Fermentation in the Summertime? Yes, It Can Happen!

Refreshing homemade yogurt

Refreshing homemade yogurt–Enjoyed all year long!

Culturing and fermenting foods is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the culinary world.  Who wouldn’t love the gut-benefiting and immune-boosting enhancements that these methods bring to our nutrition, all the while delivering on much more interesting and complex flavors, techniques that break down food macronutrients into easier-to-assimalate components?  Enhanced flavor, better nutrient use, helps to keep a body well–sign me up!

Wild (as in CRAZY) Fermentation in the Summer Months

But all is not rosy when the seasons change and temperatures rise, at least as pertains to cultured and fermented foods. Beneficial bacteria and yeasts–the foundation of these changes–like to work in a certain temperature range, and when the house starts heating up with the warmer days of summer, these temperatures can be too hot, too fast.

Freshly made water kefir to add to the salsa

Freshly made water kefir–a perfect culture starter, or a delightful probiotic beverage on its own–but it doesn’t like to get too hot!

 

Water kefir that has been a delicious and nutritious homemade probiotic beverage during the winter and spring, starts taking on strange and pungent aromas and flavors as the days grow warmer and longer.  Fermenting vegetables are pushed up and out of their containers within a couple of days of preparing them, with the increasing heat generating a lot of carbon dioxide in a very short window of time.  Milk kefir, usually a mellow ferment on the kitchen counter, quickly separates into curds and whey, leaving a marked separation between the cultured milk solids and the increasingly acetone-scented liquid.

Whey and curds in yogurt

Notice the whey in the middle of the curds in this yogurt that cultured at too high of a temperature

Definitely not too appetizing.

Keeping Ferments and Cultures Calm, Cool and Collected!

If any of the above describe what happens to you in the summer months as you attempt to maintain your fermentation practices, you might consider being a little more mindful of the temperature ranges you’re fermenting in.  Ferments and cultures that do best in the 60-75 degree Fahrenheit range (about 15.5-23.8 degrees Celsius) really won’t do well if your home gets warmer than this.  My workaround for this, living in the Mojave Desert of the American Southwest, is to prepare my ferments, and then keep them cooler than my kitchen at its warmest points.

Happy Water Kefir, Milk Kefir and Mesophilic Yogurt Culturing

Plan to prepare each of these as you normally would, only do so at night.  Then, whether the cooling system is on so you can sleep at a more comfortable temperature, or, because the outdoor night air has cooled to a temperature comfortable to sleep in,  leave these ferments on the kitchen counter, or outside on a table (whichever appears to be coolest.)  The home (and hopefully the outdoors!) will eventually be in the mid-to-high 70’s, and, with the cool ingredients (milk or water) going into mix, the final temperature will stay in the cooler temperature range through the night as the ingredients slowly warm to the ambient temperature. There have certainly been some flat-out hot nights here in the desert, where the temperature doesn’t dip below 90, so, in those instances, I definitely leave the ferments indoors.

The next morning, as temperatures begin to warm in earnest, move the ferment to the warmest part of your refrigerator. This allows the fermentation to continue, but at a much slower pace.  Generally, this allows for the cycle to complete for the day.  Every person’s refrigerator is different, so if you find yours seems to stop the fermentation cold (pun intended), then you might consider making a cooling box, of an ice chest stocked with a couple zipper bags of ice.

This is an art, with scientific components at its root, so you’ll have to find the method that best works for you.  You just want to find that happy spot that keeps things cool, but not too cool.  We keep our refrigerator on the medium setting, so, putting my ferments away from the cooling element seems to work fine for us.

Fermenting Summer’s Bounty as a Salsa or Sauerkraut–to be Enjoyed In the Summer!

I really get to missing fermented veggies over the summer, and the best way to get around this (short of purchasing some from the grocery) is to learn to work with the heat of summer.  Plan to prepare your veggies for fermentation as usual, but handling from that point forward requires a little more care than simply placing in a cool spot in a closet or at the back of the pantry.

Salsa--lids in place and ready to ferment for a day…and enjoy tomorrow!

