Monthly Archives: July 2010

The cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family.

I love dirt. My brothers and I used to throw small clods of dry dirt at each others army men in battle that spanned whole (army man) mountain ranges. I’m not sure what precisely attracts me to earth, except gravity, but there is some connection that draws me to the soil. Perhaps this is one reason I agreed to assist my wife in cultivating a garden last year. And it may also explain Kimchi.

Kimchi is traditionally fermented in earthen jars, underground, for several months. I am fascinated by earthen jars, whether Terra Cotta potters, or a multicoloured clay vase. Using such a container for food is a really cool idea. No, no, I didn’t go out and bury some veggies in the back yard, but as I crafted my own kimchi brew, I had visions of large earthenware vessels, and felt quite connected to the idea of digging holes and pitching in my food to hold it for later. A really neat idea.

Jars used to make kimchi

Instead of following the actual process of the traditional Korean condiment, I used a few Ball glass storage jars, and when full, I put them in the fridge.

What is kimchi? One variety, cabbage kimchi, is similar to sauerkraut; the main difference is that this type of kimchi is horrible. Some day, if I have to much cabbage on my hands, I might make some of this kind so I can punish my kids with it. No, kimchi basically refers to the process of fermenting vegetables. A guide to this process is outlined on page 94 of Nourishing Traditions, but once again, this is the cabbage variety. Use instead, say, cucumbers.

Cucumber Kimchi

A variation.

Use page 94 as a reference.

3 Cucumbers

1/2 onion (Yellow, Red, White, or sub in a few green onions).

2 cloves of Garlic

2 Tablespoons Salt

1/8 Teaspoon chile flakes

WARNING: do not mash soft veggies like cucumbers as called for in the original recipe.

Chop the cucumbers and onions, add about half of the salt, and let stand for about 4 hours. Add garlic and chile. Remove veggies from water and place in large mouth jar, filling them to about two inches from the top. Add remaining salt and fill jars the rest of the way with water, leave only a small space in the top of the jar. Ferment on counter for 2-3 days, and afterward place in refrigerator. Enjoy.

I embarked on the making of kimchi last year, after making the mistake of planting two long rows of cucumbers. This resulted in more fruit (yes, the edible portion of cucumbers would be the fruit) than we could ever eat. And we had to pick them or they would kill the vines and attract more bugs. After trying Sally Fallon’s recipe for fermented pickles (page 97), I nearly gave up the idea of using the cucumbers altogether. The fermented pickles turned out horrible. I’m sure the blame lies squarely upon my shoulders, but I tweaked that recipe in every way I could, to no avail. In desperation I reached out to the Korean ancients, or at least the ones who posted on recipe blogs.The kimchi was superb! (A tad spicy on the first try, but not bad at all). This technique saved the rest of my cuke crop from the trash. In fact, after the initial fermentation at room temperature, my kimchi rarely survived more than a few days.

Cucumber kimchi

So, if you have a plethora of cucumbers, or just like the idea of burying your food for a few months, I recommend tinkering with kimchi recipes. Just be careful with the chile.

Special thanks to Dr. Ben for his recipe and directions:  Dr. Ben Kim’s web page
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Salad Dressing

Happy little veggies


The Summer after High School I took a job at a local fast food joint. Actually, I pride myself to this day in saying, it was Casual Dining, a significant cut above the fast food served at our competition. But semantics aside, it functioned much the way all pre-fab food entities must. One small item that I had the task of stocking onto the shelves every week was Salad Dressing. A very small part of our inventory, these cute little bundles have the capability of transforming mere rabbit food into a delicious snack, worthy of satisfying the highest calorie requirements. How could they accomplish this in 3.5 onces or less? Easy! The dressing was 50% fat (By weight). And boy was it tasty. That stuff revolutionized my idea of what a salad could be. Now, before you navigate away in disgust, I have mended my ways a little since then. I mean, I’m not a total cretin. But I still like my salad to taste good. Don’t hand me a pile of dry chopped leaves and expect me to get excited.
Then I met Salad Dressing Simplicity. Well, that’s my title for it. This revelation can be found starting on page 127 of Nourishing Traditions and flowing all the way to page 135. Within those few pages there are 19 different recipes (some are variations on a theme, but trust me, they are quite different). I haven’t made a dressing from this section that I didn’t like. The one I use the most is ‘Basic Dressing’, on page 129. But since this recipe contains fewer than my minimum requirement of words, I add the subtitle ‘Salad Dressing Simplicity’ just to fluff it a little.

The biggest tip to this section I have found is good Olive Oil. Since the oil is a huge contribution by bulk, any flavor that comes off as strong in the oil will show up in the final product. With a little care, the tones from the oil can be matched with other ingredients, or a very mild oil can be found (probably by trial and error).

