Earl Grey Kombucha

Makes 2 qt (or litres)

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While I’m pretty sure I had had some kind of fermented tea during my Japan days, I can’t really be sure.

So, it has to be said that my first official introduction to fermented drinks was in culinary school.  Everyone was drinking kombucha, and everyone was making it.  Except for me.  Kombucha Brooklyn (especially) provided me with some delicious choices so I never really had to dabble in the art of bacteria breeding.  It seemed easy enough.  I just never felt the urge or desire to venture down that scary bacteria-ridden road.   Frankly, I was relieved.

Then I moved to the UAE.  Suffice it to say that there is no Kombucha Brooklyn here.  But what I did find was an incredibly friendly community of bacteria breeding foodies eager to share their knowledge and SCOBYs.  When you suddenly find yourself in a place where every assumption is challenged, every belief is toyed with, every conviction slightly to drastically changed, you realize you are a bit more capable of whatever it is you weren’t before.  So, bye-bye fear and hello bacteria.

What was I afraid of?  Well, bacteria!  What if I didn’t “grow” it right?  What if it gets moldy?  How will I know if it tastes right?  Will I get sick from a bad batch?  There’s nothing like a good experiment to put all those questions to rest.  That and support from the previously mentioned community of just as crazy as I am health nuts.  Who knew I’d fit in so well here?

So, everyone in culinary school was drinking it because it is incredibly nutritious, and it’s the same reason everyone here is, too.  It is known as ‘the immortal health elixir’ and the biggest reason is kombucha’s unique ability to detox the body.  Kombucha has many acids and enzymes beneficial to the detox process, already produced in the body.  This alleviates the work of the pancreas and liver and helps them do a better job.  Glucuronic acid (GA) is the key word here.  The main function of GA is to bind to toxins and escort them from the body.  And, the GA in kombucha is very effective.  It is even effective at eliminating several environmental toxins.  (Think plastics, pesticides, etc.)  Studies show that GA has also been linked to cancer prevention¹.  Read that sentence again because it’s amazing.

Other health benefits include a very happy digestive system.  Food and drink that have been fermented have, in a manner of speaking, been pre-digested.  The bacteria formed during this process not only aids the gut by populating it, but also helps you fully digest.  Kombucha is a true probiotic (which from the Greek means “for life”).  It helps rid your body of excess candida, helps keep allergies in control and does wonders to boost immunity.  It actually does all those things.

It starts as a quest for better health but soon you begin craving that slightly vinegary, yet subtly sweet effervescence.  Trust me, you will.

And trust me, it’s worth the experiment.  But just so you know, it’s a bit like opening Pandora’s box.  There is no end to what you will learn and no end to the myriad ways different drink and food can be fermented.  It’s a wild, bubbly ride!

You’ll need:

2 T loose Earl Grey tea (or 6 tea bags)

2 qt (or litres) water

1/2 – 3/4C organic sugar

1 Kombucha SCOBY* (SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.  You can get one from a friend or if you are the first brave soul of your circle of friends, you can get a starter here or here.)

about 1C of kombucha (which will have come with the SCOBY)

2 qt glass jar (sterilized), clean kitchen towel or a couple of layers of cheese cloth and rubber bands

To make:

1.  Boil your water and remove from heat.

2.  Add tea and sugar and let steep until water is cool.  I usually let mine sit for a few hours, mostly because by the time I remember that’s how much time has passed.  Tastes great still!

3.  Add the tea to the jar and then add the 1C kombucha.  Let this mix of teas get acquainted and then introduce the scoby.

4.  Cover the jar with the kitchen towel (or cheese cloth) and secure the rubber band around the mouth of the jar.

5.  Keep the jar in a safe place where it won’t be moved or jostled, where it’s room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

6.  Let ferment for about a week, untouched.  After a week, give it a taste test to see where you are.  Don’t be surprised if another scoby has begun to form at the top of the jar.  This is good and is a sign that your kombucha is healthy.

7.  When you’ve finished about half of the kombucha, you can add another quart/litre of fresh (cooled) tea to the batch.  This is called a continuous brew.