Salsa ready to ferment in the cooler, then transfer to the fridge for a slower fermentation process

Once your veggies are prepared, place them in an ice chest or some other insulated environment, into which you’ll place a few zipper bags of ice.  Keep them in this container for about three days, switching out the ice every 10-12 hours, to keep the temperature cool (an ambient temperature between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit/15.5-21 degrees Celsius) is a very good spot.  At the end of this period, move the ferment to your warmest spot in your refrigerator (which might be a little crowded with your other ferments and cultures!), and plan to enjoy in about four weeks.

Using a little ingenuity and an extra nod to the attention to detail on temperature should allow you to enjoy your ferments and cultures throughout the year.  And there is nothing as refreshing as some fresh water kefir with a twist of lemon juice and a sprinkle of Himalayan Salt after a hot afternoon in the sun–so be sure to keep those home ferments brewing!

 

 

Excellent Primer on Real Foods, Where to Find Them and How to Use Them!

All the ingredients for soaked and cultured pancakes--delicious and nutritious!

All the ingredients for soaked and cultured pancakes–delicious and nutritious!

If you are keen on where to begin on how to use real foods–maybe you’re even wondering where to FIND real foods–then you’ll want to invest in the fantastic education from Kelly the Kitchen Kop.  And, through the weekend of Thanksgiving here in the US, you can purchase Kelly’s trainings at HALF OFF!  Simply enter BLACKFRIDAY as you check out.

What will you receive in Kelly’s trainings?  Here’s a breakdown:

For the Real Food Ingredient Guide E-book, you’ll find:

This revised version is cram-packed with new information.  What I’m most excited about is that it’s set up in a way that gives you exactly what you want in whichever format you need it in at the moment…

  • It has a newly revised 7-page quick reference guide for when you want fast answers to questions like,
    • Will you please just tell me what I’m supposed to buy?!”
    • Or when someone puts you on the spot and you need a quick reminder of “What was so bad about that food again?
    • Or maybe when you’re at the store you might need something to flip to for guidance there on various ingredients, including “good, better, best” options.
    • It’ll also help you know what to look for at your local farm and what questions to ask.
  • It has a more detailed section with facts on the different food groups and ingredients, for when you have time to dig in a little more, and it includes information on where to go for even more in-depth reading and research.
  • If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll find an easy top ten real foods and top ten junk foods list in pictures.
  • It also includes new bonus material:  How to bring your family from junk food to real food, and how to overcome the six main obstacles everyone faces:
    1. Motivation – You won’t be willing to make a change if you don’t understand why it’s so important!
    2. Confusion/feeling overwhelmed – You’re probably sick of trying to navigate all the information from the ‘experts’ like what’s ‘good’ vs. what’s ‘not good’, especially when that keeps changing; and you just want to figure out the age-old question of “What the heck can I eat?!”  Especially before meal planning or grocery shopping…
    3. How to afford real food – You’ll learn loads of tips all in one place.
    4. Dealing with family complaints – This can wear you down at times, so I’ve got ways for you to get past this one!
    5. How to make time for real food – There are so many ways that I’ll bet you’ve never thought of!
    6. Sticking to it for the long haul – This is often what trips people up.  Life gets in the way and you find yourself slipping backward.  You’ll learn here how to prevent that from happening or how to get back on track.

And, for Kelly’s Real Food for Rookies Online Class, you’ll receive:

  • 12 weeks of online classes with videos, downloadable audios, and written materials.
  • LIFETIME access! Read/listen/watch at your leisure: on your break at work, while the kids are sleeping, in your pajamas, whatever! If you have a busy week, no big deal, just pick it back up on your own schedule.
  • Exclusive expert interviews with Sally Fallon Morell (President of the Weston Price Foundation), Dr. Kaayla Daniel (author of The Whole Soy Story), Jane Hersey (Director of the Feingold Association), Tom Naughton (Fathead filmmaker), and now one more: Jimmy Moore from the Livin LaVida Low-Carb blog!
  • BONUS: Free copy of the Kitchen Kop Real Food Guide
  • Save time and money while serving Real Food
  • Read labels and avoid dangerous ingredients
  • Make nourishing “fast food” meals to avoid last-minute trips to the drive-thru
  • Find healthier alternatives for soda pop, refined sugars, heart-killer oils, sugar-bomb breakfast cereals, factory farmed meat and more
  • Serve nutrient-dense foods that are necessary for good health
  • Take control of your health and change your family’s future!

