Excuses!

Well, I’ve been fermenting up a storm, but dissertating has kept me from posting about it. I’ve decided that, even if I can’t post regularly, I will post on any interesting new fermentations I do.  In particular, I’ve been trying to entice friends and family into the art of mead-making. (I read somewhere: “Give a man a beer and he’ll waste an hour. Teach a man to brew and he’ll waste a lifetime.”  That saying goes for mead, and women, too!) My partner and I just began a new 5 gallon batch, and I have photos, so by next weekend I’ll post a how-to for your first batch of mead.

Tempeh bacon

Tempeh bacon.

To make a tempeh-based approximation of bacon (I know, it’s not really like bacon, but it is GOOD) marinate tempeh slices for a few hours in:

1 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp soy sauce
salt, pepper, smoke paprika to taste

Vary the ingredients to your liking.
Fry until very crispy.
Try it in a TLT (Tempeh, Lettuce, Tomato) sandwich. I’m not a huge mayo fan, but the T/mayo interface is pretty important.
It’s good.

Finished kraut!

Filling jars with kraut.

So, I forgot to post the finished sauerkraut! It actually finished on October 10, 2011 (the fermentation took 2 weeks). I think it’s the best batch I’ve made. The cabbage is still very crunchy–much crunchier than store-bought sauerkraut. It has a strong sourness, but it is a more subtle sour (difficult to describe) than kraut that you buy in a can, which has often has vinegar added. I think the apples were a good addition. They seem to have made the fermentation go faster, and they add a nice texture. The caraway is noticeable, but not overly strong. Oh yeah, and the color! I like it.

Finished kraut.

We’ve eaten some already with home-made squash pierogi and on seitan reubans. Nom, nom, nom!

Signs of good tempeh

Tempeh success!

Here are the results of my second batch of tempeh! (I made more since then, but had no time to post.) It’s quite beautiful if I do say so myself.

To make good-tasting tempeh, you need to know what good tempeh looks, feels, and smells like when it’s done. This is best learned in person from a master like Bandung’s Papah, but if you don’t have the opportunity, keep these things in mind:

Good tempeh slices thin.

Looks like: The fluffy white mycelium have begun to grow all over the surface of the tempeh. The tempeh has taken on the shape of its container.

Smells like: Somewhere between fresh bread, mushrooms, and nice garden soil. Does not smell “off” or moldy.

Good tempeh doesn't crumble. It's flexible.


Feels like: Very firm, not crumbly or “collapsed.” A little moist to the touch, but not soggy or slimy. You should be able to slice it quite thin, much thinner than store-bought tempeh which is crumbly and not as good. When you slice it, the slices should be quite flexible.

Cross-section of tempeh.

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If these signs are right, you will have some delicious tempeh. It will be mild, but a little nutty. Like tofu, it will make on the flavors of sauces and marinades well–actually, tempeh does this a lot better than tofu. It has more “bite” than tofu, as well. When fried, it takes on a lovely crispness. My favorite? Tempeh “bacon.”

Stuck fermentation?

Well, I had to take an unexpected hiatus. Grad school intervened!  But fear not, I will return soon.  I have more tempeh updates, and I recently bottled some mead, began my first batch of kombucha, and ordered kefir grains. I’ve been taking photos, but have had no time to write anything other than the dissertation/applications!  But I promise– the fermentation will resume soon!

Hot Dilly Beans!

You can ferment all kinds of vegetables using basically the same technique as for sauerkraut. Both are lactic acid fermentations. Unlike cabbage, though, most other vegetables don’t have enough of their own juice to make a brine, so water needs to be added. Replacing the beans with pickling cucumbers, the instructions here could easily be used (with the exception of the hot peppers) to make traditional sour pickles.

Add beans, hot peppers, garlic, dill, and peppercorns to a quart jar.

For these dilly beans I used a quart jar full of purple green beans, 2 peruvian aji hot peppers, a handful of pickling dill, 1 Tbs whole peppercorns, and 3 whole garlic cloves. I used already fermented garlic cloves leftover from sour pickles I made earlier in the summer, but you don’t have to. This might have given my fermentation a kick-start, though the garlic flavor might be a little less intense than if you used 3 fresh cloves. There’s plenty of room to experiment with the seasonings.