Ok, before you make me hand in my man card, I will reassure you that real men can eat salad and survive. (Um, no, I didn’t say eat only salad, that is the dumbest diet I have ever heard of). So here’s how: camouflage. Simply disguise your salad as a meal. A variation of what I suggest is found on page 240 in the form of ‘Raw Salmon Salad’. I don’t eat raw fish (the classic yuk factor, I’m just stuborn that way), but this recipe is up the right alley. Cook the fish, or leave it raw if you like, but either use the liquids described in the recipe, or replace them with one of the dresings in the section disscussed above. Use mixed greens instead of Boston lettuce if you like (I do), and ADD SOAKED AND DRIED NUTS!!

This is the absolutly best thing to compliment your enormous stockpile of freshly prepared nuts.

So go out to your daughter’s pet rabbit cage tonight, and share a salad! Happy (green food) eating!

(Um, quick Biology/editor note: you probably shouldn’t give a rabbit either meat or dressing, rather different digestive tract there. Oh, and you should never eat food that has come in contact with animals. Cross contamination is all fun and games until someones looses their dinner. So eat a salad together, but not the same salad).


Gardening (or, what to do with an infestation of beets)

 

A harmless (looking) beet

Beets have been cultivated for about 4 thousand years. I suppose this fact alone is capable of making beets seem old fashioned. Or at least just old. I really didn’t have anything against beets for most of my life, indeed, I didn’t really acknowlege their existence until I made a simple, dreadful error in a caffeteria line. I really love canberry sauce, the kind that comes in a can. So whatever cook decided to put out thinly sliced beets sometime in November was playing a particularly cruel joke on yours truely. Nevertheless, with my extra large helping of beet, not cranberry sauce, I made the best of it and ate them. They were pretty good, but I couldn’t help holding a little grudge against beets after that. (They could have at least warned me they were beets)

Thus it was only with passing notice that I helped my wife plant our first garden. My parents plow up a chunk of ground, and a small corner had been cordoned off for us to frolic in. We were given a gift certificate for a mail order seed catalog, which had a (small) organic section. After drooling over glossy pictures of incredible veggies, we picked some names off the organic list that promised to generate veggies identical to the ones in the photos. There were a number of common foods we skipped due to prolific abundance at the organic market, or lack of interest. (Lima beans are just gross.) So we ordered cucumber, okra, carots, and beets.

Had I paid any attention to the world around me growing up, I would have surely noted that beets grow well in the south. Soft soil, plenty of sunlight, and if you haul it in, lots of water. These are about the only things that beets need to grow. And grow. And perhaps multiply a few times undergound in the dead of night. No matter who is to blame, by mid July we were harvesting beets about every 3 days, and coming back with bags full. At first we just sat them on the counter and padded each other on the backs saying ‘You’re a really good gardener!’ and ‘No! You’re a really good gardener!’ and then ‘What do we do with them??’ We ate some of the greens in salad, and tried a few raw beets sliced up, and then decided that raw beets were hard to eat. And that’s how I came to know Borsch. Hailing from the ancient culinary seeds of Unkraininan survival manuals, Borsch is a soup made from beets. We pulled out our trusty Nourishing Traditions, looked up beets, flipped over to beet soup (page 220) and started happily making dinner. What’s that? Ah, yes. I told you I met Borsch, and here I am talking about beet soup. Well, we made a few changes to the recipe. For instance, the recipe expressly forbids the use of meat stock, which is the staring point of many Eastern European traditional recipes. Also, we happened to have several heads of garlic that were begging to be eaten. So with the stock, garlic, and beets, we were ready to go. Oh, we may have tossed in an onion. And some carrots. but this is precisly the spirit of traditional Borsch: Start cooking beets, add stuff that tastes good. And in spite of my misgivings, I really liked the stuff. We started eating Borsch at least once a week. We had beet greens in our salad, and baked beets as side dishes. We even tried to preserve some by fermenting them in jars, as prescribed on page 98, but that experiment didn’t work. Other than pickling failures, I learned to enjoy beets-even love them. The fresh, earthy flavor they impart, even when cooked, gives a delightful tone to the meal.

So, if you have an infestation of beet, I suggest Borsch.