Both of these tools are invaluable in your journey to greater health and empowerment for yourself and your family.  It takes a village to recapture  the information that’s been lost over the years in regard to how to take care ourselves with nutrition, and Kelly’s classes and information are priceless in their role of keeping you well!  And, from Thursday, November 28th until Monday, December 2nd 2013, you can get these classes and information at half price, by entering BLACKFRIDAY as you check out.

Wishing you the best!  Here’s to your health and the health of your loved ones!

Parmesan Polenta with Bacon and Greens

Polenta before soaking and mild fermentation

Polenta before soaking and mild fermentation

One of the terrific things about being part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program is that your hand is sometimes forced to get creative with ingredients you might not have otherwise chosen.  In this instance, my inspiration was field garlic and Swiss chard.  Thankfully I had some corn grits (polenta) stored in the freezer, as well as raw Parmesan cheese and smokehouse pastured beef bacon from another local source here in our desert hamlet.  And, not surprisingly, there was bone broth, too–this time, pastured chicken.

So, with a little forethought to begin soaking the grits this morning in warm water with fresh water kefir, we were able to enjoy an excellent meal this evening (just perfect for an al fresco meal on the back patio before we hit the triple-digits on the thermometer!)  I paired this with a fresh, simple salad of various lettuces from our garden and steamed beets, topped with balsamic vinegar, olive oil  and chopped garlic.

Parmesan Polenta with Bacon and Greens

Serves 6 as an entree

To prepare polenta:

  • 1 1/2 Corn Grits (Polenta)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 2  cups warm, filtered, dechlorinated Water (approximately 105 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 cup fresh Water Kefir

Combine all ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl and stir well to incorporate.  There should be about 1/8″-1/4″ of the water/water kefir over the top of the polenta.  Cover and store in a warm spot (I set mine on top of the yogurt maker–turned on–to help maintain a gentle, warm heat to encourage mild fermentation of the grain.  You could also set the bowl in a dehydrator set around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or in an ice chest or oven–turned off–with a couple of bottles filled with hot water.)  Allow to rest undisturbed for at least eight hours, until you see the little bubbles of fermentation and there is a mild tart scent. When this point has been reached, begin preparing the rest of the recipe.

For the remainder of the recipe you’ll need:

  • 4-5 cups Swiss Chard, sliced in 1/2″ strips
  • 5-6 slices of pastured Beef Bacon or Pork Bacon, cut in 1/2″ slices
  • 3 cups Chicken Broth, plus 1 additional cup, heated
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Field Garlic, chopped in 1/2″ pieces, or 4 Scallions, chopped in 1/2″ pieces with 3-4 cloves Garlic, minced finely
  • Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
  • Cherry or Plum Tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
  • Freshly-chopped Basil Leaves and Lemon wedges, for garnish

In a 5-6 quart pot, combine soaked polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth over a medium heat and bring to a  mild simmer, stirring constantly from the bottom.  In about five minutes, you’ll notice the grits have firmed up substantially and the grain has softened.  Stir for another  five minutes or so and turn off the heat.

In a separate, large pan over medium heat, begin cooking the bacon.  Once it has begun to release its fat into the pan, add the field garlic or scallions/garlic, stirring occasionally to keep all ingredients from burning.  After a few minutes, once the garlic/onions have softened, add the Swiss chard and incorporate well into the mix.  Keep cooking and stirring periodically, until most of the moisture has evaporated off and the chard has softened.  Turn off heat and return to the polenta.

Resume a low heat under the polenta, which will have stiffened while cooling.  Add the Parmesan cheese and pour in an additional cup of hot chicken broth.  Stir all ingredients well to incorporate and to soften the polenta.  Spoon in the bacon and greens mixture and mix well into the polenta.  Remove from the heat and serve immediately with a garnish of fresh, sliced tomatoes, a sprinkling of basil leaves and a healthy squirt of lemon juice.

Store any remaining in a covered glass or ceramic bowl for up to three days in the refrigerator.

