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

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Autumn’s Chili

Serves 6

The chilly breeze of autumn has brought with it many cravings for fall’s foods.  The oven’s been on baking and roasting a few times already and soups and stews have already made appearances at the dinner table.  This particular dish is a favorite.  And, it’s not just because it’s delicious and wholly satisfying (it’s both to the nth degree), but because it is unassuming, too.  It seems time consuming, but it isn’t.  It seems spicy, but that part is up to you.  It seems hearty and meaty; it is and it isn’t.  This is one dish that even my most ardent carnivore friends would forgive for not having ANY animal protein in it, as they ask for seconds.  They’ve even confessed that meat would “ruin” THIS chili.  I’m not going to argue with that. We like this one just the way it is.

It should be noted that I have no problem with meat.  Check out my Grass-fed Burger recipe if you don’t believe me.  I just don’t think that meat needs to be part of EVERY meal and we have so many options when it comes to animal protein that it’s nice to have an alternative if you choose to forgo meat once in a while.  I’m not espousing vegetarianism, I am afterall a recovering vegetarian, but there are several health merits to reducing your meat consumption while increasing vegetables, whole grains, beans, etc.  Enter, Chili!

What’s most special about this particular version is the use of real red chili peppers.  (When I’m in a pinch, I often add a pinch of cayenne or use red pepper flakes.)  Despite the fact that peppers are a notorious nightshade, (see Late Summer Ratatouille for more on that), this little pepper has several health benefits, too.  Peppers are famous for their capsaicin, that wonderful little quality that gives peppers its pungence and heat.   It’s also responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects it has on the body.  “Red chili peppers, such as cayenne, have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and platelet aggregation, while increasing the body’s ability to dissolve fibrin, a substance integral to the formation of blood clots.”¹  Those are few good pluses for our cardiovascular system!  Peppers are also loaded with beta carotene which helps boost immunity.  Remember that goody, “eat the rainbow”, well red is a good place to start!  Eating these spicy gems will clear your congestion and benefit your gut by killing bacteria that may be hanging around.

Remember that peppers and tomatoes are nightshades and should be balanced with a bit of dairy (not to mention it’s a bit cooling and is a nice contrast to the heat) so be sure to add that dollop of sour cream or some shredded cheddar.  Your taste buds won’t argue with either!

You’ll need:

3/4 C kidney beans, soaked overnight then drained and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced (Use of seeds is entirely at your discretion, but be cautious because the heat sneaks up on you!)

1 largish carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1/2 t paprika

2 T tomato paste

3 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

1 bay leaf

1 C butternut squash, medium dice (You’ll have plenty leftover!)

8 C water or vegetable stock

2-3 T fresh herb of choice, rough chop (Cilantro is my default herb here, but parsley, sage or basil all work wonderfully here, too!)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Creme fraiche or sour cream for garnish

To make:

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook onions for about 5 minutes until softened and then add garlic.  Cook for 3 more minutes.

2. Add chili pepper, carrots, celery and paprika and cook for another 3-4 minutes and then add tomato paste.  The tomato paste will serve to deglaze the goodies that have been cooking.

3. Add tomatoes, stir and cook for another few minutes.  Finally, add kidney beans, bay leaf and water or stock.  Cook the chili over medium heat for about 45 minutes.  Half way through the cooking, add the butternut squash.

4. The chili is done when the beans are soft.  Add the herb of your choice and adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.  (I didn’t have either so I topped with an avocado creme and shredded cheddar.  Yum, yum!)

5. Enjoy!  With a thick piece of sour dough bread or a baguette and you’ll enjoy 2 times as much!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29