2012 is the year I learn about fermented and cultured food. This is a completely new way of preparing and preserving food to me - obviousy ancient in its origins. Way before preservatives and additives invaded our food chain, foods were naturally fermented for preservation. Such foods as yogurt, kefir, sourdough, kombucha, buttermilk, sauerkraut, kimchee, tempeh, natto, miso and koji have been eaten in traditional diets for centuries. So why haven't we been making and eating them in the average Aussie diet? Possibly because we live in the land of plenty and we can buy any food we want (rather than needing to preserve it when it's in season), or because it's a little time consuming to care for and grow your culture, or because we just don't know how to make them or what to do with them, or because they can be a bit stinky when fermenting. Whatever the reason, its imperative we get back to fermenting our foods because our health needs them! Cultured foods are pre-digested and full of natural enzymes for aiding in the breakdown and absorption of the nutrients. This means less bloating, indigestion and reflux! They also provide natural yeasts and bacteria for feeding and fostering our own healthy bacteria - probiotics - which are essential for normal digestive health, reducing allergies, and regulating the immune system. Natural probiotics in my wholefood, yes please!
The first culture I started playing around with was water kefir (ke-fear). Being dairy intolerant, the milk version of kefir wasn't for me, but when I found out that kefir grains can be used to ferment water and make a fabulous bubbly drink i was hooked. There are various places online to buy or swap kefir grains, and once you have yours then they just keep growing and multiplying if you look after them well. I have included for you the recipe I use and love. I use the molassess and egg shell for extra minerals, and the ground ginger because I am crazy about ginger beer and this gives a flavour I love! Really the only essential ingredients to make it work are kefir grains, filtered water and sugar - the others are for flavour and nutrition and up to your imagination.
8 Cups Filtered Water
1/2 cup (or more) Kefir Grains
1 Cup Raw Organic Sugar
1 tsp Organic Molasses
1/4 tsp Bicarb Soda
1/2 Egg Shell (cleaned and crushed)
2 Slices of Lemon
1 tsp Ground Ginger
Small handful of fresh berries, pomegranate, raisins, dates
Combine all ingredients together in a large glass jar and set aside on bench to ferment/work its magic for at least 2 days but as long as you like to develop the flavour and lose the sweetness of the sugar.You can tell it's ready because it bubbles and fizzes like soft drink when you take the lid off. Strain all the 'bits' from the water and scoop out the kefir grains. Start the whole process over again with washed kefir (in filtered water). The kefir grains will swell and multiply and soon you will have enough to give to neighbours, friends and family.
DO use only filtered water - the grains are a live culture and are killed by chlorine
DO Keep the kefir in the fridge after straining
DO put the whole jar in the fridge if you want to slow the process down (eg. you're going away for the weekend)
DO share your multiplying kefir grains with anyone who will have them - it's so satisfying!
DON"T leave out on the bench indefinitely - it will become very alcoholic!
What to do with your water kefir? Drink it is the obvious choice. You could also use it in stocks to extract minerals from meat bones, ferment other vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts with it, start your sourdough with it..The options are endless, and from now on you will see it appearing in my recipes frequently.
I have learnt that culturing foods is kind of like owning a pet, you need to remember to feed them and care for their environment - but the rewards are bountiful both for health and flavour. Let me know if you have a favourite way to use water kefir, I'd love to try it! Expect more cultured food recipes to come.