Fermentation, the hottest ‘new’ trend in food for the past few years is gradually becoming main stream as the word gets out that fermented foods are one of the easiest ways to enhance our gut flora. So if you haven’t already started to experiment, now could be the time.
Our Western diet is sadly lacking in fermented foods but many popular foods are in fact fermented including yoghurt, beer, salami, vinegar, fermented black beans, tempeh, miso….
Problem is some of these foods like yoghurt are so hugely processed and sweetened and refined that there’s very little value left. In fact there’s quite a school of thought that would argue that they are downright damaging to one’s health rather than beneficial.
So avoid hugely processed food totally, I can’t be stronger than that but as time passes I am increasingly concerned that there’s a real and growing problem. The number of people I encounter on a daily basis who have a number of intolerances or allergies or worse still a combination is truly alarming. People are confused and in some cases down right desperate trying to find and choose foods that they can eat without ill effects. Many are see-sawing from one ‘super food’ or whacky diet to another grasping at straws. Well for what it’s worth here’s my advice which of course you are welcome to take or leave, agree or disagree but it comes from my observation over 50 years or more, 31 of which I’ve been running a cookery school where students come for both short but also three month courses, from a wide range of ages, backgrounds and nationalities. The number of students arriving with allergies and intolerances has skyrocked in recent years. While they are with us, they have the option to eat raw butter and drink raw organic milk and thick Jersey milk yoghurt. Those with wheat intolerance (not coeliac) seem to be able to eat totally natural sourdough bread made with organic flour without ill effects. Several who couldn’t tolerate eggs seem to be able to enjoy our free range organic eggs; Vegetarians decide to try meat when they know the provenance.
Those with gut problems of which there seem to be alarming numbers nowadays, report a dramatic improvement in their condition when they eat natural yoghurt made with no additives.
So what’s going on, this is simply my observation or anecdotal evidence of little or no value in the scientific world but research is urgently needed. Can it be that increasingly people are allergic to the process rather that the initial natural food, certainly there’s enough anecdotal evidence to make it worth investigating. Sadly unless there’s a perceived commercial benefit it’s difficult to get a research project going nowadays.
Meanwhile, we can all take back power over our food choices and start to ferment some simple foods at home.
Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we’ve been offering three Fermentation courses a year and the fascinating journey continues. Each new class builds on the previous one as we experiment more and our knowledge deepens.
If you are beginning your journey, a brilliant new book Fermented by Charlotte Pike , a beginners guide to making your own sourdough, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and more has just been published by Kyle Books. I so wish the book had been available when I was starting, clear, concise and confidence boosting.
Learn how easy it is to make many of your own fermented foods at home on Wednesday 14th October at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. From kefir to kombucha; German sauerkraut to Korean kim chi, krauchi ….learn how to make and look after these superfoods, as well as discovering a selection of our favourite recipes that use them. If you grow your own produce you will discover myriad ways to preserve the bounty of your harvest and enjoy it through the winter. This course will familiarise you with a wide variety of fermented foods and you will get to see and taste them for yourself. www.cookingisfun.ie for further information
Taken from Fermented, by Charlotte Pike. Published by Kyle Books. Photography by Tara Fisher.
Kimchi is an essential component of Korean cuisine, as it is served with almost every meal. It is still made in the autumn, in a UNESCO-protected process called Kimjang, when families come together to make their own recipes, which are passed down through
the generations. With many regional differences in ingredients and methods, making and eating kimchi is a firm part of Korean heritage. My recipe is for a slightly sweet, tangy kimchi with a crunchy texture. I prefer to thinly slice the cabbage, but you could chop it into chunky pieces if you wish. Personally, I like everything cut up quite small.
MAKES 1 X 1.5-LITRE JAR
825g total weight of organic white cabbage, thinly sliced and Chinese leaf, cut into 5cm chunks, using more or less of each, as you prefer
50g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
50g fresh red chillies, such as fresno or serenade, thinly sliced (leaving the seeds in)
3 organic carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 bunch of organic spring onions, thinly sliced
400ml fish sauce
65g palm sugar
zest and juice of 2 limes
200ml filtered water
you will need a 1.5-litre glass Le-Parfait-style jar with a rubber seal, sterilised
Place the cabbage, Chinese leaf, ginger, garlic, chillies, carrots and spring onions in a large mixing bowl and mix well together with your hands until evenly combined. Transfer the mixture to a 1.5-litre jar.
Add the fish sauce, sugar, lime zest and juice and water to a jug and stir to dissolve the palm sugar. Pour into the jar, stir well with a wooden spoon or
spatula and press down any vegetables that are poking out of the liquid. Close the lid and set aside to ferment on the kitchen worksurface for at least a week. When the kimchi is ready it should smell strongly of its component ingredients, but not be unpleasant. It won’t change drastically in appearance, but the vegetables will soften a little.
The kimchi keeps for up to 2 months in a cool, dark place. Once opened, store in the fridge and eat within a month.
Ensure the vegetables are submerged in the brine at all times to inhibit mould from forming on the surface.
