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
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
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 1½ 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 . . . 

Pomegranate Kombucha in Champagne flute
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 ¼-inch thick. The flavor is most lovely. Once getting past the bubbles, I do love this stuff!

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, 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
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 ¼ 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
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
Peach Upside-Down Cake
Makes 8 servings


1 cup sugar
¼ 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
½ teaspoon peach flavoring, optional
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ 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!

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.  

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
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. Real 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: Yemoos
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! 

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, 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 sometimes 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
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
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
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
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 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.

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 ½ cup of honey into about 6½ 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 piccalilli 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! 

Three Fermenting Beverages

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

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
6½ cups filtered water
½ 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 2½ 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,, but here it is, without whey and with more salt.

Beet Kvass

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

2 - 4 beets, scrubbed well, cut in ½-inch cubes
4½ 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 ¼ 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 ½ gallon

1 cup juniper berries
½ 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 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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Ferments

I am thoroughly hooked on fermenting! I mentioned that since so far the only ferments I had made and completed were sauerkraut and piccalilli, I had been looking for more things to make and try, adding in more variation to my diet. The sauerkraut is stupendous, and the piccalilli is a tie for great flavor, but even alternating them each day, I get a little bored. So, I am trying out new things, since variety is the spice of life.

I first tried some onion relish. I found the recipe online at "Killer Pickles": and followed the recipe just about exactly, except I cut the recipe in half. Having no idea what this onion relish will taste like, I preferred a smaller amount to start with. Easy enough to put together, for sure.

The recipe uses red onion for the relish and they call the recipe "Hot Pink Onions." Anyone who has used red onion in a food will know that once cooked or in any way soaked or heated, red onions will turn a fairly ugly purple-grey color. Adding in vinegar will perk up that color in no time, giving you some gorgeous pink color. The thing is, in fermenting, vinegar is not used. 
1-day into Pink Onion Relish and Salsa Verde fermenting
1-day into Pink Onion Relish and Salsa Verde fermenting

To get around this, they used a slice of beet, both for color and also as a disc for pressing down the mixture to submerge. The onions do all the work of releasing juices. I had no trouble at all with them being completely covered with liquid the morning after putting this together. I have become a great fan of using a cabbage leaf to completely cover the tops of the food, so it can be weighted more easily. After placing my slice of beet over the onions, I covered that with a cabbage leaf, and then added some rocks (well washed, bleached, washed, soaked and then boiled!) as the weight to keep things under liquid. 

After this, I went and forged ahead with some Salsa Verde, or Green Sauce. My Salsa Verde is a Guatemalan style recipe, and I have been making it for some time. I absolutely love the flavors. But that is a cooked recipe. This time I wanted to try with basically the same ingredients, but ferment them instead. I have air conditioning running in the house, though I only set it to about 76 degrees, so the kitchen is warm. In order to slow the fermentation process, thereby hopefully giving the ferments enough time to develop plenty of pro-biotics, and also more flavors, I moved these down to the basement, where is is most definitely cooler, though I do not have a thermometer down there (yet!). The amount given for the vegetable ingredients is 'as is' (as they come from store or market), and afterwards in brackets is the weight after peeling/coring/de-seeding or any other prep work to be done. The weight of the actual prepped veggies is needed to determine the amount of salt to use. The salt weight should be 2% of the final weight of the vegetables. Here is my Salsa Verde recipe: 

Fermented Salsa Verde

Makes about 1 quart

1 pound tomatillos [15.8 oz.]
Fermenting Salsa Verde
Fermenting Salsa Verde
2 stalks celery [2.9 oz]
1 green bell pepper [5.15 oz]
2 serrano chilies [0.85 oz]
3 large scallions, with most of the green parts [2.43 oz]
1 large onion, chopped, charred under broiler [2.26 oz]
2 - 4 cloves garlic, charred under broiler [0.60 oz]
1 bunch cilantro [2.22 oz]
1 bunch parsley [1.87 oz]
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
3 allspice berries, whole
1 bay leaf
¼ cup whey*
Total weight of vegetables = 34.13 oz 
2% weight of coarse sea salt = .68 oz (about 1½ tablespoons)

1 cabbage leaf, for covering the food

Chop all the vegetables coarsely, finely or use a food processor. I wanted the vegetables easier to keep submerged, so I chopped them medium. If I want to blend it smooth after fermenting, I can do that.  Having some texture makes it easier to tuck them under a cabbage leaf. As the vegetables are prepped, place them into a large bowl. Add in the spices, whey, if using and salt.