 

Pouring water kefir into the polenta to begin soaking and fermentation

Pouring water kefir into the polenta to begin soaking and fermentation

 

Notice how there is a pooling of water over the soaking polenta--not too much, just about 1/8 of an inch

Notice how there is a pooling of water over the soaking polenta–not too much, just about 1/8 of an inch

 

Using the yogurt maker to keep a gentle heat source under the soaking and fermenting polenta

Using the yogurt maker to keep a gentle heat source under the soaking and fermenting polenta

 

The polenta after eight hours of soaking and mild fermentation--notice the little bubbles in the soaking water?

The polenta after eight hours of soaking and mild fermentation–notice the little bubbles in the soaking water?

 

Polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth, just beginning to cook

Polenta with 3 cups of chicken broth, just beginning to cook

 

Polenta after only 5 minutes of cooking--the soaking process definitely hastens the cooking time

Polenta after only 5 minutes of cooking–the soaking process definitely hastens the cooking time

 

Pastured beef bacon and field garlic sautéing

Pastured beef bacon and field garlic sautéing

 

Freshly grated, raw Parmesan cheese

Freshly grated, raw Parmesan cheese

 

Notice the smoother consistency of the polenta once the Parmesan cheese and additional chicken broth have been added

Notice the smoother consistency of the polenta once the Parmesan cheese and additional chicken broth have been added

 

Swiss chard sauted with pastured beef bacon and field garlic, ready to blend into the polenta

Swiss chard sauted with pastured beef bacon and field garlic, ready to blend into the polenta

 

Prepared polenta with Swiss chard, pastured beef bacon and field garlic

Prepared polenta with Swiss chard, pastured beef bacon and field garlic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ferments and Culturing…How I love Your Ways

It may not look like much, but the fermentation and culturing happening here fuels our kitchen!

It may not look like much, but the fermentation and culturing happening here fuels our kitchen!  Shown here:  water kefir, ginger bug brew, raw milk yogurt in yogurt maker, sprouted brown rice incubating in second yogurt maker and fermenting with added water kefir.

I’ve been in the very good habit lately of leaning heavily on lacto-fermentation to pre-digest the foods our family eats.  Culturing, fermenting, sourdough-ing, kraut-ing…our kitchen has been a hotbed of activity, but not always a lot of elbow grease on the family’s part.

After spending the better part of this last year reading and re-reading The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, I’ve felt compelled and encouraged to just sit back and let the bacteria do a lion’s share of the digestive work, so we don’t have to.  (The digestive equivalent of comfortably reclining, quaffing champagne and noshing bon-bons.)

And it has been a good move!

We had decided some time back to work on incorporating some grains back into our months’-long grain-free diet, and as with any move to eat grains, we did so with the expectation that they would always be properly-prepared by a long, warm-water soak before cooking.  The removal of various anti-nutrients by this simple first step is paramount to getting more nutrition from the grains, and mitigating the mineral- and protein-leaching that consuming unsoaked grains can lead to.

But adding in a little fresh culture to that warm, long watery soak–by way of  whey from yogurt or kefir, or a splash of water kefir–provided  the additional benefit of allowing the cultures to pre-digest the complex carbohydrates in the grains, leaving us with much more digestible simple sugars.  Yay!  And everything took on that wonderful, slightly-tart flavor of sourdough (and once a palate gets a taste for sourdough, anything less tastes bland and simple)–Yay again!  But possibly best of all, the grains didn’t feel like a brick in our bellies–even pancakes and hot cereal have been very well-digested, where we are full, but not at all bloated or logy.  Yay!

At one point last week, I counted 9 different ferments happening in our kitchen.  And while that certainly seems like a lot, it’s important to remember that the process of creating lacto-fermented foods requires time.  Rome may have not been built in a day, but culturing a quart of milk to become yogurt takes about a third of a day, and that’s a little longer than simply picking a container off the shelf at the grocery store.  But the benefits are innumerable if you do allow the time for your homegrown cultures to go to work for you.  Most commercially-prepared yogurt goes through a hastened culturing process, that does not allow for the more complete conversion of what are for many troublesome milk sugars (lactose)  into the gut-benefiting, probiotic bacteria.  And, if you have access to raw, grass-fed milk, then you are able to make a very nutritious food, indeed.

