Romanian Fermented Whole Cabbage Process

I received an email from Scott in Michigan, with photos and a description of the process of fermenting whole heads of cabbage, as he observed it in Romania. See below for photos.

“I was dating a Romanian girl a couple years ago, which was my first introduction to good living. Our trips to the mountains and our visits to relatives of relatives who quite literally lived by their own two hands, and wasted nothing, changed my whole world view.”
“This is a series of pictures her mother sent me of her method for making ‘Romanian sauerkraut’ or Sour Cabbage. It’s made this way so the leaves remain whole for wrapping the Christmas ‘sarmale.’ A traditional Christmas staple of pork and cabbage. Absolutely amazing results. The best fermented cabbage I’ve ever had by far. I ate so much of this the months I spent there.”

“I do not know the exact herbs but they are not exotic, and the odd looking fruit is quince … the others are obviously horseradish and normal corn. They use the spigot to release the liquid created at regular intervals. The core of the cabbages are removed, then packed with salt… It is weighted down with 2 wood slats and a stone, then covered with the lid.”

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Adzuki Bean Spritzer

adzuki bean spritzer002“Rhubarb heaven.”

“Fruit punch, with hints of pomegranate.”

“An exciting alternative to champagne.”

“Very fruity with the perfect sweet/sour balance.”

“Pairs well with chocolate.”

I served this drink to friends tonight, and that’s what they had to say about it. (Then I told them what it was.)

This odd ferment is the liquid reserved from boiling adzuki beans.  I often cook beans to make either miso paste or tempeh.  And I usually drain the beans and discard the liquid. Lately I decided to ferment this liquid (juice, water, not sure what to call it) as it seems to contain lots of flavor and solids from cooking the beans.  I let the liquid cool, then inoculate it with  a couple tablespoons of juice from a batch of kimchee.  I put it in a growler and top it with an airlock.

This batch is 3 months old.  Lots of solids settle to the bottom, and a fair amount of coagulate floats to the surface.  And in between is clear delicious fruity drink.

There is nothing about this beverage that even hints of beans. It is amazingly light, fruity and delicious, which is surprising considering what it’s made of. (Serve with dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.)

Takuan – the transformation of a radish.

sliced takuanTakuan is fermented daikon radish. Packed whole in rice bran and salt and left to transform into one of the most delicate and luscious foods I’ve tasted.  I know that’s a strong statement, but in my experience, radishes are anything but delicate.  Delicious, but often with a strong bite and a bitter aftertaste. I expected a bit more crunch, but what I got was a softer texture, more akin to rare tenderloin beef stake. And then, a lingering sweetness, with just a hint of alcohol on the palette.

The process is all explained in Sandor’s latest book, The Art of Fermentation.

in the sun to dry[A side note: I visited Sandor a year and a half ago, and while in his studio, I noticed a crock on the shelf with Takuan written on it. I inquired, and he opened it up and retrieved a pickle from within.  After that first taste, I knew I’d be making a batch of my own.]

It’s a pretty simple process, and no chopping.

I purchased 80 lbs of whole tops-on radishes from a local food co-op.  I washed them to remove sand, and then put them on boards in the direct sun for about 1 week.  At that time I could bend the largest ones in a circle easily, and with no breaking.

packing the crock

 

 

 

 

I purchased and used pre-made pickling mix from a nearby Asian food market and followed the directions in Sandor’s book.  I drank saké while I packed the crock, and occasionally splashed a shot or two in the mix.one layer of radishes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

filled to the brimI filled the crock then added the dry radish tops. Placed a plate and weight (which was a exceedingly large concrete cinder block).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my amazement, the layers of radish and bran dropped nearly 6 inches under the weight of the block, and filled with brine. (I regret never tasting the brine, as it would likely by delicious.) Over the course of the year, the brine evaporated leaving a dark, somewhat sticky layer on the plate.

