Friday, April 15, 2011

JOT #16: herbs from seeds

When I was little, my grandmother would save carrot tops and soak them in water - the carrots would sprout roots and greens and grow, right in the kitchen. Then she taught me how I could get plants from coriander seeds, the tiny cilantro leaves peeking out, their fragrance intoxicating.

Since then I love the process of planting things I have in my pantry. Coriander seeds bring cilantro whenever the weather's a bit warm, perfect for Indian or Mexican food. Fenugreek brings methi, or fenugreek leaves, which make delicate greens to add in salads or saute on their own. Onion seeds yield onion greens. Even mustard seeds will grow.

I'm curious how fennel and cumin and others might grow, but you can try it at home: just plant 1/2-1 teaspoon of seeds an inch or so deep in a small pot of soil on your windowsill (a yogurt container with holes works). Place a plate under it to catch any drained water, and water it each day, just running over the tap until the soil is wet. Be patient. That's the hard part.

The reward is when you see that tiny sprout all of a sudden one day - two tiny cotyledons (the seed leaves) in bright green. They look like nothing you've seen. Suddenly there are not one but many. The two tiny leaves make way for a long stem that carries the "real" plant - deep fenugreek leaves, or spiky cilantro, or something else.

Check your pantry and try planting some. I'm always surprised what actually grows.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

JOT #15: tofu

I have long been wanting to make my own tofu. I get lovely firm tofu from HODO soybeanery at the farmer's market when I want it (aside from the silken, I can bring my own box to take it home), and there is always the great extra-firm Wildwood tofu (though plastic-wrapped) at the store. When I want medium, HODO almost always runs out of it, though, and I'm stuck with only silken or firm tofu, or I end up with much too much and waste it. Very sad.

So I'm happy to say I've finally made some tofu. It's silken (ish), and a small amount (what soymilk I had left), and has a slightly bitter aftertaste (I think I used too much coagulant). But it's a start, and I'm hopeful of being able to make it at home from now one, at least when I can't get it elsewhere. I used only 3 cups of soymilk, and used Epsom salts as a coagulant (they're cheap), which means the tofu has no calcium, so I may have to switch later! The recipe is adapted from here, which also includes photos and more details.


3-5 quarts soymilk (more = firmer tofu)
1/2-1 tbsp coagulant (nigari - calcium sulfate, or Epsom salts)
mesh strainer
muslin, preferably, or cheesecloth
container with holes (optional)
small, shaped container
plate that is smaller than strainer or holey container
heavy weight (a large can of tomatoes, or free weights, 5lbs or more)

Heat the soymilk to just below boiling. Avoid letting it boil (ideally, it should be above 180oF but below 210). Remove any skin that has formed. Turn off the heat or place on the very lowest heat, and add half the coagulant. Stir ONCE completely (and only!) with a large spoon, then let soymilk sit 10 minutes. If most has coagulated and the liquid is no longer white, turn heat off and continue. Otherwise repeat with the other half of the coagulant, stirring once and resting 10 minutes, until most of the milk has curdled.

In the meantime, place the strainer on a pot so that it sits above the bottom, and line with two layers of cheesecloth or muslin. Pour the curdled milk into the strainer and let the liquid drain, then lift up cloth and squeeze out most of the rest of the liquid. If you don't have a container with holes that will fit this amount of tofu, leave cloth in strainer, folding cloth over the tofu. Otherwise, place tofu inside the holey container, folding the cloth over the tofu so it lies flat.

Cover with a plate that doesn't touch the sides of the container or strainer, and weigh down with the weight. Leave 15 minutes for a softer tofu, or 30-45 minutes with a heavier weight for firmer. (I used 15 minutes with a glass bottle of chickpeas).

Remove tofu from cloth, and transfer to container. Cover with water and change water daily.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

JOT #14: jam and marmalade

I recently bought my first jar of jam in a few years - it's a hot sweet pepper made of local mixed berries with jalapenos, straight from the farmer's market. Yum.

