Sauerkraut

I am a total beginner when it comes to home fermentation, though it is a topic that has intrigued me for a while now. I was pushed to actually give it a go a few weeks ago when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme that gave a fermentation masterclass by Sandor Katz.

sauerkraut.jpg

I now have a 2 litre jar of home-made sauerkraut fermenting away – flavoured with juniper berries, caraway seeds and fenugreek seeds – and I have to tell you that it is delicious right now, and I believe that it will only get better. The trick is to keep on tasting it, every few days, until it is exactly how you like it then put it in the fridge to drastically slow the fermentation. Of course if, like me, you’re a newbie to kraut then you have no idea how you like it, so it’s all an experiment. I’m just going to keep it going as long as I can, I’ll soon figure out how I like it – if it lasts long enough. I’m already finding uses for it: as a condiment, tumbled over soups, tossed through salads and – my favourite so far – scattered over cheese on toast. I’m going to see if I can make use of it as a stock base as well; truly, the only limit seems to be your imagination.

So, what’s it all about, and how do you make it? I’ll let an expert tell you, here is Sandor Katz:

“The fermentation of cabbage into sauerkraut is not the work of a single microorganism. Sauerkraut, like most fermentations, involves a succession of several different organisms, not unlike the life of a forest, in which a series of different trees follow each other as the dominant species, each succeeding type altering conditions to favour the next. The fermentation involves a broad community of bacteria, with a succession of different dominant players, determined by the increasing acidity.

Do not be deterred by the biological complexity of the transformation. That happens on its own once you create the simple conditions for it. Sauerkraut is very easy to make. The sauerkraut method is also referred to as dry-salting, because typically no water is added and the juice under which the vegetables are submerged comes from the vegetables themselves. This is the simplest and most straightforward method, and results in the most concentrated vegetable flavour.”


RECIPE – by Sandor Katz

1 kilogram of vegetables per litre. Any varieties of cabbage alone or in combination, or at least half cabbage and the remainder any combination of radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, greens, peppers, or other vegetables.

Approximately 1 tablespoon salt (start with a little less, add if needed after tasting)
Other seasonings as desired, such as caraway seeds, juniper berries, dill, chilli peppers, ginger, turmeric, dried cranberries, or whatever you can conjure in your imagination.


METHOD – by Sandor Katz

Prepare the vegetables.

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Scrub the root vegetables but do not peel. Chop or grate all vegetables into a bowl. The purpose of this is to expose surface area in order to pull water out of the vegetables, so that they can be submerged under their own juices. The finer the veggies are shredded, the easier it is to get juices out, but fineness or coarseness can vary with excellent results.

Salt and season.

Salt the vegetables lightly and add seasonings as you chop. Sauerkraut does not require heavy salting. Taste after the next step and add more salt or seasonings, if desired. It is always easier to add salt than to remove it. (If you must, cover the veggies with de-chlorinated water, let this sit for 5 minutes, then pour off the excess water.)
Squeeze the salted vegetables with your hands for a few minutes (or pound with a blunt tool). This bruises the vegetables, breaking down cell walls and enabling them to release their juices. Squeeze until you can pick up a handful and when you squeeze, juice releases (as from a wet sponge).

Pack the salted and squeezed vegetables into your jar.

Press the vegetables down with force, using your fingers or a blunt tool, so that air pockets are expelled and juice rises up and over the vegetables. Fill the jar not quite all the way to the top, leaving a little space for expansion. The vegetables have a tendency to float to the top of the brine, so it’s best to keep them pressed down, using one of the cabbage’s outer leaves, folded to fit inside the jar, or a carved chunk of a root vegetable, or a small glass or ceramic insert. Screw the top on the jar; lactic acid bacteria are anaerobic and do not need oxygen (though they can function in the presence of oxygen). However, be aware that fermentation produces carbon dioxide, so pressure will build up in the jar and needs to be released daily, especially the first few days when fermentation will be most vigorous.

Wait.

