Wild and Lazy Fermentation

My Dinners with High Street

Two High Street ferments: bread and cultured butter.

Two High Street ferments: bread and cultured butter.

I have a new fermentation crush.  My love for you will never wane, Sandor, but High Street on Market is here and accessible to me for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. I was first lured there by the promise of some lacto-veggies; exciting enough, you’ll agree.  How many top-rated restaurants are touting their fermented flavors? When I got there, though, I found so much more than lacto-veg: levain breads that forced me and my dining companions to take a beat between bites to fully experience the pleasure (I’m not exaggerating. Sorry, beloved boulangers of Bourdeaux and Besançon, you’ve got Alexandre Bois of High Street to compete with now), house-cultured butter, crème fraîche, misos and so many other fruits of the microbes! Truly, High Street makes beautiful ferments and uses them in ways that bring new meaning to the “art of fermentation.”

Given my extreme adoration for the flavors of High Street, I’m so proud to say that I’ll be collaborating with Chef Eli Kulp and his team on a series of geographically-themed fermentation dinners. Chef Kulp has rightfully been heaped with honors including, most recently, being named a Food & Wine Best New Chefs in 2014.  Chef Kulp fully embraces the spirit of fermentation, which is to say, the spirit of collaboration, creativity, exploration and curiosity and I could not be more excited to be collaborating with him.

The team at High Street does regular fun and funky collaborations (the wonderful Madame Fromage has one of the cheese variety on the books for May 6th) on Tuesday nights at 9pm.  It’s a single seating meal and costs only $25 for 4 courses. Madame’s dinners sold out extremely quickly, and if the menu preview I’ve seen for these fermento dinners is any indication, these will too.  For reservations, call High Street at 215-625-0988.

What's on the menu at High Street Eastern Europe dinner? You can bet you'll see some lacto veg, a beet of some kind or another and many more goodies that are the product of fermentation!

What’s on the menu at High Street Eastern Europe dinner? You can bet you’ll see some lacto veg, a beet of some kind or another and many more goodies that are the product of fermentation!

Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans | April 22 | 9pm | $25

The inspiration for the first dinner comes from the ferments of Eastern Europe, the Balkan Peninsula and Russia. Chef Kulp & Co. have created an amazing menu, adapting the ferments of the broad but fermentationally-linked region into inventive dishes that will melt your brain in the most amazing way.  We’ll talk lacto and yeast fermentation, eat, drink and be so incredibly merry.

More to come on the next two dinners which will feature East Asian (5/13) and South Asian (6/17) ferments, respectively. You can also make reservations for those by calling 215-625-0988.

Natto – Japanese Fermented Soy Beans

Natto

Natto’s so-called slimy texture is more like fun, sticky strings to me.

Last week it was nata, this week it’s natto.  Though both are delicious (and maybe a little challenging by some standards) they are not otherwise easy to confuse.  Nata is candy made from a kombucha, jun or vinegar SCOBY. Natto is an alkaline, Japanese, soy ferment that has had me smitten ever since I first read about its health benefits in (say it with me) The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

I had never tried natto before reading The Art of Fermentation, and after reading about it both there and elsewhere, I was intimidated.  Descriptors given both in my reading and conversation with Japan-dwelling friends: slimy, mucilaginous, disgusting, okay when you eat it with a ton of mustard, not for non-Japanese, bizarre, gross, funky, stinky and unpleasant.  That’s the short list. With those ringing recommendations,  it somehow kept getting pushed down in the rankings on the to-do list of my experiments. When I finally tried some in a restaurant and, later, others from the freezer section of my local Japanese market, I felt something between disappointment and confusion.  I was a little disappointed that natto wasn’t a bit more challenging and I was confused that everyone and their mother had described this food as slimy.

Soak your beans in an extra large vessel and cover them with at least twice as much water as there are beans.  They will more than double in size.

Soak your beans in an extra large vessel and cover them with at least twice as much water as there are beans. They will more than double in size.

Natto Texture

I hate slimy.  A lifetime battle with mushroom hatred and an inability to swallow certain items from certain regional foods has taught me that sliminess is my food dislike. Natto is not slimy.  If anything, it’s the opposite. Its changing web of strings and strands are on the sticky side. And I love them. My first through fifteenth bites of natto reminded me of a very toned down version of that time in the Peruvian rainforest when we snagged a few fruits from the latex tree.  As you might imagine, fruit from the latex tree has some interesting qualities, the main one being that your lips stick together for hours after you eat it, with no relief available from soap or water scrubs (the ambrosial flavor makes it worth eating anyway).  This is a way more exaggerated effect than the bit of cling you get from eating natto, but it was certainly a closer reference for me than anything mucilaginous that may have crossed my plate in the past.

