Experimenting with Cultured & Fermented Foods
Quite often it takes a brave kitchen-lover to get involved in making cultured foods. It is the one who has been making bread for a while who picks up sourdough baking. It is the one who appreciates food preservation who begins making sauerkraut. It is the one with experience and creativity who delves into the practice of culturing a variety of foods.
This is often the case, but certainly not always the case. Whether you’re a seasoned kitchen dweller or a brand-new cook who simply wants to add some extra nutrition to your family’s diet, there is a place for creativity in all forms of culturing and cooking.
But if you are one of those seasoned pros who wields a knife with ease and creates a meal with bold confidence but no recipe at all, then you might be in for a surprise when you take up culturing.
The Importance of Mastering the Basics
You see, cultured foods require a bit of understanding in order to go off-book and explore your kitchen creativity. If you want to channel your creativity through food culturing, then you’ll need a basic understanding of the process and history before you get started.
Once you master the basic concepts, then creativity can be a great asset in culturing foods with a variety of flavors. In creating fermented vegetables, you can use up various produce in your garden and create new and exciting cultured vegetables. When you make kombucha or kefir, you can flavor them in a way that is both exciting and pleasing. Baking sourdough breads gives you the leeway to make bread without a recipe: an age-old skill.
But unless you want a series of flops, be sure you understand some of the basics behind these food-culturing practices.
Before You Allow Your Creativity to Run Wild...
Consider starting with the most basic form of the cultured food you wish to dabble in before spreading your wings in exploration.
Master the basics of sourdough baking such as:
- Creating an active, vigorous starter.
- Knowing the signs of health and illness in a sourdough starter.
- Understanding the basics of kneading, proofing, and baking a simple loaf of sourdough.
Know the ins-and-outs of making simple kombucha by:
- Making a straightforward brew of black tea, sugar, and scoby.
- Getting a taste for this simple brew.
- Manipulating culture times to create a brew to your preference.
Master basic kefir by:
- Understanding the process of feeding and harvesting your kefir grains.
- Figuring out how long to culture kefir to your taste and health preference.
- Having just a couple of simple flavoring options to get you started.
Know the science behind this simple practice by:
- Making a simple batch of sauerkraut using whey or a culture starter to ensure good bacteria inoculation.
- Trying a simple vegetable-salt-brine recipe.
- Understanding the difference between a self-brining vegetable cut or shredded into small pieces and a larger vegetable cultured in a salt-water brine.
One Ferment at a Time
Also consider starting with one type of ferment at a time. If you really like baking bread and it is most familiar to you, then start with sourdough. Master a few techniques and then choose another ferment that you are familiar with.
Once you have a basic understanding and practical hands-on knowledge of the most basic forms of these cultured foods, then you will gradually grow more comfortable and there will be an organic process of branching out and trying new and different things.
Quite often, it is the accidental or necessary combining of ingredients that creates an incredible, memorable food product. Cultured foods are no different.