Similarly, making fermented veggies at home–most widely-known as sauerkraut–allows you to make a condiment teeming with beneficial bacteria, with the ingredients you choose.  Many people have issues with thyroid function–whether it be diagnosed or sub-clinical–and consuming raw sauerkraut of cabbage can actually further dampen thyroid function.  It turns out that the fermentation process does not degrade the thyroid-dampening effects of brassica-family vegetables, of which kale, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower and many others belong.  Now, a little raw or fermented brassica veggies isn’t going to squelch most people’s thyroid activity.  But if a person is inclined to eat a few spoons’ full of fermented veggies in a day (read:  me), then, making a kraut that leans more heavily on other types of vegetation–zucchini and other summer squashes, carrots, cucumbers, onions, garlic, chard, lettuces–might be a good option.  Again, this just takes time to let those good bacteria do their good work for you.

And there are more ways we’ve been using the cultures…to make bread, to prepare beans for cooking, as a base for refreshing and calming drinks, in making pancakes, and even as skincare!  The ways to use them are only as limited as our ingredients on hand and our imaginations.  I’d love to hear from you on what you’re culturing and fermenting, what your favorite cultured foods are, how you’re using these foods in your life.  Please leave a comment or contact me–there is always more to learn and share!

A modern spin on the Tale of Fish and Loaves (or how a tablespoon of cultures and 2 chickens helped feed 65 people)

One of the most compelling aspects of preparing foods in a traditional manner is the magic that can be wrought with a little elbow grease, some on-the-fly moves, and the right amount of time.

I just finished presenting to a group of healthcare practitioners at Systemic Formulas Sunshine Symposium.  As with everything that comes from Systemic, it was an excellent event, where I learned more about advances in natural healing than seems reasonable in a 3-day window!  And I was absolutely delighted and very honored to be included in the list of presenters this year.

As I began my deliberations on WHAT I would talk about (no surprise–traditional food preparation techniques and the healing benefits of using these types of foods), I quickly got to thinking about HOW I could enliven my PowerPoint presentation.

Certainly I’d put lots of (hopefully!) compelling statistics on the decline in health, how our diets have changed in very short window of time, techniques on how to do some soaking and some culturing…but I wanted a little “Pow!” to drive those points home.  And, there is nothing like letting people see, taste and smell some good, nutritious food to get them on board with making good changes in their own kitchens!

So, knowing that I would be in a standard hotel room (read: No kitchen, nor kitchen-y tools), with rather limited access to the Systemic Formulas’ kitchen (there’s not much time to cook when you’re busy learning in the classroom for the better part of a 10-hour day), I quickly sorted out that some tasty homemade kraut or raw milk yogurt wouldn’t likely make the cut.  I needed something that would take care of the bulk of its own preparation, without a lot of effort or time from me.

So, what I settled on were two options that I knew I’d be able manage with these parameters, using as little from home as I could, leaning more on what I’d gather from local stores.  And what seemed to make the most sense were organic, pastured chicken bone broth and apple juice naturally fermented with water kefir.

Now, mind you, the staff at Systemic feeds us like family, using excellent ingredients that fulfill the diet based on their founder, Doc Wheelwright‘s, Pro-Vita principles.  So, my offerings were not going to be the mainstay of the meal, but rather healthy adjuncts to the offerings.  Regardless, I wanted to share something that would be nutritious and likely rather different than what most would usually consider lunch faire.

So, I brought a tablespoons’ worth of my raw water kefir grains in a small container, tucked safely in the clothing in my luggage.  And, once I settled in to my room, I walked to the nearest store and purchased a glass carafe, unfiltered apple juice, bottled water and organic Demerara sugar (and then I called the good folks at the Marriott Ogden and asked for the shuttle to help me get all this back to the hotel!)

Back in my room, I started the slow-yet-hopeful process of paving the way for some water kefir in a few days’ time.  Beginning with heating the water in the in-room coffee maker, I next melted the sugar into it, poured it into the newly purchased carafe, tempered the heat with room temperature water, and then finished with adding the water kefir grains to the sweet, warm solution.  And then I crossed my fingers in hopes that in my 3-day window, I’d create the right environment for my transported kefir grains to do their alchemical magic, turning sugar water and apple juice into a richly-probiotic beverage for everyone to share.

