest in fermenting foods. I still haven't gotten around to actually posting "recipes" (in quotes, because everything is so moveable and scalable), though today I am planning to do exactly that. 

Tasting My Fermented Sauerkraut after 13 days
Tasting My Fermented Sauerkraut after 13 days

In my blog post of June 18th, I posted my thoughts and feelings on this subject. Listing some of the many, many benefits of fermenting foods, I hope to help others to get interested in this way of life. Every thing that is eaten does not have to be fermented. Especially at the beginning of the process of trying out fermented foods, the sudden influx of myriad "good bacteria" or pro-biotics introduced into the system will certainly cause at least some die-off of the bad bacteria and yeasts that have been in residency. This is a good thing, having the good bacteria on your side to "clean house," but at the beginning it can cause some pretty significant die-off symptoms. You might think you've caught some virulent strain of the flu! Some die-off symptoms can be in the list here. You may experience some, all, or none of these, depending on the state of your gut at the start.
Top, just packed in jar; bottom, after 5 days

Some symptoms possible through Die-Off

  • nausea
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea
  • aching joints or muscles
  • elevated heart rate
  • chills
  • itching, hives or rash
  • sweating
  • low grade fever
  • skin breakouts
The term "die-off" is bandied about too often these days, but any time a significant amount of good bacteria is added into the body, as the bad bacteria are killed off, what happens is the dead bacteria release toxins into the system. These must be excreted by the body somehow. The toxins  floating around the system and being processed out are the problem. You could feel very ill, or hardly at all. My husband and I had only one significant day of symptoms such as headache, gas and diarrhea. We do take commercial probiotics on a daily basis, so with this new influx of pro-biotics (in addition to our already daily regimen) I can see that even with a constant supply in the system, the sheer amount of strains of good bacilli introduced with fermented foods can still kill off more of the bad bacteria. 

This is not a warning to avoid fermented foods! On the contrary!
After 13 days, noticeably soured: Note active bubbling
After 13 days, noticeably soured: Note active bubbling

We all eat fermented foods all the time. Yogurt, Kombucha, sourdough bread, cheese, kimchi, vinegar, and air-cured sausages are but a few. The problem is that many of these products are then commercially produced and heat treated. Commercial canned or processed sauerkraut is not a fermented food (even if it was originally). And even if one takes the time to ferment the food, once it is placed into a jar and heat processed, it may have wonderful flavor, but the heat processing will have killed off every living culture that could have been beneficial. It is a wonderful thing to start making your own fermented foods and see what all the raves are about.

Fermenting of foods is generally a slow process. This is not instant gratification. It is returning to a slower kind of life. But it is oh-so-worth-it. My sauerkraut is now about 2 weeks into its process and is actively bubbling. While I have twice tasted and love what I'm tasting, I am allowing more time to pass to see how much better or different it becomes.  This is what I did:

My Fermented Sauerkraut

Makes about 1 - 1 1/2 quarts
Serving size: 1 - 2 tablespoons, until accustomed

1 medium head cabbage
4 cups dehydrated apple slices, briefly soaked to soften
1 tablespoon (approximate) sea salt
1 tablespoon dried dill weed (more if fresh)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, whole
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 - 2 outer cleaned cabbage leaves, left whole

Thinly slice the cabbage by hand or shred on a shredder or food processor equipped with the shredding blade. Layer the cabbage in a large bowl, sprinkling salt over each layer as it is added in. Add in the apples, squeezed of excess water, and the seasonings, continuing to salt each layer as it is added. Once all the ingredients are added, they should be broken down. The cell walls of the cabbage must be broken so the salt can penetrate and begin fermentation. This can be accomplished by using your hands to squeeze, squeeze, repeatedly, or using a meat pounder, a clean piece of wood, or whatever comes to hand. You should end up with about half, by volume, what you started with.

