The Vegetable Alchemist

Last week, on May 27th, I had the honour of hosting a fun and engaging fermentation workshop in West London which included a talk on probiotics, step-by-step guides on how to make my favourite fermented foods and a fun collective sauerkraut massage circle.

The day ended with lunch in the sun where we got to taste all the things we had been talking about: kombucha, flavoured with pineapple and forest berries; sauerkraut served on a 12-hour-marinated portobello burger with a raw carrot-flax-herb cracker; two types of kimchi; sweet potato fries with probiotic ketchup and a coconut yogurt dessert with fresh fruit and raw chia seed flap jack crumble. 

I am so grateful for getting to share my knowledge and passion with such an engaged and inspiring audience. As promised, below are the recipes in reprise.

I hope that through fermentation we may keep alive an ancient tradition, end the war on bacteria and create communities with likeminded people. 
If you are looking to meet other fermenters, the Kombucha Nation! FaceBook group is full of likeminded people and there is much room for asking questions and geeking out.
The book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellis Katz is an incredible resource, awe-inspiring and inspirational.

I look forward to hosting more workshops like these and to keep spreading the word – and the SCOBYs! Until next time, keep fermenting!

 Fermented foods are “the flavourful space between fresh and rotten.”  - Sandor Ellix Katz

Fermented foods are “the flavourful space between fresh and rotten.” 
- Sandor Ellix Katz


KOMBUCHA

Kombucha is a fermented brew made from tea and sugar using a symbiotic 'colony' of bacteria and yeast (a so-called SCOBY) and an aerobic environment for it to interact with.

There is no “scientific proof” of the health benefits of kombucha and there have been done no clinical trials on the subject as far as I know.

The proven facts on health benefits: in a number of studies on rats, kombucha decreased the negative effects of liver harming agents in the same way as paracetamol.
The beneficial yeasts present in the brew will normally protect the body from harmful yeasts such as candida albicans. 

The drink also contains active enzymes.

More speculative claims are that kombucha can aid detoxification through its main bioactive saccharolactone, but this has never been “proven” due to the lack of testing on humans.
Because tea is naturally antioxidant rich so is the kombucha, but research again differs on whether or not there is more or less antioxidants present after fermentation. Some research prove a boost of B vitamins and amino acids as well as antioxidants in a finished brew.

Personally, I have a lot of faith in the health properties of kombucha – and it’s also delicious! It is a healthy way to get a pick-me-up which is not coffee, it is refreshing and one can add all kinds of health boosting herbs and spices.

Since I started brewing and drinking kombucha, my overall immune system has been better and so has my digestion. The drink has been brewed and used as medicine for hundreds of years and who am I to dismiss age old wisdom? I give kombucha to all my friends and I encourage them to brew their own. It’s fun, delicious and most likely really good for you.

 "It's alive!" – healthy SCOBY forming on a kombucha

"It's alive!" – healthy SCOBY forming on a kombucha

To brew one litre of kombucha, you will need:
One SCOBY
100 ml + starter kombucha (any unpasteurised kombucha)
60 - 80 grams of sugar
3 bags of tea

  • Place the SCOBY and the kombucha in a clean jar – no need to sterilise, just make sure that the glass is clean and free of soap stains. 
  • Boil 500 ml of water
  • Add 60-80 grams of sugar (unrefined cane sugar, like rapadura is best as it will provide you with beneficial trace minerals). 
  • Stir with a non-metal utensil (kombucha does not like metal) until the sugar is dissolved. 
  • Add 3-4 tea bags of your choice – green, black, white... You can also use "green tea with jasmine" or other flavoured teas for an interesting brew!
  • Let the tea steep for 5 minutes then discard.
  • Mix the sweet tea with 500 ml of room temperature water and stir with a non metal utensil. 
  • Pour the sweet tea mix into the prepared jar with the SCOBY and starter kombucha.
  • Cover with a cloth or a sheet of kitchen roll, fasten with a rubber band and leave to ferment in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
  • Fermentation time will be anything from 5 days to 3 weeks depending on the heat of the room and also how sour/sweet you like it. Start tasting it after 5 days and see how you go! Once it is time to bottle the kombucha, save a little over 100 ml to use for your next brew.
  • When you want to take a break from brewing simply keep your SCOBY in a jar in the fridge covered in kombucha. If you plan to pause your kombucha production for more than a month, feed the SCOBY once a month with approx. one tsp of sugar dissolved in a little water.

When you like the taste of your kombucha it is ready to drink just as it is, but it will not be fizzy straight from the jar. If you would like some fizz or if you would like to flavour it using fruit chunks, herbs, spices or juice, the second fermentation is the time to do this.

