Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I feel like I spend quite a bit of time explaining my obsessions in this space. One week I'm going on about my total lust for peaches, the next I'm writing feverishly about cannellini beans. Roasted peppers, duck eggs and pumpkin pie... the list of comestibles that get my juices flowing is a long one, friends. I'll risk stating the obvious here by saying that my particular brand of obsessions and compulsions are centered around the edible.
On a related note, I'm also incredibly infatuated with my Seattle Public Library card. I paid a whopping zero dollars for this sleek, rectangle of blue and white plastic, and with it, I hold the power. (Not to be confused with He-Man who has 'the power'). What is this gibberish I'm talking? I'm speaking of the incredible benefits there are to using the public library. I can get books, music, magazines, and movies there, and you know what? It's free! Well, except when the late fees start to rack up. The library even allows me the privilege of placing holds on books from any branch in the system which are then sent to my neighborhood branch for easy pickup. Are you kidding me? How f-ing rad is that?
So rad, in my opinion, that I usually have at least half a dozen books at home and another dozen or so on hold (there's often a wait for more popular titles). Perhaps needlessly to say, most of my selections are related to food in some way (see above photo). One of my recent favorites is a small, unassuming hard-back by the name of The Lost Art of Real Cooking, written by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. These old-fashioned foodies have delivered a cookbook that takes one back... waaay back... to a time when food preparation was a true process. When time was taken to ensure that the harvest would last through till spring and that flavors would be maintained, intact. Back to the old school.
In the introduction, we're warned that this book was not written with the modern chef in mind. In the words of the authors, they, "...intend to make the process of cooking as long, difficult, and arduous as possible..." Forget about those fancy kitchen gadgets and processed foods. These chefs tell stories about real food made with equally genuine ingredients. And they put their own personal flair on the tellings, making the reading experience more like that of a novella. I am smitten.
Why would I want to cook in this fashion, you may ask? Why would anyone want to forgo the food processor in favor of a little primordial elbow grease? Well, as for me, it's a little about nostalgia and a lot about sustainability and health. As an adult I've always been drawn to the DIY mentality, and I see the value of foods I make myself in order to know exactly what's going into them. In my mind, the real question is why would I not want to make my own pickled vegetables? My own fermented grains? The fact that it's even possible to capture yeast from the air to make bread with is fascinating to me. Why would I not want to at least try that in lieu of the quick-rise packet o' yeast?
So I've been gobbling up the wisdom that this book contains. I don't pretend to think that I'll use all of the methods described therein. I may never smoke my own meats or grow my own Koji mold, but I have a gigantic pile of respect for people who want to put thoughtfulness and care back into the way they prepare food. I stand in firm agreement with Mr. Albala and Ms. Nafziger that the process of cooking can be enjoyable. It's about the journey, yo.
So, in honor of this gem of a cookbook that I've come to love, I started my first batch of fermented cabbage and vegetables. You may know it by its popular German handle, sauerkraut.
Keep in mind that this is sauerkraut the way it was intended to be. No vinegar-soaked cabbage shreds in this recipe. Well, the cabbage is there, but the sauer- part of the -kraut is created, not by any vinegar, friends, but by the action of a multitude of bacteria. We (those of us hip to the game, that is) call this fermentation.
Don't let your hand-sanitizing, anti-bacterial, Penicillin-popping mentality (if that's what you happen to have) turn you off here. Fermentation is a beautiful process that results in a surplus of friendly flora for your guts. Not only is it healthy-as-all-get-out, but it increases the life of your food. Vegetables gone slimy after a week or two in the fridge? Ferment that shit! (Am I sounding too gangster, this evening?) In the fridge, these ferments can last months.
I started my first batch of sauerkraut about 5 days ago. Based on info from The Lost Art, here's what I did to get things going.
First, I took about 1.5 heads of green cabbage and sliced it up thinly. Grating would also work. I put my cabbage into a largish glass bowl and added 2 heaping tablespoons of Celtic sea salt. The less processed the salt, the better (so I've been informed). I also threw in 2 chopped Thai chilis to give it a little kick. I stirred things up, and then actually dug my hands in there to "massage" the cabbage, per Lost Art instructions. Ten minutes of massaging ensued.
At this point, the cabbage started to form its own brine. The salt causes the moisture within the vegetable to exude itself. I let my cabbage rest for another 30 minutes to let more moisture seep out.
At this point I still didn't have much brine, so I added filtered water to cover the cabbage. The additional water was my own idea. The book didn't have any input on how to overcome the lack-of-brine obstacle.
Then I put a plate on top of the cabbage and a glass jar filled with water on top of the plate in order to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine. Then I stuck the whole shebang into a cabinet.
Over the past couple of days I've noticed some bubbling going on around the edges of the plate, so that tells me that there are bacteria hard at work. The Lost Art suggests to keep tasting the kraut periodically, and when the flavor suits the taster, it's finito. The whole process can take a couple of weeks. My fingers are crossed!
In the meantime, I'll keep digging into this great new cookbook while fantasizing about life with time to rediscover more lost arts of real cooking.