Place the resultant mixture into clean jars or a crock. Do not use plastic or metal containers. Press it down firmly in the container. Place the outer cabbage leaves onto the surface and weigh the mixture down with a plate with a weight on top, or another water or brine--filled jar inserted into the container to make pressure. There are commercial products such as glass disks that can be used to weight the mixture. As a last resort, some clean rocks (soaked in dilute bleach and thoroughly washed and rinsed - do not use limestone or it will dissolve) can be used to created the weight. The cabbage mixture should be completely submerged by its own liquid by the following day. If it is not, make a brine of:

2 cups filtered water
1 tablespoon sea salt

Stir these ingredients well to completely dissolve and then pour the brine over the cabbage mixture until completely submerged, by up to an inch. Cover the container in some way that will prevent flies or other unwanted debris from entering the container. If using canning jars, a piece of cloth held in place by the ring will work. A piece of cloth held on by a rubber band will also work as will a paper coffee filter. If covering with an airtight lid of some kind, be aware that the carbon dioxide buildup in the jar as fermentation proceeds can burst your jar or container. Do not use a metal lid that could come in contact with the fermenting food.

At this point, depending on the amount of overall salt used (more salt will slow fermentation; less salt allows faster fermentation) and the ambient temperature where your containers will reside (cooler temperatures mean slower fermentation; warmer temperatures will speed fermentation), the fermenting could take as little as 10 days or more than 6 months. Taste as you go, to see where in the process it suits you best for flavor. With these parameters in mind it may be best to use more salt in the warmer summer temperatures and less salt during cooler winter months.

Once the sauerkraut is fermented to your liking, pack it in clean jars and store in the refrigerator.

This is completely a combination of my choosing. Simply cabbage and salt is enough to make sauerkraut. Other possibly additions:
  • red cabbage
  • carrots
  • radishes
  • onion
  • rutabaga
  • fresh cranberries
  • beets (to make a lovely pink kraut)
  • fresh ginger
  • juniper berries
  • dried chiles
  • cumin
The list is only limited by your taste and imagination. After 10 days, it already tastes remarkable; unlike anything I have tried; certainly unlike any sauerkraut I have tried! Tomorrow I will post my Fermented Picalilli recipe. This is completely my own creation, based on ingredients usually cooked and processed. I had no expectations, and some trepidations over the ingredients, but I was determined to give it a fair chance. I tasted the mixture after about 9 days and was both shocked and amazed at the fantastic flavors. I was concerned because my system does not well tolerate raw broccoli or cauliflower. I can and do eat them both cooked, even only briefly. Raw - not so much. This mixture is raw, yet caused no undue distress; on the contrary, though I cannot describe how this relish tastes, having never tried anything like it, it is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Fathers' Day - a Tribute to my Dad

Happy Fathers' Day to all you fathers out there. I started my memories of my Father yesterday morning with breakfast. Sometimes when we were small, Dad would make scrambled eggs and add in a can of salmon. I was not crazy about these eggs with salmon back then, as a child. I happened to have some salmon I had cooked and had some leftover, so I decided that after all this time, maybe I would actually LIKE scrambled eggs with salmon. I made it with Dad in my mind. Sorry, Dad, I still don't like that combination. Dad passed away in 2001, but his memory lives large.
My Scrambled Eggs with Salmon

Long ago, in our childhood in the '50s and '60s, Dad would sometimes make us
Dad in the Army
breakfasts on the weekend. He had learned to make omelets when in France during WWII. In his version of omelets, he would sometimes insert a bit of jelly in the middle for us children. While omelets were not my favorite way to eat eggs at the time (boy, has THAT ever changed!), we ate them and it was fun, because Dad made them, instead of Mom. Mom was a very good cook. She cooked day in and day out, and with the family expanding to seven children over the course of 1950 to 1963, she cooked an awful lot. Those were the days of having a full breakfast every morning, a lunch of often soup and sandwiches if at home, and a full dinner on the table when Dad got home from work. Having Dad at home to cook was not usual, as he was working, but sometimes he did on weekends, and it was usually inventive. Dad was innovative. 

