Our kitchen is really starting to stink. I don’t think it stinks, I think it smells great. Rache on the other hand does not hold the same opinion. I must admit, my fermentation projects have got a little out of control and the kitchen is starting to smell a little like a bottle of apple cider vinegar, but a little more…ripe. Please don’t let this discourage you from attempting to ferment some foods. It only smells in a certain corner of the kitchen where the process is happening. This post is a very broad overview of the wonderful process of fermentation. We are not experts on the subject and there are plenty of blogs dedicated to probiotic foods and fermentation. We are just like you, just trying to keep the bodies of ourselves and our family healthy.
We have been making sauerkraut and rejuvelac for a long time now, but here in Guatemala the process all started with a brownish-red overripe pineapple. Nasty mush that leaves your tongue feeling like it is wearing a wool sweater, you just can’t eat it. I had to find a way to use the over ripe pineapple and I remembered seeing a great recipe in our favorite cookbook of the moment, Gran Cocina Latina, The Latin Food of America, for a fermented pineapple drink called tepache. I have always been into fermentation but had not done anything with it since we came to Guatemala. And since the tepache is like a wine, slightly sweet with a mild alcohol content, I said, hell yea, fermentation time!
- 1 rind of a large pineapple
- 1 1/2 quarts of water
- 1 cup of sugar
Thats it for the ingredients though I like to add a little cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice to make it more flavorful.
- Cut the rinds off of the pineapple and leave a little flesh intact. *(check out this post that includes how to cut a pineapple).
- Add the rinds and spices to the water in a large 2 quart jar, cover with cheesecloth and let it sit in a warm place for 3 days.
- All along, bubbles and foam are growing on the surface. It’s alive. You get to see the process unfold. After 3 days stir in the sugar and let sit for another 2 days. Done.
- Strain off the liquid and drink up. The alcohol content is low, but is sometimes increased by adding beer.
Making tepache is an easy way to introduce yourself to fermentation. And it tastes great. Go for it.
So once I got rolling with the tepache I decided to get back into sprouting again.
Sprouts are one of our favorite things here at Ra’Co Life. They are packed with nutrients and you can grow them yourself. So here is a primer on growing sprouts to make it super easy for you to dive right in. Down the line we will do a full post or ebook on sprouting.
There are two products we recommend for beginning sprouters. We use the Handy Pantry Sprout Jars right now and they work great. Basically they are a Ball jar with plastic mesh lids. You could also use the Easy Sprout Sprouter which is also great but it comes with a lot of pieces. If you have kids you know that you will loose the pieces, guaranteed. That is why we use the very simple Handy Pantry jars. Also, they come with organic alfalfa seeds so you have everything you need to get started.
Sprouting is ridiculously easy but you have to stay on top of it.
Start with 2 TBS to 1/4 cup of seeds in a 32 oz. jar and fill with fresh filtered water. Quantity of seeds, soaking time and sprouting days depends on the type of seeds you are using. Here is a Ra’Co life soaking/sprouting chart to let you know how long to soak:
After soaking, drain and rinse the seeds and place the jar at a 45 degree angle in a container in a warm place without too much light. The seeds should be rinsed 2-3 times a day and most will begin to sprout after a couple of days. We soak our seeds in a natural lemongrass disinfectant for 5 minutes on the last soak because there has been talk about ecoli and other food borne illnesses coming from sprouts. Though we have never had any problems it is something you should be aware of. After the last soak, let sit overnight and then harvest the next day. We let ours sit in a colander so any excess water will dry. Then we place in indirect sunlight for a little while until the sprouts start to green. After greening, store in the fridge and eat within 3-5 days.
Sprouts are excellent in the morning on a salad with soft boiled eggs and a little gluten free toast. For lunch put them on a sandwich with avocado and tomato. Dinner, more salad with some good white balsamic, red onion and olive oil. Simple, packed with nutrition and tasty, sprouts are an essential part of our lives. Check out our post on this avocado, sprout and tomato sandwich.
Before Guatemala, I’d never made kombucha. But it is really easy and requires very little time on your part. If you want to learn a lot about kombucha, check out this great post on kombucha at a blog called Phoenix Helix. I like it because it dispels a lot of myths about the beverage. And its a great blog for people with autoimmune diseases.
