Preservation by Any Means Possible (and... a Lahey Bread, if you are still keeping track)

I like to think of words in the English language, and how they look or "feel" like their spellings... my favorite examples: laugh, quiet, grumpy. When I see the word 'August' in type it evokes this feeling of exhaustion, of exhaling with a sigh, of brevity. In the Midwest, our most prolific season is August and the aforementioned descriptions sum it up well. Pretty much any vegetable that grows in our zone is on and ripe for the preservation, and while I don't preserve as much as some, I still feel that pang of tiredness. I wonder if I am doing as much as I can do, wondering if I am doing too much for the food-eating conundrum I find myself in (a.k.a. my picky boys).

Last weekend, the Kiddo and I spent time at my Parents' farm. My only food goal was finding a peck of jalapeno peppers. Last year's peppers were excruciatingly hot, so hot that I actually still have a number of jars leftover despite the near 3 pints of candied jalapenos I ingested myself. When considering my preserving tactics this Summer, I thought of an uncle - since I could justify doing more if I had someone with the fortitude to eat the last of the super hot peppers. And he must have a stomach of steel. Last Summer, I traded some canning for some upholstery work, and when my Mom gave him the peppers he ate almost half a jar immediately.

Finding jalapenos this year was more difficult, and after some hunting, we found a farm with them. I helped an Amish man pick a gallon pail full of mixed peppers. This was after a misunderstanding at a different farm that landed me a peck of crisp green bell peppers. Monday morning before leaving, 4 dozen corn appeared tidily bundled in a green mesh sack, the result of tasting some bi-color corn we got from another Amish neighbor on Saturday during our quest. It was the sweetest corn I've had this year, and now 10 1/2 lbs. are resting in the deep freeze.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I decided before I left that I needed to make proper lacto-ferment crock pickles this year. This beautiful photo from Chiot's Run was what did it; after reading the post, I went down to the basement and brought up the crock my Mom gave me a year ago that belonged to my Gram. I re-washed it and sterilized it for fear of mold spores (my poisoned vinegar was in the basement) and then left it on my kitchen counter open to the air for the weekend. Tuesday, I picked up some pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market, exactly 5 lbs. when I weighed them.

I decided not to can vinegar pickles this year, but couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't have any until next year so these traditional pickles are a welcome addition. So is the handsome crock on the floor of my kitchen.

hitchhiking caterpillar on the dill.

The recipe that Suzy at Chiot's Run used was from Linda Ziedrich's pickle book, which I do not have but intend to pick up soon. I followed the recipe, but I had no allspice. I may pick some up and add it after a trip to the co-op tomorrow... if I remember, that is. I also added just a few more hot chiles de arbol. I felt proud that my coriander seed was saved from my garden last year, I measured it out of an origami packet I made to conceal it.

my salad plate was exactly the right size to keep everything submerged.

Pickles done, I turned my attention to this gem of a recipe: lacto-fermented peppers from the Woodwife's Journal. At the farmer's market I also picked up some other green peppers of varying heats, poblanos, serranos, Aneheims, a few extra jalapenos since I was feeling a bit on the shy side with them. These are so delicious straight away, and I can only imagine they will get better with time. I had a few more alterations with this recipe since I was almost out of live cider vinegar (Bragg's, and I ordered another gallon today).

I eyeballed a half peck each of hot (green) mixed peppers and sweet bell peppers, but used only 1 1/3 c. of the cider vinegar and topped it off with plain white vinegar. I also used part olive oil and part grapeseed oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. Try to find Mexican oregano if you can, because that really makes these I think. They are the perfect kind of mild heat, slightly oily and herby, and just plain addicting. I had a half gallon jar and two quart jars, and already I'm wondering if I shouldn't do a second batch because I want everyone I know to try these. And unlike last year, the jalapenos are approachable.

The two larger projects out of the way, I turned my attention to these crazy, bright peppers. When I stood along this long row of mixed hot peppers of various types with an Amish man and picked these, he told me he planted them for the produce auction since their family doesn't much care for the super hot peppers. The auction draws both retailers and individual buyers, and many of the local Amish have gotten rather diverse in the things they grow to sell there. The most fascinating variety I thought were the tiny purple "ornamental" ones, which he assured me were edible, though he didn't remember the name. I bit into one and let my tongue discover the Scoville Heat Units. It was hot.