*Disclaimer:  There are plenty of sources that recommend NOT using Earl Grey tea for kombucha because of the bergamot essential oil.  It is thought that the oil could compromise the health of the scoby.  However, many people have used Earl Grey and had successful batches and beautiful scobys.  I am now part of that list!  The beautiful thing about fermentation is experimentation!  Brew away!  And if you’ve got a great flavor working for you, please share it!

¹http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2208084?dopt=Abstract

Winter Kale and Kamut Salad

winter kale and kamut salad

I miss kale.  It’s only been about a week since I’ve had any, but I am definitely suffering withdrawals.  And, though I do not miss winter at all, I could use a huge helping of this salad.

What makes this salad particularly special is the way the flavors and textures play with each other.  Not to mention the way they deliver a wholly satisfying meal.  Yes, a vegetarian salad can be wholly satisfying for EVERYONE.  I promise.

This goody was a huge hit each and every time I made it in the past 3 months.  And, I made it A LOT!  The original recipe comes from one of my favorite sources of inspiration, Bon Appetit.  Anytime I see anything with kale, I try it.  Kale is versatile and quite easy going, going from sautés to soups, smoothies to salads and every time you eat it, you are racking up credit, giving yourself a huge dose of nutrients.  Consider it delicious, preventive medicine.

I’ve talked about kale once already, but here’s a quick reminder.  There are 3 main “anti-s” to remember about kale; antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic.  Seriously.  This is key about kale because oxidative stress (taken care of by antioxidants) and inflammation gone out of control (why we need anti-inflammatory nutrients) are 2 conditions that lead to serious health problems and diseases such as cancer.  Not to mention that kale can also reduce cholesterol and it is superb at helping the body detox.  Kale is also one of those foods that makes you happy!

This incarnation of the salad (there have been many versions) came about mostly because I needed to use up ingredients in my fridge and pantry.*  The original salad is delicious, but after many adaptations and experimentations, this is my favorite.  The pecans add much needed crunch and kamut is a yummy, nuttier, sturdier alternative to barley.

Let me know what you think!

You’ll need:

1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil (approximately)

2 T apple cider vinegar

2 T champagne vinegar

2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T coconut sugar (I usually replace brown sugar with coconut sugar.)

1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 1/2-1″ pieces

1 shallot, minced (roughly 1/4 C)

2-3 golden beets, roasted and cut into 1/4″ dice

1 C kamut, soaked, rinsed and cooked off

1 avocado, diced

1/2 C pecans, roughly chopped

1/2 C Bulgarian feta, crumbled or cut into small dice (regular feta is delicious, too but this is what I had left…for a vegan option, omit the cheese and you’re still left with a pretty stellar salad:)

To make:

1. Whisk together 1/4 C olive oil, the vinegars and lemon juice and season with sea salt and pepper.

2. Add kale and shallots and mix thoroughly to make sure the kale is evenly coated.  Cover and chill for at least 3 hours before assembling salad.  This will wilt the kale making it tender for every bite.

3. Once cooled, add the beets and the kamut and mix to coat evenly.  You may need to drizzle some of the remaining oil in.

4. When ready to serve, add the avocado and feta (if using), drizzle with more olive oil and a splash of champagne vinegar to brighten it up.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.  Stir gently and serve topped with chopped pecans.

5. The other genius of this salad (kale is first) is that it’s sturdy enough to be made 2-3 days in advance.  Just cover and chill and add avocados, feta and nuts when ready to serve.  Thanks, Bon Appetit!

6.  Enjoy!

*Since I was moving, I had to use up everything I could in the kitchen.  It’s incredibly inspiring to cook when you have to constantly substitute and re-invent things with new ingredients.

 

Trick for Treat

By Guest Writer:  Sophia Lambrakis

Click photo for credit:)

You need to pay now to party later.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, and The Holidays are just around the corner, and they each bring with them their own share of calorie-packed treats and gut-busting goodies. And while the uninhibited merry-making is certainly a pleasure for the soul, the body is a little bit less forgiving. By January 1st, most of us get on the scale with a gripping sense of panic and regret. The mirth and cheer are quickly replaced by retribution in the form of sobering resolutions.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

With a little preparation now, in early autumn, we can allow ourselves to give in to the approaching decadence, guilt free. You see, our systems don’t work that well on the principle of “enjoy now, pay later.”  They respond much better to prepaid credit, if you will. Treat your body well ahead of time, and you will reap the benefits later, despite the occasional indulgence. The more credit you purchase in advance, the more permissive you can be, before it’s time to reload, again.

