Archives for 2011

Old-fashioned Sauerkraut

Old-fashioned Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is the classic food of Eastern Europe, derived from the German term for ‘soured cabbage’. Like many leafy greens the cabbage is a hybrid of the wild mustard (Brassica oleracea), and its healing and medicinal virtues have long been extolled by the ancients. Of cabbage, Cato the Elder claimed many uses: in the treatment of digestive disorders and colic, as well as arthritis, ulcers, nasal polyps, deafness and tumors, and applied topically as a poultice for wounds, sores and infection. In the 1950s, raw cabbage juice caught the attention of researchers, and was found to have anti-ulcer and anti-inflammatory effects in the digestive tract. Like rapini and other brassicas, cabbage contains organosulfur compounds including phenethyl isothiocyanate and sulforaphane that have been shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-tumor properties.

Given the rather ubiquitous presence of cabbage and cabbage-like sisters including sui choy all over the world, it is no surprise there is such a diversity of live culture cabbage dishes, from the traditional European sauerkraut, to Kimchi (p. 186) in Korea. The following recipe favors the European palette, and contains herbs that are good for relieving gas and bloating, but can just as easily be left out for a simpler flavor.

2 lbs. grated cabbage (~ one cabbage head)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp. salt
½ tsp. dill seed
½ tsp. savory seed
½ tsp. coriander seed
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. caraway seed

Mix the grated cabbage and onion in a large, clean mixing bowl with clean hands, and add in the salt and herbs. Knead and squeeze the vegetables well for about 5 minutes, ensuring that everything is well mixed and sloppy, as the salt and kneading will pull a lot of the water out of the veggies. Stuff this mixture into a clean, dry, large wide-mouth mason jar, pressing down as you add each handful, allowing the juices to rise above the level of the vegetables. Seal the jar and set it aside for 1-2 hours, and then with clean hands, push down again on the mixture so that more brine rises to the surface. If there isn’t enough brine, top up the jar with some water, seal the jar and shake well, ensuring that the veggies are now lying below the surface of the brine. Any material that lies above the surface of the brine may get moldy. Put the jar aside, but make sure to open the lid and release the (stinky) gasses that accumulate a few times a day, for the first few days. The ferment is typically established within 4-5 days, after which you can drain off any excess liquid that you added. Reseal and set aside for 2-3 weeks and then enjoy, storing in the fridge to preserve the flavor and prevent it from becoming too sour.

How to make ghee

How to make ghee

Ghee is the classic cooking fat of ancient India, used not only in a variety of both sweet and savory dishes, but also as a medicine. The term ‘desi’ ghee means ‘home-made’ ghee, and originally referred to the pure, clarified oil rendered from cultured butter. Nowadays, most commercial ghee is made from non-cultured, creamery butter, and is not made according to the traditional, time-honored methods used in Indian villages for millennia. As such, this type of clarified butter does not have the virtues and benefits of traditionally made ghee. The difference is not only in the aroma and taste of the ghee, but in its chemical composition. From an Ayurvedic perspective, ghee made from cultured butter contains within it the quality of agni, which offsets the heavy and congesting properties of regular butter and clarified butter. To make proper ghee, always make it from unsalted, cultured butter.

2 lbs. (900 g) unsalted cultured butter

Melt the cultured butter in ceramic, glass or stainless steel pot, either in the oven at 250˚F/120˚C, or on low heat on the stove. Cook for 2-3 hours or so, until the butter separates into three distinct layers: a thin layer of impurities on the surface, the middle layer that contains the ghee, and the bottom layer which contains the milk solids.  Take it off the heat and pour it off into a second bowl through a very fine mesh strainer or paper filter, leaving the congealed milk solids behind. Store the ghee in a dry glass container in a dark, cool location. To get the ghee out of the jar always use a clean dry spoon to avoid contamination and spoilage. Depending on the quality of the butter, this recipe will yield a little less than two pounds (750 g) of ghee.

In Ayurveda, ghee is a highly lauded food supplement, used to boost energy, improve the eyes, enhance the complexion, nourish the skin, balance the mind and nervous system, treat infertility and problems of pregnancy, counter deficiency (vata) and balance inflammation (pitta). When combined with other herbs it is said that ghee is ‘yogavahi’, meaning that it has the ability to augment the effects of any medicinal agent combined with it. Ghee is especially suited to children and the elderly, and is a rejuvenative in pitta conditions, often combined with honey for its nutritive effects, but never in equal quantities.