Pound the vegetables with a meal pounder/mallet, or any instrument that is heavy enough to smash into the cell walls of the vegetables, exposing these cell walls to the salt. Mix thoroughly. Once pounded, I ended with a near-perfect quart of very juicy Salsa. I used a 1 1/2 quart container, as ferments can and will grow, during fermentation. At this point I covered the vegetables carefully with a cabbage leaf and topped with some stones, pressing down to ensure the vegetables are completely submerged. I used a jar with a wire bail and clamp, but most any jar, if large enough and without a metal lid, can work. If using a screw top lid, it will need to be left somewhat loose so gases can escape, or be sure to quickly loosen and shot each day for the same reason. 

There are also different schools of thought on how long to ferment at room temperature. Most recipes for salsas call for 2 or 3 days, max. Sandor Ellix Katz, in The Art of Fermentation, suggests up to a month before refrigerating, as flavors continue to develop. In this, it is truly up to taste. Taste the mixture after 2 days, after 5 days or however many you choose. When you love the flavor, refrigerate. Keep lids a little loose, even in the fridge, as fermentation continues.

*The use of whey is controversial. Many people are vegan and will not use an animal product. There are alternatives available, or is you have juice from a previous sauerkraut ferment, this can be substituted. The reason for using whey or any other starter is to get the ferment jump-started. The other school of thought is to allow the vegetables to ferment far more slowly and create far more strains of lactic acids in its fermenting process. The other plus in the slower ferment is deeper, richer final flavors. If omitting the whey (NOT whey powder!), add in additional salt, at least 1/2 times more. This helps to keep the vegetables from gathering bad bacteria or molds before the ferment can start.

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, July 13, 2015

Orange and Jalapeno Marmalade

A while back, when I was having a run with making jams, using oranges, and rhubarb and such, I got the idea to try again with making a jam, this time Orange & Jalapeno Marmalade, and using the temperature to see when it was done. I had never seen anything before where a certain temperature was to be reached, marking the point where a jam actually sets. That temp is supposed to be 220 degrees F.
Cooking the Marmalade to 220 degrees F

Everything was going great, and the marmalade was actually reaching the "sheeting" stage, where it starts coming together to drip off the side of a spoon, culminating in two drips that sort of hang there for a bit before falling. The marmalade reached 220 degrees. I took it off the heat and ladled it into jars, put it in a water bath, and once processed all the jar lids popped - a very satisfying sound. 
All the fruit and peppers in the pot

Unfortunately, it didn't jell!

It is thickened, so it will be no problem to use. It was not made with the idea of spreading it on toast. It will do very well for things like pouring over a block of cream cheese as an appetizer, or pouring onto cooked pork chops or chicken either as a glaze or during the cooking process. I didn't think to wonder until the whole mess was over and done, that maybe, because our altitude here is 1,300 feet, that the temperature may have needed to be just a bit higher to reach that jelling point.

Oh well. I will use it regardless. 

After researching this a bit more, I find that the set point is about 1 degree less (than the 220 F at sea level) per each 500 extra feet altitude. Using this calculation, my marmalade should have been at set point at barely past 217 degrees. This so was not the case! I guess it is best to stick with the old tried and true, and watch for the sheeting!
Orange Jalapeno Marmalade
Orange Jalapeno Marmalade all done and sealed

Anyway, I have made a pepper jam before, which also did not set, and that was made when I lived in Florida, AT sea level. Maybe it is more to do with peppers in the jam? There is certainly nothing wrong with the flavors in either of these. When I made my Rhubarb and Blood Orange Jam, I just got into the mood for marmalade type jams. Having used blood oranges in that jam, this time I used big, juicy navel oranges. The jam is so pretty with its clear color and little colorful confetti-like bits all suspended in it. Nothing at all wrong with the look or the taste. Here is the recipe:

Orange and Jalapeno Marmalade

Orange Jalapeno Marmalade
Orange Jalapeno Marmalade
Makes about 5 cups

3 navel oranges with zest
1 cup chopped jalapeno peppers
1 cup chopped red or orange bell peppers
1½ cups cider vinegar
5 cups sugar
4 green cardamom pods
1 (4-inch) cassia cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

Using a potato peeler, pare the orange zest in approximately 1-inch strips, scraping off any white, bitter pith. Slice the zest very thinly and set aside. Peel the fruit and cut into small cubes; there should be about 2½ cups altogether.