Be sure to loosen the top to relieve pressure each day for the first few days. The rate of fermentation will be faster in a warm environment, slower in a cool one. Some people prefer their krauts lightly fermented for just a few days; others prefer a stronger, more acidic flavour that develops over weeks or months. Taste after just a few days, then a few days later, and at regular intervals to discover what you prefer. Along with the flavour, the texture changes over time, beginning crunchy and gradually softening. Move to the refrigerator if you wish to stop (or rather slow) the fermentation. In a cool environment, kraut can continue fermenting slowly for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid; eventually it can become soft and mushy.

Enjoy your kraut!

I start eating it when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavour over the course of a few weeks (or months in a large batch). Be sure to try the sauerkraut juice that will be left after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice packs a strong flavour, and is unparalleled as a digestive tonic or hangover cure.

Tips…

Surface growth – The most common problem that people encounter in fermenting vegetables is surface growth of yeasts and/or moulds, facilitated by oxygen. Many books refer to this as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. It’s a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. If you should encounter surface growth, remove as much of it as you can, along with any discoloured or soft kraut from the top layer, and discard. The fermented vegetables beneath will generally look, smell, and taste fine. The surface growth can break up as you remove it, making it impossible to remove all of it. Don’t worry.

Develop a rhythm – Start a new batch before the previous one runs out. Get a few different flavours or styles going at once for variety. Experiment!

Variations – Add a little fresh vegetable juice and dispense with the need to squeeze or pound. Incorporate mung bean sprouts . . .hydrated seaweed . . . shredded or quartered Brussels sprouts… cooked potatoes (mashed, fried, and beyond, but always cooled!) . . . dried or fresh fruit… the possibilities are infinite . . .

Advertisements

Seeded Crispbreads for Cheese

These crispy flatbreads tick all the boxes: they’re easy to make, they’re great fun for making with children, they keep really well (in an airtight container), they’re endlessly variable (experiment with different kinds of seeds: poppy, hemp, mustard, fennel, coriander… anything!) and, most importantly, they’re deliciously moreish. They are suitable for everyone as well, being vegan and gluten-free.

flatbread.jpg


RECIPE – Makes about 30

200g fine polenta

40g milled flaxseed or linseed

40g whole flaxseed or linseed

40g sesame seeds

75g sunflower seeds

75g pumpkin seeds

flaked sea salt

80ml olive oil

450ml just-boiled water


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/ gas 2. You will need 2 large baking sheets and some baking parchment.

Mix the polenta and all the seeds together in a large bowl. Add a generous pinch of sea salt and the olive oil, mix well, then add the just-boiled water and stir with a wooden spoon until it all comes together as a sticky dough.

Divide the mixture in two, on two large sheets of baking parchment (large enough to cover your baking sheets). Place another sheet of baking parchment on top of each half of the mixture, press and roll the dough out between the parchment sheets until it is nice and thin. Remove the top sheet of parchment and place the bottom parchment, with the rolled out dough on it, onto a baking sheet. Score lines into the rolled-out mixture to enable you to easily snap it into even, individual flatbreads once it is cooked. Season lightly with a little more sea salt.

Bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes until it is golden and crisp. Transfer to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before breaking it up into individual pieces.

Satchini Pomme D’Amour

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking. I have been steadily working my way through ‘Sunshine on a Plate’ by 2012 UK Masterchef winner Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com). It is one of those glorious books where you want to cook absolutely every recipe.

This is a simple, refreshing chutney that seems to be a constant presence on Mauritian tables. It works particularly well alongside Shelina’s butter bean curry, making a delicious dish even more delicious!

SatchiniPommeDAmour.jpg

RECIPE – Serves 4 as a side dish

4 ripe tomatoes

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

approx 3 tbsp of finely chopped fresh coriander stalk

1 tbsp vegetable oil

flaky sea salt, to taste

finely shredded coriander leaves


METHOD

This chutney works best when it has a fine texture, so either chop the tomatoes finely by hand, or carefully pulse them in a food processor until they are the size you want (having gone a little too far with the food processor on one occasion, ending up with a smooth tomato paste, I found that this also makes a delicious ketchup!)

