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Friday, February 20, 2009

Oregonian Features Lost Arts Kitchen!

Just a quick note and link to Thursday's article in The Oregonian about Lost Arts Kitchen. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of my new business and thank you to Emily Puro for writing such a terrific article!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Art and Science of Lacto-fermentation: An Ancient Process Reborn

Lacto-fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique that both enhances the flavor and nutrition of food. Many foods that we consume everyday have undergone fermentation, including beer, bread, cheese, miso, salami, tempeh, wine, and yogurt. Many more, such as pickles, sauerkraut, ketchup, mayonnaise, sushi, and chutneys, were commonly fermented before the rise of commercial canning. For those interested in preserving food at home, who favor taste over transportability and nutrition over years of shelf stability, lacto-fermentation is a technique well worth exploring. Fermentation enthusiast Sandor Katz, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movement (Chelsea Green, 2006), notes, "It's only in the past century that fermentation disappeared behind factory doors. Reviving those practices is a way of reclaiming control of your food."

Lactobacillus is the name of a family of bacteria naturally found in all living things (including humans) that convert carbohydrates into lactic acid. These bacteria, when present in the digestive tract, create an environment inhospitable to unhealthy organisms, improving digestion and boosting the immune system. Some of us are familiar with L. acidopholus, which is one of several bacteria used to turn milk into yogurt and is sold in a pill form to counter the side effects of antibiotics. L. sanfranciscensis gives sourdough bread its characteristic taste. Guess what L. kimchi does?

The lactic acid produced by lactobacilli during fermentation preserves vegetables. While modern preservation methods such as canning and freezing destroy nutrients, lacto-fermentation enhances food's nutritional value. Indeed, this ancient method creates new nutrients, such as the B vitamins folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for cell membrane and immune system function. Some ferments have been shown to act as antioxidants, removing cancer precursors--free radicals--from the cells of the body.

So, with all those big Latin names and nutritional factoids, there's obviously a lot of science behind lacto-fermentation. The art is in making these fermented foods so delicious we don't eat them out of obligation to our health, but because of the pleasure we experience in the process. Humans have been fermenting foods for millenia because they taste so good, not because they are full of omega-3 fatty acids and riboflavin. Lacto-fermented foods are more complex and tangy than commercially processed foods. If you're accustomed to the flavors conventional sauerkraut, pickles, or even ketchup, you may be pleasantly surprised at how different and delicious these foods can be when preserved with this ancient method.

But What Do I Do with It? Using Up All That Kraut and Beyond

Before deciding to buy, preserve, and store any new food, it is essential to have some ideas about how you'll use it someday. This month, I'll share a few ways I've been using my fermented foods at home to improve everyday meals.

Lacto-fermented foods are good in small quantities on their own, but where they really stand out is as condiments or accompaniments to other foods. The tang and crunch of many lacto-fermented veggies make them a perfect compliment for savory foods, especially anything that's heavy or bland, like sausages or beans. Lacto-fermented condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup are so superior to what you can buy in the store that once you've tried them (and seen how easy they are to make at home), you'll never go back.

You have heard it from me before. I love sauerkraut. I eat it plain, sometimes for a mid-morning snack. I add it to all sorts of soups--lentil soup, pork and bean soup, split pea soup. I always add the kraut just before serving, so that it stays crunchy. I also make borscht with lacto-fermented beets, cabbage, and turnips and a dollop of yogurt (which is another lacto-fermented food) that's the best I have ever had.

Lacto-Fermented Borscht
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1-1/2 quarts beef stock
3 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes
2 cups lacto-fermented beets
2 cups lacto-fermented sauerkraut
1/2 cup lacto-fermented turnips
salt and pepper
fresh dill, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in stock pot over medium heat. Once hot, saute onion and caraway seeds until onions are soft. Add beef stock and potatoes, and turn heat to high until broth begins to boil. Gently boil on medium-high heat for 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked. Turn heat to low, add beets, sauerkraut, and turnips. Cook for a couple minutes, until just warmed through. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Serve with dill and yogurt.

