No country for old milk: how kefir grains help me avoid food waste

Fermentation is a handy tool to prevent food going to waste, like milk that’s about to expire. No spills, no tears! Let’s make kefir. 


Food waste in aisle seven…

The other week in the grocery store, I noticed bottles of organic milk on sale for only a dollar each. Normally these are $5.50 at the same shop so I took home two bottles full.

The only catch? The milk would expire the next day. But don’t fret friends, I had a plan.

I would make kefir of course.

Milk kefir is a fermented probiotic food that has been shown to improve gut bacteria, which helps not only our physical health, but our mental health too.

Fermentation is a way of preserving foods that would otherwise go off. The way it works is that the acidic conditions created through fermentation inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, which keeps foods safe for us to eat. In many cases, fermentation actually makes the foods more digestible and nutritious.

The method came into play long before refrigeration was a thing. Like, well before. Because if you think about it, bread is fermented grain, fish sauce is fermented fish, cheese is fermented milk, and so on. These foods have been part of tradition cultures for eons.

Fizzy, tangy milk kefir

Milk kefir grains are a type of SCOBY that transform milk specifically into a fizzy tangy yogurt-like food. I eat it just as I would yogurt or cook with it just as I would sour cream or buttermilk. Or I make cheese – but that’s a story for another day. It’s a bit more liquid in texture than yogurt – reminiscent of Yop, for those of us who remember.

While one can buy kefir in most grocers around my parts, I make my own because it’s a better quality probiotic, I can avoid excess packaging, and it’s all just too easy.

How to make milk kefir

All you need is a few tablespoons of kefir grains and some milk. The amounts are somewhat flexible, as is the time you leave it out. Use a ratio of around 8 parts milk to 1 part grains, or reduce the ratio of milk.  I’ve been making it for over a year now and I find it to be a very robust culture that tolerates my very casual approach to following recipes.

Instructions

  • Add your kefir grains to up to 1L of milk in any clean glass container.
  • Leave on the kitchen bench for 24 – 48 hours at room temp with a loose covering to keep out bugs, but not airtight. The warmer the temp, the faster the ferment.
  • After the fermentation step, strain out the grains with a fork or some other straining tool.
  • The strained kefir goes back into the same jar and into the fridge, and the grains go into more milk for a new batch in a clean jar. You can add fruit and let it sit out for a second ferment, but I haven’t experimented as much here as I have with kombucha and my super duper, mega favourite ferment, water kefir.
  • After the milk kefir has gone into the fridge with a tightly capped lid, it will become effervescent and keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

If I’m travelling or just want to press pause on making more kefir, I put the grains in milk and put them into the fridge. Refrigeration slows down the activity of the culture, and thus, the fermentation process. This is the slow train to Kefirville. If you leave this a week or so in the fridge, you’ll have the same result as if you’d done the shorter stint on the counter. I was out of the country for over three weeks last summer and it was all fine like this until I returned.

Where to find milk kefir grains

It’s cheap to make your own kefir, it’s so simple, and it’s a great way to avoid food waste.

If you’re in Australia, look for a crop swap group in your area, try asking on the Nabo app (this is where I got mine – thanks Roz!), or you could try searching this database for someone nearby. I’m sure you could buy some online or dehydrated, but sharing cultures is a way to make life better without paying to play. Once you have your grains, they will last indefinitely, and you can share with others once they start to multiply.

Fritter away leftovers with this easy food waste hack

Think of leftovers as a shortcut to a tasty, easy Zero Waste meal. Fritters are one of my favourite ways to use up leftover bits and bobs that might otherwise leave me uninspired. 


In January, post-holiday, I think many people come to the realization that they’ve over-catered, have too much food in the fridge, and little motivation to do anything other than toss it in the bin and start afresh.

Will it fritter?

If you find yourself in this particular situation, I want you to ask yourself this one question: Will it fritter?

Making leftovers into a simple fritter batter makes an easy dinner or breakfast. Many dishes actually taste better after a day or two in the fridge, when flavours have a chance to develop.

The basic fritter method

When making fritters, the amount of batter you’ll make depends on the amount of leftovers, but don’t worry, it’s really easy.

Start by chopping up what you have on hand and placing it in a bowl. You can do this by hand or in a food processor, like I did in this case.

chopped leftovers

Then coat with the flour of your choice – I use chickpea flour (sometimes called besan). Add a pinch of bi carb for leavening and salt to enhance the flavour.

There isn’t a strict measure, just coat and mix. I like to grind a bunch of pepper in to the batter at this point too.

Add one, two, or three eggs and stir in.