Aside from that, we haven't had jam or marmalade from outside the house in quite a while. When apple season rolled around, I made a giant batch of apple jam, several jars. When friends had way too many lemons, I made marmalade. And with all those neighborly oranges, I've made a bitter-sweet orange marmalade. When thanksgiving rolls around, there are cranberries available, which make a delicious sweet-tart cranberry jam. Makes for plenty of sweet spreads.

Making jam needs a good half day per batch (which, for us, yields months, if not a year's, worth of jam). It's a bit time and work intensive, but modern devices like the food processor and other shortcuts make it easy. I also avoid the intense canning steps, because there's sugar in the jam, we use it fairly fast (or give it away for use), and store it in the fridge after opening. Someday I'd like to learn to can properly, complete with rubber lids and metal bands, but that will have to wait. For now, we can store our jam on the shelf and then in the fridge or freezer for a while before I have to make up a new batch, when another fruit comes into season.

These recipes are collected from various ones you'll find on the internet, adapted to all those different fruits you'll find, and made to be as little work as possible (I'm lazy!). The caveat: jam is really fruit and sugar, so it's not really a health food. Some day I'd like to make up a batch of freezer jam without adding any sugar, but not yet.

Lemon or Orange Marmalade
5lbs lemons or oranges (about 10 navels)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups extra sugar (optional)

Juice the fruit and save 1/2 cup juice (drink or save or freeze the rest) and all the peels, being sure to discard any seeds. Run peels through food processor or slice into very thin strips. Place peels in saucepan and cover with water. Boil 10 minutes, or until softened, then drain. Rinse pan and return peels to pan. Add 1 1/2 cups water and sugar and simmer one hour uncovered, stirring, until thick and creamy. Add up to 1 1/2 cups extra sugar, to taste. Add 1/2 cup juice, stir to combine well, and let cool. Pour into sterilized jars almost to top (leaving less than 1/2 inch). Seal jars and invert until fully cooled. Once opened, store in fridge and use within a week.

Apple Jam - posted ages ago. Recipe here.

Cranberry Jam
cranberries (about 1 packet/ 1lb)
 1 1/2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon or orange

Rinse cranberries (if frozen, skip this step). Heat cranberries, adding a little water if necessary, and stir on low, mashing, until softened. Add sugar and continue to stir, partially covered in between, until well-mashed and thick. Add lemon juice (use orange juice for orange-cranberry flavor). Cool jam until warm, then pour into sterilized bottle leaving 1/2 inch room at the top. Close and invert bottle overnight. Store away from light upside down or open and refrigerate.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

JOT#13: margarine...and butter...and ghee...and cupcakes

Margarine, butter, and ghee are two separate items, but I'm lumping them because, after all, they're similar in purpose. The cupcakes? Just for fun.

After going vegan, I used real margarine for a short while, until the idea of that many trans-fats gave me chills. I deftly jumped on the Earth Balance bandwagon - trans-fat free, healthy spread that is vegan and organic. Win-win, right? But sadly, it, too, comes in a plastic tub. I was okay with oil for a while until an amazing cupcake recipe (see below) left me drooling and Earth Balance-free. Rather than shell out, cheapskate that I am, I tried a simple margarine recipe that is all over the internet. I improvised wildly and thought I'd failed until the lemon juice did its magic (you should see it!). It certainly isn't thick and stiff like the store-bought stuff, it tastes like the oil I used, and sometimes still separates, but it is way better than not having margarine, and is actually quite yummy on bread with my farmer's market "Sweet Heat" berry pepper jam.