Shatadhauta is a type of ghee that has been kneaded in a copper vessel with very cold water, rinsed and then kneaded again with cold water – for ‘one hundred washings’. When prepared in this way the ghee becomes white like the moon, and is believed to have a cooling property, used in the treatment of burning sensations, skin disease, wounds, scars, and burns. When ghee has been aged in excess of ten years, called puraan ghee, it is thought to be much stronger in its overall action than fresh ghee, and when used as a medicine, balances all three doshas.

Sometimes I let my ghee cook for 3-4 hours, causing the proteins to congeal, making it easier to filter them out. It imparts a delightful nutty flavor to the ghee that is too amazing for words, and it would be great if it weren’t for the fact that these flavor compounds are generated through a Maillard reaction, which also results in the production of pro-oxidizing compounds, and thus isn’t so great for shelf life, and if you ate this all the time, not so good for health.

How to make cultured butter

How to make cultured butter

I will admit now that I am a butter-holic, and never bought into the claim that butter is bad. Butter is awesome! But please make sure it’s sourced from organic, grass-fed milk. In honor of this fabulous food, I am submitting a recipe from my new book, Food As Medicine:

Cultured Butter

Most of the butter people eat nowadays is creamery butter, which is butter made from fresh cream.  It has a predictably bland, sweet taste very unlike the rich pungent flavor of cultured butter.  While creamery butter has its uses, for most of our history humans have almost always eaten cultured butter instead.  The primary reason for this is that soured cream is far easier to churn into butter than fresh cream.  The side benefit apart from the distinct flavor is that cultured butter is a probiotic food, making it easier to digest than conventional butter.  According to Āyurveda cultured butter is a natural rejuvenative  (rasāyana), and helps to balance both vāta and pitta.  In contrast, creamery butter is more difficult to digest, and facilitates the production of kapha and āma.

On a traditional dairy farm the process of making cultured butter begins by skimming the cream off the fresh raw milk, and then setting it aside at room temperature (68˚F/20˚C) to culture.  Letting the cream sit for a day or so produces a relatively mild-tasting butter, whereas letting it sit for several days produces a much stronger flavor.

If you can’t get access to raw milk or cream, cultured butter can also be made from pasteurized cream.  Look for the highest percent fat content you can find (33% or more), making sure that the only ingredient is 100% cream (i.e. with no milk solids, stabilizers or flavors added).  Scald the cream using the same method as boiled milk (p. 173) and let it cool to room temperature.  To ferment the cream, use either a sour cream starter or use 1 tbsp of commercial sour cream or buttermilk per cup of cream.  Mix into a clean dry jar and let sit for 2-3 days, tasting it periodically with a clean, dry spoon to get the desired flavour.

Once the cream has fermented, the water and proteins must be separated out to make the butter.  To do this the soured cream needs to be churned, forcefully breaking apart the molecular structure of the cream to allow the butterfat to congeal, leaving behind the buttermilk.  Many methods can be used to churn butter, from the simple wooden churners still used in developing countries, to the large electric churners used in commercial dairy operations.  At home either an empty mason jar or a regular kitchen blender is all the equipment that’s needed.

Before churning the butter, reduce the temperature of the cream to between 50-60˚F (10-15˚C), which optimizes the ability of the butterfat to congeal.  You can do this by putting the jar of soured cream in a bowl of cold water, or if it’s cool outside set it on the porch.  If using the “jar method”, add the sour cream to the jar until it’s half-full and shake vigorously for 15-20 minutes or more.  If using a blender, mix the sour cream for about 5-10 minutes on medium speed, after which time the butter and buttermilk will have separated.  Pour off the buttermilk and set it aside for later use.  Put the butter in a bowl and add cold water to the butter, mixing and working the butter with a wooden spoon to remove any remaining buttermilk. 

Pour off the water, add some more cold water and repeat until the water is clear.  Drain well, and the butter is now ready to use or can be rendered into ghee (p. 194).  To preserve the butter for storage, add in between 1-3% sea salt, which for one pound (454 g) of butter is approximately 1 tsp (6 g).  Make sure to mix in the salt well so that it is evenly distributed.”