Combine the rest of the ingredients with the finely chopped tomatoes, season carefully and serve immediately.

Simple Roti

These simple, unleavened flat breads have no business being as delicious as they are. They are extraordinarily filling as well.

roti.jpg

RECIPE – Makes 10

300g plain flour

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp fine sea salt

150ml water


METHOD

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. You may need to add a little more water, or a little more flour; the dough should be pillowy and slightly (but not excessively) sticky.

Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into ten equal balls, and on a lightly-floured surface press the balls into rounds as thin as you can make them.

Cook them, one at a time, on an extremely hot skillet very lightly brushed with oil, for 1 minute each side.

Keep warm, wrapped in a tea towel, in a very low oven until they are all cooked and you are ready to serve.

Spiralised Sweet Potato Fries

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to eat. The main element generally isn’t a problem; I might like a pie, or some pasta, some fish or whatever, or I might have something in the fridge that needs to be eaten before it goes off. No, the problem that I often have is figuring out what to have alongside the main element, something interesting, different and, most importantly, complementary.

A few nights ago I had the reverse problem, there was a lonely sweet potato sitting there needing to be eaten. Now, there are a lot of things I can do with sweet potato, but if I am going to be feeding more than one person then I need more than one. As usual I hit the books for inspiration and found this idea in a few places, a little tinkering with the various interpretations led me to this: the perfect side dish for fish (particularly tuna steaks) or chicken, and you can also treat them like (crunchy) noodles and serve alongside Asian flavours. It also allowed me the rare use of my spiraliser, one of the few ‘gadgets’ I allow in my kitchen.

A few tips: use the largest size of spiraliser blade that you have, otherwise they can become dry and bitter rather than sweet and crunchy. Use 2 tbsp of cornflour per medium-sized potato because they can be quite moist and the cornflour encourages them to go crispy and, perhaps most importantly, leave them for a good quarter of an hour before you eat them because it takes that long for the crunch to fully develop once they are out of the oven.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can julienne the potatoes to get the same effect.

sweetpotatofries.jpg


RECIPE  

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and spiralised

2 tbsp cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Thickly spiralise the sweet potato, or cut into thin strips. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornflour then add the oil and toss again until everything is coated.

Spread the sweet potato on the parchment, ensuring that as much as possible it sits in a single layer otherwise it will tend to steam and won’t get as crispy.

Bake for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking, and leave to sit for 15 minutes before eating – you can eat them immediately, they just won’t be as crispy as they could be.

Sliced Roasted Potatoes with Tomato, Oregano and Basil

My kitchen smelt like Italy yesterday evening, as this delicious gratin released its sumptuous aromas into the atmosphere. It reminds me: I must renew the seals on my oven.

I originally found this recipe in Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Two Greedy Italians’, made it. loved it, then promptly forgot about it as I got busy cooking other dishes. What an error; this should have been flagged in my notebook as something to enjoy at least once a week.

The flavours are simple, but marry together exceptionally well. The trick here is to use lots of cherry tomatoes, and to ensure that at least half of them have been de-seeded, otherwise it’s just a little too wet. Cooked this way it has a delicious crunchy topping with layers of soft but firm potato and onion waiting for you underneath.

It is perfect alongside seared tuna or salmon, and with a simple salsa it only requires a few good handfuls of rocket to make you smile.

kudfhgu.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 4 

100ml olive oil

700g thinly sliced potatoes

approx 2 tsp dried oregano

flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large handful of roughly-torn basil leaves

400g red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

600g cherry, or baby-plum tomatoes, halved. Half of them de-seeded

1 tbsp dry vermouth

For the salsa:

1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs for garnish

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan /Gas 4. Slice the potatoes; use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise. Otherwise, slice them – very carefully – as thinly as you can. Also prepare the tomatoes and onion.