Raw Milk

When learning to cook at a young age, I was mostly interested in making dessert. The problem with desserts is that they are typically the hardest recipes to follow. Very near the top of my favourite dessert list was Tapioca Pudding. The delicious substance derived in it’s entirety from South American substances, the traditional Manioc root, Vanilla bean, eggs and milk, and the modern sugar. Since I am a baker by personality, I religiously followed the directions on the box. These instructions were, I think, intended to keep kids from making Tapioca Pudding. The first step was to boil milk, and then add the sugar. Any kid who can get past this daunting step with out scorching his mother’s pans reaps the reward of sugar headaches all day long. For almost 2 decades, this is the only context in which it ever occurred to me that one might boil milk. Oh sure, I had heard of Pasteurisation in middle school science class, but I never really thought about what it meant for milk. I just accepted Pasteurised milk as a fact of life.

I vaguely remember that Pasteurisation had saved the world from certain death, and that good ‘ole Louis had stopped the Bubonic plague or something. Maybe it was that he discovered France. Wait, that would have been History class… OK, never mind. I have no idea what he did. Except boil milk. Since then, the process of making milk drinkable is called Pasteurisation. If you want to make it really drinkable, you can Ultra-Pasteurise it. Just don’t tell Sally Fallon (or her army of young mothers) what you are up to, or they will flog you with organic bamboo reeds.

To be completely honest, I am sceptical about a few of the miracles claimed by raw milk. I have been consuming raw dairy almost daily for about 2 years now. It tastes identical the the store bought stuff, and I have approximately the same number of colds/flues as before. I will say that my teeth have fared a lot better, but even those are pretty shot this late in the game. No, I have not been cured of anything by eating raw milk in my cereal. But I have also, strangely, not died. My limbs haven’t fallen off, I have not been struck with blindness, and Listeria has yet to make a comfortable home in my intestine. Raw milk may or may not help you, but in my experience, it is safe.


Walnuts

For those of you who grew up in the South, the mental picture of a walnut is not what is found in the aisle of the grocery store. No, in their natural form, walnuts do not look like tiny brains. In fact, to a 10 year old boy, they look like hand grenades. Ok, a small, puny, hand grenade. (An M67, internal-serrated-coil, fragmentation grenade, in case nomenclature is important to you).


Not only are these hard, green, balls a useful substitute for explosives in (pretend) war, they actually contain food. I have never attempted to obtain the food part of a wild walnut, but friends have told me it is quite a chore. And it turns your hands completely black. The complete walnut is about 2-3 inches in diameter, with a green outer rind. Inside the rind, is the pear-shaped nut, and inside that shell is the meat.

Once the meat is extracted, it is usually dried before eating. According to our trusting cooking guide, the nuts must also be soaked, and then dried. The reason is obvious to any person who has attempted to replace all the protein in their diet with nut protein from un-soaked nuts. (Page 513, sidebar). What? You haven’t tried that yet? Well, let me give it to you in a nutshell:

The story boils down to Enzymes. A really snazzy word conjured up by biologist with too much time on their hands, Enzymes refer to confused proteins. These proteins actually think they are catalysts. Fortunately, your body uses them the same as catalysts, so all is well. Enzymes are responsible for most of the really tough digestion. Water, alcohol, and a handful of other small substances pass through the stomach lining, but other, more complex items must wait until the small intestine to be handed over to the blood stream. This hand off must follow proper procedure, with correct labelling of products, and due inspection from the Intestine Wall Duty Officer. Anything else just passes along until it reaches a good end. In the case of Walnuts, or any other nuts for that matter, the enzymes break off appropriate chunks of nutritional goodness, and package them properly to get past the Duty Officer. And here is where you and I get stuck. Our enzymes are idiots. They always fill out the forms wrong, or try to carry more than $10,000 worth of nutrition through, that sort of thing. So, that’s why I hire mercenary enzymes. These guys are actually sitting around in the nuts, just waiting for a job. Plus, they’re cheap: a little salt, some water, and they’ll put my nutrients in good order.

The process.

Hiring you’re own mercenary enzymes is outlined (in somewhat different words) on page 512 and 513.

Ingredients: Your nuts, some salt, filtered water. (The book claims 4 c. nuts, 2 tsp. salt).

Mix nuts with water and salt, leave in warm place for at least 7 hours or overnight. Drain. Spread on baking pan and place in warm oven for 12-24 hours until crisp.

The friendly little enzymes unlocked by the soaking have now made every bite of delicious Walnut digestible, even to the strictest Intestine Wall Duty Officer.

And now you have soaked your nuts!


Review

Nourishing Traditions, Revised second edition by Sally Fallon, NewTrends publishing, Inc.

A review.

With a fashionable, new age-y cover (courtesy of Kim Waters Murray), Nourishing Traditions projects the appearance of a cookbook. Which it is. And yet, so much more. Not only does Nourishing Traditions provide a comprehensive series of recipes, the author includes advise on obtaining healthy ingredients, methods of maximising the nutrition content of food, and occasional commentary on the inner workings of the western world’s food production (‘politically correct nutrition’ -front cover)

1. Pros.

I’m an optimist; except in the morning, which officially ends at 2 pm. So I’ll start with the positive aspect of Nourishing Traditions.