Ready to add brine.

Pack all the ingredients into a clean quart jar. Really pack them in, to keep them from rising up and becoming exposed to the air when you add the brine, but try not to overly bruise the beans.

Dilly beans ready to ferment.

Now to make the brine. The proportion of the brine should be about 1 cup of water to 1 Tbs of pickling salt (not iodized). How much you will need depends on how well packed your veg is. Start by measuring a cup of water, dissolving 1 Tbs of pickling salt into it, and adding to the jar. Make a little more brine at the same proportion to top off. I needed 1.5 cups for this batch. Make sure the veg is completely covered by the brine, or the exposed parts could spoil. You could use a jar spacer, or a plastic bag to do this. Mine stayed submerged in place because I wedged the beans in very well.

As always, cover the container with a cloth. I used a small square of cheesecloth, screwed down with the outer part of a canning lid.

Dilly beans after 1 day of fermentation.

After 1 day of fermenting on the counter, it already smelled like very dilly pickles, and the purple color of the beans had (sadly!) faded.

After 2 days, they were plenty sour! The brine, interestingly, took up some of the purple color, though the beans are green as if they were cooked. I put a lid on them and moved them to the fridge and have been enjoying a few of them every day since! Only the beans closest to the peppers are very hot, but the heat should pervade all of them more over time.

These are great with sandwiches or in a nicoise salad!

Hot dilly beans ready to eat after just a couple of days! (And hey, look way in the back, left are our homemade preserved lemons.)

Tempeh #2

Let me show you how my first batch of tempeh came out, and how to start a new one:

Rhizopus oligosporus mycelium beginning to grow.

24 hours after the tempeh workshop–right on time–I began to see the white mycelia of Rhizopus spreading and beginning to bind together the soybeans.

33 hours after inoculation.

By 11pm that evening, most of the surface of the beans was covered by the downy fungus. I probably could have left it longer, but I wanted to go to bed, and didn’t want the tempeh to become over-mature. (I started my new batch, see below, a little earlier in the day to avoid this problem.) I put it in the fridge until I wanted to use it, a couple days later. (No photos of that because we were too hungry to remember to take a picture. But we made this, and it was good.)

The finished tempeh!

The finished tempeh was good and firm. It sliced well–I could have sliced it very thin without it crumbling. It smelled sort of like bread or fresh, earthy mushrooms. It was dry and not slimy at all. These are all the qualities you are looking for. If anything seems off, toss it and start over. As Papah said at the tempeh-making workshop I attended last week, Rhizopus oligosporus is basically like the mold that grows on bread. (In fact, Rhizopus is a genus that includes a few molds that grow on bread and fruit.) But unlike those molds R. oligosporus is a “friendly” mold! When you meet it, you will know it’s good to eat!

Soaked, cracked and hulled soybeans, ready to cook.

Well, that batch was inoculated by Papah at Bandung. All I did was incubate it. I’ve now started a new batch from scratch. I began with already cracked and hulled soybeans that I got at the workshop. If you can only find whole beans (which I will also have to use when these run out) you’ll have to squeeze the beans to remove as many hulls as possible. Yesterday, I covered about a pound (a little under 2 cups) of the dry beans with water, brought it up to a boil, and then took it off the heat to soak for about 6-8 hours. You could just soak them over night. By this time they were still crunchy and inedible. Then I boiled them for about 45 minutes, until they were just cooked through. You do not want them to get mushy, as the process of fermentation softens them  bit more.

Add 1Tbs vinegar to the beans and dry them.

Then I drained the beans and added a tablespoon of vinegar. This will help create an inviting environment for Rhizopus, but not other microorganisms.

Next is a very important step: dry the beans. I used a towel and, following Papah’s suggestion, a hairdryer. You want the beans to be just dry to the touch. Papah described it this way: you are trying to grow Rhizopus, and the beans are like the soil in a garden. It can’t be too wet. The moisture the Rhizopus needs is inside the beans, not on the surface, or it is too waterlogged. Wet beans are a common cause of tempeh failure.

When the cooked beans have cooled and are dry, add 1/4 tsp of the culture.

