Make your own: sauerkraut

kraut-jarred

Fermenting vegetables can feel like a mysterious, risky thing.

Or, it did to me, anyway. And the first time I did it? I hated the results.

It was back in the infamous days of starting my half-baked adventures with the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. I made ginger carrots, since that’s what Sally says is the fermented vegetable most palatable to the newbie.

She was wrong. I let that quart of lacto-fermented carrots sit in my refrigerator for almost a year, hoping I’d wake up one day and like them. I finally dumped the quart when we moved.

Eating fermented veggies was always a struggle for me — I just didn’t have a taste for them. But when I started the GAPS diet, I was required to eat them with every meal — the probiotic value of those ferments is a huge help in digestion and balancing gut flora. I whipped up my first batch of sauerkraut just before starting the intro diet, and had my first taste during the second week.

kraut-quarteredcabbage

I loved it. Something had changed.

I’m not sure if it was that I was starving to death that first week (blinding hunger will certainly change how things taste), or if it was the fact that I cultured my kraut with just salt, not whey — but I’ve continued to love it, and even crave other fermented veggies as well — dilly carrot sticks and beet relish are among my daily binges.

kraut-slicedcabbage

So what’s the difference between veggies fermented with salt and those using whey (the liquid that separates from yogurt, or leftover from making cheese — I get mine from straining homemade yogurt)? I checked with the experts, the guys over at Fermenti Artisan, to get an answer.

In short, using whey provides for a much quicker ferment. It’s also more consistent, and offers a larger yield (you usually don’t have to scrape off browned pieces from the top because the cabbage ferments more quickly, less susceptible to oxidation). For those guys, selling ferments to the public in large quantities, these things are all important. But for me, since I prefer the flavor of a salt-only ferment, I choose to lose a little cabbage and skip the whey (in case you’re wondering, all of the bacteria in a salt-only ferment comes from the cabbage itself — which is why buying organic cabbage is important).

kraut-bowl

As a bonus, this kraut can be started at home by just about anyone, even if you don’t have whey on-hand. All you really need is organic cabbage, salt, a wooden spoon, and a canning jar or two. A teaspoon or two of your favorite herb seed (caraway, dill, fennel, etc.) will add flavor.

And, of course, an ounce or two of patience. Your kraut won’t be ready for a week, and the ideal time to consume it is after several weeks. So starting a jar means you’ll be enjoying it in about a month (I start a new jar when I get halfway down my current stash).

kraut-pound

If you’re interested in learning more, and are local to Indy, there will be a class on Thursday, April 19, at 6pm at City Market. The class will be taught by the guys at Fermenti Artisan with additional info from Kate Payne, author of The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking, who’s coming to town for another visit. If you’d like to learn more and are not local, may I suggest a new book written by my online friend Wardeh Harmon of GNOWFGLINSThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods. It’s hot off the presses!

Or, if a simple brined kraut will do ya, grab a head of cabbage and get those juices flowing — let me know how it goes!

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Recipe: Simple Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 medium (about 2 pounds) head organic* cabbage
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more for brine
  • 1/2 tsp caraway, dill, or fennel seeds
  • sliced onions and/or chopped peeled apple (optional)
  • 1 quart-sized canning jar, plus an additional pint jar if necessary

Instructions

  1. Rinse cabbage and remove any browned outer leaves. Using a large chef’s knife, cut the head into 4 quarters, cutting pole-to-pole (this is a great affordable chef’s knife)
  2. Remove the core by cutting at a diagonal along the stem (see photos above). With each core laying on its side, cut thin strips of cabbage.
  3. Place cabbage in a large bowl, and toss with 2 tsp sea salt. Let sit at room temperature (uncovered ok) for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Using a thick wooden spoon or meat tenderizer (a kraut pounder is on my gift list!), pound the cabbage for about 5 minutes to help release juices.
  5. Layer cabbage with optional onions & apples and seeds in a quart-sized glass canning jar. Really pack the vegetables in the jar.
  6. If more liquid is needed, make additional brine water: dissolve 1 tsp salt in 2 cups room-temperature filtered water. Pour this into the jars until the cabbage is covered.
  7. Place lids on the jars, but loosely. Place on a shelf or counter of your kitchen, and let sit for 7 days (it helps me to mark the date on the lid with a dry-erase marker).
  8. Remove any darkened vegetables from the top layer, and transfer lidded jar to the refrigerator. Kraut will continue to mellow for 3 or 4 weeks, but it’s safe to consume immediately. Will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