 

 

When I lifted the weight and plate, the tops of the radishes were still very much intact.  I had expected a brown layer of sludge at best. But the old radish tops were there, very much looking like radish tops, and with the aroma of fresh humus, mowed alfalfa hay, and alcohol.  They taste pretty good, too.

whole takuan

 

But the radish is really the gem in the crock: Very aromatic, golden nutty color, so wonderful on the palette, and so unlike the radish that I started with.

In addition to the great tasting pickle, in my research I learned that the Journal of Nutrition reports that Takuan has 7 times more vitamin B than fresh raw daikon.

 

 

Here’s the brand of pickling mix I used.

rice bran mix

Tomato Salsa with Garlic, Scallion and Chervil

 

bowl of salsaI had an excess of very ripe tomatoes last week. I diced about 3 pints (chop), and salted lightly, about 2 large pinches (salt), and then allowed it to ferment in a ceramic vessel (pack) for 2 days (wait). (Remember the four steps in a basic lacto-ferment? chop, salt, pack, wait.)

I stirred 2 or 3 times daily so the common mold that easily forms on fermenting tomatoes couldn’t get organized sufficient to colonize the top of the ferment.  After 2 days I drained off the liquid.  (I put the liquid in a bottle with a swing top lid and capped it. Though first I topped the bottle with some extra kimchee juice i had in the fridge. I’ll let this juice ferment in the bottle a couple weeks, then enjoy it as shots, or in a Bloody Mary cocktail.)

Fermenting the salsa longer than this would have reduced the chunkiness of the salsa, moving it more toward sauce, and I wanted chunky salsa.

salsa with chipI crushed a couple cloves of garlic, sliced a few scallions, and chopped a handful of fresh chervil, and stirred these ingredients into the salsa, in addition to some fermented hot sauce for heat. I then let it sit in the fridge a day before I enjoyed it.  It’s bubbly, zingy on the tongue, and very delicious.

Report from the MAD Symposium, NOMA, and more….

I spent last Friday to Tuesday in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I was invited to speak at the third annual MAD symposium, mad being the Danish word for food. The MAD Symposium is organized by NOMA, the renowned Copenhagen restaurant famous for innovative use of foraged (and fermented) foods, and frequently cited as the best restaurant in the world, run by chef René Redzepi. Though I do not typically follow the international restaurant scene, I started paying attention to Redzepi after he tweeted about my book: “THE (nerdy) food book of the year! Are you ready for microbes crawling on your food?”

First order of business after my arrival was dinner at NOMA. No menu (until we left, as a souvenir), just small course after small course, each accompanied by wine, so I have no confidence in my count for the evening of 28 courses! I couldn’t write fast enough to both document them all and eat them, and I have my priorities. Virtually every course was a sensation of flavor and texture. Most were fairly simple, with some extremely clever twist. For instance, “Nordic Coconut,” which was a kohlrabi, with a hole bored in the side, and the center hollowed out and filled with lightly fermented kohlrabi juice, and a “straw” made from a hollow plant stem. (Sorry you have to scroll down for photo)

"Nordic Coconut" at NOMA

“Nordic Coconut” at NOMA.

“Blackcurrant Berry and Roses” was essentially black currant fruit leather formed into hollow balls, filled with fermented cream, garnished with rose petals and elderflowers, and served on a bed of wild greens.

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“Blackcurrant Berry and Roses” at NOMA.

There was fried moss, and flatbread covered with grilled rose petals, pickled and smoked quail eggs, pickled pine leaves, crackers with caramelized milk and thin slices of cod liver, and sourdough crackers with sea urchin and fried duck skin. Perhaps the most gorgeous dish of the night was listed on the menu as simply “Berries and Grilled Vegetables.”

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“Berries and Grilled Vegetables” at NOMA.

Many of the courses included unusual stocks, including rhubarb root stock, fennel juice, or the juice pressed from lobsters. Several dishes were seasoned with ants. Ferments were featured in many of the dishes, including cream, pine needles, pears, cherries, and more. With the exception of the wines, as far as I could tell all the food included in the meal was prepared from locally grown, foraged, or sourced ingredients. Many of the dishes were served (and explained) by the chefs, including Redzepi himself. All in all, it was an extraordinary dining experience, and inspirational in demonstrating how extremely simple ingredients can be fashioned in such amazingly creative ways.