Dad & Mom in 1948. Just Married

One Sunday when I was around 12 years old, Dad decided to try something out that he saw on a cereal package. At that time, along with the regular large pillow-shaped shredded wheat cereal, there was another kind that came in a round disk shape, about ½-inch thick or so (see them here, if you haven't seen them!). The idea was to use this disk shaped shredded wheat cereal instead of bread to make French Toast. Dad was all about bacon and bacon grease, and this was his plan, to make scads of bacon and make the French Toast deep fried in the bacon grease. 
Dad, Grillin' - summer 1962

Taking this all one step further, Dad decided to make this a breakfast picnic, and make everything out in the back yard, on the grill. We would eat at the picnic table there. 

Dad with Five Girls in 1960
Me & Dad, 1952
Now, from this remove, I can look back at that scenario and really admire Mom. I know this was a huge undertaking for her. Though she would not be making the breakfast food, she was in charge of getting all the foods, utensils, pans, griddle, the table settings, condiments and everything else in order and out to the back yard (and then everything in reverse once breakfast was done, plus washing up!). Let me say that we had a very large back yard. This was not a situation where you walk out the back door and there is the table. At this point in time, the picnic table was waaaaaaay out back, requiring a significant amount to legwork to get there and back. I am sure that Mom thanked God for us children to do some of this legwork for her, but it was still a large undertaking, and while she may or may not have quibbled over this idea of Dad's, she did it.

My Dad's love of innovation in the kitchen has inspired me to do the same in my life. Mom's good cooking gave all this a start, but it was Dad who always pushed the envelope as they knew it. Dad grew up on a farm. His love of planting things stayed with him all his life. As I mentioned, our back yard was large, and Dad had a significant part of it planted as a vegetable garden each year. He grew corn, beets, carrots, scallions, green peppers, beets, cabbage and many, many other things. Mom canned and froze vegetables all summer long. On one occasion, Dad planted eggplant. I don't think Dad or Mom liked it either, because he never planted it again, but at the time, they couldn't say that, if they expected us to eat it too. So I ate eggplant, and hated it. Thankfully that has changed. While it is not my #1 favorite vegetable, I do eat it.
When my sister Diana was in grade school, around 1965, she made a red and green felt bow tie. Dad was presented with this bow tie, and he faithfully wore it every Christmas after, right up to the last Christmas we had with him, in 2000. Dad never, ever lost his sense of humor. Dad could move us to sobs when he had to have a stern "talk" with us when we misbehaved (often!). Dad never ever stopped wanting to learn new things, even after heart attacks and strokes, diabetes that impaired one eye severely. He kept endeavoring to learn new things on his computers and keep apprised of events. When email became the thing, he delighted in sending out emails to all of his children.

Dad making Stew, in 2001
Atlantis Launch from KSC
When quasi-digital cameras came into being, Dad bought a Sony Mavica around 1997 or 1998, using a small floppy disc for the photos. Once this happened, Dad took photos all the time and would email us these photos. Photos of foods he had made, served in a pretty setting of Mom's devising, such as Bean Soup (or "Ham Bone Soup" as they sometimes called it), or a stew of some kind. With fresh vegetables from the garden he and Mom always canned what they called "Stewed Tomatoes." I do not have their recipe, though it was a combination of tomatoes, onions, celery and possibly green peppers. The sauce was sweetened a bit. I came to like it very late in the game, and now I wish I had that recipe. But even with that, Dad was always tweaking. I recall his gigantic zucchini, and that he also added that to his Stewed Tomatoes recipe towards the end of his life.
Dad took photos of his flowers, animals that strayed into the garden, his garden veggies, space launches. Dad and Mom lived in Deltona, FL, about an hour away from Daytona beach. If there was a shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center, Dad would do his utmost to get photos, such as this one here, taken possibly either 1997 or 2000. I do not have the exact date for this photo. Dad was sweet and kind, yet very no-nonsense. He was a wonderful father to seven children, always with time for us all. We love you!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Individual Meat Loaves a la Michael Symon

Watching "The Chew" the other day, Michael Symon made these little individual meat loaves, wrapped in bacon. As soon as I saw how easy they were, and then how much faster they bake (than a whole large meatloaf), I had to try them! The only step that takes any time at all is sauteing the onion, but I would do that anyway, as I really dislike crunching into undercooked onions in a meatloaf. It was already going on 3:45 PM when I came downstairs from my office yesterday. My husband likes his supper promptly at 5 PM, thank you.  I told him it might be a little later this evening.