The next morning, Nate from Systemic escorted me to the local natural foods’ store, where I made a quick purchase of two pastured, organically-raised chickens, some apple cider vinegar and sea salt.  Returning to Systemic’s headquarters, the wonderful kitchen staff  shared a couple of locally-grown onions for the broth and helped me settle everything into an industrial-sized crockpot, which I set on a 4-hour heat, then reduced to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, to continue simmering over a 24-hour period.

By a couple hours into the cooking, the entire area of the kitchen and dining room was swimming in the delicious aroma of homemade chicken broth–is there anything better?

Returning to the hotel room that night, I peered into my  water kefir carafe, sniffing hopefully for a hint of tartness, the tangy hit of lacto-fermentation.  I’d left the carafe to warm in the sunny window sill all day, but there appeared to be no obvious signs of kefir kefiring.  “Well,”  I thought, “even if this doesn’t take off, at least I’m the only one that knows about it–thankfully I’ve not mentioned this to any of the attendees.”   Adding a little more warmed sugar water to the mix, I placed the carafe into a warm water bath to keep any possibility of culturing moving forward in my cool hotel room.  After a while, I removed it from the water and wrapped it in a towel for insulation.  Then I went to bed.

The next morning–the morning of my presentation–I hopped out of bed and immediately checked on the water kefir.  As I jostled the container to remove the lid, I noticed the wonderful tell-tale bubbles rising along the sides of the liquid–Lacto-fermentation!  Sure enough, as I pulled back the lid, I could smell the lively, pungent smell of kefir in action!  The only caveat was that I only had about a quart’s worth of water kefir–certainly not enough for all the attendees to have a taste.  I immediately added the apple juice to the mix and put the carafe back into a warm water bath while I got ready for the day, keeping my hopes high that there was enough lively culturing and the right temperature to begin consuming the newly added sugars and minerals from the apple juice.  As I left the room, I tucked the carafe in a towel and carried it to the car.

Upon arriving at Systemic’s headquarters, I placed the glass carafe in a warm spot in the kitchen (one of the unused back burners to the very busy stove and oven.)  I next asked the staff to help me with removing the flesh and meat from the long-simmered chickens, leaving behind the bones, adding a little more sea salt, vinegar and boiling water to the broth–the staff was my saving grace to pulling this last bit off, as I had to begin my presentation in a few minutes’ time!

Following my presentation, and then sitting in on a great talk given by Dr. Daniel Pompa, I ran back down to the kitchen, just in time to see the most beautiful golden broth being ladled into a festive punch bowl!  What a delight!

Next to the water kefir.

Had it had enough time to ferment the sugars I’d just fed it a few hours’ prior?  What if it was too sweet, more of a warm, sugary apple juice than anything resembling a probiotic beverage?  There was no time to bother with hand-wringing; I could see the attendees lining up along the lunch tables.  With hope in my heart, I began dropping in ice cubes to bring down the temperature a little–and as the ice hit the liquid, frothy, fizzy bubbles shot to the top of the carafe, the wonderful signs of a beverage lacto-fermented!  It worked!

We arranged everything out front, at the end of the food lines.  From a tablespoon of kefir grains and two chickens, there was about a gallon and a half of apple juice water kefir and two huge punch bowls of broth…folks got a “shot” size of the kefir, and as much of the broth as they wished.

And from these small beginnings, I received some fantastic feedback–“We’ve been eating the exact same foods for the last 3 days, and come afternoon, we just hit the wall with the fatigue of sitting and learning all day.  Today, we ate the same foods again, the only difference was the kefir and the broth…and we never hit the wall!  We feel great!”  And, “I was so full from the cup of broth, that I only had half as much food as normal!”  And, “The broth was so good–I had three cups!”

So, if you’re wondering if you can make this kind of food at home…if you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort…if you’re wondering if it will have an impact in your health…I share this little story with you to say, yes, it is most definitely something you can do, and, yes, it is most definitely something you should do.

Bon appetit!

 

How to Properly Soak Grains

Oats soaking in warm water, infused with fresh water kefir.  Photo courtesy of Vera Almann.