Dollop the batter onto a medium hot griddle or a cast iron pan with a bit of seasoning or oil. I like to use the BBQ hotplate during the summer.

Flip once.

Serve with some fresh greens and yogurt or salsa on top.

Here’s where a beautiful shot of the plated fritters would’ve been great. Sorry, I just went ahead and ate them.

Troubleshooting and substitutions

If your fritters don’t hold together on the grill for some reason, just go with it. Scramble them up and call it a hash. Pretend that’s exactly what you meant to do. There are no rules except that you generally want to heat up your leftovers to a safe internal temperature.

If you wanted to make it vegan, you could try a chia or aquafaba egg to replace the real egg (3 parts water to 1 part chia seeds – mix and let the mixture gel a few minutes).

If you’re using chicken’s eggs, why not explore a few surprising things you can do with the shells?

Fritters are easy, Zero Waste, and un-screw-uppable

Fritters are one of the reasons I never worry about too much roasted veg, day old corn, bits of leftover chicken, okara, lentils, quinoa, couscous… or anything else. They are also a good way to use up those last bits of condiments lurking about in your fridge. There are as many possible flavour combinations as you have leftovers.

Embrace those leftovers. Instead of tossing them, go ahead and fritter them away.

Foraging for passionfruit

Summer foraging in Sydney means scores of passionfruit.


There is this passionfruit vine that hangs over a tall fence in a pedestrian only walkway.

I’ve had my eye on it since I discovered its existence, shortly after I arrived in Sydney.

This particular passionfruit vine has long taunted me. I’d visit it only to find either a profusion of flowers or halfway formed fruit pushing out of labouring blooms (and often both).

But never any ripe fruit.


Around the end of December, summer here in the southern hemisphere, I finally timed it right. The vine was bursting, the fruit was coming ripe, and the cockatoos were lurking nearby.

When ripe, passionfruit will turn purple and fall off the vine. They might even roll onto a footpath. I collected a shirt-full of the purple-skinned fruit that day, and more the next time I visited.

They may fall from the tree with smooth skins, but will wrinkle after a few days on the counter. That’s how you know they’re ready to be halved and enjoyed.

The seeds are edible and give easily when you bite. Tangy and sweet, it’s a classic pavlova topping, but equally good chilled and eaten with a spoon.

Delicious. And sweetest when handpicked from the vine down the street.

Zero waste snack: roasted pumpkin seeds

roasted pumpkin seeds

Don’t toss your pumpkin seeds – when roasted they’re a delicious and easy Zero Waste snack.


On pumpkins: from sceptic to superfan

Growing up, I was not a fan of pumpkins. The only pumpkins I liked were Smashing, made into pie or used for halloween decor. Wedges of orange flesh, even dressed up with brown sugar was never something I’d voluntarily eat. Sorry Mom, file that one with your peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the She’s Not Having It folder.

I’m sure my mother is delighted to know that nowadays I am a big fan of all kinds of pumpkins. I’m not sure why it changed exactly. All of a sudden I started to like them, alongside the previously despised brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini… you get the picture. Maybe it was something in the preparation, or simply a maturing of my taste buds. I don’t like Corn Pops cereal anymore, so there.

I should perhaps clarify: In Australia, they call anything a pumpkin that Canadians would call winter squash.

Whatever you call them, they are brilliant roasted, blended for soup or cubed into slow cooked curries. Kabocha and butternut are my favourites.

I now eat plenty of pumpkin, including the skins. I even eat the flowers when I can get my hands on them. But something I’ve never ever had a problem with are the seeds. My mom used to toast them after we’d scooped them out of our jack-o-lanterns. Tasty, crunchy snacks that also happen to be Zero Waste. But you don’t need to wait for Halloween to make these – you can roast the seeds of any pumpkin or squash to similar effect.

How to make roasted pumpkin seeds

It’s really too easy.

When you eat any pumpkin, scoop out the seeds, remove any large fleshy bits from the seeds with your fingers, toss them in a bit of oil of your choice and a sprinkle of salt and roast for 15 minutes in an oven on medium heat (180 C/ 350 F).

Sometimes I add smoked paprika or garam masala in addition to salt. These are nice on salads or just eaten warm out of the oven. Choose your own adventure.

At bulk wholefoods stores, you’ll see pumpkin seeds under the name pepitas. These are simply pumpkin seeds that are bred without shells, or shelled. If you cracked the seed husks in most pumpkins, you’d find a similar green seed. This is possible to do at home but let’s be honest, who wants to bother with all that. You certainly don’t need to for this recipe.

Here’s to happy snacking, without the wrapping.