A little ode to sauerkraut (and why you should make it yourself)

Sauerkraut is super. And making it at home means zero waste. 


Did you catch this food diary slash interview with Moonjuice founder and actual (not really) space cadet?

You really ought to. Go, I’ll wait.

Now let’s think about how, for most of human history, and still for many humans today, having any food at all was pretty super. Nutritious food, prepared in an accessible way and within financial reach for the masses is worth celebrating.

One of the way humans could store and preserve precious food before refrigeration was through fermentation. Cheese is just fermented milk, bread is fermented wheat, and so on. It’s used everywhere, we just mostly don’t take notice.

More than just a way to preserve food

Fermentation also helps by adding good strains of bacteria back into western digestive tracts. Gut bacteria is being studied to find out more about its affect on mood and weight. One day maybe we’ll be able to map the human microbiome the way we’ve mapped the genome.

Consider that you might not actually be you, but almost a giant SCOBY, or a host. Your intestines hold a weird and wonderful mix of helpful microbes that assist in processing the food we eat. In fact everyone’s microbiome is different. It’s a symbiotic arrangement where ecosystem rules apply – disrupt things too much by destroying habitat and things might get a bit crazy. Case in point, if you ever been prescribed antibiotics, you’ve probably also been told to pair the dose with plain yogurt, which has some of the same strains of bacteria that help keep your downstairs vestibule healthy. Food can indeed be thy medicine.

If you’re interested in this stuff, the book Gut by medical doctor Julia Enders is an entertaining and very down to earth read, replete with funny illustrations by her sister, on the whole digestive system

Why you ought to try making your own sauerkraut

It’s soooo much cheaper that store bought:  Last I checked, store bought sauerkraut will set you back $15 – $18 a litre here in Sydney. By comparison, one head of cabbage costs $4 and made about 3 litres in my last batch, pictured here.

It’s actually easy: It’s only two to three ingredients: cabbage, unrefined salt and optional whole spices (I like coriander or fennel). It uses a low tech method – shred the cabbage, sprinkle salt on top, pound until juicy, pack in a jar, leave on the bench and wait 2 – 3 weeks. Takes a bit longer in winter, goes a bit faster in summer.

No new packaging: Whether it’s plastic or glass, we all use way too much, even if it actually does get recycled. Why get a new glass jar when you can reuse what you have?

The no-whey sauerkraut method I use

Sauerkraut recipes are literally everywhere because they are pretty much the same, except that some call for whey and some only use salt. After experimenting with both methods over the years, I definitely prefer the results from with salt only – crispy and brightly flavoured. Whey ferments have tended to go mushy on me.

I started with and still use a method based on fermentation legend Sandor Kratz’s instruction. He recommends about 3 tablespoons unrefined salt for every 5 lbs (about 2.5 kilos) of veg. Here’s a link if you need more detail. Side note, I highly recommend his amazing book, the Art of Fermentation.

The salt acts to encourage the growth of lactic acid bacteria strains – the good guys – that are already present on the cabbage. You’ll know if things are going well if the mixture starts to bubble after a few days. The aroma should be fairly innocuous.

Tips

  • I prefer red cabbage since it’s pretty when added to dishes, and has more vitamin c.
  • A fermenting crock with stones for weight is great, but a basic glass jar with shoulders works too.
  • Remember to keep one of the outer leaves of the cabbage to cover the mix and make it easier to push down and submerge into the liquid. The main rule for fermenting is that whatever is under the liquid line is in a safely acidic environment and stays food safe.
  • A fine whitish mould on top is fine, but colourful blues and reds in moulds are no bueno and a sign that something’s gone wrong.
  • Some recipes say to leave on the bench for a few days, but I allow my batches to go for closer to 3 weeks to let the good bacteria and complex flavours develop. Test as you go to see what you prefer.
  • A kitchen scale is extremely helpful when dealing with brines and weight based measures. I got mine at the op shop.
  • Unrefined salt means sea salt or another non-iodine variety.
  • Once you have the basic recipe, have fun and experiment with different spices or chilis and add ins.

Good sense bubbling to the surface

Sauerkraut is good for you, simple and cheap to make and is a perfect way to add an extra umami kick to food. One giant batch every six months is more than enough for me, and I put it on everything. I add a tablespoon to grain bowls, salads, avocado toast, you name it.

 

Waste free cilantro stem vinaigrette recipe

Make this cilantro stem salad dressing at home to reduce packaging and food waste. 


Easy to love, hard to grow and a shame to waste

Did you know cilantro – coriander to my Australian friends – is part of the carrot family? Did you also know I love it, but can’t grow it to save my life. Even if I could, I probably couldn’t keep up with my own demand.

When I buy cilantro I use nearly every part. I use the stems and leaves differently though. Each has that wonderful aromatic flavour, but the leaves are most beautiful as garnish, while the stems are perfect for recipes calling for blending or crushing.

Here is a simple, tangy, cilantro-y vinaigrette that would work equally well as a marinade.

Cilantro stem vinaigrette recipe

  • one bunch cilantro stems
  • slosh of apple cider vinegar
  • juice of half a lemon or lime
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • slosh of macadamia nut oil

Blend and pour over the salad just before serving.

Yesterday I used this on a salad of mignonette lettuce, avocado, thinly sliced white onions, and tomatoes. Two of us ate it, but it might be portioned more appropriately for four servings. I really like salad.

Another good use for cilantro stems is in a sort of white sauce for tacos.