Korean tofu stir-fry with kimchi
This stir-fry is Charlotte’s version of a classic Korean dish known as Japchae. It uses sweet potato noodles, which are an important staple in the Korean diet, and which are gluten free. Often called glass noodles, as they become clear when cooked, they are quite neutral in flavour and have a rather moreish sticky texture.
200g marinated tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes
50g sweet potato noodles (available from
ethnic food shops and online), or vermicelli
200g baby spinach leaves, stalks removed
4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon caster or light brown soft sugar
1½ tablespoons sunflower oil
1 bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced
200g shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 courgette, cut into thin matchsticks
toasted sesame seeds
4 heaped tablespoons Kimchi
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C electric/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment. Arrange the tofu cubes in a single layer on the baking tray and bake for 20–30 minutes or until golden, firm and crisp around the edges.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and set aside.
Place a large wok over a high heat. Add the sunflower oil and allow it to heat for a minute. Put in all of the remaining ingredients, except for the noodles and stir-fry for 3–4 minutes. Add the noodles and continue to stir-fry for a further 2 minutes or until they are heated through.
Serve the stir-fry in large bowls, topped with the baked tofu. Finish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a generous spoonful of kimchi on top.
Coconut Milk Kefir
2 tablespoons milk kefir grains (available online)
1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
you will need a 500ml glass Le-Parfait-style jar with a rubber seal, sterilised
This kefir is delicious made with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. Coconut milk can be fermented using milk kefir grains. It can be enjoyed as a thin, pouring yogurt for breakfast, or as a drink. To use milk kefir grains to ferment coconut milk, you’ll need to do a cow’s milk ferment first with your milk kefir grains and repeat this process once every four ferments to keep your grains healthy and active. There’s no need to rinse your milk kefir grains once they’re fermented; use them as they are. The milk kefir grains will eat the lactose in the milk, meaning that anyone suffering from lactose intolerance should be fine with this. If in doubt, you may be best sticking to a powdered starter culture to ferment coconut milk.
Put the milk kefir grains and coconut milk in the jar, stir well with a wooden spoon and close the jar. Place in the fridge to ferment for 12–24 hours. The coconut milk kefir should thicken slightly, and the milk kefir grains may multiply slightly. Strain through a nylon sieve and drink as it is. Start with a glass of up to 150ml initially. Best served chilled.
Kraut-chi is a popular hybrid of German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi. It sounds a bit odd, but it is a lovely blend of flavours and textures and is extremely versatile. It makes an excellent side served with salads, omelettes or all manner of spicy dishes.
MAKES 1 X 1-LITRE JAR
300g organic white cabbage, very thinly
1 bunch of organic spring onions, thinly sliced
2 organic carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and
4 teaspoons sea salt
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Water Kefir
you will need a 1-litre glass Le-Parfait-style
jar with a rubber seal, sterilised
Place all the ingredients in a large ceramic or glass mixing bowl and toss together with your hands until all the ingredients are well combined. Pack into a 1-litre jar, pressing down well to pack the vegetables in. Close the lid. Set aside on the kitchen worksurface for 5 days. After this time the kraut-chi will smell lightly vinegary and the vegetables will have softened a little. The kraut-chi will keep for up to 2 months. Once opened, store in the fridge and eat within a month.
Kombucha is a delicious fermented sweet tea. It is made using a scoby (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), which can either be bought or passed on from a friend. The scoby looks most unusual, but it produces the most delicious drink that is lightly effervescent and tastes of apples.
You will need a small amount of kombucha to start a batch, so this is a great recipe to do with your friends and share amongst one another.
Scobies can be peeled in half, or cut into quarters and pieces.
MAKES APPROX. 2.5 LITRES
2 heaped tablespoons black loose-leaf tea
(I use English Breakfast)
200g organic cane sugar
1 litre boiling water
1 litre filtered water
1 scoby or scoby piece (available online)
250ml Kombucha (available online, or from a friend)
you will need a 3-litre glass Le-Parfait-style jar with a rubber seal, sterilised
Put the tea, sugar and boiling water in a jug and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to infuse and cool to room temperature. Strain the tea into a 3-litre glass jar and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon and then fasten the lid.
Set aside to ferment on the kitchen work surface for 5 days, after which time the kombucha will smell appley and lightly vinegary, and look clearer and more orange in colour. I prefer to drink the kombucha at the younger stage, after 5 days, however you can leave it to ferment for up to 2 weeks if you wish. You will find that the flavour will become progressively more vinegary and effervescent the longer the kombucha ferments. I recommend starting by drinking a 150ml glass (no larger) of kombucha. Reserve 250ml of the kombucha to make a second batch.
Once you’ve perfected making kombucha, you can start experimenting with different flavours. Pour off 1 litre of kombucha into a clean glass jar and stir in the flavouring
of your choice. Set aside to ferment on the kitchen worksurface for 12 hours. Drink as it is, or strain. Best served chilled.
MAKES 1 LITRE
1 litre fermented Kombucha
FOR THE FLAVOURINGS
EITHER 3 large hibiscus flowers
OR a few sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm
OR 2 teaspoons dried chamomile leaves
TIP: You can leave the lid on or off the bottle as it ferments. It can be more effervescent if the lid is fastened.