In a large, oven-proof dish, drizzle 3 tbsp of the olive oil over the base and then place a thin layer of sliced potato. Sprinkle 1/3 of the oregano over the top and season lightly.  Scatter a thin layer of basil leaves, then a single layer of sliced onion followed by a mixture of tomatoes, some de-seeded and some with seeds in. Drizzle with a little more oil, then repeat the layers twice more: potato; oregano; a little seasoning; basil; onion, then tomatoes. Drizzle with a little oil to finish, with the vermouth.

Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and gently loosen the bottom layer of potatoes. Put back into the oven, uncovered, for a further 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the lightly crushed fennel seeds, shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you de-seed and chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Allow the potatoes to rest while you cook your fish, then serve on warmed plates with the salsa and a simple rocket salad.

Indian Spiced Potatoes with a Crispy Fried Egg

Eggs and potatoes, yum. Eggs and curry, yum. Eggs and potatoes and curry, yum yum yum!

I made this for the first time last Sunday for lunch, then again on Monday, and yet again last night (Tuesday) as a side dish with a curry feast. I think it’s fair to say that I love it, that my family loves it, and I bet you will too.

indianegg.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 4

800g floury potatoes (Maris Piper, Roosters etc) peeled and diced into 1cm cubes

6 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp curry powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

25g unsalted butter

6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 long green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tsp nigella seeds

4 large eggs

a small handful of curry leaves


METHOD

First, prepare the potatoes: bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the diced potatoes and simmer gently for 13 mins or until just soft. Drain in a colander and set aside while you prepare the spice base.

Mix the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste. This will prevent the spices from sticking and burning when added to the pan.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan then add the mustard seeds. Cook over a medium heat until they just start to pop then add the garlic, ginger and curry powder/turmeric paste. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly until aromatic, then add the butter.

When the butter has melted, add another tablespoon of oil and the potatoes. Fry for 5 mins, turning often and taking care not to allow the potatoes to disintegrate.

Add the spring onion, chilli and salt top the pan, stir and toss together for a minute or so then scatter the nigella seeds over the top, mix and transfer to warmed plates while you cook the eggs.

Line the base of a large frying pan with baking parchment, as you would if you were lining the base of a cake tin. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the top of the parchment, heat the pan, break the eggs on top and fry for a couple of minutes until thoroughly cooked and the bottom of the eggs are starting to crisp. This is a great way to cook a fried egg under any circumstances.

Place an egg on top of each mound of spiced potato, heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and add the curry leaves. Fry for a minute or two until dark and glossy, drain on kitchen paper and serve on top of the eggs.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

sdt.jpg

The first thing I consider whenever I cook something is: where is the flavour coming from? If it is a risotto the quality of the stock is crucial; if I am making a curry then the spices in the curry paste are the most important elements for flavour, and when making a tomato sauce the quality of the aromatics (not to mention the tomatoes) is key. Get that first consideration wrong, and it won’t matter what else you do, your dish won’t be as delicious as it could possibly be.

I long ago got into the habit of using fish sauce as a way of delivering ‘umami’, and if that isn’t appropriate then an anchovy fillet or two cooked in oil until it all-but dissolves will do the job. If you are making a dish for a vegan though, neither of these methods is appropriate, so I started using commercial sun-dried tomatoes to intensify flavours.

Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from anything commercially processed, so will know what came next: of course, I started to dry my own tomatoes. It is a simple process, and delivers such intensity to any tomato-based sauce that you will never need to add tomato puree to anything ever again. I now use oven-dried tomatoes in all my tomato sauces, using one or two per tin of chopped tomatoes – so if a recipe calls for two tins of chopped tomatoes, I will augment it with two or four chopped dried tomatoes, depending on the intensity that I require.

They are also lovely spread on toasted bruschetta, with a little goat’s cheese as an antipasti.

To make oven-dried tomatoes:

Heat your oven to 140C/ gas 1.

Cut ripe tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, toss the tomato flesh in a little olive oil (I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large freezer bag, add a kilo of seeded tomatoes and work the tomatoes around the bag so they are fully coated) then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a rack, set over a baking tray.

Just pop them in the oven and leave them for 2 to 3 hours, until they are reduced in size by about a third. At this point they will still be quite plump, you can go even further and leave them in the oven for up to eight hours so they are fully dried out and leathery. Cooked this way they can be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge.