Last year, I remembered seeing this lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and cataloged it. I grew a single plant of cayenne peppers and another of habanero, planning to make a smaller batch after they ripen. I may still do that, but meanwhile I used the whole lot that we picked for my bucket, 11 oz., to make a trial batch. It's fairly thick, bordering more on a salsa consistency and I'm actually not sure that I'll strain it. I have a week to think about it.

This isn't just hot. It's mind-numbingly hot. But it's fruity, and the heat doesn't last long which is kind of strange for something with all the visual warning of a traffic cone.

I saved all of the jalapenos, which worked out to exactly 3 lbs. (enough for one batch of candied jalapenos) for tomorrow and moved on to the corn. According to an old preserving book my Mom has, when blanching corn for freezing, you should boil for just as long as you soak in an ice bath - 4 minutes in the case of sweet corn. I filled up my sink with icy water and boiled 6 ears at a time. My rhythm was so efficient that before the next batch was done in the boiling pot, I had 6 of the drained ears sheared clean of kernels - in part to the bundt pan corn removal method I've been seeing around the Internet.

I crafted a "knife protector" out of a plastic lid, however. and it worked really well!

With all of the aroma of sweet corn in the air, no bread in the house, and a starter that had just recently emerged from refrigerated weekend slumber, I decided to tackle the long-lost and maybe somewhat forgotten task of making all of Jim Lahey's bread for what I affectionately coined The Lahey Project. I saved out 4 ears of corn, stripped them, and blended them smooth. Then I used my new favorite purchase, a nut milk bag, to drain out corn juice that was used for the liquid in the bread.

It rose, sweet and earthy and super sticky and I formed it, messily, into a ball. It rose for a couple more hours surrounded by large amounts of cornmeal to ward off some of the inevitable stickiness and when the time came to drop it into my pot, I of course slipped and mostly deflated it. It's been so long since I have done a no-knead bread, and forgot about the somewhat delicate nature of the risen dough. I baked it anyway. It was delicious. It may not be the most picturesque loaf, but I certainly got the gist of what flavors bread can take on when the liquid is replaced with juice.

So, August. It was midnight before I slipped into bed, finally finished my book, and then had trouble winding down into sleep mode. I love working this way, until I'm so tired I'm not really tired any more. It's all self-imposed now, which makes it feel so much more rewarding than when I made an hourly amount which never seemed to measure enough for the precious time I gave to others. (I'm not talking about you though, GOP...) The hot water bath will bubble with more hot peppers tomorrow and I'll continue to take stock and see what else I should be doing to ready myself for the days when things aren't growing and thriving. When August leaves us as quickly as the sigh that it feels like, and Fall stands proud and cold and begs you to turn on the oven.

When Slaw Becomes Kraut...

Time flies. I can't believe it was an entire year ago that I first met Annie Wegner LeFort at a cooking class she taught at the Bay View Community Center. I also can't believe how that chance meeting has impacted my cooking life ever since. Yesterday I took another of her classes, this one on allergy-free vegetarian cooking, and I find myself inspired all over again.

Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut.

While I have my doubts in organized education, I love learning. I especially love learning from people who are naturally great teachers. Now that I'm not required by society to be educating myself, I enjoy immensely sitting in a classroom surrounded by people of wildly different backgrounds, and learning for the sake of learning.

I have only known a handful of people with food allergies, including some in my family. Usually, it was a peanut allergy or "milk intolerance", allergies that seemed ordinary compared to today's onslaught of wheat and egg allergies. When he was younger, my Dad developed an allergy to shrimp, and I've had my own brushes with reactions to specific foodstuffs (raspberries, oysters) that thankfully seem to have subsided. There are many ideas floating around as to why food allergies of all kinds are increasing, and rather than debate the cause I find it more entertaining to explore the cooking and baking resulting from it.