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meat Loaf
Individual Bacon Wrapped Meat Loaf

I had thawed the meat earlier, so that was set. Michael Symon's recipe called for a pound of ground beef plus a half-pound each of ground pork and veal. I don't think they've heard of veal up here in these parts. I have never seen it. If they are going to raise cattle, by golly, they raise cattle! I used half and half beef and pork. I had bacon, thick sliced, which is the only kind I buy. I have been avoiding wheat and extraneous simple carbs, so I looked at the bread crumbs in his recipe and thought instead I would use psyllium husks. I keep them on hand for my daily dose of fiber anyway. Other than these changes, I pretty much followed his recipe.

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meat LoafThey were most amazingly good! I was totally hooked. Of course I had not eaten meat for about 5 days, so maybe that helped them to taste so good, but I think the flavors were very hard to beat. Supposedly they were to be done at 35 minutes. The bacon on the outside, possibly because I used thick sliced, or possibly because on the show he said to set the oven at 400 degrees, where on the website they specified 375, was underdone at the 30 minute mark, so I increased the oven to 400 degrees and continued for 10 more minutes. If using thinner bacon, I am sure that may have been the case. Maybe next time (and there WILL be a next time!) I will just start out at 400 degrees and then they might be done at the 35 minute time.

There are really not a whole lot of things added to the meat; just simply onion and garlic, salt and pepper. The only other flavor additions are thyme leaves, which are visible in the photos, parsley and Worcestershire, and then the psyllium and an egg. Simple, easy and quick. While they baked, I made some mashed potatoes to contribute to my hubby's happiness, and supper was served, only 10 minutes late!

I will say, Michael divided the 2 pounds of meat into 6 portions. One of these portions was quite a bit more than I really wanted or needed in one sitting, though I certainly did it justice last night. I think I might make half of them this size for a manly portion, and the rest in smaller portions for me.

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meat Loaf
Just out of the oven - the house smelled heavenly

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meat Loaves

Serves 6

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
2 tablespoons psyllium husks (can use 1/4 cup bread crumbs)
1 egg
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
pepper, to taste
12 strips bacon; more if making smaller portions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lining it with foil, for easy cleanup later. 

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium or medium low. Once butter is melted, add in the onions and saute until at least tender. I prefer them turning golden brown. Once nearing the point you prefer, add in the minced garlic and the thyme leaves. Stir and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the rawness of the garlic is lessened. Allow this mixture to cool to just warm before adding to the remaining ingredients. 

Place the meats in a large bowl. Add in all the remaining ingredients except the bacon. Once cooled, add the onion mixture and stir to completely combine the ingredients. This can be done with hands or a spoon. Divide the mixture into 6 (or more) portions, as desired. Set two strips of bacon onto a surface, closely side by side. Make a ball of one of the portions of meat and set it towards one end of the bacon strips. Roll the bacon around the meat until the loose ends are underneath. Gently set the ball onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bacon and meat portions. Bake the rolls for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bacon is done to your preference and the internal temperature of the meat is at least 155 degrees. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

An Interest in Fermented Foods and Health

The views expressed here in this blog are my own. I have copied some views from elsewhere that express my ideas and beliefs, but they are my own views, nonetheless. I am no medical authority, but just a normal person interested in going back to healthier ways of eating and living.