* Organic cabbage is important, as conventionally-raised cabbage could be bereft of bacteria needed to encourage fermentation.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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In case you need another way to eat kale

kale-salad-currants

I mean, speaking of trends. Kale has been up there for quite a while — and I’m totally ok with that, since it’s my favorite green. Sturdy, not very bitter, can even be crunchy, and takes well to acid, like balsamic vinegar.

We most often eat it sautéed, and of course there’s the occasional baking sheet of kale chips that I scarf all by my lonesome. But there are many ways to enjoy it raw* as well — in smoothies, juiced, and in salads. Because it’s such a hearty green, it takes well to strong flavors, and works best when softened with a little olive oil or salt. I fell in love last fall with a kale and grapefruit salad, but just last week turned my affection to a new raw salad full of texture and sweet/salty flavors. An excellent January lunch.

One of the best characteristics of this salad is its keeping power — while regular lettuces, once dressed, must be immediately consumed, kale can hold its own a couple of days. I’ve made a double recipe and kept it in a refrigerated glass container for easy lunches. Keep in mind that the kale, once massaged with salt, wilts a good bit — so start with more leaves than you think you need. Feel free to adjust additions to your liking — this recipe is made to customize!
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Recipe: Raw Kale Salad with Currants

: adapted closely from a recipe in Feeding the Whole Family (made dairy free, reduced salt)

Ingredients

  • one (1/2-pound) bunch kale
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds (toasted, or soaked/dehydrated)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/3 cup currants (can sub raisins)
  • 1/2 apple, diced
  • 2-4 Tbsp olive oil, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. Wash kale thoroughly, and remove leaves from tough stems. Chop leaves into thin ribbons.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the kale leaves with salt. Massage the leaves for a few minutes, until kale is wilted, softened a bit, and deep green in color.
  3. Add the seeds, onion, currants and apple. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over top, and toss to combine. Serve immediately, or store in a sealed container for up to two days (possibly longer).

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* Some research shows that eating large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc) contributes to the suppression of thyroid function, especially if you are low in iodine. If you have or are at risk for thyroid disease, you might limit your intake of these vegetables in raw form — you can read more here.

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Kale & Grapefruit Salad

kale-grapefruit-salad

A friend told me about this salad early in the summer: I had a garden-full of beautiful kale, and was looking for new & interesting ways to eat it (my favorite way is to quickly pan-saute and drizzle with good balsamic vinegar). She mentioned that her mother had a raw kale salad with grapefruit at a restaurant, and that it was refreshing and delightful. I was a bit skeptical, as I’d never eaten a bowl full of raw kale leaves.

I lightening-fast found a recipe for exactly what she described (what? I wasn’t the first to know about this newfangled salad? what a shock to my kitchen ego). It was so simple, and while the heartiness of kale leaves might not appeal to the staunchly salad-wary, the grapefruit performs a wonderful balancing act of lending needed acidity and fruity texture.

As a bonus, it’s a salad that is coming into its season. Cooler weather brings citrus, and kale flourishes in the crisp fall air (I am told that I will be cutting kale out of the snow, come December).

This makes a perfect side to something heavy — I served it with a rich breakfast strata, and it was exactly what I craved next to a thick slice of eggs, cheese, cream, and bread. I even ate leftovers, straight from the container, for lunch the next day. Because leftover-lunch-from-the-fridge is how I roll.

The salad is made to eyeball, so that’s how I’m re-writing the original recipe.