I think if I was ever diagnosed with a serious, life changing food allergy, I would choose to look at all of the amazing things I could still eat. (I would count it beneficial if I could possibly be allergic to sugar, in fact.) One of the recipes that Annie made for us last night was a cabbage slaw with jicama, green apple and a good amount of cumin, something delicious everyone should eat regardless of allergy issues. I knew straight away I would have to make this myself, and to lacto-ferment it since it does use cabbage after all.

There are not many more humble or healthy things than cabbages, and today at the farmer's market, I got a rather large one for $1.00.

Strangely, Annie was the one who unknowingly inspired me to play around with lacto-fermentation. Several years ago, I got a copy of Nourishing Traditions gifted to me in a round about way. I opened and perused, dismissed most of it as "a little out there", and went on eating a relatively low-fat, skim milk diet that I assumed was healthy. I would definitely say that after discovering the Raisin-Cilantro Chutney that Annie made last year, my eyes were opened. I really began to read in many different sources, including Nourishing Traditions, about nutrient rich and real foods, fermented foods, and why they were better for me. More importantly, these types of foods required me to dote on them, conjure them into existence where they change before my eyes and taste buds. This was the kind of food I was born to make, and maybe I would never have discovered if it weren't for her.

One of the most interesting things about lacto-fermentation in particular, is that nearly anything can be given the inoculation of whey (and if you are dairy-free, salt can usually stand in unless fruit is present) and be transformed into bubbling, probiotic goodness. The slaw from our class Monday night was delicious right away, but in three day's time, I suspect it will be even more complex.

When lacto-fermenting cabbage, I use a large, food service bucket. It keeps everything nicely inside since it's 8 quarts deep, and the markings help me judge how much it has reduced and what size jar I'll likely need to pack it into. I altered the amounts of Annie's original Marinated Cabbage Salad, and adapted it for lacto-fermenting by adding whey. In my understanding, since the slaw contains fruit, you should use whey to introduce the lactobacillus and not rely solely on the salt.

Lacto-Fermented Jicama Apple Cumin Kraut (adapted from Annie Wegner Lefort)
  • half of a good size cabbage, cored
  • 2/3 of a softball sized jicama
  • half of a medium sized sweet onion
  • 1 large green apple
  • 1 1/2 t. sea salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 T. whey
  • 2 t. cumin powder (to taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 t. cayenne powder (to taste)
  • handful of basil leaves, chopped
Prepare the vegetables: using a food pro or by hand, shred the cabbage and jicama. Thinly slice the apple and onion.

Place vegetables, salt, lemon juice, whey, and spices in a large bowl or bucket and beat with a sturdy wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. The mixture will release quite a lot of liquid (see the pictures below.) Add basil leaves and chop for about a minute to disperse evenly. Taste to adjust spices.

Pack the kraut into clean glass jars with very little headspace. Tightly seal, and let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

half a good sized cabbage was greater than 2 quarts.

entire amount of veg and apple was about 4 quarts.

finished amount was about 1 1/2 quarts kraut.

This slaw has become a kraut. And, I'm too excited to wait three days to let you know just how good it has become! I promise I will update the post when I crack open a jar on Friday or Saturday. And meanwhile if you don't want to lacto-ferment it, you can wilt the cabbage and onion with salt for a few hours, pour off the liquid, add in the rest of the ingredients (except the whey) with a 1/3 c. melted coconut oil and a little bit of honey or stevia and you'll have Annie's original recipe. (She does make a dressing with the oil, lemon juice, spices and sweetener and then adds to the vegetables.)

this is the same jar when pressed lightly with a spoon. when lacto-fermenting, you want the liquid to rise above the vegetables.

The only thing I could dislike about making lacto-ferment vegetables is the mess. I had all of my counters clean when I started, and no matter my attentiveness, I had cabbage everywhere. Luckily it's easy enough to clean up, and the jars handsomely resting on the counters in plain sight are reward enough.

I hope I never tire of taking classes. My Gram took classes well into her 60's on different things, and she certainly never stopped reading and learning on her own. I hope that will be me: that I never lose the incentive to read and that I continue to run into great teachers and inspiration from unlikely sources.