One of the best ways to recharge your system and give it the boost it needs to take you through the winter is body detoxification. What are the signs that you are ripe for a good detox? Well, do you often feel fatigued, heavy, achy, lethargic, ill, and/or forgetful?  Then, chances are your body has accumulated more harmful toxins than it can reasonably process and eliminate. And that’s pretty easy in today’s world. Thanks to CO2 emissions in the air we breathe,  heavy metals in our water, arsenic in our apples and rice, pesticides and dioxins in our fruits and vegetables, growth-hormones and antibiotics in our meats, and BPA in our food containers and homes –just to name a few of the culprits (!!!) – it’s no wonder we feel lousy!

Luckily, a good dose of detoxification is all it takes to ease your overworked liver, kidneys, gut and skin, and cleanse your system of a myriad of harmful contaminants. That way, when the holiday season begins, you can enjoy it with a clean body, a clear conscience, and a couple of extra ‘brownie points’.

There are a number of meal plans and rules you can follow to create a detox course that is best suited for your individual needs. But, generally speaking, a good cleansing plan should be carried out for at least two weeks and should include whole, organic, unprocessed, unrefined (animal-free) foods served in smaller than usual portions, and, no doubt,  lots of filtered water. One of the dishes I often turn to during my autumn detox is a miso soup variation (*recipe below) that is as hearty as it is beneficial. A large pot (sans the miso paste and barley) will keep for several days in the fridge. Just warm a bowl, add miso and barley to your liking, and enjoy!

Hearty Miso Soup (with Pearl Barley)

NOTE: Miso is a thick, fermented paste that contains a significant amount of beneficial bacteria which help promote health by stimulating digestion and aiding the body to build resistance against disease. Since it is considered a living food, it’s important to never cook miso or allow it to come to a boil. Instead, be sure to add it to foods that are already prepared.

4 cups Dashi (see recipe below)

1 cup water

2 tsp oil (sesame or olive)

2 carrots (peeled and cut into matchsticks)

1-2 tsp grated fresh ginger

3-6 mushrooms (preferably shiitake, either fresh or reconstituted, and sliced thin)

1 cup spinach (fresh or frozen)

2 scallion (sliced thinly on the diagonal)

2- 3 tbsp miso paste

1 tbsp shoyu or tamari

Red pepper flakes (to taste)

Grated fresh ginger (optional)

OPTIONAL:

½ cup cooked pearl barley (prepared in a separate pot according to package directions)

Directions

  1. Sauté ginger, carrots and mushrooms in a large pot with 2 tsp oil. (About 3-4 minutes)
  2. Add water to pot. Bring to a boil, then add dashi.
  3. Allow to simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add spinach and simmer another 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat. Add scallions, miso that has been mixed with some water, and shoyu.
  5. Season with red pepper flakes.
  6. Enjoy soup plain or add cooked barley for a heartier meal.

Dashi

Note: Makes 8 cups. Dashi is a basic Japanese stock used to make many soups including traditional Miso soup.

1 square piece kombu  (3×3 inches)

8 cups water

1 loose cup bonito flakes

Directions

  1. Put kombu in a large pot, cover with water and soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Set the pot over medium heat until small bubbles form around the sides of the pan, 9 – 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the kombu from the pot. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the bonito flakes. Simmer gently, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes.
  4. Strain the liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Reserve the kombu and bonito flakes for another use.
  5. Store in an airtight container. Use within 1 week refrigerated or freeze for up to 1 month.

Sophia Lambrakis is a writer, a chef and a nutritional consultant.  She lives and cooks in Salzburg, Austria.

P.S. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m making this version of miso soup today and racking up some credit!  Good luck and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me (guayagourmet@gmail.com) or leave a comment.  Thanks!  (Love, Nathalie and Claire Berlin)