  • Prepare a clean airtight bottle for second fermentation.
  • Add fruit juice, spices, herbs or anything else you can come up with to the bottles along with the kombucha for the 2nd fermentation. Note that if you add anything sugary (fruits, sweet vegetables like carrots or beets) you have to be extra careful to avoid exploding bottles! Keep an eye on them and burp them regularly. 
  • I add approx 100-200 ml of fruit/vegetable juice/chunks per litre bottle.
    More surface exposure = more flavour, so mash your berries, finely chop your apple chunks or simply blend your flavourings with a little water and add to the kombucha.
    At the workshop we had pineapple kombucha where the pineapple had been blended before added to the brew and we had forest berry kombucha from mashed forest berries.
  • Once the flavouring is in the bottle, add the kombucha on top.
    Do not fill the bottles up all the way to the top, but leave the bottleneck for carbonation.
  • Close the bottle and turn it on its head a few times to mix.
  • Second fermentation time will again depend on room temperature and also how sweet the kombucha is: carbonation happens when the fermentation continues with the residue sugar. 

It is also possible – and delicious – to add things such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, fresh herbs, cordials, flowers, citrus peel… Set your imagination free.

Make sure to burp the bottles regularly so they don't explode! It can be useful to keep the bottles in a sturdy carry-bag or a cardboard box during second fermentation as this will contain a potential explosion and make it a whole lot less messy and dangerous. 

 Very excited SCOBY daddy and workshop attendee Oli with his new SCOBY

Very excited SCOBY daddy and workshop attendee Oli with his new SCOBY


FERMENTED VEGETABLES such as SAUERKRAUT and KIMCHI

The simplest yet most transformative ferment of them all: Vegetables with exposed surface + salt + time = fermented vegetables. During the workshop we all made a small jar of sauerkraut just using two ingredients: cabbage and salt. The salt pulls liquid out of the vegetable and makes it easier to submerge the vegetable in its own juices in a jar for fermentation. 

To make sauerkraut all you need is literally a cabbage and some salt. Any old cabbage will do: At the workshop we worked with cannonball cabbage and red cabbage and we had kimchi made from cannonball cabbage and Chinese pointed cabbage. I also love using Savoy cabbage for its chewy texture! 

However, any old salt won’t do.
As I am sure you are aware already, there is a difference between salt and salt: table salt/refined salt and unrefined salt as refined salt is harvested mechanically from salt mines as brine and is a a highly concentrated salt and water blend which is chemically treated to remove “impurities”(a wide range of minerals that are beneficial for you).
It is also bleached with chlorine and sulphuric acid, dried at extremely high temperatures and has anti-caking agents added to it such as aluminum silicate, sodium ferrocyanide and ammonium citrate – not good for you!

So please spend a little extra and get a hold of unrefined sea salt such as Celtic sea or pink Himalayan salt as these contain more than 80 trace minerals. Fermenting with good salt will still be much cheaper than buying a jar of kimchi at WholeFoods!

 Rubykraut – if a three-year-old can do it, so can you!

Rubykraut – if a three-year-old can do it, so can you!

  1. Prepare a clean jar for fermentation.
  2. Split your cabbage in two and then, depending on the size of it, either start finely chopping it into shreds or quarter it before doing so. Use as much cabbage as you want sauerkraut and keep in mind that it will shrink quite a lot.
  3. Once all the cabbage is prepared place it in a large bowl and add salt. I use 1 good tbsp for 1 litre of sauerkraut, but this is a taste preference. Feel your way. 
  4. Massage the salt into the cabbage until the cabbage goes limp. I know, it feels as it will never go limp, but then suddenly it does!
  5. Leave the salt to pull liquid from the cabbage for min. 15 minutes. 
  6. Return to the cabbage and start squeezing out the liquid. 
  7. Once the cabbage has had quite a bit of juice come out of it begin filling the jar with it, squeezing the cabbage as you go. I like doing a big batch of kraut in a large jar so I can get my whole fist in there and push down with all my weight to submerge the cabbage in its own juices. 
  8. If you don't have quite enough juice to cover the cabbage simply top up with a bit of filtered water. 
  9. Cover with a cloth or kitchen paper and secure with a rubber band. Leave to ferment in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 3-7 days, tasting it as you go.
  10. When you are happy with the flavour, pop the lid on and store in the fridge.
  11. It is always useful to label your ferments with contents and date as it is easy to lose count of how long it has been fermenting, especially if you have several on the go at once!