You can find a list of Annie's upcoming classes here, and while you're at it, take a look around her blog for just some of the reasons she is so inspiring!

On Frugality and Lacto-Fermentation

I like being broke. Someone should make this into a bumper sticker, and I would happily paste it onto my aging Oldsmobile. There is something about going through lean times that makes me insanely happy, like I am better able to take stock of all of my blessings as well as my well stocked pantry and freezer. The only thing perhaps I don't like is not being able to splurge on specialty ingredients, but given how delicious a simple Lima bean can be, even that facet has no lasting appeal.

Fragality causes me to examine all parts of my kitchen life. Am I baking bread? Then, something else can be baked before or after the oven is at the 475 degrees to make use of the energy. Running the dehydrator for more soaked oats last week, I made a triple batch so there was no extra space - and today I soaked three different kinds of nuts so I could again fill the dehydrator nearer to capacity before plugging it in for a day of running. I have no dishwasher, and now find myself cooking things in batches in one cast iron pan instead of three so I only have to clean up one. It's actually a pretty good idea, saving me wear and tear on my hands as well as on the kosher salt I use to clean the pan. It's sad that the tightening of the belt makes me remember to be extra cautious of my energy consumptions...

Last week, I soaked three kinds of dried beans to make a three bean salad, and then ended up making only a two bean salad. The Limas sat in the fridge, in their liquid, for 4 days until I remembered that I should do something with them - or freeze them: an option I try to use as a last resort. Sometimes, the freezer turns into a forgotten wasteland of perfectly viable comestibles, and lately as I focus on zero food waste, I try to find creative ways to use up all parts of whatever I made before joyfully leaping on to something new. I try to do this without relying on the banishment to the freezer. That's actually hard when I love cooking so much.

My fridge looks like a glass jar heaven, bits of fermented this and that taking up precious space - but worth it in the enjoyment a spoonful or two adds to each meal. Lacto-fermentation is actually a terrific way of stretching out the deterioration rate of foods with a limited lifespan, not to mention that I find it enhances the flavor in nearly every case. The Limas, I decided, would become a hummus inoculated with whey, increasing both their nutritional profile and their staying power.

...if I don't eat the whole jar in two days, that is.

I actually had a small amount of bean puree when it was all finished up. It could have been all the tasting I did... and I had maybe a scant cup and a half of cooked beans to start with. Bean purees in general are some of my favorite things, since they are really a great complement to bread. I also love making them, since they require a bit of kitchen alchemy. Tasting, tweaking, thinking about flavor and what I have a taste for, it's like lazy and inspired cooking, without even firing up the stove.

Even though my VitaMix would make absolute smoothness of bean puree, I always opt to use my ancient (well, probably '80's model) Cuisinart food pro. The subtle graininess is something I appreciate, and I like adding olive oil through the top that is designed to let the finest drizzle through on the way to emulsification. My flavors yesterday leaned heavily toward traditional hummus, though sometimes garlic is just too much for me. (Saturday, I lacto-fermented some guacamole and used far too much garlic. It was good, and my Husband really liked it, but I was a little "garlicked out" buy the time I started the Lima Hummus.) Ever since I visited E. in Boston last Summer, I have been addicted to the combination she served of radish, hummus, olive and maybe cheese with bread. Radishes will be planted in my garden for the first time this year, I'm hoping to plant later in the week if this weather ever warms up...

LinkMy favorite chile olives that my co-op sells in bulk.

The only thing to really remember with lacto-fermentation is to let the mixture sit for at least 7-8 hours at warmish room temperature, and then transfer to cold storage. Some things can ferment for a few days before refrigeration, in general I follow the guidelines in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. For simple things that I know I'll likely polish off within a week, I ferment this minimum time. For condiments that I will keep longer, like the cilantro-raisin chutney, I ferment for 3 days. Also remember to use whey that has a live, active culture (or if vegan, and not lacto-fermenting something with fruit, an appropriate amount of salt). Another thing to keep in mind is that the whey that is a by-product of heated cheese-making is not good for lacto-fermenting.