First off, shouts to a good friend in Jaibalito who brought me the mother and showed me the process. The mother is also known as the SCOBY. Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Sounds like utopia, perfection… nerd. And our subject is also known as the mushroom. Lots of aliases. It is the main ingredient in kombucha and you can acquire one from a friend if you know someone who makes kombucha, or you can buy one here. The probiotics produced by the fermentation process while making kombucha are said to have therapeutic qualities that help your body stay healthy. It is more of a proactive way of staying healthy through preventative care. Thats one of the reasons we drink it and one of the reasons we ferment things in general. Lots of healthy flora for the gut.
Other ingredients besides the SCOBY used to make kombucha are: black or green tea, sugar, and fresh water. Thats it. You can add other flavors like ginger or lemon later if you want, but it is not necessary.
So what happens during the process of making kombucha? In essence the SCOBY eats the added sugar and during the fermentation process produces probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants and organic acids along with traces of alcohol, remaining sugars and caffeine. It ends up tasting slightly tart and sweet and subtly fizzy (or very fizzy depending on time of fermentation).
Here is the recipe. I’ll call it Josie’s recipe as she is the one who showed us how to make it.
- 3 liters of water
- 1 cup sugar
- 3-5 tea bags, black or green
- 1/2 cup starter ( kombucha already made. buy a bottle if you need to.)
Bring the water to a boil with the sugar. Add teas and leave to cool. When cool strain the tea into to a large glass bowl, pour in the starter and add the SCOBY with the smooth side up. Cover with a cloth and secure with a rubber band. Leave the mixture for 5-14 days depending on whether you like your mix on the sweet side or if you like it fizzier with a more pronounced vinegar flavor. The longer it sits the more the sugars get eaten and the stronger the vinegar flavor. After the fermentation process, strain and pour off into bottles and store in the refrigerator. I also like to add a tablespoon of chia seed right into the kombucha. The seed adds nice texture and even more health benefits.
Finally this brings us to our favorite fermented food, the old classic, sauerkraut. We all know what sauerkraut is, but most of what we buy is from the supermarket and much of it may be pasteurized and made with vinegar, sugar, preservatives and all kinds of other things you don’t need. The real stuff contains probiotics that are good for a healthy gut. It also contains fiber, magnesium, calcium, vitamins C,B and K, folate, iron, potassium and copper. Healthy! And it’s pretty simple to make, here’s how:
- Large ceramic crock or food grade plastic pail
- Plate that fits in the container
- A rock that has been scrubbed, washed and boiled and that will fit over the plate
- Towel to cover the container
- 2 large heads of cabbage
- Quality salt, fine
- Remove the large leaves from the outside of the cabbage and set aside. They will be used later to cover the chopped cabbage. Chop enough cabbage to make a layer of 2-3 inches in the bottom of the container. After adding the cabbage, sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the cabbage. Make sure to use enough salt as it is essential to keeping the cabbage crunchy and fermenting properly. If you don’t use enough you will end up with mushy cabbage. After adding the salt, press the entire mixture down as hard as you can. I use a wine bottle to press. This causes the salt to start leaching liquid from the cabbage to create a brine.
- Chop and add another layer of cabbage and sprinkle with salt, then press down like before. Continue this process until there is enough space between the cabbage and the top of the container to add the plate and rock. After all of the cabbage has been added, place the large leaves over the chopped cabbage to completely cover.
- Next add the plate over the leaves and place the rock on the plate to hold everything down. Cover with a towel. Over the next 24 hours, if you pressed the mixture enough, the brine will end up covering the entire mixture. This is essential as any organic material that is not covered with brine will rot and mold. If at this point the mixture is not covered, add salt water until it is covered.
- Check every couple of days. Sometimes mold will form on the surface but this is not a problem. Just scoop it off, wash the rock and plate, replace and let it continue to do its thing. You can taste the brine and notice that it will get more sour over time. When it has reached a taste that you like, scoop some of the mixture out and taste it. If you like how it tastes and it is nice and crunchy, put some in a jar and store on the fridge. Let the rest of the mixture keep fermenting but make sure it is always repacked and covered with brine. The flavors will change over time and you will enjoy tasting the difference.
Every morning I check the sprouts, kombucha, tepache and sauerkraut. It’s a great way to start the day knowing that wonderful fermented living food is growing and contributing to my family’s good health. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Enjoy!