If you would like to ferment any other vegetables such as the vegetable combination we know as kimchi the Korean sauerkraut, repeat step 1-4, then:

  • While the salt is working its magic on the cabbage, grate some carrots, chop some spring onions, crush a couple of garlic cloves, finely grate 1 tbsp or more of fresh finger and slice some chillies.
    Grated radishes, sliced pak choy and torn kale is also welcome.
  • Add the vegetables to the cabbage and massage the mix for another 2-3 minutes, then leave to wilt for approx. 15 minutes.
  • If you would like to add additional ingredients such as smoked paprika powder, sesame seeds, liquid aminoes or other creative ideas, add them to the vegetables and mix together. 
  • Start squeezing out the liquid of the vegetable mix.
  • Once the veggies has had quite a bit of juice come out of it begin filling the jar with it, squeezing the veg as you go, just as you do with regular kraut.
  • If you don't have quite enough juice to cover the vegetables simply top up with a bit of filtered water. 
  • Cover with a cloth or kitchen paper and secure with a rubber band. Leave to ferment in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 3-7 days, tasting it as you go.
  • When you are happy with the flavour, pop the lid on and store in the fridge.

If you want to ferment anything else, such as grated beetroot, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes or different cabbages, simply use the same method for any vegetable combination you'd like to ferment. A kraut does not need to contain cabbage at all! 
Garlic, herbs such as rosemary and oregano and spices such as caraway seeds and fennel seeds are welcome additions to any ferments. 
Practise makes perfect and fermentation is really a creative process so feel free to try lots of different things! 

 Smoked paprika kimchi being prepared one week before the event

Smoked paprika kimchi being prepared one week before the event


Vegan coconut yougurt 

Home made yogurt that is vegan, easy to make and guaranteed to have a much wider bacterial range than the stuff you buy in the shops – and much cheaper, too!

Commercially produced yogurt comes from a narrow bacterial starter and if one eats the same brand of yogurt again and again there is little bacterial variety. If you make your own however, you may vary your starter culture and additionally the yogurt has the added benefit of interacting with whatever is floating around it in the air at the time of fermentation.

You will need:
1 packet (200 g) creamed coconut
300 ml filtered  boiled water + extra boiled water
2 small or one large capsule(s) of probiotics OR 2 tbsp old coconut yogurt OR 1 tbsp unpasteurised liquid whey

  • Prepare a clean jar for fermentation 
  • Pop the creamed coconut packed into a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 5 min.
  • Massage the creamed coconut to soften it, then cut open and empty the contents in an empty bowl.
  • Add 300 ml of boiled filtered water, whisking as you go.
  • Once the mixture is well blended and no lumps remain, leave to cool to room temp.
  • Once cool, add your starter culture and stir
  • Cover with a cloth or kitchen paper and secure with a rubber band. Leave to ferment in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 24-36-48 hours, tasting it as you go.
  • When you are happy with the flavour, pop the lid on and store in the fridge. The yogurt will thicken as it cools. 
 Coconut yogurt with fruit, berries, honey and raw flapjack chunks were served as dessert at the workshop, but goes down as a super healthy and satisfying breakfast most days in my house

Coconut yogurt with fruit, berries, honey and raw flapjack chunks were served as dessert at the workshop, but goes down as a super healthy and satisfying breakfast most days in my house


Probiotic Ketchup

We all love ketchup, so wouldn't it be great if it was good for you too? Luckily, there is such a ting. Probiotic ketchup is quick to make, can be adjusted to suit one's taste preferences and is full of delicious healthy bacteria. 

In order to make it, all you really need to do is make the best tomato sauce you can think of, supply acidity and sweetness, blend and ferment with a starter culture. This is the recipe that was served at the workshop, but feel free to add your own flavours such as herbs, wine, smoke, chilli and more or less sweetness.

Ingredients:

1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
700 ml passata (I use the Biona one from a glass bottle = gives you a free bottle for your ketchup!)
7 tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 tbsp maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Starter culture: sauerkraut juice or kimchi juice makes the tastiest ketchup. 
2 small or one large capsule(s) of probiotics OR 1 tbsp unpasteurised liquid whey also works.

  • Fry the onion over medium heat in coconut oil until soft and sweet
  • Add the garlic, bay leaves and vinegar and fry for 2 minutes
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Once hot, turn down the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours until thick and tasty
  • Blend until smooth, check for taste and alternatively add more vinegar/maple syrup/salt
  • Let cool down to room temperature then add your starter culture and mix well
  • Pour the ketchup into a bottle or jar, cover with a cloth or kitchen paper and secure with a rubber band. Leave to ferment in a warm place out of direct sunlight for 3-5 days, tasting it as you go.
  • When you are happy with the flavour, pop the lid on and store in the fridge.