If you plan to consume some grains in your diet, it is integral that you soak them first.  In another post, I’ve discussed why this is important.  Here, I’m going to share how.

Begin with fresh grains—not those from a bin, nor from a 25# bag that has been sitting in the pantry for a few years.  Purchase organic, and in small quantities, and then store any remaining raw grains in either the refrigerator or the freezer.

Take 1 cup of grains, and rinse well under filtered water.  Drain and place in a large, non-reactive bowl (ceramic and glass are good choices.)  Pour 3 cups of filtered, non-chlorinated water over the grains.  If you choose to Add about 2 tablespoons of fresh water kefir or even kombucha and mix in well.

Loosely cover the bowl with a paper towel secured with a rubber band.  Or, you can place the bowl, uncovered, inside a microwave or conventional oven, which will protect the mixture from dust and insects.  It’s best if the temperature is a little on the warm side, around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, for this soaking period—this will allow the activity of the enzymes to increase, as well as the healthy bacteria.  So, keeping on an incandescent light bulb nearby is helpful.

Soak grains for at least 12 hours, preferably 24.  You may notice a little bubbling at the end of soaking.  This is the process of lacto-fermentation, where the cultures are consuming the carbohydrate substrate of the grain, which in turn leads to fermentation.  You can let it go even longer, if you like—doing so will increase the tart, sourdough flavor profile of the grain you are soaking.  And, as with any fermentation, you’ll have a food that is lower in sugars and carbohydrates, enzyme rich (though this will be halted once the grains are cooked), probiotic rich (again, this will be destroyed through cooking), full of healthy B-vitamins and even further reduced load of anti-nutrients such as tannins, lectins and phytic acid.

You may choose to either discard or to use the soaking water—the verdict is out on which is the healthiest option.  In either case, dependent on your soaking time, you may not need to add additional water.  Whichever method you choose—to drain or not to drain—you’ll only need enough additional water to cover the grains by ¼-½ inch once they are in the cooking pot.  Add a healthy pinch of Celtic Sea Salt, bring ingredients to a gentle boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 5-20 minutes, dependent on the “doneness” you are seeking from the grain.

 Some notes on grains:
  • For large grain berries, such as wheat, kamut, rye and spelt:  Coarsely grind these before soaking, which will allow more of the water and cultures to get to the “meat” of the berry.  (If you are planning on sprouting these types of grains after they are soaked, then do not grind them.)
  • Some grains, such as quinoa (actually a seed, but treated as a grain) and rolled oats, soften quickly with soaking.  Despite this, I’ll often soak them for at least 12 hours.  I find that doing so definitely enhances the lacto-fermentation of the grains.

Adding Some Soaked and Fermented Grains Back into the Diet…

Soaked and sprouting quinoa, draining in the colander (Yes, it is correct that it is not a “true” grain, but rather a grain-like seed…but we use it in a grainy way!)

I really like the concept of balance 🙂

Whether it is maintaining–even improving!–health with a solid mix of rest, creative outlets and hard work, or engaging in the social world and its counterpart, private quiet-time, there are so many ways to hit that just-right note of balance in the Yin and Yang of every aspect of life.

However, wouldn’t you agree that to really adopt a change in lifestyle, one has to hang out in the deep end of change for a while before moving back to the moderate depths?  You’ve got to flex your mental muscles a little bit, learn some new moves, before heading back to middle ground. Modern research supports this–new behaviors lay down new paths in our brain’s design, creating new pathways and neural communication.

Without big change, it is much too simple to return to old habits and there won’t be staying power with our new habits.

Personally, I’ve ventured off into the deep waters around nutrition many times.  And sometimes I’ve stayed in the deep a good, long while…my 14-year commitment to being a lacto-ovo-pescarian being one foray (translate: My very weak attempt at vegetarianism–high refined carbs, lots of soy and pseudo-meats.  My saving grace was the pescarian part…something in me knew it needed the nutrition of fish!)

It’s hard to appreciate how various choices make us feel without having first experienced something very different.  My years of sloppy vegetarianism, practiced in a manner that left me incredibly deficient in solid nutritional components, have helped me to appreciate SO MUCH how good it is to feel calm, nourished and BALANCED with the deep nutrition we feed ourselves now.