Mexican cashew-cilantro stem sauce recipe

  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • one bunch of cilantro stems
  • juice of 1 lime
  • dash cumin
  • dash chili powder
  • pinch salt

Just blend together. If you want a more pourable mix, add hot water a bit at a time until you get to the consistency you want. You can substitute tahini for the cashews, or milk kefir to replace the cashews and water.

A delicious way to reduce food waste

Even though I compost, that still comes second to making sure I don’t let anything edible go to waste. As far as eating root to leaf, cilantro’s a pretty easy sell.

Let me know how you use cilantro stems in your cooking. My sister suggested blending to make a fresh curry, which is a great idea that I will definitely try.

Impress your friends with water kefir

A long time ago, I used to drink Diet Fresca. Today, water kefir is my obsession. 


Water kefir is a delicious, zero waste drink

If you enjoy drinking any sort of probiotic drink, you might try making it yourself, since $5 a serve is not affordable, no it’s not. If you are also someone watching their household waste you will almost certainly brew at home. It’s a great way to reduce packaging and the load on recycling systems. Whether glass or plastic, the more we reduce, the better.

I started with kombucha, the gateway ferment. Ubiquitous, and in theory, easy. In reality, I made some good batches, but mostly a lot of vinegar (useful, but not the point). So when my kombucha SCOBY faded out last year, I quit the ‘booch and went with water kefir instead.

Compared to kombucha, I find the taste of water kefir to be more crisp, less vinegary, and importantly, fizzier. It’s also more abundant, since I can make a new batch every one to two days rather than the 7 – 14 day brew time for kombucha.

I drink it chilled, add it to bircher for soaking (including the spent fruit pieces), or as a mixer for spirits.  If you’re champagned out during or after the Aussie silly season, it’s a refreshing alternative to champagne all by itself.

Water kefir is easy, fast and fizzy

After being inspired and convinced of a certain ease by this article, I acquired some grains at a food shop in Bronte and got started. Water kefir, also known as tibicos, has nothing to do with milk kefir except that the SCOBY is also grain shaped.

I had immediate and sustained success. My water kefir is reliably fizzy, low sugar (confirmed by a diabetic friend, who now also makes her own), and takes flavouring better than kombucha ever did for me.

My favourite water kefir flavour combos:

  • Mulberry or plum + cardamom + vanilla (tastes like cream soda!)
  • Raspberry + rose water
  • Lemon myrtle + raspberry
  • Cardamom + anything!

I won’t rewrite the method here, as it’s well explained in this Milkwood recipe (though I still use sugar, not honey). It’s a bit like a sourdough, and uses a simple backslop method where you pour off the majority of the the mother to make each flavoured batch, but retain and keep feeding that small amount. The word backslop sounds pretty gross, but it’s all very tidy and less visually disturbing than a kombucha SCOBY. It’s easy enough that I can eyeball the volumes and process a new batch in about five minutes.

Helpful tips for making water kefir

  • Don’t fret if all you have are metal utensils. Some people say this weakens the culture, but I use a metal strainer and utensils with no trouble.
  • My grains do best when I feed with a slice of fresh fruit, a piece of dried fruit and some sliced fresh ginger along with their sugar water.
  • A nice bit of fizz means it’s all alive and well.
  • Expect more fizz and faster brewing in the summer, less in the winter.
  • If I don’t get around to making a batch after a few days, I will pop in another slice of fruit. It just seems to work to keep things balanced with the yeasts.
  • If I’m away for more than a few days I feed, then refrigerate.
  • I use water that’s been filtered with a binchotan stick. I don’t notice a difference in the taste of the water I drink, but it made a dramatic difference to my ferments when I ticked over from non-filtered.
  • You can speed up the process by dissolving the sugar into a small amount of boiled water, then adding the hot water to room temp filtered water, rather than boiling the entire amount of water to dissolve the sugar and waiting for the whole volume to cool.
  • I cover the jars, but not super tightly, and I make sure to release built up gases if I see lots of fizz in warmer weather.
  • I like keeping the starter/mother in a wide mouth mason jar – It’s easy to get fruit in and out and measure the liquid.
  • If you prefer flip top bottles for the second ferment, they are cheap and plentiful at the op shops.
  • A bottle tastes best within about a week in the fridge, but we would rarely ever have it around that long.

Need to find a SCOBY? Try here if you’re in Sydney, the Crop Swap Facebook group is a good resource. This Pinkfarm online community lists those who are willing to swap cultures. I found water kefir to be more elusive, and actually bought my grains from Star Anise Wholefoods.

If you brew water kefir, what’s your favourite flavour combo?

Sometimes the problem is us

Whenever we get riled up about a problem, like systemic food waste, it’s really easy to rally against ‘they who are wasteful’.  But sometimes, the problem is us. 


As we learned in the #waronwaste, big supermarket chains here in Australia discriminate against fruits and veggies that don’t meet strict cosmetic standards. Bananas, like supermodels, that are too straight, too curvy, too big or too small don’t make it off the farm and into the supermarket aisles. They are grown, fertilized, harvested, and cast aside. All true. But it’s not just Coles and Woolies that need to stop judging bananas so harshly on their looks.

Let me tell you a story.

The other day I was dismayed to find five bananas tossed in to the compost. To me, they were perfect – not a pretty yellow, but a deep, uniform brown. Someone else did not share this view. They’d been tossed because of the colour of their skin, categorized as inedible.

I purposely buy the daggiest bananas I can find because I pretty much only bake with them, or freeze them at their peak sweetness for blending. That these so called ‘imperfect’ picks are often cheap as chips some places I buy groceries is merely a bonus. The closer they are to the compost pile, the more the sugars have developed, and the more delicious they will be.

More often than not, they are perfectly fine on the inside.