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Recipe: Raw Kale & Grapefruit Salad

from this recipe at Elana’s Pantry

Ingredients

  • one bunch of kale (any variety)
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • fresh-squeezed juice of 1 lime
  • good balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 grapefruit, peeled & cut into bite-sized wedges

Instructions

  1. Tear the leaves from the kale, and discard stems. Cut leaves into thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle leaves with olive oil. Using your hands, massage the oil into the leaves to help soften.
  3. Add the juice of half a lime, and drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste.
  4. Add grapefruit to kale & toss.
  5. Let stand for 15 minutes or so before serving to allow kale to soften.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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Carrot-dill salad

Starting in the summer of ’99, I was a server at a restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, called Lula. I’ve mentioned this place before — it was the sister venture of The (famous) Tomato Head, on the square downtown — serving up an eclectic but well-considered menu of a California-Mexican persuasion. It was hoppin’ on a hot Friday night, where a mix of uber-hip and redneck would mingle, sipping blue agave margaritas and learning how to love beet quesadillas.

I learned a lot about serving that summer. We weren’t allowed to write down orders, so I had to come up with various ways of remembering the orders of each person at a 6-top table (the guy next to the hot girl wants to hold the pickled red onions because he’s sitting next to a hot girl). We were also forbidden from setting wine bottles on the table when opening them — and more than once as I watched my beloved wine tool chew up a bad cork while sweat dripped down my forehead and torso, I had to excuse myself to get a fresh bottle from the bar.

I learned much about food as well, and how flavors work together. One of my favorite menu items was the black bean quesadilla — it offered layers of black beans, manchego, goat cheese, and a carrot-dill salad, all melted within a flour tortilla, topped with crema and pickled red onions. The beans and goat cheese together were a heavenly match; but the carrot dill salad was the surprise, the little bit of sparkle, the special sauce. It helps that I can take a handful of fresh dill and gnaw on it like candy; but even without my devotion to the fronds, it would have been perfection in a flatbread.

To this day, when I eat the old frugal standby of black beans and rice, I want nothing more than a generous topping of carrot-dill salad. And since absence makes the heart grow fonder, my obsession will never wane; for fresh dill at the market can be hard to come by — and I’ve had little luck growing my own. This means that we get to eat carrot-dill salad once in a blue moon. If blue moons come every 5-6 months or so.

This recipe is made to eyeball — just taste it and see what it needs. If you pick up a large bunch of dill (my Whole Foods had them this week for $3), keep it unwashed in a ziplock bag with a half-sized paper towel, the bag half-sealed. It should last in the fridge for about a week.

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This is one of the few times I get out the grating attachment on my food processor — so I make a lot of salad to make it worth my while. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the carrots on a box grater (watch your knuckles!) — and the recipe halves well.

Carrot-Dill Salad

  • About 4 cups shredded carrots (6-8 large carrots)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (can sub lime juice)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Toss together the carrots and dill in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, and salt until an emulsion forms. Pour the dressing over the carrots, tossing to coat. Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt if necessary.

Best served the day it’s made, but will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple days.

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Finding marinated cauliflower as liver mousse eludes.

Let’s say money was no object. Let’s say I was wealthy and (perhaps just a little) ostentatious, but in that Richie Rich kind of way where I had oodles of cash but everyone still liked me (foregoing the part where I’m a cartoon character).

If this were the case, I would eat at Recess every week. And I would take friends with me.

There are many reasons for this, including the facts that it’s close to our house and a fixed menu forces you to try things you might not otherwise. But mostly it’s because I trust the chefs at Recess to make good food. You can read a more detailed of our first experience there, here, but in short they are creative without being overly-trendy or inaccessible, they use seasonal ingredients (local when possible), and know how to season food.

But, alas, I am not Richie Rich. And Recess is not cheap. So our visits there will be few and far between, except when good friends of ours have a gift certificate, and decide to share it with us. Then, we’re rich, and full of gratitude.