And, to that end, in the name of balance, we shifted from another extreme decision, to totally remove grains in the name of seeing how we felt.  Going off grains helped me to see how we used grain products as a lazy energy crutch.  A bowl of cereal here, some toast and butter there, a platter of pasta to share at dinner.  I realized how much nutrition we’d been cutting out by way of putting refined grains in the place of deeper nutrition sources.

When grain products are removed, something has to go in their place. Certainly, that could be any number of things.  For our family, that meant more produce, notably more veggies, especially squash, sweet potatoes and yams.  It also meant more nut flours, from soaked, dehydrated and ground sources.  And we ate many more coconut products–from flour to cream to flakes.  We also used the seed-like grains, amaranth and quinoa. Cooking with these types of foods was a big learning curve (one never appreciates all that gluten can do as relates to binding and shape until there’s not a speck of it in sight!), and I am very grateful for what it has done to broaden our perspectives on food and for the greater range of nutrition it brought to our plates.

But, what about balance?  Might there be a limit to the almond-flour donuts and coconut flour breads one should really be consuming on a daily basis?  Totally eschewing all grains is something that doesn’t seem moderate to me.

So I began looking more closely at the traditional methods of grain preparation, most notably as found in Nourishing Traditions, but in various blogs as well.  Our family descends from northern Europe, and I know traditionally-prepared grains are a food source my ancestors employed.  And by incorporating the techniques that lend themselves toward better assimilation of the nutrients that are stored in these foods, I felt that I could test the waters and see how we all responded to the inclusion of some of these foods in our diet.

Before we opted to remove grains from our diet, we ate organic, commercially-prepared grains, either in a sprouted form (bread or tortillas), as chips, or as gluten-free options (bread, waffles, English muffins.)

We didn’t do much in the way of traditional preparation of whole grains–meaning, if I made rice, I simply rinsed it then cooked it. Same for oats, corn meal or buckwheat, or any other whole grain.  In sum, we were eating foods that, for the most part, were not well-prepared to support their digestion and assimilation into our bodies.

But the traditional methods involve soaking the grain in warm water, with a little bit of an acid medium, for about 7-12 hours, generally.  By doing so, many of the anti-nutrients, enzyme inhibitors, complex carbohydrates and difficult-to-digest proteins (such as gluten and phytic acid) are broken down into much easier components that our bodies can handle. while at the same time increasing the enzyme activity of the grain, making their digestion much easier.

The above-mentioned acid medium can be fresh lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar, whey from fresh yogurt, or my favorites, homemade kombucha or water kefir.  Personally, I’ve moved away from using whey because research has shown that the calcium in the dairy can inhibit physic acid reduction, thus, inhibiting the bioavailability of some minerals.  No matter the culture starter, though, the fact remains that the healthy bacteria (and yeast, in kefir and kombucha) will use the carbohydrates in the grains as an energy source, thus, predigesting the sugars and reducing them in the final product.

Additionally, warmth and time are needed for proper breakdown–starting with water in the room temperature range, left at room temperature (65-75 degrees Fahrenheit), for about 7-12 hours, gives a very good foundation for proper assimilation. And if the grains are especially big (rice, spelt, kamut), then opening up a little more surface area is a good idea.  You could even use a coffee grinder, and give a quick spin of the grains before soaking–just enough to break up the grain a little and expose more of its structure to the water and ferment starter.

And in that pursuit of balance, you’ve got to have some variety!  Soak, ferment and buy organic and in small batches, then keep them in the freezer so there is no concern for oxidation.  Try gluten-free or straight rolled oats, spelt berries, quinoa, rye, quinoa, amaranth and steel cut oats–all great choices.

Needless to say, this all requires a few extra steps, though it’s far from difficult–and I go into good detail on it in my book, The Funky Kitchen, and even GREATER detail in my 6-module course, Fresh, Fun and Flavorful in The Funky Kitchen.  But these steps, coupled with a tart flavor profile (thanks to the healthy bacteria consuming the sugars in the grains) and the richer texture of whole grains, lends itself toward lighter consumption.

And that is a balanced answer 😉