When the beans are dry on the surface, add 1/4 tsp of the tempeh culture (or follow package instructions–I think some manufacturers add filler to help it spread). You can buy the culture here, they even have free samples! Make sure you sprinkle the culture evenly, and mix gently so that it is spread throughout the beans.

Close up of holes in plastic bag.

Add the inoculated beans to a plastic bag that has been pierced full of holes.

Ready to incubate.

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Now, prepare your container. Using a needle or a skewer, poke holes into a small ziplock bag–about half inch apart. This will allow the tempeh to “breathe.” Without circulation, moisture can build up on the surface of the tempeh and make it go bad.

Fill the bag with the inoculated beans and flatten into the thickness that you want your temph to be. You can fold over an edge of the bag to make thicker tempeh. I put my tempeh on a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and into my gas oven. With the oven off and the door propped open, the temperature stays around 85°.

I will be checking the temperature through the day to make sure it doesn’t get too high–trying to keep it below 90°. As the tempeh ferments, it creates its own “body heat.” If it gets too hot it can kill the Rhizopus, or create too much condensation and produce poor-quality tempeh.

This is the first batch of tempeh that I’m making from scratch, so wish me luck and check back in a day!

Venturing into tempeh

Tempeh (image from wikimedia commons)

Today I had to good fortune of attending a workshop on making tempeh at Bandung Indonesian Restaurant. I’ve never made tempeh before–the need to purchase spores and to maintain a relatively high constant temperature during fermentation mean that tempeh is not necessarily a project for beginners. So, I would try making yogurt (coming soon!) first, to get acquainted with controlling fermentation temperature.

Bandung’s tempeh-master “Papah” Mochammad Sjachrani showed us the steps and gave tips based on his 15 years of experience. We got to see, smell, and feel the difference between good and not-so-good tempeh. I went home with a stomach full of the best tempeh I’ve ever had, and the supplies to make my first couple of batches.

Papah's tempeh instructions, ~2 tsp of tempeh starter, 2 lbs of cracked and hulled dry soybeans, and a small bag of cooked and inoculated soybeans

Basically, tempeh is made by inoculating cooked and patted-dry soybeans (hulls removed) with Rhizopus oligosporus. The inoculated beans must be placed into a breathable  form (in this case a ziplock bag with small holes poked into it) and incubated until the Rhizopus mycelium bind the beans together into a firm cake.

I’ll show you all the steps in detail in a future post. For now I’m just waiting for the pre-inoculated soybeans that I brought home to blossom into delicious tempeh. Papah suggested to aim for 72-74°, and to look for finished tempeh in 48-72 hrs. This will allow me to practice the trickiest part of the process, without having to go through all the labor of the earlier steps the first time.

My first attempt at a tempe-incubation set-up: cooling rack on cookie sheet...

I’ve had plenty of luck using my gas oven, turned off, to incubate yogurt. I think it is probably the most constantly warm place in the house, so I will give this method a try. To give the tempe good circulation, I’m placing it on top of a cooling rack on a cookie sheet.

An instant-read thermometer says it’s in the right temperature range (though maybe a little low)–I’ll keep checking over the next few hours to make sure. If it stays too low, I’ll try turning on the oven for a few seconds.

...and into the oven (turned off!)

Come back here in a couple of days to see if my tempeh has come alive!

***TEMPH UPDATE***

Kraut update

So, I’ve hopped in my TARDIS to check on how my sauerkraut has progressed after a week. Well, no, I actually started that batch last Sunday, one week ago! (And the TARDIS is in the shop.)

As you can see, the brine has risen a bit, now completely covering the plate. And if you press down on the plate, some bubbles will rise up. The green cabbage has been dyed a bit pink by the red cabbage.

Kraut after 1 week

Tasting a small piece, I find that its already quite sour.  I expected this batch to take a bit longer, since its been around 65° in the house. Maybe the apple helped the fermentation go more quickly? I still think I’ll let it sit a few more days to get it as sour as I like it.

Fermentation helps build patience!

Sauerkraut!

