Meant to Ferment

“I think I’m an addict,” Angie said out of the blue one afternoon. She was sitting on the couch thumbing through the copy of Nourishing Traditions that I checked out of the library, and just as I looked up from my computer screen, she shoveled a big bite of leftover cranberry-pineapple relish into her mouth.

I just shook my head.

If she were anyone else, I might worry. But, I knew exactly what she was talking about. And frankly, I believe she’s right. Over the past few months, she has become a fermented food addict. Right now, as I’m working on this post, she’s in the kitchen fermenting onions. See…

And for lunch today – she had a grilled hummus on sourdough, topped with sauerkraut! I wasn’t here but I will almost bet you she washed it down with a ginger-lemon water kefir.

If you had asked us last year to try lacto-fermented foods, you would have gotten two wrinkled noses and at least one “yuck”. The word lacto-fermented just sounds nasty. I can’t help it but I picture moldy milk every time I hear it. And I also think back to my childhood when my pediatrician convinced my mom that I was allergic to cultured dairy, or more specifically the lactobacillus bacteria in it. Why? Because I would get sick to my stomach every time I ate yogurt, cottage cheese (which is not actually cultured, by the way), buttermilk dressing, and as I got older, milk.

A few years ago, we started eating non-dairy yogurt and amazingly, nothing happened. Non-dairy yogurt contains lactobacillus. It was then that I realized I’d been duped. My best guess is that I was probably just lactose intolerant that whole time, not afflicted with an allergy that not even Google has heard of.

But onward and upward, as my mom likes to say…

Which brings me to the present, where we have a refrigerator and a cabinet full of Angie’s science experiments. Since she bought this fermenting kit (this is an affiliate link) on Amazon, she has made sauerkraut, fermented cranberry-pineapple relish, and a quart of apple cider vinegar. And now onions! But, as they say on late night infomercials, that’s not all, folks! We’re on our 5th or 6th batch of water kefir.

Our first batch of water kefir

I had never in my life heard of water kefir until we were watching YouTube one day. (And if we are being really honest here, I think Angie is also addicted to YouTube.) But nevertheless, she wanted to try it so we ordered the grains (also an affiliate link). I was certain after mixing up 1/4 cup of brown sugar in a quart of water for these clear cottage cheese looking grains to live in that we had wasted $12. I’d love to tell you that my first sip of the finished product 3 days later changed my mind, but it didn’t. It wasn’t until we stumbled upon a recipe for water kefir lemonade that I started to like the flavor. (That recipe is simple – add 5 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to 1 quart of finished kefir water).

If you’re like me and know nothing about water kefir, here’s a short explanation. Water kefir is a naturally fizzy fermented drink that contains lots of good probiotics. It’s not sweet, even though there’s sugar in it, because basically in the fermentation process, the kefir grains eat the sugar. Kefir, unfortunately, has to be made with these special grains but you only need to buy them once. They multiply like Gremlins when you get them wet!

I won’t say that I’m addicted to fermented foods like Angie, but I do enjoy our sourdough creations and homemade yogurts and I’ve have moved past “yuck” to “hmm…that wasn’t so bad” on some of the other items (like sauerkraut). If nothing else, I’m sure my gut thanks me. Fermented foods are full of beneficial probiotics that our microbiome needs to keep us healthy.

One of our sourdough creations – No-Cheese Cheese Nips – made with nutritional yeast. Look for the recipe below.

Do you ferment foods? If so, what’s your favorite?

Want the recipe for Angie’s “No-Cheese” Cheese Nips? Click here.¬†

A STARter is Born

When I was a kid, one of my favorite sandwiches was the crispy chicken on sourdough from Cracker Barrel. I always thought it was the mayo that gave the sandwich it’s tangy taste. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned it was the bread¬† itself.

I love sourdough and after getting Angie to try it at the Fall Festival, she fell in love with it too. But sourdough at the produce stand (or Farmer’s Market) is a bit too pricey for our new budget (at $6 for a small loaf) so we decided we’d try to make our own.

A couple of Youtube how-to videos later, we mixed 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup of filtered room temperature water in a quart jar and sat it on the counter with the lid slightly loosened. The next day – not much was going on inside the jar. No bubbles, no liquid, no growth of any kind. We thought maybe we were failing from the start but as it turns out, not much happens to sourdough babies in their first 24 hours of life.

Just like a real baby, sourdough starters have to be fed regularly. For the first few days, we had to feed it every 12 hours. In the mornings, Angie would discard half of the starter (into our compost) and feed it 1 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of water. I had the evening shift, which was the exact same process.

By the third day, we started to see life. There were bubbles in our starter and it was growing! Then one day, this happened:

We thought this was a disaster too, but again, it’s all part of the process. Sometimes good starters go wild and try to escape.

It was around this time that our starter got a name too. Angie had hurriedly written on the chalkboard the night before – don’t forget to feed sour doug. And so, the bubbly goo that was starting to smell distinctly sourdough-ish became known Doug from that point on.

It took 8 full days for Doug to reach perfection, at which point, we fed him and put him in the fridge. My aunt had just arrived from North Carolina and we had no time to try making anything sourdough related until late last week. When we took Doug out, he still smelled great and was ready to be fed again. This time though, we saved the discarded starter and used it to make a Rustic Sourdough Bread (actually 2 of them).

We used our cast iron Dutch oven for one of the breads and a regular loaf pan for the other. Both turned out phenomenal!

Doug is back in the fridge now and he’s on a once-a-week feeding schedule. If all goes well, Doug will be with us for a long, long time, since each time we use him, he grows back. (By the way, The Zero Waste Chef has had her starter, Eleanor, for 5 years now).

If you’re interested in making your own sourdough starter, I encourage you to check out King Arthur’s Flour for their starter instructions and this video from Andrea at VW Family Farm, which shows how to make the same bread we made.