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Kefir bread

Kefir Bread — Whole wheat edition with raw hempseed and rosemary

Since apparently WordPress hates me today (as happens), I’m going to keep this short rather than try to recreate the text yet again.

Here’s what I started out with:

1/2 cup raw hemp seed (Nutiva)
1 cup kefir
1/2 cup milk (both this and kefir were nonfat)
1 teaspoon kefir grains (if you use store bought kefir, no worries, you can skip this step I’m sure)

There were put in my BlendTec blender to make into a smooth consistency.
Next, into a large metal bowl went:

2 1/2 cups of whole

To which I added the kefir blend, mixing everything by hand and then kneading the dough for about five minutes. The end consistency was just this side of sticky: enough to have the dough stick to the bowl and my hands a little bit but gentle persuasion was sufficient to get the dough into a nice orderly ball like so:


I covered the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise overnight. Keep in mind that the yeast and bacteria in kefir have a favorite food, at it is milk, not grain. Thus the dough will not rise as fast as with baking yeast. Also, that’s why there’s milk added, to give the little microbes a bit of food.

The next morning the double had doubled to look like this:


At which point I added

2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon rosemary powder (easily could have taken more)
1 heaping teaspoon sodium carbonate (baking soda + 4hrs in a 400deg oven)

These probably could have been added earlier but… well, that’s how I did it.

Oiled up a cookie sheet (pan?) with olive oil and gently scooped up the dough and placed it on the sheet. Then gently oiled up the whole loaf to keep it from drying out. And then the whole kit and caboodle went into an oven

Pre-heated to 350deg

After 20min I put a bit of aluminum foil on the bread since it looked like it was already getting a bit dry and I wanted to have a reasonably soft crust.

Another 25min at the bread came out of the oven:


After letting it cool a bit (~10min), bread went on the cutting board and:


Looks good, no? Tastes good too. No hint of sourness or tanginess, but a nice full flavor that mixed well with olive oil and salt. The texture is both substantial yet light. Despite the lack of sugar, this whole wheat bread doesn’t have that “must be healthy” taste or mouth-feel. Overall I’m quite pleased with how this project turned out. Fairly easy, tasty, and less than a day from start to finish, which on a fermentation scale is pretty short. Variations to come for sure.

Kefir Modding : Engineering the SCOBY

Several weeks ago I ordered kefir grains. Although they were viable after their stint in an envelope for close to a week, the kefir they produced didn’t seem right in taste and flavor; harsher than what kefir should taste like.

Since this did not resolve after the first few batches, I bought some Lifeway kefir at the store. The idea was that since this kefir does taste the way I wanted mine to taste, it clearly had the right bacteria and yeast in the right proportions. Since the grains are just a polysaccharide, specifically kefiran, which provides a home for the yeast and bacteria that make up the kefir SCOBY, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ones from the store bought kefir would join their brethren.

What ensued was World War I in a jar. There were clear signs of some heavy use of chemical warfare. Although kefir normally produces some CO2 during fermentation, in the night that followed the mingling of the two colonies the amount generated was almost explosive.

After brewing up a batch of kefir with the grains that had multiplied quite dramatically during the short lived war, it was clear who had won. The kefir was still running and harsh.

Fortunately, I had another plan and ordered some Matsoni yogurt starter. This yogurt was described as having “a thick viscous consistency,” which suggested that Leuconostoc Cremoris bacteria in it were producing some nice polysaccharides. Plus since the other name for this particular yogurt is Caspian Sea yogurt and kefir thought to originate in the Caucasus Mountains right next door, it seemed like this ‘cultural’ addition might work.

And… It did!

The kefir that is now produced is much silkier in texture, the way that, in my mind, kefir should feel. And the taste has mellowed out considerably. Of course, the diversity of the SCOBY might have taken a hit, since suddenly a very large new population of just two strains was added. But maybe not. It’s possible that the weird texture and flavor were indicative of an unbalanced system, with one particular strain being overactive and the two new strains put the house back in order.

Thus is seems that SCOBY engineering was successful on the second try and that’s pretty good. As is the kefir, which just makes this experiment that much more satisfying.

Right, the “how to part” went missing. Here we go:

1.Poured off kefir, leaving the kefir grains in the sieve
2. Using a spoon, got all the grains together into a single mass, and flattened it out (gently)
3. Opened a packet of the Matsoni yogurt starter and sprinkled entire powdered content onto the grains
4. Gently worked the grains with a spoon to try to disperse the starter evenly throughout the grains, making sure there were no dry clumps of starter left
5. Mixed the grains into some room temperature milk and let the whole thing do it’s business for two days.

Home made soy and hemp tempeh: First attempt results

There are several things I enjoy about tempeh. The texture is nice an hearty and, unlike other concentrated sources of veggie protein, eating a chicken-breast sized chunk of tempeh is as filling and satisfying as eating a chicken breast.