Lacto-Ferment Lima Hummus
  • 1 1/2 c. Lima beans
  • granulated garlic
  • lemon zest (I was out of lemon, and keep zests in my freezer)
  • a few tablespoons of white onion, chopped
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • cumin
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
  • about 2 T. olive oil, more to taste and consistency desired
Add Lima beans to the food pro and blend until fairly smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients pretty much to taste, using the full amount of whey. Continue to blend until desired consistency is reached, and taste to adjust seasoning to your preference.

Pack into a jar, leaving a small amount of head space, and seal tightly. Leave to ferment at room temperature for at least 7 hours before transferring to cold storage.

I lacto-ferment stuff because it's fun and tasty, but also because I really believe that the extra fermenting is good for me. In things like this, where spiciness plays a vital role, my family can't even tell, and I don't even tell them. But really, I made this Lima Hummus just for me, and will likely eat it all week, with the radishes that felt like a splurge to purchase. I'm excited to try a new version of a Peter Reinhart bread that uses a multi-grain mixture of polenta, rolled oats and wheat bran... I hope I still have some hummus left when that rolls out of the oven on Wednesday...

Lessons in living with less are plentiful. Certainly, it's a theme throughout American history especially in times of economic stress. But really, they are good lessons for anytime, whether flush or spread thin. Frugality reminds me personally to appreciate everything - be it my health or the ability to do things for myself, the luxury of good urban ground to grow food in. These are all daily blessings I forget, and the wastefulness that begins to entangle me when I have extra is something that feels so good to have off my shoulders.

Sometimes I think maybe my food-blogging will suffer for lack of new and exciting food, but really, Lima beans are exciting! They are cheap, and take on flavor well. They have occupied my kitchen thinking for a couple of days and that is really what I best take away from writing about my experiments. Every day I spend a good amount of time poking around my kitchen, thinking of ways to sneak nutrition into my family, and I have the privileged of succeeding most of the time. This doesn't change with the amount of dollars spent on groceries. For all of it, and for living with less for now, I am so thankful.

Clutter and Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney.

Today's weather is hopeless. The sky is the same color at 3 PM as it was at 7 AM, and the wind, rain, tiny bits of hail, and thunder have reminded me constantly all day that it is Spring at long last - even if there will be no playing around outside today to confirm it. Knowing that tonight's dinner would be made up of leftovers, I decided this rainy day was as good a time as any to go through some recipe clutter.

The last time I sat down with a stack of recipes to attempt organization with was before the Boy-O was born into the world. I remember, because the idea of not going to work was still new, and I sat quietly at my kitchen table for an entire 8 hours editing and paring down, going through magazines and stowing only the things I knew I would make. My ruthlessness was shocking, and very difficult for me, but I did clear stacks of paper and nicely arrange everything first into page protectors and then on into 3-ring binders.

As I started this bright idea early this morning, I immediately noticed that my cooking life has changed dramatically in the past 4 years. Home life is no longer new, the once new idea of extra time is now habitually on my side. My older self despises collecting anything new and shutters at the thought of (although I feel like I still have plenty of it) clutter. Looking over the loose pages of things to categorize and file I realized that I cook differently than I used to. I may plan something around what I have a taste for once in a week, but I rarely follow recipes anymore, preferring instead to see what needs using up and then throwing something together.

That isn't to say that little pictures or the many pages of things I looked through today don't spark my interests. I've let all of my magazine subscriptions expire, mostly just because I know it's difficult for me to pare down, not because I don't enjoy them. I do miss things in print, in my real hands. I do not miss stacks of pages that start taking over my kitchen, making me feel harried and stressed out.

In the midst of a paper pile, I found several Everyday Food pages - remnants of a subscription I got (for super cheap) 2 years ago. I would have had no recollection of this date chutney, but I count it fortuitously to my advantage that it chose to resurface just before Easter since it is recommended to be eaten atop chicken, pork loin, or ham. Given my predisposition to lacto-ferment almost anything that strikes my fancy lately, I decided to give this condiment the same treatment. I tasted it prior to packing it up into the jar, and let me tell you, the Easter Ham that will be on the table at my Parents house this weekend never seemed so far away. I have a pretty good suspicion that this will be tremendous on sandwiches as well.