My interests have diversified lately. I mentioned in my last post that I had bought the book "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz. I took a couple of days of reading at the beginning of the book, and then flipping around and just checking out what all types of things can be fermented. Turns out, almost anything can be fermented. This quote, taken from the Weston A. Price Foundation website, and copied there from Nourishing Traditions: the Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon with Mary Enig, PhD, copyright 1999, explains:
"The fermentation process is accomplished by lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic acid bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine."
After taking time to read a lot of the new book, I am convinced that here is one very good example of why the American diet in particular is so poor; why there is such rampant obesity; why there is so much succumbing to auto-immune disorders, so many allergies, so much wrong in our gut. While some of these views I am expressing are also expressed in one book, website or other, they are also my own feelings on the subject. Thoroughly hopping onto my own little bandwagon here, I think that in a society where healthy fruits and vegetables are so very expensive, yet over processed foods, filled with every health-threatening additive (yet tasting so good!) are very inexpensive, this explains a large portion of our dietary and health problems. If one cannot afford to buy the fruits and vegetables, then settling for the processed foods that are cheap, high in empty carbs and sugars regardless of the threat to overall health, is the only alternative. And rampant health issues abound. 

Having dealt with yeast/candida issues pretty much all my adult life, I am very conversant with the effects of too much bad yeast in the gut. How does one get an overgrowth of candida in the gut? Well:

  1. Eating a diet in highly refined carbohydrates and sugar
  2. Consuming too much alcohol
  3. Oral contraceptives
  4. Antibiotics
  5. Chloride and fluoride in your water
Sound familiar? These are only some of the things, but since the advent of antibiotics, the upswing in candida has soared. Coincidence? Probably not. So, enough of my little rant. The thing is, reading The Art of Fermentation is opening my eyes to how the preserving of food was once done, before refrigeration and the advent of processed canning of foods. Our ancestors, people all over the world, have been preserving foods through fermentation since farthest antiquity. In most cases, all that is needed is salt and water. In some cases a little help must be provided, as in the case of things like yogurt and kefir (among other things), where a culture of some kind is required.

Sauerkraut ferment: Day 1, top; Day 5, below
One of the easiest things to ferment is cabbage, making it into sauerkraut. All that is needed is a glass or ceramic container, shredded cabbage and salt. In most cases not even water is required, as the cabbage is squeezed or pounded and with salt, creates its own liquid. Other things may be added to the cabbage for flavor variation, but in its simplest form, that is all that is required. It will need to ferment for a period of time; how long a time will depend on the amount of salt used (more will slow fermentation) and the ambient temperature. Lower temperatures, such as in basements, or indoors during winter time, will slow fermentation to the degree that it can take more than 6 months. Higher ambient temperatures and it can ferment far more quickly, as quickly as 2 weeks. The longer and slower the fermentation, the better the flavor, but that should not stop anyone from giving this a try. It has been slightly over 70 degrees in my kitchen since beginning my sauerkraut ferment 8 days ago. I tasted the sauerkraut last evening, even though it is not nearly fully soured, but I can truly say I have never tasted sauerkraut that tasted so good. I will post the tasty "recipe" I put together soon.

You may say that you like sauerkraut and eat it all the time. Yes, but. . . is it from a can? Has it been heat processed? Unless the sauerkraut has been raw-fermented, and without being heat treated for stability, killing off all the good, beneficial bacteria, then you are missing out, both on flavor and nutritional and health benefits. Some of the benefits of raw, fermented sauerkraut:
  • High levels of glucosinolates, shown to produce anti cancer activity. Not a cancer cure, but certainly worthwhile to have in the diet.
  • Natural probiotic bacteria. Naturally fermented sauerkraut contains no vinegar; lacto-fermentation gives it the characteristic sour flavor.  Its raw state means live, active cultures.
  • Healthy bowel flora: fermented sauerkraut helps cleanse the bowel, adding in helpful lacto bacteria; aiding in whole body health
  • High sulfur content in the cabbage is invaluable in skin cleansing, from the inside out. Think acne!
  • Fermented sauerkraut juice is a strong stimulant for the body to produce acid, helpful in Acid Reflux, where contrary to what it sounds like, means there is insufficient acid to digest foods.
  • Sheer diversity of probiotics in fermented foods offer a fighting chance against the bad yeasts in the gut.
  • Fermented foods are potent detoxifiers, helping out in such things as obesity, mood, diabetes, heart health, acne and many other things.
Just as a quick experiment, I made some "Dilly Beans". These raw green beans are fermented only a few short days in a brine with dill weed and seed before they are ready to eat. I ate one, single green bean from the jar after only 3 days. Let me say here, that introducing a goodly dose of healthy and active probiotics into the gut has some very interesting and explosive repercussions! Eat only a small amount of any fermented food at first, to allow the system to become accustomed to getting healthy!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New Use for Rhubarb in Chutney