Saturday was an outing for the symposium speakers and organizers, to the island of Bornholm. The destination was a surprise. We piled into a bus, which took us to the airport, we got on a small plane for a half-hour flight, and into another bus, which took us to a restaurant (Kadeau) overlooking a gorgeous beach on the Baltic Sea. The chefs among us collaborated on an improvisational dinner, while the rest of us boated, swam in the sea, drank, and got to know one another. The dinner was incredibly delicious, I met fascinating people from faraway places, all with fermentation stories to tell, and then we were whisked back onto the bus, the plane, another bus, and back to our hotel.

Sunday and Monday were the symposium itself. About 600 people gathering under a big tent. The theme was “guts,” in all the literal and metaphorical meanings of the word. We speakers were implored to “say the things that you’ve never dared say before.” The opening was dramatic. When the doors opened, there was a dead pig hanging from a chain, suspended over the stage. The first speaker, Italian butcher Dario Cecchini, walked onto the stage to loud AC/DC and gutted the pig before speaking about his life as a butcher and the necessity of accepting the odor of death. He left the intestines on the rustic log that was a podium, and when my turn to speak came, there was nowhere to place my notes except directly upon them, as I discussed gut bacteria!

Speakers included climate scientists, farmers, foragers, scientists, artists, filmmakers, authors, and lots of chefs. My friend Michael Twitty, an African-American Jewish gay food historian, addressed the topic of culinary justice. The great Vandana Shiva spoke about seeds, patenting life, GMOs, and challenged chefs to take a stand. Cookbook author Diana Kennedy, who is a dynamo at 90 years old, dismissed sous-vide cooking and challenged chefs to get real about sustainability in their practices. My talk about gut bacteria and fermentation was well received. Many of the talks were great, but the highlights for me all involved meeting people. By coincidence, at the same moment, two Colombians who did not know each other, one living in Denmark, the other a culinary student in Spain, approached me with copies of my book to sign. I talked fermentation with chefs from Poland, Finland, South Africa, New Zealand, and many other locales. The lunches were fantastic. One was prepared by a group from Beirut (Lebanon) farmers market Souk el Tayeb; the other by the amazing New York and San Francisco restaurant Mission Chinese. The symposium was really fun for me.

The day after the symposium, I made a pilgrimage to the NOMA test kitchen, and the loosely affiliated Nordic Food Lab. NOMA test kitchen director Lars Williams showed me their technique of fermenting in vacuum-sealed bags, effective at keeping oxygen out and avoiding surface mold, but inevitably bloating from carbon dioxide and occasionally bursting.

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Apricots fermenting in vacuum-sealed bags in the NOMA test kitchen.

The Nordic Food Lab is in the harbor right next to the restaurant, in a houseboat. Ben Reade (head of R&D there) and his team kept pulling out interesting things for us to taste. Some notable ferments included unripe plums fermented in a brine that tasted like olives, and garum (Roman fish sauce) from pheasant and rabbit. Beyond ferments, they are doing lots of work on edible insects, and figuring out how to make insect-based foods acceptable to western palates. When Diana Kennedy showed up, she started cooking us Mexican-style grasshoppers, lovely and delicate with a light lemon-garlic seasoning, served alongside a fiery chili sauce.

Diana Kennedy cooking grasshoppers while talking with Ben Reade.

Diana Kennedy cooking grasshoppers while talking with Ben Reade.

My favorite moment was when a male chef one-third Diana’s age tried to tell her how to do something, and she gave him a look that cut him down to size and shut him up. Staff lunch at the test kitchen was refreshingly down to earth, centered on roasted celeriac and potatoes.

