Dukkah Kraut

If you aren’t familiar with Dukkah, you’re in for two kinds of treat today. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that I put on just about everything. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with toasted nuts and warm spices, especially toasted cumin. I’m a huge sucker for toasted cumin.

Dukkah Spices in kraut

The smell tempts me, but I try not to eat Dukkah with a spoon.

I’ve tried a lot of dukkah recipes, and a couple store bought brands and they’ve almost all worked really nicely in sauerkraut, so feel free to use a store-bought version instead of making your own. If you do want to make your own (way cheaper), though, these two recipes (one from Bon Appetit and one from The Kitchn (I use almonds in the latter recipe)) have done me well.

This is very likely to be the last kraut recipe you see from me for a while. The farmers’ markets are about to open, and we’ll be seeing asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb in no time at all.  Enjoy!

Finished Pink Dukkah Sauerkraut

I used 1/3 pound red cabbage to give me this mauve shade.

Dukkah Sauerkraut


Sauerruben and Seasonality

Have you noticed all the recipes for rhubarb, peas and other spring things popping up? Yeah, me too. I have to admit that it kind of gets on my nerves. I totally get the pressure to make seasonally relevant recipes, but the truth is, seasonally relevant recipes in early April, in hardiness zone 6b and below are generally overwintered root vegetables!

What seasonal vegetables look like in early April

This is what seasonal vegetables look like in Philadelphia in early April. They came from the farm stand exactly like this.

In a few more weeks, we’ll be seeing the bright, fresh, colorful goodies pop up in the markets. We’ll have greens and lettuces galore. We’ll have rhubarb. Now, though, we have beat beets. And wrinkled cabbages. And turnips. And I am SUPER cool with that, because it means I get to eat sauerruben for a few months more.

Sauerkraut: sauer = sour. kraut = cabbage. Sauerruben: sauer = (still) sour. Ruben = turnip. So yup, we’re making a spicy, tangy packed ferment of turnips today and you’re going to love it. That’s not an order, it’s a prediction.

Sauerruben fermentation recipe

A pint of sauerruben doesn’t last long.

Sauerruben is punchy and pungent and it has the tiniest bit of horseradish bite. I can’t get enough of it, and I do become a bit of a lady hulk when someone eats the last of the jar before the next one is fermented. I like it fermented on the short side, because that horseradish tang is still really strong, but it will keep fermenting like a champ for a month or more.

Fermenting turnips for seasonal sauerruben



Marinated Kefir Cheese

Marinated kefir cheese balls

Serve them in a bowl or on toothpicks with olives or tomatoes

While my lifestyle for the past year + (work, work, work) has not allowed for it much, I LOVE entertaining. Having friends over for quiet dinner parties with great conversation and wine, or for ragers that span from brunch til dawn and include sourdough waffle bars and lots of dancing is a pleasure that I sorely miss.

Whatever the event, I love to serve small bites to whet the appetite and, of course, they frequently include a wide variety of ferments. One of my favorite is a a take on the traditional mini-skewers of mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes and a basil leaf. Although I do enjoy making cultured mozzarella, there’s an easier cheese out there, and it requires no special cheese cultures.

I make little kefir cheese balls, (bocconcini-style) and I marinate them. It’s seriously easy and very customizable with herbs and spices.

Straining kefir cheese

If you’re seeing a cracked texture rather than smooth, crumbles are a better option than marinated kefir balls.

The key to this recipe is to time the kefir draining so that the consistency is dry enough to hold together, but not so dry that it starts to crumble. This can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours. The quickest way is to let the strained kefir sit on the counter in a covered container until the whey separates. Make a hole and pour off the whey before starting your strain. If this is difficult or too time-consuming at the start, just pour the whole thing into your cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer and give it time to lose its liquid.

Click to see how to make probiotic kefir bocconcini

A Bacterium by Any Other Name

Helianthus annuus scientific name for Sunflower

A sunflower, or Helianthus annuus. 2 names are better than 1 when it comes to communication about the natural world.

Some Bacteria Are Scary

I was reading the wonderful Harold McGee’s story on salt-rising bread in an old Lucky Peach (a magazine which I, much like a romance novel heroine, was slow to love but now realize is meant for me), when I had a thought. Why the hell are bacteria names so unapproachable?  I have a linguistic past; I love languages and learning to pronounce new words. I enjoy googling for the goods, finding pronunciation guides, sounding things out and writing them phonetically when we’re talking about anything from literature to food (a lifetime of proud nerdery, thank you very much). But bacteria names can be so, well, intimidating for those of us who haven’t been trained in the languages of science and worse than that, they so frequently don’t evoke anything at all.

Conversations about Bacteria in Our Food

Before any panties gather themselves into bunches, let me be clear—this isn’t anti-intellectualism or anti-latinism or anti-science-ism. It is merely acceptance that the way we talk about things matters. Would our canis lupus familiaris be such a beloved part of our family if we called her that rather than pup, dog or Laika? If I made pesto from ocimum basilicum (rather than basil) would it smell as sweet? And a garden full of Helianthus annuus doesn’t evoke nearly as much as its common name, Sunflower. Even if these plants would tempt us organoleptically and my pup would be as snuggly, we may not be as prone to talk about them fondly to others, or to feel as connected to them. Our plants and pets have common names because they are things that we talk about in our day to day. We connect with them, and we’re aware of their value and meaning.

Language matters.  The way we talk about things impacts the way we think about them and vice versa, which is partially why it’s extraordinarily important that we have correct scientific terms. Official language is important. The language of science is important.  But popular language is also important as a way of creating a sense of connection. I’ve seen people wield the scientifically correct names of bacteria like weapons in groups of less knowledgeable fermenters—a way of saying, “Clearly, I know more than you do about this topic.” (BTW, those people are sometimes the ones spouting the worst, scientifically unsupported nonsense.) I’ve also seen extremely well-informed microbiologists speak to groups of eager learners who were happy and eager to  know the correct scientific names for the bacteria responsible for their fermentation activities. I’m not saying nix the science, I’m saying let’s have both.

Dog with stuffing all around it

My canis lupis familiaris. A non-abstract part of my life. I call her dog, pup, Laika and jerk (when she pulls apart toys in 3 minutes flat).

Combatting Bacteria-phobia with Common Sense Language

Perhaps the raging bacteriophobia that plagues our nation could be, in some small part, combatted by a little bit of linguistic familiarity with the microbes that play such an integral part of our lives, whether or not we’re aware of it.

This point was driven home to me last week when I saw Neil Tyson give his energetic lecture on science and culture. One thing I love about NDGT is that he clearly understands that science can be communicated in a way that is both approachable and correct. During his lecture, he gently ribbed his biologist counterparts by noting the way that they name thing versus the way physicists name things. The name The Big Bang evokes something. It tells you what happened and it opens the door to a conversation. The name Hypnum curvifolium (carpet moss) for most of us, seems like a discussion we weren’t invited to participate in.

Perhaps we can bestow complementary monikers on our body microbes to create a more inclusive environment for conversations about our symbionts and the role they play in our personal and planetary well-being.

I have a special love for leuconostoc mesenteroides, since it is often responsible for the kickoff of vegetable fermentation. Just for fun, I’m going to start calling it Leuc (“Look” with a hard ‘k’ sound at the end). Like “Look, there are bubbles in my jar so I know my sauerkraut is fermenting.”

What do you think? What would you name your favorite bacterium if you were trying to befriend it with language?