To whit, worth a try. Here is the veganized version:

Vegan Margarine

1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy, I suppose non-vegans could use regular)
1/2 cup oil (I used olive, probably better to use a light one)
1 tsp mustard seeds, crushed (or 1/2-1tsp dry mustard powder, or 1tsp lecithin)
1-2 tbsp lemon juice, or as needed
dash turmeric
salt to taste

Place soymilk in blender and pulse, then add oil and blend well until emulsified. Add mustard powder and tiny dash of turmeric for color, blend to mix. Add lemon juice and blend - it should become thick and creamy. Add salt, if desired, and blend again to mix well. Store in airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

Butter (and buttermilk)

I store the cream from my Strauss Milk bottles in a little cup in the fridge, usually with a spoon stuck to it, unless my Little One licks it off first. After a while, I have a decent amount of cream, which I used to just boil into ghee (see below), which lasts indefinitely outside the fridge. But I'd never made fresh butter, much less cultured (unless you count the time we dressed up as pilgrims and churned butter in grade school), until my mother gave me courage. She told me how her grandmother used to keep it submerged in water, and she and her siblings would sneak some from time to time.

Also much easier than I thought, especially with the convenience of a blender. Here you go:

Leave 1/4-1/2 cup fresh cream out to soften.
Add 1-2 tbsp yogurt, preferably runny and stir well to combine thoroughly.
Leave cultured cream in oven or someplace warm for the day or overnight.
In the morning (or night), place cream in blender and add at least 2x volume cold water. Add 1-2 ice cubes if the weather is warm or your blender tends to heat up.
Blend by pulsing. As you blend, the butter will rise to the top and the liquid will become a light runny white.
Stop blending when the butter is a solid mass and no solids remain in the lower portion.
Separate the butter from the liquid with a slotted spoon and allow to drain, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
The buttermilk can be used for baking, or as a drink with a dash of salt, asafoetida, and a few curry leaves.

[Edit: forgot the ghee! Recipe below:


Place softened butter in small saucepan.
Heat on VERY low heat (as low as possible) until butter melts
Continue to heat on low, and butter will come to a boil. There may be some scum forming at the top - skim it off. Allow the butter to boil until it is a bright golden color without stirring and being careful not to let it burn.
Remove from heat and let pot sit - the separated parts will settle to the bottom. Let cool no more than 15-20 minutes.
Pour off the liquid ghee into another container, straining. Store in a closed container at room temperature.
To use, you may wish to heat ghee briefly over a very low flame to melt. Serve with rice, idlis/chapatis, or for cooking. ]

Vegan Cupcakes

Ricekernel has wooed me to her site yet again with her vegan cupcakes. I had to try for myself. Now that I'm not buying all-purpose flour, I subbed the whole wheat flour. I used vegan sugar (powdered in the blender, ok, lazily), local olive oil (Big Paw). For the frosting, I used the vegan margarine! It was runny, so I omitted both the shortening and the soymilk - still hardened up nicely when chilled. The frosting recipe frosts LOTS of cupcakes, so I will be hiding the rest in the fridge.

I topped them with vegan chocolate chip eyes and a dry apple smile. They ARE ultimate. Happy!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

JOT #12: Apple cider vinegar

Once upon a time, I hardly ever used vinegar. Then I discovered its miraculous uses: dressing on salad (with oil of course), as a great hair rinse (in lieu of conditioner), for cleaning (with baking soda), and to add a kick to so many dishes.

Making vinegar at home is also a good way to save/use up/keep from spoiling foods and scraps that are just too good to waste. Case in point: a batch of fresh, homemade apple juice, which for some reason was never finished (forgotten in the back of the fridge). What to do? Make vinegar.

I've found that it's takes ages, but it's much simpler than I thought. The key to making vinegar is to let it have air at the right times. Liquids go through stages as they ferment: juice, wine/alcohol, and acid/vinegar.

To make apple cider vinegar, start with apple cider or juice. For fruits, chop the fruit and cover with water. Very sweet juice and fruits will yield better results. Make sure your cider/juice does not contain any additives and preferably isn't pasteurized. You may also wish to add sugar water instead of plain water to make fruit scrap vinegar instead, which is also faster.

Pour into a clean, sterilized glass jar, leaving an inch or two of room at the top. Close tightly and leave at room temperature for 6-8 weeks. Open periodically (weekly) to let CO2 escape. When your juice smells like strong vodka or wine, you're ready to move on.