Since those heady days of chef superstars and food porn, I’ve been settling back down to earth, returning to my grind teaching fermentation workshops, at the Copenhagen House of Food, a rural intentional community called Friland, and tomorrow at a farm and cooking school called Fuglebjerggaard. In Denmark, as everywhere, there is a hunger for practical information on fermentation.

EZ Amazaké

plain rice

Last night I had short grain brown rice for dinner. I purposefully cooked too much so I could make a quick and delicious breakfast this morning. I first read about this process in  Sandor’s latest book, though as I write this, I can’t find the page number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

added misoI added two tablespoons of sweet garbanzo miso paste to the left over rice (just over 1 cup), and stirred thoroughly.  I set the pan on the fridge for added warmth, and left it undisturbed until morning. (Higher heat speeds the process, and the koji enzymes can tolerate temperatures up to 140° F.)

Sweet miso paste has a high proportion of koji. During the night, the enzymes in the koji chopped up the starches in the rice and converted them into sugars.  This morning the rice is noticeably sweet, and ready to eat as a breakfast porridge. (This also works with millet, oatmeal, buckwheat, or any starchy grain.)

 

 

in the morningThis morning the rice has a noticeable texture change, and is lightly sweet and soft. The grains are more mushy than sticky, and there is liquid in the bottom of the pan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

served w peachesI warmed the sweetened rice with some hemp seed milk and added a sliced fresh peach.

 

Aronia berry Kombucha

Fresh fruit is an easily available and delicious ingredient for kombucha during summer months.  The aronia berries are at peak ripeness right now, and tonight I made 2 gallons of kombucha and added 1 gallon of fresh berries.

aronia berries washed

 

Aronia berries are uncommon in the PNW.   The berries are not too sweet when ripe, are astringent, and are reported to be one of the most powerful antioxidant berries in the world. (They are rather similar to salal berries.)

 

 

My usual recipe for kombucha is 4 bags of green or white tea, and 1 cup of sugar for a gallon size vessel.

 

ferment and motherFor this kombucha I use a 5-gallon glass jar, and, as you can see, the mother is bright red (and weighs about 10 lbs.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the batch ready to start fermenting.  I put the berries in first, and sweet tea and place the mother over top, but these berries are floaters.  After a few days they’ll begin to sink, and I’ll scoot them under the mother.

ready to bubble

 

Using fresh fruit in kombucha speeds up the ferment, reducing the time by as much as one-third. (And it colors the mother depending on which fruit you use.)

 

Other fresh fruits that make tasty kombucha include raspberries, tamarind, blueberries, blackberries, rhubarb.

Searching for Koji in Paraguay

I received the following email from William Mathis, a Peace Corps volunteer from the U.S. serving in Paraguy who is also a fermentation enthusiast:

For some time I have wanted to try my hand at fermenting my own miso, but have not for one reason or another. Now, as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Paraguay I have plenty of time to pursue endeavors of fermentation, even the most time consuming like miso. However, despite the many blessings of life in the South American countryside, the availability of Japanese products, knowledge of fermentation practices, and ingredients are not exactly common. I knew that tracking down koji here would not be a simple task, but I still wanted to try.

After a few months living out in the far east of the country, I discovered a small community called Colonia Yguasu, home to Japanese immigrants and their descendants, only a thirty-minute bus ride from where I live. I figured that if there were anywhere to find koji in Paraguay, it would be there.

On my first attempt to find the elusive koji I went to the Japanese grocery store and began asking around. I saw a group of middle-aged Japanese ladies shopping for produce. I approached them and asked if they or anyone they knew made their own miso. The women were slightly baffled and quite a bit amused that a young, obviously foreign young man would be asking them about a practice that only their grandmothers had undertaken. Basically, they told me, they were sure some old ladies in the community still made their own homemade miso, but they were not sure who or how to find them. They directed me instead to a Japanese cultural center nearby for more information. I went and inquired at this Asociación Japonesa, but the staff there had basically the same reaction: surely there are people, old women, who make miso, but we do not know how to find them.