Natto Taste

The flavor is a little bit roasty, a little bit funky (think blue cheese) and a lot soy.  For me, this is a wonderful thing.  Like many others, I gave up unfermented soy under duress.  I hit a pretty rough hormonal period (sorry, gents) and after an elimination diet, I learned that soy was the culprit for me.  As a long-time tofu lover, I was pretty distressed. But a crying-for-no-reason-fit in the middle of the street, and a few horrible bouts of cramps convinced me that the sacrifice was worth it.  Two years later, I’m my (arguably) sweet self all month long. But I do periodically get the strong desire to whip up a batch of super firm tofu and while natto doesn’t have a whole lot in common with tofu, the leguminous flavor does tame my soy-seeking beast.

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Nata – SCOBY Candy

It's not a health food, but when else are you going to see candy on a whole food lover's blog?

It’s not a health food, but when else are you going to see candy on a whole food lover’s blog?

You know the giant, white, yeast strand-coated blob you use to make kombucha?  The one that elicits an “Ewwwww!” from almost anyone who doesn’t drink kombucha (and many who do)? You should eat that.

Headed for the chopping block.  This is the one time I will recommend using metal on your SCOBY.

Headed for the chopping block. This is the one time I will recommend using metal on your SCOBY.

Well, I’m not saying you should eat it.  Only that I’m offering you a way to use up excess SCOBYs and you might want to consider giving it a try.  I confess that my first nata-eating efforts were marred by thoughts of placenta eating.  I don’t know why this was the though stuck in my head, and props to you if you’re the bold mama who muscled down that organ, but for me, it made eating the SCOBY nearly impossible.  I worked through it though, with some recipe tweaks and now I can honestly say if you were the type to eat gummy bears or Dots or Hairbo as a kid, I can’t think of a reason that you wouldn’t enjoy this. It tastes a lot like a lightly tea-flavored gummy candy.

Chopping a SCOBY with kitchen scissors is a much better way to do it easily and evenly.  A knife will do in a pinch, though.

Chopping a SCOBY with kitchen scissors is a much better way to do it easily and evenly. A knife will do in a pinch, though.

Unlike many things we discuss here, this isn’t going to be a health food, unless your only dietary need is getting a bit more fiber in your diet.  The cellulose of the SCOBY gives a chew that is a DEAD ringer for kombucha-flavored gummy candy, as does the not insubstantial amount of sugar you’ll be using. Plus, the way I do this, the SCOBY is dead and therefore you’re not getting the microbial benefits you get from drinking ‘booch.  If you want to eat it alive, there is a great method detailed in The Art of Fermentation. I had good results with that method, but even though I make this candy very rarely, I prefer the easy way given that the microbe content in my diet is more than sufficent.

Mix the sugar well with the SCOBY pieces before putting it stovetop.

Mix the sugar well with the SCOBY pieces before putting it stovetop.

NATA SCOBY CANDY RECIPE

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Live and Let Die – Culture Edition

Ginger Beer plant

I love my microbe babies, but sometimes they have to DIE!

For a very long time I would read the part in “The Art of Fermentation” where quantity moderation and quality specialization are recommended over lots and lots (and lots) of ferments and scoff, just the tiniest bit. I’d been fermenting stuff daily for a good long time when I first read that part and I felt no signs of waning attention for any of my many cultures and projects. The competitive part of me was proud of the 20+ ferments I had going on a slow day and of the extraordinary cultures I kept alive with daily or weekly feedings that sometimes came at the expense of an hour or so of sleep. I couldn’t really foresee a future in which the health of any one of my cultures would be in question due to neglect, nor a time when I would simply not feel like managing the daily care of so many little beasts.

water kefir grains

Water kefir grains, you’re so beautiful! But could you grow a teensy bit slower and still stay healthy?

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Green Kombucha in Green Ball Jars

Green Kombucha labelJust a quick word to you all on this (in Philly) miserable, snowy and decidedly not green St. Patrick’s Day.  While the Philly St. Patrick’s Day tradition is to wear green and drink way too much green beer for at least two weekends surrounding the holiday, my tradition is a tad different.  I drink a green smoothie for breakfast (much like every other day), enjoy Alexis’ decadent, healthy collard wraps filled with mashed hummus and avocado for lunch, and in the afternoon, I offer myself a special treat: foamy, green kombucha!

It’s a simple and beautiful thing to make and if you really want to do it right, drink it from one of the new green jars.

May you have the luck of the Irish, today and everyday! To your health!

This beverage separates quite a lot. You can either stir to reincorporate or just enjoy the foam and liquidy liquid when you get to it.

This beverage separates quite a lot. You can either stir to reincorporate or just enjoy the foam and liquidy liquid when you get to it.

GREEN KOMBUCHA RECIPE

serves 3-4

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