Pack a kilner jar (or similar) with the dried tomatoes, cover completely with olive oil and store them in the fridge. I have had a jar of plump-dried tomatoes in my fridge for months and they are still perfect, so I have no idea how long they will actually last – long enough, that’s for sure.

If you completely dry your tomatoes then in most cases they can be stored dry, but will need to be re-hydrated in water overnight before use.

The Most Incredible Sweet Potato Mash EVER!

I can be a bit of a snob in the kitchen; for example, in my house the microwave gets used to reheat leftover curry and that’s about it. The concept of actually cooking with it is entirely alien to me. So, when I spotted this recipe for microwaved sweet potato mash in the current issue of BBC Good Food magazine I was dubious that I would get the results that I wanted.

What swayed me toward making the mash in the microwave, rather than roasting the sweet potatoes then scooping out and mashing the flesh as I normally would, was the tantalising prospect of what the limes in the recipe would do when they were microwaved with the sweet potato.

What happened next was very exciting indeed: this is without doubt THE most perfect sweet potato mash I have ever tasted. The magic is what happens when the limes release their juice into the sweet potato, and sesame oil turns out to be the perfect seasoning for sweet potato.

It is one of those side dishes that not only tastes wonderful but is low-calorie while being filling – so it is perfect for those following the 5:2 diet, or any diet at all – it is completely dairy-free yet deliciously creamy so it is perfect for vegans. It will work alongside a whole host of dishes, for all tastes and from many cuisines. This has gone straight to the top of the ‘must make again, and soon’ list, I shall be experimenting like crazy…

mash.jpg


RECIPE – serves 2 as a side dish

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced

a pinch of sea salt


METHOD

Scrub the sweet potatoes clean and cut away any rough bits, otherwise leave the skin on. Cut each potato into eight wedges, and the lime also into eight wedges. Put the sweet potato and lime wedges into a large glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Microwave on high power for three minutes. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then microwave for three more minutes. Repeat this process until the sweet potato is completely soft; it took me a total of 11 minutes of cooking – I judged that the last blast in the microwave should only be two minutes.

Remove from the microwave and take out the lime wedges. You should see a puddle of hot lime juice in the bottom of the bowl, leave that there and roughly mash the sweet potatoes with the lime juice, using a fork. Add the chilli and sesame oil with a small pinch of salt, then mash until fairly smooth. Check the seasoning and serve.

Rainbow Bhajis

Oh my goodness.

I love onion bhajis, especially home-made, so when I spotted these variations in an old BBC Good Food magazine I just had to try them. I say again: Oh my goodness.

Subtly spiced, gorgeously colourful, easy to make and great as a starter or party snack, these little beauties have become a must-make alongside any and every curry I ever make.

bhaji.jpg


RECIPE – feeds 6 as a starter/side dish

For the batter:

4 tbsp curry powder

250g gram flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp hot chilli powder

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the bhajis:

140g carrot, grated

2 tsp nigella seeds

100g parsnip, grated

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

small pack coriander, stalks only, finely chopped (use the leaves to garnish)

140g beetroot, grated

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1l sunflower oil, for frying

lemon wedges, to serve

lime wedges, to serve


METHOD

First make the batter, stir the curry powder into a little cold water to make a paste, then top up to a total of 250ml of cold water. Mix the flour, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, then pour in the curry water and gradually stir together to a smooth batter. Stir in the onions, then divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Leave the batter to relax for 30 minutes or so.

Stir the carrot and nigella seeds into one batch of batter, the parsnip, coconut and chopped coriander stalks into another, and the beetroot and ginger into the third.

Heat the oil in a fryer, a deep pan or a non-stick wok to 180C, or until a piece of bread browns in 20 secs. Starting with the parsnip and ending with the beetroot, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning occasionally until evenly browned and crispy. This will take about 4 mins. Lift out onto kitchen paper with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Serve the hot bhajis scattered with coriander leaves alongside lemon and lime wedges for squeezing over.