For cooking jams, it is best to use a very wide pot. More surface area means faster evaporation, and a quicker cook time. Into a wide pot place the orange bits, the zest and all the peppers. Add the cider vinegar, bring to a boil and cook the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain out the pepper and orange mixture and measure the vinegar liquid; there should be about 1 cup of liquid, total. If there is still too much, boil it down a bit more to make 1 cup.
Peeling and Slicing Orange Rind

Add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add in the pepper and orange mixture with the spices and bring to a boil. If using a candy thermometer, and you live at sea level, cook the marmalade to about 220 degrees. Test the mixture for "sheeting" (as explained above) as well. If you live over 1,000 feet above sea level, the temperature may never reach 220 degrees, in which case you must rely on the old-fashioned sheeting test. For me, at 1,300 feet altitude, in a very wide stock pot, this took 30 minutes.

Once the mixture is at point, have jam jars scalding in a large pot of simmering water. Add in the rings. Ladle the marmalade into the sterile and drained jars, wiping the edge of the jars with a clean damp cloth. Top with a lid and screw on the rings. Set a rack into the pot of boiling water and if there is insufficient water to cover the jars by 1-inch, add more water and allow to come to a boil. Lower the jars into the boiling water and once the water returns to a full-rolling boil, time the processing as follows:

  • sea level to 1,000 feet: 10 minutes
  • 1,001 to 3,000 feet: 15 minutes
  • 3,001 to 6,000 feet: 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.

Friday, July 10, 2015

More Ferments and Yet More

After my first couple of experiments with fermenting foods, both as a means of preservation and (more importantly) a source of myriad probiotics, I decided to take the plunge and try fermenting some other things. Those first two experiments, namely my Apple Sauerkraut and Piccalilli, made me rethink flavors, as my taste buds were treated to such completely new and different tastes as I was hard-put to describe. It was truly tasting something for the first time; there was no point of reference.
Rhubarb Fig Chutney, Pink Onion Relish, Strawberry Spritzer, Salsa Verde, Hot Pepper Salsa
Rhubarb Fig Chutney, Pink Onion Relish, Strawberry Spritzer, Salsa Verde, Hot Pepper Salsa

I am now heartily on the bandwagon in favor of lacto-fermentation. My first introduction to this type of preservation (one of the most ancient, and safer than home canning) was by way of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz. I am very glad I read his take on things first, as I am heartily in agreement with the idea that we live in a world of hand-sanitizing, so caught up in the war against bacteria, germs and viruses, we have become a culture that succumbs far too easily to any allergy and auto-immune disease, not to mention all other diseases. Our immune systems are meant to be strengthened. Ours have become so lax, they don't quite know how to handle anything that comes along. And all of this strengthening begins in the gut. I read an article in this blog yesterday (click to read much more) that also stated these thoughts, much more coherently:
"What we do know for sure is that our Western fixation on sanitation may have some disadvantages. Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and colitis), asthma, and autoimmune disorders are far more common in ultra-sanitized nations. There is one hypothesis–the “hygiene hypothesis”–that suggests that less childhood exposure to bacteria and parasites in the US and Europe may actually interfere with immune development. Because of antibiotics, antibacterial products, and overall hygiene, we don’t have as much interaction with the bacterial species that may help to keep our guts balanced. Of course, this isn’t the only reason that Western nations display more signs of dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora): medications, artificial foods, diets high in refined sugar and saturated fats, stress, constipation, and deficient dietary fiber are also associated with the condition."

Understand, mine are not claims backed up by personal research, beyond Katz's book and many internet sites, and when searching you are just as apt to find dissenters, or fear-mongers as those who are pro-fermenting. To be fair, most are not against fermenting foods, per-se, but just that they feel everything has to be absolutely sanitized, using only certain types of jars or crocks, due to one thing or other, where Katz has a more laid back attitude. I am in agreement completely with the fact that things should be clean. That is my first rule in the kitchen, when cooking anything at all. Cleanliness is great. Absolutely sterile conditions (according to The Art of Fermentation) can inhibit the ability of the food to ferment properly. 