For my first post I’m going to start with the easiest vegetable ferment.  All the ingredients that you really need are cabbage and salt. The cabbage should be fresh and “juicy,” or else you may need to add extra water. (I’m lucky to be in Madison, WI, where we have the country’s largest produce-only farmer’s market every Saturday! Lots of cheap fresh veg: Yay!) You should use non-iodized salt, made for canning and pickling (see the photo below). Apparently, the iodine can inhibit the microorganisms that you are trying to encourage, and might cause discoloration. I’m actually using both green and red cabbage, which makes a really gorgeous pink kraut, and I’m going to try adding some apples and caraway seed as well.

Assemble your kraut ingredients!

So, the recipe I’m using today is:

  • 1 ~5 lbs green cabbage
  • 1 ~3 lbs red cabbage
  • 6 Spartan apples, peeled and cored (I picked these a few days earlier at the Eplegaarden)
  • 1 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • ~5 Tbsp pickling salt
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But for a smaller, simpler first batch, you might just use

  • 5 lbs cabbage
  • 3 Tbsp pickling salt
Equipment-wise you’ll need (1) a ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket. I am using a lovely 2 gallon crock that my dad gave me for Christmas, but a 1 gallon container of some sort would work for the smaller batch that I listed above. You need (2) something to smash down the cabbage. For small batches, your (clean) hand will work fine, but  I’ve got a special sauerkraut stomper (thanks again dad!). It’s really more some kind of giant wooden dwarves’ club–not really necessary for small batches, though it is a lot more fun! You will also need (3) a plate that will fit into your container, and (4) a can, rock, or a jar filled with water to weigh the kraut down (not pictured here, but see the last photo). Finally, you should cover the crock with (5) a cloth as it ferments.

Chop your cabbage!

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To begin, you have to slice up the cabbage. Also peel and slice apples, if using, and any other veg/fruit you happen to decide to toss in there! Do a little at a time and see the next step.
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Add layers of cabbage (and other ingredients) and sprinkle salt over. Note: that's my crazy kraut club, but you don't *have* to use one.

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As you chop, add some of the cabbage to your crock, sprinkling with a little of the salt as you go. (Don’t add it all at once or it will be hard to smash.) Try to add the salt evenly throughout the process.  Toss this cabbage with the salt and let it sit for a few minutes as you chop more cabbage. Then press it down with your fist or a sauerkraut stomper.  Really smash it!  This is the fun part (other than eating it)!  You want to help the salt to release the water that’s in the cabbage.

The first round of cabbage, smashed down. ARGH! HULK SMASH!

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You can see, it loses a lot of volume after being smashed down. It also should begin to release some water. If it doesn’t do this immediately, don’t worry. It will release water as it sits.

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All the ingredients added to the crock and smashed down.

Now, keep adding layers of cabbage and salt and smash down as you go. Here, I did a couple layers of green cabbage (about half the head), then a layer of the red cabbage, apples, and caraway seeds, and then topped off with more green cabbage layers.  You can’t see the red cabbage and apples here, but when you see the juice that rises up, it will be pink because of these ingredients.

Weighing and waiting...

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Once all the ingredients are added and smashed down, place a clean plate on top, and weigh it down. Here, I used a quart jar filled with water, covered with a plastic bag, to weigh it down. But you can improvise. You should cover you crock with a cloth to keep out fruit flies. Some of the unwanted members of your kitchen ecosystem also adore kraut, so keep it covered! Come back and check on your kraut a few hours after packing it, and you should see that the briny cabbage juice has risen to completely cover the vegetables. If your cabbage was too dry and this doesn’t happen by the next day, you should add some brine (1 Tbsp of salt dissolved in 1 cup of water) to cover.

Now all you have to do is wait while the microbes do the hard work!

I’ve made sauerkraut several times now, and I learned how from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation (highly recommended).  The process can take as little as a week if it’s warm out, but it could take up to a month in the winter. If you’ve never fermented before, it will be a revelation! It’s hard to imagine when you start out with a bunch of salty cabbage how this is going to transform into the deliciously sour kraut that we all know and love. Taste it periodically as the fermentation proceeds. It’s really amazing to see how the taste changes over time.

Don’t sweat it if some scum or mold forms on top. The baddies can’t live in the brine. Just skim it off. If too much brine evaporates and the cabbage is exposed, add some more brine (I’ve never had this happen, though). Once it’s as sour as you like, you can store it in jars in the fridge.

Check back here soon and I’ll report on how this batch goes!

***KRAUT UPDATE***