I had exactly 8 oz. of dates to use up, and modified the recipe to approximate what I thought would just about fill a pint canning jar. (I used weights, since I find it impossible to accurately measure dates in a measuring cup, but you can pretty much use any amount and come up with something tasty.) My pint jar was shy of the top about 2 inches, and I could increase things a bit more for the next go around. Make this as spicy as you like, I left it on the somewhat mild side, figuring that I can amp up my heat with candied jalapenos - something I add to almost anything I eat. Don't let the lacto-fermenting stop you from making this, either... just omit the whey and add more vinegar and eat within 3 weeks as Everyday Food suggests.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney (adapted from Everyday Food)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chile de arbol
  • 1 t. brown mustard seed
  • 6 oz. dates, chopped
  • 1 oz. raisins, chopped (I used dark Thompson raisins, but you could use golden raisins as suggested in the original recipe)
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 t.)
  • 1/2 c. (plus extra if needed) water
  • 1 T. cider vinegar (like Braggs)
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat along with the minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add onion and arbol chile and saute until onion just softens and begins to turn color, about 4 minutes.

Add the mustard seed, saute about 1 minute until the seeds start to pop.

Add the dates, raisins, salt, cayenne, water and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep at a simmer for about 5-10 minutes to evaporate most of the water and soften the dates. (I kept the pan covered for about half of the time.) Add additional water as needed so that the chutney maintains the consistency that you prefer, a bit on the thick side was how I liked it.

Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Add whey, and stir to combine. Add additional water to adjust consistency, and taste for final seasoning. Pack into a clean pint jar, and seal tightly. Let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

The finished chutney tasted amazing... actually figgy and bacony. I assume this was because I used the garlic and onion, but really, I was surprised. The spiciness of the cayenne (and maybe that lone chile de arbol) was fleeting against the sweet dates and raisins. I can't wait a few days to try it again, but I will (unlike the last time, when I polished off the Nigella-Like Salsa within three days). I have a feeling it will age well, and will top off a ham sandwich like nobody's business.

It seems I'm all about lacto-fermenting the condiments lately. Two days ago, I turned some leftover ancho chile sauce that I made for enchiladas into a chile ketchup of sorts - adding lots of toasted, re-hydrated guajillo and arbol chiles and some ketchupy spices... I have another day or so to wait before tasting it again, and I'll try and add some additional spice and maybe some vinegar then. So far, the deep brick red of it has not persuaded me to open the jar and taste it - though it's not without considerable restraint on my part.

It seems I don't get voraciously hungry until Summer - and understandably so. I'm much more active, the foods available are fresh and readily growing thus more appealing. Meanwhile, I'm eating through the stores of last year, mainly my freezer, and adding scoops of insanely appealing lacto-ferment stuff to almost every meal. Days like this remind me to be thankful: the ground will wake up and warm up, and maybe I'll be a better gardener this year than last. With the last of the organization on the table, I should be better mannered now that I, generally speaking, do not add any more to the pile. I can only hope to remain so well-behaved.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney on Punk   Domestics

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa

Ah, Nigella Lawson. When I saw her new cookbook at the library I had to pick it up. I was shocked at it's weight, promptly ran home, and set it on my kitchen scale. 3 lbs, 12 oz. (1710 g.) of reading material, kitchen preferences, and generally good photography awaited me. I actually like reading Nigella, since she seems to be a person who writes exactly as she thinks, not pondering too long over the usage of particular words since she's hungry and wants to get to the point. I tend to like the ideas in her cookbooks as well, many of them are highly adaptable and quick since she famously loves to eat well but not too involved.

Reading through the introduction and her "batterie de cuisine" one night before bed, I couldn't help but notice the differences she and I share. She dislikes cast iron for it's heft (calling herself a "lazy wimp"), I grow to love it more every day. She sings the praises of her local canola oil (which - I'll bite, she makes me want to try - calling it's flavor "gorgeously mustardy and nutty"), I have been using olive or coconut oil religiously for over a year. But peppered in among the differences are the things that I also can't live without: the cast iron enameled Dutch oven, the bottle of vermouth, the box of vinyl gloves that protect my sensitive skin from such kitchen demons as lemon juice, chile pepper residue, raw corn and potato believe it or not...

