きゅうり あさつけ (Cucumber Quick Pickle)

There is a rich tradition of pickling in Japanese cuisine, but much of it is not quite the same way we think of pickled items. Most western pickles are fermented or soaked in brine for at least a week. Many Japanese pickles (tsukemono) are fermented or soaked only for 30 minutes, up to several hours. They retain more of the flavor of the raw item, and just enhance the natural flavor rather than create something totally new. The following method is often used with vegetables you have around the house that are a little past their prime, and maybe wouldn’t be as good on their own anymore, but are still edible.

This is a quick cucumber pickle that we made this weekend. I used two small persian cucumbers, but you can use any type really. It does work the best with cucumbers with tender skin and small seeds, though. If you can find Japanese cucumbers, they are usually thinner and longer than the pickling cucumbers we typically use in the U.S., more like English cucumbers. I added some ginger for extra flavor, you could also add chili powder (togarashi) or sesame seeds – or really anything you think would taste good with them. If you have or can get kombu, adding it to the pickle adds some flavor, and also thickens the brine a bit.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • Ginger
  • Cucumbers
  • Bowl(s)
  • Heavy Object(s)
  • Kombu (optional)

Directions

  1. Thinly slice the ginger, then julienne it, so it’s in small, thin pieces.
  2. Put the ginger in a bowl (or in multiple bowls depending on how much you’re making), and lightly salt it. Toss it to distribute the salt.
  3. Thinly slice the cucumbers.
  4. Put the cucumbers in your bowl(s).
  5. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt, and then toss them lightly to distribute the salt.
  6. Let everything sit for about 10 minutes until the cucumbers start to glisten with moisture.
  7. Starting gently and increasing pressure, work the salt well into the cucumbers, and begin to use enough pressure to squeeze a fair amount of liquid out of the cucumbers.
  8. If you have kombu, cut about 1 inch square(s), and put it (them) in the bottom of the bowl(s).
  9. Find a heavy object or objects that are nearly the same diameter as your bowl(s). I used mason jars full of water.
  10. Put plastic wrap on the bottom of said heavy object, and then place it on top of the cucumbers, so that it’s pressing them down.
  11. Let sit at room temperature for about 2-3 hours.
  12. Remove the kombu and discard it.
  13. Eat!
Making tsukemono.Making tsukemono.Cucumber quick pickle with fresh ginger.

김치 (Kimchi)

김치 Kimchi!

Following in the vein of preserving foods, pickling, fermenting, etc – we decided to try kimchi, a korean fermented cabbage dish. Actually, there are hundreds of varieties of kimchi, anything from cabbage to radish to garlic stems to cucumber. Napa cabbage kimchi is the most common, and what you would refer to if just saying ‘kimchi’ without specifying which type. We followed the recipe for Traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi from koreanbapsang.com, except we didn’t put radish in with the cabbage, and we left out the fresh shrimp. It turned out delicious and very flavorful, but not extremely spicy, so if you like it spicy, I would up the amount of chili flakes.
Ingredients

  • 1 large napa cabbage (5-6 lbs)
  • About 1 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon glutinous rice powder (찹쌀가루)
  • 1/2 cup red chili flakes (고추가루)
  • 1/4 cup fermented shrimp (새우젓), finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced garlic
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

  1. Cut a slit about 2-3 inches deep in the root end of the cabbage, and then pry the cabbage apart into halves. This allows the leaves to be pulled apart and to stay whole, instead of being shredded by the knife. Repeat with each half, so that you have 4 whole quarters of the cabbage.
  2. If the cabbage looks dirty, rinse lightly in water to remove the loose dirt.
  3. In a large bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of salt in 5 cups of water. Thoroughly douse each cabbage quarter in the salted water, then shake off the excess, and put into a large pot or bowl (we use our stock pot).
  4. Take each quarter cabbage, and sprinkle salt mostly on the thick white portions of each cabbage leaf, then replace into the large pot/bowl. Use about 1/2 cup of salt total for the whole cabbage.
  5. Pour the salted water from step 3 over the cabbage quarters, and let them sit in the salted water for around 6 hours, turning them over every 2 hours so that each part has time to soak. The thick white parts of the cabbage should be soft and bend easily when it is ready to take out.
  6. After the cabbage has been soaking for around 4 hours, mix the garlic, ginger, fish sauce, fermented shrimp, chili flakes and 1/2 cup water together in a large bowl.
  7. In a small saucepan, mix together the 1 tablespoon glutinous rice powder with 1/2 cup water, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens into a paste. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, then mix with the other seasonings in the large bowl.
  8. Once the cabbage is done soaking, take the cabbage quarters out of the water and rinse thoroughly, making sure all the salt is washed away. Squeeze the excess water out after rinsing.
  9. Place one quarter of the cabbage in the bowl with the seasoning mix, and, while wearing kitchen gloves to avoid chili burns, coat each leaf with a little bit of the mixture, using about 1/4 of it for each quarter of the cabbage. Repeat with each quarter of the cabbage.
  10. Fold the top soft leaf parts of each cabbage quarter over the thick stem parts, and place into a glass jar or air-tight container. Press each down firmly to remove air pockets and make sure they are tightly packed.
  11. Rinse the seasoning mix bowl with 1/2 cup of water and pour over the cabbage. Seal the top and set out at room temperature.
  12. Leave kimchi out at room temperature for about 2 days, then place in the refrigerator. The kimchi is edible at this point, but will taste best after a few days to a week in the refrigerator.

