Fermented Foods: Flavor in a Jar, Jug or Loaf
The pursuit of probiotics, combined with the slow food movement and the farm to table movement, has renewed interest in fermented foods, more specifically, foods that are prepared and fermented at home.
As with many processed foods, some fermented foods have counterparts that are made to mimic their fermented counterparts. Often, foods are just “pickled” in a brine and vinegar solution to mimic the flavor of its fermented cousin. These foods benefit from the preserving qualities of salt and vinegar, but lack the complexity of flavor and most of the benefits of fermentation.
Most fermented foods are easy to make. Three in particular are well within the reach of the brave beginner. Sauerkraut is a great item to start with for the beginning home cook. Kefir or yogurt is very easy if sauerkraut is not to your personal taste. Sourdough bread probably takes the least stretch for the beginner to try if fermented foods are challenging to their palate, and is also easy to make.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois is an excellent resource for the beginning bread baker, and their master recipe, when kept for at least 10 days in the refrigerator, is definitely a sourdough bread. Cutting the recipe with whole grain flour makes it that much more nutritious, and making the wheat dough, but adding just a little more water than the recipe calls for makes one of those chewy, toothy, earthy Tuscan breads with the big holes inside. This dough can be fed with flour and the ferment allowed to continue for even more complex flavor, it's a worthy experiment. NOTE: If left unfed, the dough can become watery and dodgy looking as well as rubbish bin worthy.
Dehydrated kefir starter can be purchased at health food stores. A more diverse probiotic kefir is made with kefir grains, which are tiny clumps of bacteria that resemble cauliflower.
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