Now leave the same jar covered but slightly open. You can leave the lid on loosely, or cover with a double layer of cheesecloth. You may wish to add "mother of vinegar" from store-bought vinegar, but this is not necessary. Keep it in a warm place but away from direct sunlight.

After a couple of weeks you'll see some stringy things that are the "mother of vinegar" made by the bacteria. Continue to allow it to ferment until you don't smell (or taste) any alcohol.

To prevent further fermenting or to make another batch, optionally filter out the mother of vinegar film from the vinegar.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

JOT #11: Yogurt

Growing up Indian, my mother used to make yogurt every week. She poured milk from the can, stirred it patiently on the stove, and waited until it cooled just enough to put her pinky in without scalding. Then she stirred in a tablespoon of the old yogurt culture, and let it sit on the counter (on warm days) or in the oven overnight. In the morning - thick yogurt, "hard curds" we called it, literally translated. It was rich and perfect for mixing into warm rice for dinner, one of our favorite meals back then.

My mother's yogurt culture (really a bacterial culture that grows in your milk and is what helps you digest your food in your stomach!) was so developed over the years, probably an ancient mix of strains of Lactobacillus that may have once consorted with dinosaurs. It never failed to magically transform milk, even skim milk, into yogurt.

After the development of my yuppie, get-anything-from-the-store lifestyle, making yogurt went by the wayside. I had forgotten that it was easy, and it seemed such a breeze to pick up yet another plastic tub of plain yogurt at the store. Until the tubs (see my pack-rat tendencies) started to pile up. Oh yeah, and I turned vegan.

Being vegan and craving yogurt is not a good combination, so I glommed onto my cherished Wildwood Yogurt. The perfect taste for yogurt rice, but full of things I do not have at home, and yes, it comes in plastic tubs. I've finally gone back to making my own, and I haven't seen a store-bought variety that is quite as nice as homemade, to my taste. It's also a great way to use up milk that is about to spoil and to get live cultures when your stomach is feeling a little blah.

So, here's my simple recipe for making yogurt at home. You can use a yogurt-maker at home if you like, but it should be fairly simple, especially now that the weather is warming up (at least around here).

Homemade Yogurt

milk, soymilk, or other non-dairy milk (any fat content is ok)
1-2tbsp yogurt culture from purchased or other yogurt containing "live, active cultures"
scarf or thick cloth
pot to heat milk (thick bottom)
glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container with lid that covers well or fits tightly (a casserole works)
can of food/soup or rock (optional)

Clean the container well - sterilize in dishwasher or pour boiling water over it.

Heat milk on the stove in pot or in ceramic or glass container in the microwave (ie a saucepan leaving room at the top or a ceramic container to 1 inch of the top). Heat to just boiling (milk will froth up - make sure it doesn't boil over. In my microwave, this is 12 minutes for a large bowl and 5 for a cereal bowl, longer on the stove). On the stove, stir continuously to prevent scalding.

Remove milk from heat and if in pot, transfer to container. let cool until warm but not hot (pinky inside will not burn, or you can measure to once it drops below 50oC/122oF). If in microwave, leave in container, otherwise transfer to container. Allow skin to form on top of yogurt.

Mix 1-2 tbsp yogurt with 2 tablespoons of unboiled milk until smooth and creamy. With a spoon, gently pull skin away from edge of container and pour yogurt culture into the space. Close container with lid tightly.  You may wish to weight it with something (a can of food, a rock, etc) to form a tighter seal.

Leave your yogurt on the counter overnight if it's warm, or in the oven (warm the oven briefly if it's cold) or any place warm. Wrap with a scarf or cloth to help keep it warm in colder temperatures. If not fully set by morning, remove from oven, set oven to lowest setting and leave until it reaches temperature. Open oven and replace container covered with scarf for a few more hours (up to the evening). Refrigeration can also convert a slightly runny yogurt into a thick, set curd.

If desired, pour off any liquid (it makes a good liquid for kneading dough) if desired. To make greek yogurt, place this yogurt into a cheesecloth and strain into another container. What remains is extra-thick, creamy yogurt. Sweeten as desired.