Kimchi.
Kimchi.
Kimchi.
Kimchi.
Kimchi.
Kimchi.
Kimchi.

Yogurt

Finally after having made a few successful batches of yogurt, I figured it was time to write a post about it. It turns out it really isn’t that difficult, just a bit time-consuming, and the most important thing is just that you get your culture mixed in very well, so that the milk cultures evenly. The nice thing about this, is once you get a batch you like, you can then use the end of it as a starter for the next batch, and on and on. Here we go.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon (about 2 liters) non-ultra-pasteurized milk (preferably not pasteurized or homogenized at all)
  • 2-3 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered milk

Directions

  1. Take a medium-sized enameled or tinned pot (as heavy-bottomed as possible) and scald it with boiling water to more-or-less sterilize it. Do the same with a half-gallon (or 2 liter) canning jar.
  2. Pour your milk into the pot and, over medium to medium-high heat, bring the milk to 180 F (82 C), stirring often to keep the milk from burning on the bottom.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat, and let the milk cool to 120 F (49 C), stirring often.
  4. While you are waiting for the milk to cool, mix the yogurt and the milk powder together so the mixture is smooth.
  5. Once the milk reaches 120 F (49 C), stir in the yogurt/milk powder mixture, and then whisk thoroughly to make sure it is mixed in well.
  6. Ladle the milk into your canning jar, and close the lid.
  7. If you have an insulated container that the jar will fit in, place the jar in the container somewhere fairly warm, and let sit for about 12 hours. We use a heating pad wrapped around the jar on low for an hour or two to give it a good start, and then let it sit at room temperature still wrapped in the heating pad in a fairly warm room for the rest of the approximately 12 hours.
  8. Place the jar in the refrigerator, and let sit another day or two before eating to let the flavor develop a bit.

Yogurt Yogurt Yogurt Yogurt Yogurt Yogurt Yogurt

Crème Fraîche

This one is super easy and delicious. Crème fraîche is a cultured cream, similar to sour cream, and making it yourself from really good quality cream is easy and turns out very well. Equipment you’ll need is a saucepan, a quart-sized canning jar, and a instant-read thermometer.

Ingredients

  • 1 pint heavy cream (fresh or pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/8 tsp mesophilic bacteria starter or 1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature

Directions

  1. Put some water in the saucepan, and the cream in the canning jar.
  2. Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat, and lower the jar partway into the saucepan, so that it’s nearly touching the bottom.
  3. Hold the thermometer in the cream.
  4. When the temperature of the cream reaches about 86 degrees, remove from heat and add the bacteria starter or buttermilk.
  5. Stir gently to mix in the starter or buttermilk, and the put the lid on the jar.
  6. Put the jar somewhere and in something that will keep it at least around room temperature.
  7. Let sit for around 9-18 hours, until the cream has notably thickened and smells like sour cream.
  8. Refrigerate for at least a day before using.

Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraîche

Paneer Cheese

Paneer is a simple, un-cultured cheese used often in Indian food, and is basically identical to queso blanco. It goes great in curries, or you can slice it or cube it and season it and fry it for a snack, or crumble it and put it on tacos. All you need is a pot, milk, a colander, an acid and some cheesecloth.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk, non-homogenized and non-ultra-pasteurized
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (apple cider or white), or lemon juice

Directions

  1. Scald the pot and cheesecloth with boiling water.
  2. Pour milk into pot and bring to a foaming boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a slotted spoon (be careful, the milk boils over quite suddenly).
  3. Remove pot from heat, and slowly pour in the vinegar or lemon juice, while stirring gently in one direction.
  4. Continue stirring for 30-60 seconds as curds start to form.
  5. Cover the pot and let sit for about 10 minutes.
  6. Lay the cheesecloth in a colander and place either in the sink or over a large mixing bowl.
  7. Scoop the large curds out of the pot and into the cheesecloth with a slotted spoon.
  8. Pour the rest of the liquid through the cheesecloth, so that the rest of the small bits of curds get filtered out.
  9. Pull the cheesecloth together so that the curds are sitting in the bottom.
  10. Rinse the curds out under cold water, twisting the cheesecloth and lightly pressing the curds to squeeze liquid out.
  11. Tie some kitchen twine to the excess bit of cheesecloth and hang over sink or bowl to drain for about 4-5 hours (less will do if you’re in a pinch).
  12. Take cheese out of cheesecloth and store in your favorite container in the refrigerator until needed for cooking or eating.

