There's something magical about fermented foods like the ones listed below. It's not just that they're full of probiotics that aid digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, or that fermenting foods actually increases their nutrient levels, although that does rule. It's not that it improves their taste, although that's pretty important too. There's just something beautiful about working with the food you eat rather than just consuming it. Feeding bacteria so that they can proliferate forms a symbiotic relationship between you and your food. It's not domestication but more like an inter-species cooperation and damn it's spiritual! Here are three easy ferments to get your probiotics going and your kitchen looking more like a science fair.
We all love a grilled cheese, but it takes a certain kind of person to really find heaven in (and passionately seek out) what is basically a sour glass of milk. The world of cultured dairy is practically endless, with many varieties of yogurt and cheese, sour cream, kefir, or piima. But it can be a world of confusion and frustration when a skunked batch sets you back a week as you wait for another mail-ordered starter to arrive, if you even bother to try again. Maybe you're not ready to lay down the cash for a yogurt maker, and keeping the stovetop at 72° for 12 hours isn't always an option either. Fret not, a variety of cultured dairy products can easily be made at room temperature. Kefir and villi yogurt are two great examples, but both require specially ordered starter cultures, while creme fraiche only needs buttermilk and cream. Plus, if you are buying creme fraiche at the store, chances are you're getting ripped off.
1 pint heavy cream (raw, if you can find it. Pasteurized will work, but not ultra-pasteurized)
2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
Bring cream to room temperature. Add buttermilk. Pour into a glass jar and stir, put the lid on and leave at room temperature overnight (or longer if you're apartment is cold). It won't look like creme fraiche until it's chilled, so place it in the refrigerator and wait a day before enjoying. Creme fraiche can be used anywhere you might use sour cream, but unlike sour cream it won't curdle when cooked and it can be whipped with a little raw honey for an enzyme-rich desert topping (perfect with fruit, kind of gross on a latte).
Keeping the kraut submerged. Photo: Kevin Bruce
Culturing local veggies is a great way to preserve them while they are in season. Sure, you can buy organic bananas in Brooklyn year round, but does that really make sense? Traditional culturing also adds beneficial enzymes and increases nutrient content. Did you know traditionally fermented saurkraut has 10 times the vitamin C as cabbage? The fun thing about saurkraut is that you can pretty much add whatever the fuck you want and it will still taste awesome. The backbone, of course, is the cabbage, so we'll start with something basic.
1 head of cabbage
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoons whey (or an additional teaspoon sea salt)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (unless your girlfriend doesn't like caraway seeds and refuses to eat any kraut with caraway in it)
Quarter the cabbage and cut into thin strips (you've seen saurkraut before, right? at the ballpark?) and place in a large mixing bowl with sea salt, whey and caraway seeds. Pound with your trusty meat hammer for about ten minutes to release juices. I don't actually own a meat hammer so I usually have at it with a wooden spoon. Anything will do, really. Stuff everything into a wide-mouth, quart-sized mason jar and press down until juices rise above the cabbage. The salty brine is what preserves the cabbage, so you want it all to be submerged to keep from molding. I usually use a spice container to press it down. Put the lid on and leave at room temperature for three days. You can start eating it now, but keep it in the refrigerator and the taste improves with age. Try adding any of the following: Carrot, onion, ginger, hot peppers, garlic, apple, anything! I think that Rick's Picks guy at Union Square Greenmarket hates me for always looking at his ingredients, but then just copping his recipes at home.
Kombucha hater Bridgett Battle snacks on a mother. Photo: Lacey Voss
That deliciously detoxifying fizzy hippie-soda. We've all seen the Kombucha Starter Kits at Whole Foods and thought maybe it'd be fun to brew, but “I don't really wanna carry that home.” Luckily, you can grow your own kombucha mother at home for cheaper (and lighter) than that big-assed box.
1 bottle of kombucha
1 cup organic, room temperature black tea, sweetened with 1 tablespoon sugar
Pour all ingredients into the jar and cover with a kitchen towel. Stick in a cupboard or somewhere dark and undisturbed for 7-10 days. You should have a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) about 1/4″ thick at the top of the liquid, which has fermented and become delicious kombucha.
Save one cup of the kombucha with the SCOBY and add more sweetened black tea. Place back in the cupboard for a week. Your kombucha mother will have birthed a li'l kombucha baby. Remove the mother and give to a friend, compost it or just throw it away and feel kinda weird about it and maybe call your mom just to catch up.
Save another cup of kombucha with the baby SCOBY, add black tea, cover and place back in the cupboard. Repeat indefinitely. If your kombucha should begin to taste off, pour in a bottle of store-bought kombucha or consult this weird website to learn how to breed a master race of bacteria.