JOT #10: Granola

I am SO granola. Last year, we were in the throes of another grocery-store meltdown, when yet another trip to the store for Flax Pumpkin Seed Granola was in order after less than a week. The tiny boxes are among the most expensive at the store, and hold (for us) only about 4 bowls of cereal. Not sustainable.

Later, I found it in the bulk foods aisle, not quite as expensive but at least I could buy as much as I wanted. So there we went, until one day while cookbook-browsing (a fun activity, if you have a spare minute and are near one of your cookbooks), I came across the recipe for granola out of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (a book I highly recommend - covers all sorts of veggies and grains). This is my generic adaptation of this simple recipe, and I make up a batch every two weeks, or a half-batch weekly for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought variety. Nowadays, we only buy store granola when I'm feeling lazy or ill.

The funny thing is that nearly everything in this recipe is optional, so you could end up with just toasted grain, if you like that,or you could have flax-hemp-pumpkin-quinoa-cherry-chocolate-coconut granola, if that's what you're craving. Variations are noted at the end.

Here's also another fun granola recipe to try from my friend ricekernel.

yields 8 cups

6 cups any combination of rolled oats or flaked grain (kamut, spelt, barley) or toasted grain (quinoa, millet)
1 cup wheat germ (optional)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit (optional)
1/2-1tsp spices (I use 1tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cardamom)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup safflower, canola, or olive oil
3/4 cup maple syrup or honey

Pulse 2 cups of grain until crushed. Preheat oven to 300oF. Toss the dry ingredients except the raisins or fruit together. Add oil and sweetener and toss again to coat thoroughly. Spread mixture on two sheet pans and bake. Stir every 10-15 minutes until done, about 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and add raisins or fruit. Let cool. The granola will become crunchy when fully cooled. Store in an airtight container.

Variations: The variations are endless. My general rule is to try to use what I have in the pantry.
  • Spices - besides cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, you can use powdered ginger, allspice, vanilla or almond extract, cocoa powder, fennel seed powder, mace, even spicy cayenne for a kick! Start with 1/2 tsp or less before you commit.
  • Nuts and seeds - chopped walnuts and pecans, slivered almonds, crumbled peanuts, exotic nuts like brazilnuts, macadamias or hazelnuts, seeds like sunflower and pumpkin, sesame seeds, flax seeds, cashews, pistachios, hemp seeds, really anything goes. If you need to use salted nuts, leave out the salt in the recipe.
  • Grains - besides the standard oat flakes, you might find multigrain flakes in a bulk aisle, or flaked wheat, kamut, spelt, or barley. You can toast millet, pop amaranth, or rinse quinoa before adding, as well as adding puffed rice or rice flakes. Consider also adding some other cereal (o's or crisped rice or something else your family likes) to granola.
  • Fruits - using enough fruit, you can cut down on sweeteners. Try plump chopped medjool dates, pieces of dried apple, pear, papaya or apricot, banana chips, candied orange or lemon peel, dried berries or cherries, even pieces of fruit leather.
  • Sweeteners - a maple syrup is lovely, but you can use plain old sugar (white, brown, turbinado, or anything else), agave syrup (use less), honey, molasses, or even some flavored syrup you've forgotten. Cut the sugar in half if you like. Leaving it out is fine, too, but everyone might reach for the sugar bowl.
  • Oil - you can cut the oil in half or leave it out, as you wish, to make a fat-free version. Any kind of edible oil should be okay, but if you use butter, you may wish to store your granola in the fridge. Alternatively, use 1 cup pear or apple juice instead of oil (in addition to sweetener).
  • Yummies - coconut flakes, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, even candy can turn your granola into a trail mix.
  • Wheat germ - it adds a good dose of protein and nutrients to your granola and also helps it clump nicely. You can also use wheat bran, oat bran, or rice bran. I like to powder some of my oats instead, which helps the clumping even without the wheat germ.
Let me know how yours goes!