Fun with fermentation.
If you follow me on Instagram, perhaps you’ve noticed my fermentation experimentation in the past year.
I became interested in fermentation after being diagnosed with food allergies. I’ve read in several places that fermentation helps digestion, and people with food allergies can even sometimes digest their allergens if they are fermented. I think this is because fermentation sort of pre-digests the food for you (gross, but whatever! fermented foods are delicious). Michael Pollan even wrote a book about fermented foods and other old-school cooking techniques.
After making a few fermented foods, I realized I am in love with fermentation because of the time commitment it takes to making things: zero! To ferment, you put a bunch of stuff in a vessel and walk away from it for a few days. That is my kind of cooking.
Here are some of the things that I’ve been fermenting, along with links to tutorials and recipes that I’ve followed.
It all started with kombucha (fermented tea). I bought a kombucha once or twice a week. I was addicted. I enjoy the flavor, texture, and the probiotics of kombucha, but sometime last summer my cheapness gene kicked in sometime last summer. I decided to quit spending wads of cash on kombucha, but instead, try creating my own brew at home. I did some research and found that it is easy to make kombucha at home by starting with a bottled version. I followed this tutorial I found on The Kitchn and started my first batch of ‘booch.
First, I grew my mother SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast — delicious, I know) by following the directions in that tutorial.
Once my baby mama SCOBY was big enough, I began my first batch of kombucha. I tried a mixture of half black tea and half Passion tea. I heard that herbals are hard to ferment, so I have always added black or green to the mix. This mix quickly became my favorite flavor.
Once I added the tea to my SCOBY. I put a hat on it, and let it sit for a week.
Eventually, after a few batches, I decided that I wanted to try continuous brewing instead of brewing one batch at a time. My future mother-in-law got me a large glass jar for my birthday for exactly this purpose. So, I began brewing my kombucha in this container. Typically I created the Passion blend, but I also did some peach black tea and tried one batch with a second fermentation of cherries and pomegranate. This turned out to be the most successful batch. It was so fermented that it blew the top off the growler (shown in above photo) when I opened it after the second fermentation. Good stuff!
I’ve bottled several batches of my continuous brew, but none were as delightful as some of the brews I buy. Because of this, I’ve recently put my continuous brew ‘booch on hold to be picked up later when I have more time to devote to creating kombucha recipes.
Once I had a grasp on kombucha brewing, I decided to try making my own yogurt. Yogurt is another spendy grocery store item — especially when I spend the money on goat milk yogurt, which is the least harsh for my system. I found another tutorial on The Kitchn, this time for yogurt. I gave it a go with some goat products, but ultimately, the result was too runny for my liking. I tried running my yogurt through a cheesecloth to make it thicker, but instead of yummy greek-style yogurt, I ended up with a sticky mess all over my kitchen. I will try making yogurt at home again when I have more kitchen space and more time.
Around the same time I was working on yogurt, I decided to try making sourdough bread. Once again, I turned to The Kitchn for some sourdough making instructions. I knew from reading Pollan’s book that real sourdough bread is created from a starter, which is essentially fermented flour and water. You have to catch wild yeast from your environment. Since I had kombucha brewing in the kitchen, I thought it would be easy to start sourdough. I was right. My starter was super active after about 2 days of sitting next to the kombucha.
I did not use The Kitchn’s sourdough bread recipe. Instead, I took my starter and used the King Arthur Flour recipe I had found, except doubling the starter they called for. Both resources I mention say that sourdough bread making isn’t an exact science because it depends on how active your starter is and also on the humidity of your environment. I baked four loaves of bread from my starter, and each loaf was a little different. I found doubling the starter in the King Arthur recipe works the best.
I seriously cannot believe how bubbly and soft the inside of this bread was. The outside was hard and crusty. I am still impressed that I baked this bread from wild yeast I caught in my kitchen (this evidence supports a deep clean of my apartment).
You can continue feeding and maintaining your starter, but I do not eat that much bread on my own (neither does my roommate), so I will pick up sourdough bread-making again once I move in with Mark.
Most recently I fermented my first batch of sauerkraut. I love sauerkraut, and I spend gobs of cash on the good stuff at the co-op. I also have a hard time finding things to do with red cabbage, which I buy with some frequency for tacos, salads, and thai food. Red cabbage is cheap so I buy a whole head when I need it, but can never eat it before it goes bad.
Last week I decided to give sauerkraut fermentation a try. My old roommate made kimchi on a regular basis, so I had a pretty good idea of how to create sauerkraut — it’s a pretty similar process. I found this recipe for red cabbage sauerkraut, but omitted the caraway seeds and juniper berries to keep it simple. I added half a jar of (active fermented) sauerkraut to help start mine (something I learned from my old roommate). I used my kombucha vessel to ferment the kraut, and I used a ziplock bag filled with water for the weight to keep the cabbage submerged.
After a week, I ended up with this beautiful sauerkraut. It tastes like the good stuff I buy at the store, and it cost me about $3 to make 3 giant jars of it. I’m never buying kraut at the store again!
I can’t wait to make ruebens and brats with my homemade kraut!
Have you ever tried (making or eating) fermented food?