Reading a detailed list of what people like and why is actually one of my favorite things to do. It highlights exactly why I like someone or why I should continue reading their book to get to the recipes. It lets me know why the book will be valuable to me as a resource long before I ever get to the one thing that is indispensable to me, the one thing in the book that I'll be addicted to for a long time, maybe even forever.

Early on in the book, under the heading of Easy Does It, comes a recipe for Jumbo Chili Sauce. Calling for red peppers and 3 1/2 cups of cilantro leaves, it piqued my interest. If there is one out of season thing I buy regularly all Winter and Spring long it's cilantro. Trucked in cilantro never lasts as long as the stuff grown steps from the kitchen, or picked up at a farm market, yet it beguiles me every time I stand amongst the produce thinking about what looks good, what's the cheapest, and what I have a taste for. Cilantro it seems, no matter the cost, always makes the cut.

It goes without saying then that I usually have some that needs using up, when the leaves around the edges start turning yellow 48 hours after their arrival home, reminding me always of the brevity of life. I am hopelessly addicted to this fermented raisin cilantro chutney, which I just made another small batch of the last time I was in this predicament, so I thought I'd try lacto-fermenting up some Nigella-style sauce. I cut the recipe in half, using all the half bunch of cilantro clamoring for my attention on the counter. I also blended the sauce on the well-combined side, masking all the bright red of last year's red peppers. It may not be the prettiest thing I've ever made, but the flavor is indeed it's saving grace.

I used already roasted, seeded and peeled red peppers that I had in my freezer, you can use canned or roast some up fresh yourself. You can play around with proportions to what suits you - after all that is the way of Nigella. I only let the ferment go about 24 hours, but when I make it again (and make a larger batch), I'll let it go 3 days at room temperature before transferring to cold storage. You can also blend it more on the chunky side, it may be a more attractive red instead of a muddied mustard yellow...

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa (adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Kitchen book)
  • 6 oz. roasted red peppers
  • half small bunch cilantro, thick stems removed but some stems ok
  • half a lime, plus half a lime's zest
  • 3 chiles de arbol, rehydrated in boiling hot water for 10 minutes or so to soften
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. whey
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 small garlic clove
Blend everything except cilantro in a blender or food processor until as smooth or chunky as you like it. Add in cilantro, and blend (pulse) until chopped or blended to desired consistency. Pack into a clean jar (I left too much headspace in the photo above, but didn't worry about it since I knew I was going to eat it all right away!), and let sit at room temperature for 3 days in a more appropriately-sized container to ferment before transferring to cold storage.

Eat it on everything.

In classic Nigella fashion, I began thinking of all the stuff I could eat as a vehicle for this condiment. Yesterday, I had to pack a lunch for the Boy-O and I to eat at the museum we were going to after I picked him up from school. I knew I needed this sauce, and at the same time eyed a leftover half block of silken tofu in the fridge. I used an immersion blender to mix a heavy few tablespoons of my new favorite thing, the tofu, and some cashews for thickening and delicious sandwich filling was born. I wished I had some fresh sprouts to go with it, but made do with the butter lettuce that also called my name last time I shopped. The spread was so good, I could also see making some pasta and adding some height of the season cherry tomato halves, but sadly I'll have to wait awhile for that.

dip/sandwich spread.

I love kitchen projects for things like condiments. It allows me to eat the way I want to, without subjecting the boys to super spicy and fermented flavors if they should choose against it. I've been known to make a leftover lunch for myself using up spoonfuls of numerous half-filled jars with minuscule amounts of whatever I ate for dinner the night before. I like to hoard things I love with the best of them, but for some reason, I don't find it necessary with condiments. The next batch will taste different, and be as addicting I'm sure. I may even add more chiles, and it could then be worthy of scrambled eggs.

Nigella-Style Lacto-Ferment Salsa on Punk   Domestics