Fat.   Sally Fallon makes fat cool. You can cook with it and you can eat it. It’s even required! Mind you, you need to be careful to eat the right kind, but I like fat. It’s tasty.

Salt.   Salt is good for you??! Yep, heart attacks are caused by, um, other stuff. Salt is good. Eat more of it or you will die. Oh, make sure it’s sea salt, or your wasting your time.

Tasty ‘health food’.   Food that is good for you and tastes good. Rather than giving you a dry, low fat, bran muffin, Fallon gives ‘Mexican Eggs,’ complete with 4 eggs, 4 corn tortillas, 2 tablespoons of lard, and 2 cups of salsa. Oh yeah, and you get to fry the tortillas. (Page 438).

Lamb.   29 recipes are listed under lamb. One of the best red meats available to a thickly bearded scottsman is lamb. Showing a resurgence in the meat industry, eating lamb is cool.

Red Meat.   Are you a man? Do you like red meat? You will find sufficient inclusion of recipes for the heartier palate within the covers of Nourishing Traditions.

2. Cons

Though I enjoy a great deal of the methods employed by Sally Fallon, there are a few things which irk me:

Raw meat appetizers.   There is a whole chapter on making raw meat sound good. It’s not. It may be healthy, I’m not sure, but it  is gross. Thanks, but, uh. no thanks. Sadly, this reduces the number of available red meat recipes. Oh, well.

Time.   Got time? A former math teacher of mine informed me that each of us has precisely the same number of hours in each day. (That’s about 24, or so). I always feel like I get cheated out of a few. Sally Fallon’s recipes take a great deal of planning and preparation. It is a lifestyle. Once you adopt the life, it is pretty easy, but until then it’s rough.

Biology experiments.   I love science. I even enjoy dabbling in a little biology, you know, like dissecting the pigs and such. But I cannot tell you how many jars of fermented this and that have gone terribly wrong. Some of them are still in the back of my refrigerator since I’m afraid the EPA will lock me up if I flush them down the drain. There is a lot of instruction about fermenting your own foods, but it’s way harder than it sounds.


Nourishing Traditions

When the smart, pretty girl finally noticed my attentions, I was hopelessly in love. When we started dating, we established a routine of fixing meals together. Mostly lunch, but often dinner as well, was obtained in the kitchen of the town house she shared with a couple other girls. The biggest driving reason for this was the presence of organic food at the house, and it’s distinct absence at most restaurants in town. Since my father hails from a herd of accomplished (actually, professional) cooks, I was eager to impress this young lady with my own culinary ability. In fact, I’m not half bad.

Organic cooking was a new-ish concept to me, but I quickly learned to pick the string of 7 letters out in a label, and was on my way! Then it happened. One day my beautiful companion suggested we make chicken soup. Harmless you say? You fool! This was just the segway to pulling out Nourishing Traditions. ‘A great recipe for coconut chicken soup’ was pronounced. (Page 198). And it was good. We made the obligatory changes of our own, um, no chile flakes and added some of our own veggie choices, and the soup was delicious.

But since the book was out in the open… well, let’s just say I got a whole new perspective on how food aught to be done. From start to finish. And the girl wasn’t even a fanatic yet. She merely thought the author had some good points.

Some time, and many truly remarkable meals, later, I made the best decision of my adult life, and asked the girl to marry me. We now have much more occasion to make food together, and have found it to be our favourite (and certainly most consistent) hobby.

After being married a little while, my darling wife was eaten by Nourishing Traditions. That’s about the only explanation I can give. The truth is a little more boring, she really did some research and concluded that Sally Fallon’s perspective was accurate, and she wanted, as much as possible, to prepare food the ‘right’ way. I, as the really great guy I am, heartily agree to doing anything the right way. Unless I’m tired, or lazy. In which case, I balk, complain, and eventually get around to doing it. So for the ten minutes a week where I am neither tired nor especially lazy, I enjoy helping my wife cook stuff the absolutely hardest way imaginable. I can honestly say that I like the food, and find the process fun and intriguing, and I’m really glad to be eating ‘healthy’.

And now, the supreme goal must triumph: I want to be lazy. Please, all you cooking men, if you have found some techniques that let me approach the Nourishing Traditions paradigm and still be lazy, post a comment below! Any shortcut (apparatus, utensil, or magic incantation) that reduces the labour involved in making food the right way would be greatly appreciated.