I have been sidetracked since I ordered and received a new book (for me), called The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz. Knowing little on this subject, I had not realized (consciously) how many of the foods we eat are fermented. The fact that I have been entranced by Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and where I learned to create a sourdough starter from wild yeasts, somehow completely bypassed the thought of "fermentation" going on. I will go into this topic more at a later date. I am just beginning this particular journey and have yet to try any of the foods. At present, I have sauerkraut fermenting on the counter, as well as dilly green beans and - a creation of my own - "Lacto-Fermented Picalilli". None of these are ready to eat yet. Fermentation has begun, so we wait and see. Reading the book, and Katz's extremely clear explanations of these foods and how to make them, he points out instances of recipes that are actually in some other cookbooks I own! I had recently bought Anne Volokh's book, The Art of Russian Cuisine, wondering if my Grandmother's Serbian cooking roots had any basis in Russian cuisine. Katz cites Volokh's book a few times. I hadn't even had time to get through looking at "...Russian Cuisine" yet! 
Fresh rhubarb from Farmers' Market
Fresh rhubarb from Farmers' Market

So that is where my mind and heart have been lately. I have been "cooking", but minimally. When I was trying to use up the big bag of rhubarb my friend Tetiana gave me, I was making most things as desserts. When I think of rhubarb, I immediately think of Mom's Rhubarb Pineapple Pie. Since 2012, I have made Rhubarb Cake, Rhubarb Pecan Coffee Cake, Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars, Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam, Rhubarb Cream Pie, Gluten-Free Rhubarb Coffee Cake, and there may be other things I am forgetting at the moment. When I finally worked through the bag of rhubarb, I realized I had never written down my mom's Rhubarb Pineapple Pie recipe! I wanted to remedy that. However, a visit to the doctor a few days ago made me rethink all these desserts.

Since I have been avidly reading about lacto-fermentation of foods, I wondered how rhubarb would result if fermented. I was online, looking through recipes, when a totally unrelated recipe popped up, truly catching my attention. It is from a site called Peppercorns in my Pocket. The name of the blog caught my attention first. I love peppercorns! I may also have mentioned a time or two how much I love India, all things Indian, and Indian cuisine? Well the woman writing this blog, Pia, is from Calcutta, currently living in the UK. She writes wonderfully well, and has some excellent photography - not just of food - on her site. I have it listed now as one of my "favorite blog sites" at right, because she really captured my attention. I spent quite some time there, and plan to spend some more. She explains how rhubarb is not an Indian ingredient, yet when talking with her Mom, an Indian "pickle" came up as an idea. 
Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers
Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers

In the US, our idea of what constitutes a chutney has really broadened. More often than not it is a thick, cooked, sweet and sour mixture, similar to what we buy in the store as Major Grey's Mango Chutney. I make a really heavenly Mango Chutney that we really love in our household. Other chutneys, more true to Indian style are thin, such as Mint and Coriander chutney (Dhania Poodina) and a tamarind chutney. These bear no relation to the sweet, thick chutneys like Major Grey's. I love both kinds. Indian "pickles" however, are not what we in the US consider "pickles" at all. Many of India's "pickles" are made in the lacto-fermented style. They can be made with most ingredients, generally chopped up and fermented or cooked, or left in the sun to dehydrate. Some Indian "pickles" I have tried are mango pickle, both sweet and hot and lime pickle. I have not explored deeply into this aspect of Indian cuisine, but have enjoyed what I have tried. 

Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers
Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers

So, when finding the blog, Peppercorns in My Pocket, and reading a recipe for a Rhubarb "Pickle", I got an idea. Running with this idea, I made a list of ingredients to add to rhubarb to make a chutney of a sort. My first thought was mango, but this would necessitate a trip to the grocery. Somewhere I read online that dried cherries were used, so I switched to that idea. Dried cherries were already in my pantry ;-)
Hibiscus sabdariffa
Hibiscus sabdariffa, whole and in bits

At the time of creating this recipe, I was also brewing some hibiscus tea (hibiscus sabdariffa), called Rosa de Jamaica in Guatemala. If you have not had this tea, the flavor, depending on how strong the tea is made, can be exceedingly tart. Think "cranberry!" So looking at the tea brewing, I wondered about adding some of the hibiscus, ground to a powder, to add flavor and color to the chutney. I actually used both dried and ground hibiscus and some that I soaked first, leaving the individual calyx "petals" whole. This part of the recipe is absolutely 100% unnecessary. If you do not own the tea, do not feel you cannot make this chutney. It was a complete after thought, though delicious. I used various spices that are generally associated with Indian cooking, such as cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, black pepper & brown mustard seed. The final chutney is quite delicious, and I cannot wait to use it either on pork chops or chicken, or with an actual Indian recipe.  Here is the recipe. 

Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers

Makes about 5 cups

Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers
Rhubarb Cherry Chutney with Hibiscus Flowers

1½ pounds rhubarb, or 4½ cups cut up
3 cups chopped onion
1½ cups dried tart cherries
1½ cups sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 - 2 jalapenos, chopped, with seeds
1 piece fresh ginger, about 2-inches diameter
4 - 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried hibiscus calyxes, ground
1 tablespoon hibiscus calyx bits, whole, soaked
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds, whole
4-inches true cinnamon (soft-stick)
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, whole
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Heat a large canning kettle about half filled with hot water. Bring to a low boil, reduce to simmer and place clean canning jars and rings into the pot to sterilize.

Cut the rhubarb into ½-inch bits and put them in a large stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot. Add the chopped onion and tart cherries and the sugar and vinegar. add the remaining ingredients and set pot over medium heat and bring to boil. Once boiling, stir occasionally for about a half hour, reducing heat if necessary to keep a low boil. Towards the end of the cooking time, stir more often, to avoid scorching, until the mixture thickens like for jam.
Cooking the ingredients
adding ingredients to pan      |      stirring ingredients together      |     ingredients cooked to jam stage

(Complete canning instructions can be found here.) Once the mixture is ready, with tongs, remove one jar from the simmering water. Add in the round lids to the simmering water only at the last. Use a canning funnel to aid in filling the jars to about 1/2 inch from the top. Use a damp cloth to clean the rim of the jar.  Use the tongs or a magnetic wand to remove one lid from the water and set it atop the filled jar. Remove one of the rings and tighten onto the jar. Repeat this with all the jars and chutney. Set a canning rack into the boiling water and if too much water has boiled out, add in a little more hot water. Set the jars onto the canning rack and bring the water to a full boil. Cover with lid and boil for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude:

From 1,001 to 3,000 feet, add 5 minutes
From 3,001 to 6,000 feet, add 10 minutes
From 6,001 to 8,000 feet, add 15 minutes
From 8,001 to10,000 feet, add 20 minutes 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Easy and Elegant Pork Dish

Whether you are looking for an elegantly easy recipe for a nice dinner with friends, or just something for any night, these Pork Rolls with Feta, Artichoke and Capers are just perfect. The idea for these pork rolls came when watching The Chew one day last week. Often there will be a segment where Michael Symon pairs off with Daphne Oz. Michael will make a certain dish in his normal fashion, with no skimping on either flavor or calories. Daphne will make a version of something similar, where she will use ingredients that really amp up the flavor, but tone down calories or excessive fats. It so happens in this particular episode, both the dishes sounded amazing. In particular, Daphne (using chicken breast meat instead of Michael's use of fattier chicken thigh meat) made a wonderful filling with Castelvetrano olives, capers and a few other things. 