My husband loves tartar sauce, though I have always found commercial versions of it insipid--not unlike most commercial ketchups. While I was making some pan-fried halibut a few weeks ago, I got inspired to make my own.

Tartar Sauce with Lacto-fermented Mayonnaise and Pickles
Doesn't make enough, apparently. This was devoured seconds after dinner started.

½ cup lacto-fermented mayonnaise
2 tablespoons diced lacto-fermented pickles
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers
1 tablespoon raw cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Sweet & Sour Pork with Lacto-Fermented Ketchup
Serves 4-6

Coconut oil, for frying
1 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots sliced 1/4-inch thick, on a bias
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon Chinese mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2/3 cup tamari
1 cup lacto-fermented ketchup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup raw cider vinegar
1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds or peanuts
1 tablespoon sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat about 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute pork loin cubes until cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove pork from skillet, add another tablespoon or so oil, then saute onion over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then add carrots and celery and continue cooking another 3 minutes, covered. Scrap any browned bits off of the bottom of the pan. Add garlic, ginger, mustard powder and red pepper flakes, cook for 1 minute. Return pork to pan. Mix tamari, ketchup, and vinegar in a separate bowl and add to pan, along with pineapple and nuts. Cook for just a couple minutes, remove from heat and add sesame oil. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if needed.

Fermented Chocolate Cake?

What does chocolate cake have to do with fermentation? Did you know that chocolate is a fermented food? Without fermentation, cacao beans yield little or no chocolate flavor.

While that's interesting about chocolate being a fermented food, few of us will ever get the opportunity to ferment cacao at home. What you can do is make a chocolate cake that is moist and rich, yet not cloying or heavy. For Christmas, I received a copy of The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, by Alice Waters. The more I cook at home, the more I appreciate simple recipes that highlight the natural flavors of real food, so I have really been enjoying this new book. When my son asked for a chocolate cake for his birthday, I turned to Simple Food for inspiration and was not disappointed.

I did make a few adjustments to ingredients, based on what I had on hand. She called for unsweetened chocolate, but I had a 74% cacao bittersweet chocolate, so I used that and reduced the kind and amount of sugar, from 2 ½ cups brown sugar to 2 cups of Rapadura. Her recipe called for 2 cups of cake flour, but not only do I not buy cake flour as it is bleached to weaken its proteins, I really don't think such a delicate flour is appropriate for this cake. Instead, I use a combination of unbleached white pastry flour and whole wheat pastry flour (both from Bob's Red Mill). Finally, I didn't have buttermilk, but I almost always have some soured raw milk in my fridge, which I frequently use in place of buttermilk. Sour milk provides the acid necessary to react with baking soda and create the gas bubbles that make baked goods rise. I have only tried this with raw milk, I don't know if pasteurized milk would work.

4 ounces bittersweet (about 75% cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups Rapadura
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup buttermilk or soured raw milk, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour or cocoa, shaking out the excess.

Put the chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (The water should not touch the bowl. Turn off the heat. Stir the chocolate from time to time until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the pan.

Sift together cake flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat (cream) until light and fluffy. Beat eggs into mixture one at a time.

When egg are fully incorporated, stir in the melted chocolate. Add half the dry ingredients to this mixture and combine. Then stir in milk. Stir in the rest of the dry ingredients.

Gradually pour in 1 ¼ cups boiling water, mixing just until incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow cake to cool completely.

Run knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and peel off the parchment paper. If not using the same day, store the fully cooled cake in the pan, tightly covered.


For a sheet pan, prepared a half-sheet pan as above. Pour in batter, smooth the top and bake for about 20 minutes.

Or, bake in two 9-inch cake pans for a two-layer cake.

For 24 individual cupcakes, bake for about 30 minutes.