So we went, a couple weeks ago, on an icy night. Four of us, glad to be out while our children were tucked in bed by babysitters, celebrating a birthday among us, ready to eat whatever the chef was cooking. That night they served pea shoots and pistachios, sweetbreads, Tasmanian trout, and white chocolate with citrus. All courses were pleasing; but the dish that left us practically begging for more was an optional appetizer course of liver mousse.

It’s thanks to Nathan that we ordered it at all. Tim and I are both on the outside of the liver fence, being offended enough by its gaminess that, even after trying multiple times to make my own paté, we just can’t eat it (thankfully my preschooler and toddler love it so it doesn’t go to waste). I don’t know what else to say here. Part of me thinks that I can’t call myself a true lover-of-food if the “food” I refer to doesn’t include liver. There are other things on my don’t-eat list that I stand behind: black licorice, root beer, and cilantro (don’t give me grief on that one, my hatred is shared with one JULIA CHILD). But liver, I should like it. I am, after all, a Big Girl now (which was my sub-conscious whisper of encouragement as the table unanimously agreed to order the mousse).

When the appetizer was delivered to the table, it had been baked in a small, shallow jelly jar, and the surface was covered in a parsley gelée. It was served with little toasts and a small dish of marinated cauliflower and carrots, chopped very finely. Almost nervous from the question mark that loomed, I grabbed a toast, a knife, and cut through the virgin layer of green gelatin to the mousse underneath. The spread was then topped with a dollop of minced cauliflower. I tasted, and waited. Waited for the aroma of livery gaminess to linger unwelcome. But it never happened. It just wasn’t livery. And not only was it not livery, but it was creamy, with a hint of garlic, perfectly dressed with the acid of the marinated cauliflower. When we’d cleaned our plate of the bread and vegetables, Sarah was the bold one, asking for more so all of us could adequately finish the jar of delightful liver mousse.

I couldn’t stand it. I had to know how it was done — so I asked the server to ask the chef. She returned, and told me that after onions, etc. were sautéed in butter, they were puréed with cream and raw chicken livers. Then they were baked in the jars, in a water bath. I came home that night and did a search, and landed on a recipe that exactly described that process (even including the parsley gelée!). This was my moment. This was the time I would make a liver (fill-in-the-blank) and we would eat it. My family would eat it, and we would love it.

I had local, pastured chicken livers in my freezer. I thawed, sautéed, processed, baked. They cooled, I mixed puréed parsley and gelatin, I poured, they set. Then I chopped cauliflower and carrots, and tossed in a vinaigrette. Everything was ready to go, and it looked just exactly like our appetizer at Recess.

And of course you know how this ends, because my title was fraught with foreshadowing. The mousse was livery. Just like every paté I’ve tried to make. Once I gave my verdict, Tim wouldn’t even take a bite. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I can usually shrug off failures in the kitchen — but this one was hard to shake. I think it was less the effort perceived wasted as much as the fact that I still can’t make liver that I find edible. And somehow, deep down, it makes me feel like less of a person.

I know, take it to my therapist.

But. There was this tiny silver lining. The next day, Tim and I were fighting over the leftover marinated cauliflower salad. I’ve got nothing against cauliflower, but it’s not a vegetable we eat with regularity. This is an absolute lovely way to partake. Since the vegetables are blanched, they lose that raw edge — and the vinaigrette, with its tang and mild heat (from red pepper flakes), is held in place by all those nooks and crannies of the cauliflower. It was a delicious salad on its own, but we also used it to top a curry the next night with great results.

And, hey. There’s nothing wrong with discovering a new marinated vegetable salad to add to our repertoire, right? That’s enough for a Friday night, yes?

Who am I kidding. Someone talk me off the ledge here — tell me, how do they make the liver palatable to the game-phobic? Obsessive-compulsive minds want to know.

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Marinated Cauliflower Salad

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets  (3-4 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ slices
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs white wine vinegar
  • handful finely chopped Italian parsley

Bring salted water (1 tsp for every 2 quarts water) to a boil in a large saucepan. Add chopped vegetables (in two batches if necessary) to boiling water, and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove vegetables to a colander (I love a wire skimmer like this one to scoop cooked items from boiling water), and let drain for a few minutes.