On my next trip to the colony I was having lunch at a Japanese restaurant and asked the owner, who had served a delicious miso soup, if she knew where I might find someone who makes their own miso as I was interested in making it myself. At first she said no, she did not think anyone did, and then she changed her mind. “Yes,” she told me. “There is still one woman here who makes miso. Her name is Señora Seki and she sells it to the grocery store in town.” She wrote down the name for me on a small piece of paper and also gave me the name of the supermarket’s owner to whom I should inquire. After lunch I headed to the grocery store, intending to talk to the manager about this Sra. Seki. But before I did I noticed in the refrigerator in the far back of the store a package with a simple label that read “Homemade Miso” and listed a phone number below. After purchasing it and leaving the store, I immediately called the number and spoke with a woman who said that it was her mother who made the miso and that while she was not currently in town, would be happy to meet me another time. Finally, I had tracked down the source, the last woman in Paraguay to make miso, and my last chance at finding koji.

Later that week I headed back to Colonia Yguasu and called the woman, Miriam, again. She met me in an old Toyota pick up truck and drove us out of town down a long dirt road. I felt like I was meeting a rare, mythical creature, a kind of miso unicorn. Miriam introduced me to her mother and left us to talk. Her name is Hiroko Seki and stands just over five feet tall, with large glasses and was carefully bundled up in numerous layers on this rainy autumn day. A widow, she lives alone about a kilometer down the road from her daughter’s farmhouse. We spoke for a long time about her life and family, getting to know one another a little bit as we sat on a set of miniature chairs on the patio. After a while she looked at me with a curiosity in her eyes and asked, “So you want to learn how to make miso?” She then led me through a long discussion of how to make koji and miso, and then showed me the room where she has about seven 200L barrels of miso in various stages of fermentation. At the end of our meeting she asked if I would like to try her food, an offer I eagerly accepted.

Hiroko Seki with a bag of her homemade koji.

Hiroko Seki with a bag of her homemade koji.

I have adopted her method, which is usually for a 200L batch, for a 20L bucket or crock and want to share it. It is as follows:

5 kilos soy

3.5 kilos salt

3 kilos koji

Wash the soy and leave to soak overnight in water. The next morning cook until it is soft and then grind up into a paste, saving the water used to cook the beans. Mix the koji in the soy water and add 3.3 kilos of the salt. Put this mixture into the crock or bucket. Then cover this with a CLEAN cloth. On top of the cloth she puts a bag, like the kind that onions are sold in, filled with clean stones to weigh down the miso mix. This makes sure the weight is evenly distributed and full across the container, without having to find a plate or top that is the perfect size. Cover this with another cloth. After 3-4 days she removes the top cloth and the stones and adds the remaining .2 kilos of salt on top of the lower cloth, replaces the weight and the upper cloth and then covers the whole thing with some kind of plastic, fastened tightly around the outside with a rope or something to keep it in place and keep any bugs or other cultures out.

This recipe is essentially the same as that found in Wild Fermentation, except for a few slight differences, such as the bag of stones for weight, that I thought were interesting. Plus it is always great to hear the specifics of a technique developed through time and tradition!

Fermented Mushroom Condiment

I received this email from a fermentation experimentalist named Amber, about a mushroom condiment she fermented:

I thought you might find interesting a project I did last summer. I was trying to figure out a substitute for soy sauce. With it being mushroom season and me being
highly influenced by the constant fermentation projects happening at my house, I thought a fermented mushroom sauce could turn out really good with a similar flavor to soy sauce.

 

I harvested big bags full of hawks wing mushrooms. I thought their savory flavor would be adequate. I’m interested what flavors other mushrooms would bring to a sauce. I added fresh ginger, garlic, seaweed, and maybe horseradish. and poured a salt brine over it. I used some extra brine from some pickled beets I had going.

 

It turned out amazing!! Very much the flavor I was hoping for. It would have been closer without the beet juice added, but it definitely couldn’t be considered lessened by it. My brain/stomach is going crazy imaging how the same combination would taste if I was using Lobster mushrooms instead of hawks wings!