What isn’t quite as great about tempeh is that its a little bland for my taste. There is something about soy that almost feels like an active non-taste. There are some commercial products that mix soy with other grains in a way that improves the taste… but lowers the protein content and raises the carbohydrate content; not ideal when attempting to use tempeh in place of meat.

But you know what other vegetable matter is high in protein? Hemp seed. Much like soy, hemp is a complete protein. As an extra bonus, hemp seeds are loaded with magnesium; most people’s diets is deficient in this mineral. This is unfortunately since it’s just as, if not more critical, for your health than calcium. But more on that another time.

Thus, it seemed like a logical extension of standard tempeh would be a mix of soy beans and hemp seeds.

Unlike yogurt starter, which is available everywhere, tempeh starter is harder to come by. Fortunately, Cultures for Health carries five packs for $5, which is a darn good price considering that tempeh costs about $3-5 per 2 serving pack and each pack of tempeh starter can make between 5-20 comparable sized servings.

The project involved following instructions (for a change), with the exception that the starting mixture was 1 part cooked organic soybeans to 1 part raw organic hemp seeds.

Placed the mixture on  cookie sheet, making a layer about a quarter of an inch thick. Covered with a damp cheese cloth and into the oven it went to sit at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

After 24 hours, there was hint of something going on.
By 36 hours, there was a pleasant ‘woodsy nuttish’ smell, with a slight ammonia undertone (as expected)
This is what it looked like from the top (sorry, cellphone camera for now):


And from the bottom:


Clearly, the mycelium preferred to be protected from oxygen and having access to more moisture than expected from the instructions that came with the tempeh starter.

Since the instructions said that the whole process might take 48 hours, I decided to let the project run to completion. This was a mistake. A minor one but the ammonia smell increased over the next 12 hours (fortunately it dissipated quickly) and the tempeh acquired a slight hint of bitterness.

But overall, I’m quite pleased with how this turned out. Because the cooked soybeans had been dried out a bit and the tempeh had a chance to breathe, it turned out much lighter than the store bought kind. Which meant that after being put into a soy/shittake broth, it soaked up some of the tasty goodness.

So far, the soy and hemp tempeh is as filling and satisfying to eat as the pure soy from the store. But tastier and more versatile. Plus my homemade tempeh is cheaper and more nutritious than the stuff from the store. All in all, this project is a win.

After I finish eating this batch, the next one will be made with chickpeas instead of soy beans. But the hemp seeds stay, that’s for sure.

First attempt at homemade miso. Part I

A little less than a year ago, on a trip up to Vermont I was introduced to miso. No, not the first time I’d had miso in my life but first time I’d scooped it out of a jar and put it into a bowl of hot water with grains and veggies to transform it into a soup. Since then I’ve kept my home stocked with one or more varieties of miso. And, through one of those cosmic convergences, the second issue of Lucky Peach had a short piece on the different types of misos, some of which were hard to come by in the US. This got me fantasizing about making my own miso.

Although one might argue that it would be sensible to pursue following a recipe for one’s first attempt at miso, I disagree. What recipes exist are going to be for misos that I can get at the store which will be far superior. To take those on as a first project would, in my mind, be equivalent to making a Pinot Noir as a first attempt at wine making, rather than starting off with a wine based on local fruit; even if it’s mediocre, hey, not like you’d get decent apricot wine at your local liquor store anyway, right?

The first step towards making miso is to make koji. What’s koji? Good question. Koji is the term for a grain/legume that has been overgrown with koji-kin, a.k.a. Aspergillus oryzae, a type of mold. Took me too long to figure that out. You can buy ready made koji, which is what got me a little confused to begin with in terms of what it was. Now, if you believe the recipes, you need to start the culture on steamed rice. To which I said pfft. We’re talking about a mushroom forming mycelium, which needs food and enough air pockets to spread around. Which means, no, a solid lump of cooked rice isn’t going to do it (to be fair, some subtle flavors might be lost is cooking vs. steaming). Also, you can grow a. oryzae on anything that it will grow on (thank you tautology), magically transforming it into koji.

What I find interesting is that it seems quite possible that what you want from the koji might not be the mold itself. Apparently you can make miso from koji which is dry. Plus you miso seems to require a lot of salt (for comparison, a teaspoon of salt is about 5g). That level of salt kills just about everything. But that wouldn’t deactivate the enzymes that were already created by the mold. At the same time, you’d prevent other mold or bacteria taking up residence in the miso while it ages, for 6-12 months minimum but in some cases several years.