In a small skillet or saucepan, add the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic clove. Place over medium-low heat, and cook just until the garlic begins to sizzle. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes.

Pour cooled olive oil into a bowl large enough to hold the vegetables (discard garlic clove). Add the mustard, plus 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork until the dressing comes together (the mustard helps emulsify the dressing). Add the vegetables, and toss well to coat.

Top with parsley, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Can be made a day ahead, and refrigerated overnight in an airtight container. Let come close to room temperature before serving.

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Summer lunch: rice salad with sprouted lentils

One of my favorite throw-together lunches is a rice salad. The method is quite simple: take cooked (cooled or refrigerated/leftover) rice, add a little or a lot of chopped veggies from your crisper drawer (or straight from the pile of garden bounty that somehow continues to grow on your kitchen counter, no matter what you consume), stir in a protein-of-choice (usually meatless, like nuts or cheese), toss it all with a dressing (oil, vinegar, maybe a little mayo?), and season well. I like to make a very large bowl, so there is plenty leftover for the next day (I also like making it during the week rather than weekends, insuring that there are no mouths but my own to eat it).

Rice salads never get old, because they are never exactly duplicated. No measuring, no recipe (though I attempt to give loose proportions below) — just abandoning your inhibitions, having your way with a chef’s knife, adding mayo if you’re feeling creamy, and calling it lunch. This week’s version of it — of course — utilizes more of all these tomatoes, so basil, fresh mozzarella, and quantities of olive oil also made the cut.

The sprouted lentils have been a little protein fetish of mine this summer — sprouting the pulses unlocks more nutrients and makes them easier to digest (i.e., no Beano required). The raw lentils are mildly crunchy and taste very “sprouty,” — which is sometimes desirable; but if not you could lightly steam them, or sautée briefly in garlic and olive oil to take the edge off the green flavor (this, unfortunately, also kills some nutrients — but I still eat them both ways). The fact that they are an incredibly cheap and nutritive protein gives them staying power in my kitchen. You can read how to sprout the lentils below.*

So make a late-morning date with your cutting board, and start cleaning off those counters — there is a limit to how many cucumbers an average kitchen countertop will hold. Do yourself a favor, and make an even bigger quantity than what’s listed below — it’ll keep for several days in the frig — getting you through the rest of the week with an instant lunch at the ready. Which is really nice on those days when lunch could otherwise end up being the crust off two kids’ pb&j sandwiches (other people do that, right?…).

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Rice Salad with Sprouted Lentils, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

  • about 3 cups cooked (cool, or room-temp) rice (or other grain of choice)
  • 1/2 small red onion, or a couple shallots, or a few scallions, finely chopped
  • about 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (seeded if using large slicers)
  • about 1 cup (or more) cubed fresh mozzarella
  • about 1 cup sprouted lentils (raw or cooked)*
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • simple vinaigrette, for dressing
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss together the rice, vegetables, cheese, lentils, and herbs. Dress to taste with a simple vinaigrette (alternatively, dress with oil and vinegar or lemon juice). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with more olive oil. Add more of this or that until the flavor suits your wants. Will keep in frig for several days.

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* How to sprout lentils:

Place 1/2 cup dry lentils in a large canning jar (half-gallon is preferable — if you only have a quart-size, sprout only 1/4 cup lentils). Fill jar with water at least half-full, and let sit overnight.

The next morning, drain and rinse the lentils. Place the well-drained lentils back in the jar, and let the jar rest on its side in a cool place (if you don’t have a mesh screen lid, then place a paper towel over the opening and secure with a rubber band — the sprouting lentils need air). Rinse again that night.

Repeat the rinsing 2x a day (morning and night) until little sprouts appear — I usually let my sprout “tails” grow to about 1/4 – 1/2″ long — this only takes a couple days in the summer. Once ready, you can keep them in a sealed container in your refrigerator.

More useful and detailed instructions about sprouting beans can be found here.

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