Pork Roll with Feta, Artichoke and Capers
Pork Rolls with Feta, Artichoke Caper Filling

I had some boneless pork loin chops in the fridge, and wanted to try using them this way, pounded thin and stuffed, then rolled. I really liked the sound of Daphne's olive-caper filling. The only difficulty fell in that my husband won't eat olives.

I love olives. Maybe the simple black olives in a can are not my favorite flavor profile, but I will eat them anyway, if they are in a dish. Possibly my favorite olives are Nicoise. I love stuffed green olives, Kalamatas and so many others. I believe I have tried Castelvetrano olives once some years ago, but cannot be absolutely positive at this remove. After researching a bit, I confirmed what Daphne said about Castelvetrano olives being milder in flavor, and less salty. I would have loved to try them in this dish, but I figured that whether mild or not, it still might be too much for my husband's taste. 

So, What Substitutes for Olives in a Recipe?

Browning the Pork Rolls
I spent a while looking online for suggestions to replace olives in a recipe. In most cases, capers were the suggestion. Since capers were already a part of the ingredients, more capers would not be useful. Since most olives are rather salty, some suggested meats such as prosciutto. I know that meats are used as ingredients in a stuffing for another meat, but I didn't want to go with that much meat in this case (the recipe called for a cup of Castelvetrano olives, so a cup of whatever ingredient to sub). Another ingredient in the filling was Feta cheese, and as that is also salty, it seemed to me using too much salty prosciutto would be less palatable. 

And then I found a suggestion for using artichoke hearts! This seemed the perfect solution for the dilemma. Artichoke hearts are mild flavored, enough so to make the bulk of the filling without going crazy on the salt level. Hurrah!

Daphne's recipe for the filling (found here), was used to fill chicken breast cutlets pounded thin. I had pork loin chops. The one thing I really would have added to the recipe I was adapting from Daphne's was fresh rosemary. She was going for Mediterranean flavors, and I liked that profile. Rosemary is also Mediterranean flavor. However, the rosemary I had in the fridge had gone all black, and it was too late to run to the store. The recipe would have to do without, at least this time. Both Michael and Daphne's recipes used cheese in the filling. Michael used goat cheese, which I love, but I wanted to keep Daphne's use of Feta in this recipe. The mixture just sounded so good. For now, the results were marvelous. A little rosemary would have really taken the flavors even more the direction I wanted, but for now, this worked very well.

The last thing I altered was browning the rolls before popping them into the oven to finish cooking. Michael did this with the chicken thighs, but Daphne's version went straight to the oven. I chose the fry first and oven finish method, because I wanted the pork to look golden and appetizing. Twenty minutes in the oven will not brown as nicely as a quick frying will!

Quite on its own, this recipe is also completely gluten free! Michael Symon's recipe used bread crumbs, though bread crumbs can also be made easily from gluten free bread.

Pork Rolls with Feta, Artichoke and Capers

Makes 4 servings

Pork Roll with Feta, Artichoke and Capers
Pork Roll with Feta, Artichoke and Capers

4 boneless pork loin chops
salt and pepper for seasoning
4 ounces grated/crumbled Feta cheese
1 (7-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
¼ cup chopped dates
2 tablespoons small capers, drained
2 cloves garlic
1½ cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (dried is fine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
more olive oil for browning

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chops, one at a time, between plastic wrap and pound them very thin, until they are about 5 x 6-inches. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside. If using a block of Feta, grate it on a large holed grater, or chop or crumble finely. Set aside.

Place the drained artichoke hearts, dates, capers, garlic parsley, orange juice concentrate and orange zest into the bowl of a food processor. Process, while adding in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Scrape down as necessary to process evenly. Pour out into a bowl and stir in the Feta cheese until combined. Divide this mixture between the 4 pounded pork cutlets. Pat to evenly distribute, leaving the end farthest from you free for about 1-inch. Roll the pork, starting at the end closest to you, without smashing the filling out. Secure the rolls with a toothpick if necessary.

Heat a skillet to high and add a little olive oil. Brown the rolls quickly on all sides, about 5 minutes, total. Set them on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.