Left: just packed in jar and Right: after 2 days,bubbling
Hot Pepper Salsa:   Left: Salsa just packed in jar          |                   Right: after 2 days, active bubbling      
I apologize if I get carried away, My new hobby has got me firmly in its grip! Long and short is, I changed two things (well, maybe three) in the last month. I have not been eating almost any bread or desserts (or sugar, beyond a teaspoon of honey once or twice a week) beyond incidentally here and there, and I introduced my sauerkraut and piccalilli into my diet daily. Since then, I have lost seven pounds. I had already been trying to eat more healthily and eliminate sugars as much as possible, due to very high blood glucose numbers. I finally had to break down and go to a doctor to get back on meds. I hate the very idea of being dependent on meds for anything, so this was a huge concession. 

I fully intended, even before heading to the doctor, to make some radical changes in my diet. Knowing what one must do, and actually DOING it are two radically opposing thought processes. Now that I have started, I am more than pleased with the results. But, eating either sauerkraut or picalilli daily, no matter how delicious, gets old. I wanted some new flavors. So, I got busy over the past week and now have fermenting on my counter a Hot Pepper Salsa, a Pink Onion Relish, Salsa Verde and a Serbian Pepper and Eggplant Salsa called "Ajvar". I bought 2pints of jalapenos yesterday at the Farmers' Market and will ferment those also. I was amazed at how very active my Hot Pepper Salsa was after only 2 days! I used  8 different kinds of peppers, from hot to absolutely mild in the mixture. I am calling it Hot Pepper Salsa because it has hot peppers in it, versus the Ajvar, with only sweet red bell peppers. Here is my recipe:

Fermented Hot Pepper Salsa

Makes about 1½ quarts

Prepping the salsa
Prepping the salsa
1 pound Rustico sweet red peppers (3 cups, chopped)
8 ounces Red onion (1½ cups, chopped)
8 ounces Fresno chilies (1½ cups, chopped)
8 ounces Jalapeno chilies (1½ cups, chopped)
8 ounce red bell pepper (1½ cups, chopped)
5 ounces Poblano chili (1 cup, chopped)
3.6 ounces banana peppers (½ cup, chopped)
3.5 ounces Anaheim chili (½ cup, chopped)
4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
0.46 ounce coarse sea salt (about one tablespoon; weigh rather then measure)
¼ cup whey (drained from yogurt)
juice of one juicy lime, about 2 tablespoons
2 dried chipotle chilies, whole
1 cabbage leaf to cover the veg in the jar

Weigh the vegetables once already cleaned, stems and seeds removed where desired. I chopped all the peppers and veg by hand, as I wanted to retain the shape and keep everything uniform. The ingredients may be chopped in a food processor or blend smooth if preferred. If blending smooth, it is far more difficult to ferment without the possibility of mold forming. I plan to blend some of this ferment once it is done. For now, I can keep the veg submerged in its brine far more easily this way.
Combine all the prepared vegetables (except the chipotles and the cabbage leaf) in a bowl and stir in the salt, whey and lime juice. Stir well to distribute the salt and allow the vegetables to begin creating their juices, about 10 or 15 minutes. If opposed to whey (which acts as a starter to get fermentation kick-started), there are vegetable starters available, or you may add more salt, or if you have already fermented sauerkraut, use some of that fermented brine with already active bacteria.

Pack the vegetables and any accumulated juices in two clean quart jars, or one larger jar (I used a 50.75 ounce Fido jar). Allow plenty of headroom (minimum 3-inches!), as this ferment makes a LOT of juice. Insert the whole chipotle peppers into the jar(s). Press down firmly to compact the vegetables and press out more juice. The goal is for the juice to completely cover the vegetables. Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it firmly around the edges of the food to keep it contained and under the brine. Place a weight on top of the cabbage leaf, to help keep the vegetables submerged. They will float upwards after a day or two, but must remain submerged. 

If you have the Fido jar lid with a hole drilled, the grommets and an airlock valve, this is ideal. This ferment is very active, even after only 2 days and will release large amounts of carbon dioxide. IF you have only regular lids, ensure that no metal is exposed to the food or the brine and be sure to loosen the seal daily to allow gases to escape. 

Ferment the salsa for 2 to 10 days, as desired. Taste to determine when is best for you. After your determined time, refrigerate the salsa, but (according to Katz) try not to taste for 3 months at least, and better still, 6 months, for the absolute best flavor.

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.