Back to the kitchen, this miso is made with black beluga lentils and forbidden rice, a miso I’m unlikely to find in any store. Cooked both until reasonably soft (separately, to make sure neither turned to mush while the other was still working on getting soft). Mixed the two in a ratio of one-to-one, approximately four cups each, in a large metal bowl. Sprinkled a little koji-kin on it (from www.grapeandgranary.com, the “sake homebrew kit” from Vision Brewing). Covered the bowl with a high thread count cheese cloth and put it in the oven, where it got a short burst of heat (170 deg) and then left to it’s own devices overnight.

That was Sunday night. For the next two days, twice a day, I’d take the bowl out of the oven and take a knife to the surface of the rice and lentil mix, basically tilling it, much as one would soil. By this morning, the mold was most definitely apparent… as was the smell. Egads, this was not a pleasant part of the project. I was a bit afraid as to what might meet me in when I got home from work. Turns out, the process was like stincky cheese in reverse. Although strong, the aroma had shifted to something much more food-like. Given that the mold had pretty much infiltrated every part of the rice/lentil mix possible, I called the koji done and took my hand blender to it, making it into a smooth paste. Based on what I’ve read, what I have is a little more moist than what I’m aiming for but with the A/C on, that shouldn’t last long. Added salt and transferred everything into a glass container. Coated the surface with an eight inch thick layer of salt to discourage any new microflora from taking up residence on this fine nutrient mass, placed some wax paper on top and then covered the mouth of the the container with cheesecloth for now.

Now I just need to get some small stones to put weight on the surface. After that, it’s waiting for a few months to see what happens.

Raw Vegan Cheese: The Science Begins

While I’m not vegan myself, thus certainly not raw vegan, the idea fascinates me. Plus some of what I’ve seen raw vegan chefs have come up with certainly challenges assumptions about what is and is not necessary in terms of creating tasty food.

When it comes to raw vegan cheese, there seem to be two categories of recipes out there. The first, actually creates a product that can be called cheese; an example can be found here. Before you get uppity about what the term “cheese” means, consider the following: you would call a bowl of baby spinach with shredded carrots “spinach salad” and you would also call a mix of tuna, mayo, and celery “tuna salad.” If you can justify why both things desire to be called “salad” but only mammal based milk products can qualify as “cheese”… you should go to grad school. Back to the topic at hand. The second type of raw vegan cheese recipe can be found here (I feel that this is an example of why people mock raw vegans; calling it a walnut spread would keep that from happening).

There is a place in Brooklyn called Dr. Cow that makes aged raw vegan cheeses. They are pretty serious, selling nationwide, making a variety of cheeses. And this is what go my brain working. If you look at the selection, the main thing that is different is what nuts and/or seeds they are made of. Obviously, the main ingredient is going to affect the flavor, much like basic white cheese made from cow’s milk tastes quite a bit different from that made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. But when you go to the store, your mostly choosing from a wide selection of cow’s milk cheeses, each with a distinct flavor and texture profile. So what I wondered is: can a similar process be applied to nut/seed based cheeses?

And thus I placed an order with the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company for two basic types of bacteria used in cheese making: mesophilic and thermophilic. Why yes, the packets do contain lactose. And yes, I can still claim veganness here on account of lactose used as an ingredient being produced industrially by bacteria, not extracted from milk (which would be crazy expensive). The main difference between the two seems to be the temperature at which the two types like to grow (guess which one prefers higher temperatures). I’ve resisted getting ahead of myself in reading up on their other fine virtues since the two things I was interested in where:

1. Would these grow in a nut based environment? Reason to believe that they could but theory v. reality can be harsh.

2. Would there be any obvious difference in flavor produced by the two?

A secondary level of inquiry concerned which would grow better in its nutty medium in the temperature range that I have in the apartment (72-80).

With that in mind, yesterday I made a batch of cashew medium. First, cashews into food processor to make a reasonably fine, even powder. Then into the BlendTec went:

1 cup boiled and cooled to room temperature water

3 cups of cashew powder (firmly packed, like brown sugar)

Let the miracle machine do its business max speed until it stopped blending because the cashews and water formed a smooth, thick paste (going for a creamy cream cheese with this project).

Had two, clean, one pint yogurt containers ready, each filled with their respective bacteria powders (dissolved in one teaspoon of water for even distribution). Spooned out the cashew paste into each container, added about a half teaspoon of kosher salt and blended (each with a different spoon, obviously). And then both containers got sealed and went into the pantry.

What’s happening with them now?

Both cultures are alive and doing their fermenting thing (yay!). How can I tell? Both have a gentle lactic acid smell. However, it is clear that the mesophilic culture is doing better at room temperature. Much fuller aroma compared to the thermophilic culture which has but a slight hint of something other than cashews.

And so the development of both will continue at room temperature for another 24hrs. After that, one, or both, might get transferred to the fridge to continue ripening there.