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Paneer Cheese

Make Yourself Some Sauerkraut

Yes indeed. You know it. You either love it or hate it. But if you haven’t had it home-made, boy are you missing out. Especially since it’s so easy. Homemade fermented sauerkraut is not only quite healthy for you (lots of beneficial bacteria grow in there that aid digestion and are generally good for you), but it tastes so much better than the pickled-in-vinegar stuff you usually find at the store. Naturally sour due to acid produced by the bacteria eating the sugar in the cabbage, with a bit of that warm, yeasty after-taste you sometimes get from a good beer, and a nice, firm crunch. Really, if you’ve never had home-made sauerkraut, give it a try.

Recipe to fill a 5 liter jug:

Ingredients

  • 3 heads of cabbage
  • About 9 tsp sea salt
  • Water

Directions

  1. Chop each cabbage in half and then in half again (so, in quarters), remove the core, and then slice each quarter as thinly as possible.
  2. In a bowl, mix about 3 tsp salt per head of cabbage (you can do it 1/4 or 1/2 cabbage at a time, depending on what size bowl you have) with the shredded cabbage. Use your hands to make sure the salt is rubbed in well, rub it into the cabbage until it is starting to dissolve.
  3. As you get the salt mixed in, transfer the cabbage to the jar, and press down firmly all around, so cabbage is well-compacted.
  4. Once you’ve gotten all the cabbage in the jar, and all is well pressed down; if there is not enough liquid to cover all the cabbage, add brine just until the cabbage is covered (brine is 1 cup water and 2 tsp salt).
  5. In order to hold cabbage below the level of the liquid, put a large ziplock bag filled with brine (in case it leaks) on top of the cabbage. Make sure not to use a biodegradable bag.
  6. Let sauerkraut sit in jar for approximately 2 weeks – open the jar and press down cabbage every day or two, as it will release liquid and therefore lose volume. Be careful as you open the lid, as gas will build up in the jar, release it slowly when you open to avoid being showered in brine.
  7. After about two weeks (the longer it goes, the more soft and sour it will be), open jar, remove plastic bag from top, and stick a fork in and try it. Mmmmm. Let it sit in the fridge for a day or two for the flavors to kind of mellow out a bit, and it will keep in the fridge for several months.

Update – we made a second batch, and didn’t use a plastic bag on top, but just sealed the big jar, and twice a day we let the gas out (the fermentation releases gas), and packed the cabbage down so it was below the brine level, and that worked fine as well.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut!

Feta Cheese

Well, we’ve just moved into a new apartment, and as we just took a beginning cheese-making class last week, we decided to make the first food adventure in our new place a bit of feta cheese. We got a tip on some fresh goat’s milk in town, and yesterday we got down to business and made the cheese. The cheese has to sit for 5 days before eating (you’ll see that later), so we haven’t really tasted it yet, but we’ll let you know how it is. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Take 1/2 gallon of goat’s milk, any kind but ultra-pasteurized (the ultra-pasteurization ruins the milk for making cheese).
  2. Heat milk in a pot (stainless steel or enameled) until milk reaches about 86 degrees F.
  3. Add about 3/4 tsp of cultured buttermilk. Stir gently with a wisk to make sure the buttermilk is thoroughly distributed through the milk.
  4. Cover and let the milk sit with the buttermilk in for about 1 hour.
  5. Mix about 1/4 tsp double-strength rennet (or 1/2 tsp regular strength) with about 1/8 cup water.
  6. Mix the rennet/water mixture into the milk, and stir gently with a whisk to make sure the solution is well distributed through the milk.
  7. Cover again and let sit for about 1 hour.
  8. After 1 hour, you should have a layer of curd formed. Cut it with a knife, and if the curd doesn’t stick to the knife, you’re ready to move on. Otherwise, let sit a little longer.
  9. Cut the curd into cubes and let sit for about 20 minutes, to let more of the whey release from the curd.
  10. Let sit for another 30 minutes, and stir gently several times during that period. It’s ok to break up the curd some while stirring, but try to leave it mostly in-tact. This is to again release more whey from the curd.
  11. After the 30 minutes, lay some butter muslin in a colander, and strain the cheese curd through. Keep the whey to make soup stock or for another recipe if you can use it. Make sure your piece of butter muslin is large enough to wrap up around the cheese curd into a bag.
  12. After most of the whey has drained off, tie the butter muslin up into a bag, and tie around a wooden spoon or some other long piece.
  13. You can use this to hang the bag of cheese curds above a bowl or above the sink, to let the rest of the whey drain out.
  14. Hang and let drain for about 5 hours, until the cheese curd feels nice and solid, and the whey has pretty much stopped draining from the bag.
  15. Unwrap the curd and place in a large bowl.
  16. Cut the curd again into cubes, and sprinkle with about 2 tbsp flake, sea or kosher salt. Make sure as much as possible that all sides of cubes are covered. Again, it’s ok if you break up the curd a bit.
  17. Store salted feta in a canning jar in the refrigerator for 5 days before using.

Feta Cheese
Cheese curd after being cut, resting and being stirred.

Feta Cheese
Butter muslin in colander, awaiting cheese curd.

Feta Cheese
Cheese curd tied up in the butter muslin for draining, and initially drained whey in a jar.

Feta Cheese
Cheese curd after draining for 5(ish) hours.

Feta Cheese
Cheese curd packed in salt and ready for brining in the refrigerator.