September 30, 2012

Rye Berry Salad

This summer I fell in love with a field of rye.

As you can see in the video, on golden summer evenings when the sun would hit it a certain way, the whole field seemed to glow and the tall stalks would come alive in the wind. Along with falling in love with this rye field, I also fell in love with a song. When I first heard the Christian Löffler track that you hear in the video, thanks to a friend who posted it on facebook, I had the same tingly feeling as when I was walking in that field of rye at sunset and I was thrilled when Ki Records very kindly allowed me to use it. 

We harvested the rye in late July, thanks to a combine that was on loan from a Boston company keen on getting farmers to try out their new imported models of compact smaller-scale combines.

Photo by Cindy Beams
Photo by Cindy Beams
Photo by Cindy Beams

I recently wrote an article about grains for the fall issue of Edible Toronto magazine, which you can read by clicking here. The gist of the article, if you don't have time to read it, covers  my hesitations about grains in light of warnings from some nutritionists about the darker sides of the cereal family (namely sky-rocketing gluten intolerance rates and the woes of phytic acid).

What I discovered while doing research for this article, which I found utterly fascinating, is the link between gluten-intolerance  / Celiac's disease and modern wheat varieties. Since the 1950's, wheats have been bred by the agricultural industry to maximize yield. But along the way, this has inadvertently affected the wheat's gluten proteins. Many studies are now pointing to modern wheat breeding methods as the cause of the 400% rise in Celiac's disease over the past 40 years. After reading about this, I became all the more interested in the rare, heirloom grain varieties that my boyfriend is growing out, such as the dashingly elegant Black Winter emmer, the sturdy Rouge de Bordeaux wheat, and the tall proud sorghums.

Heirloom grain varieties may in fact be much better for our health and digestion. They are often better adapted to local soils and climates. And growing them can be of great service for the biodiversity of our planet, since many older grain varieties are going extinct because they are no longer being grown. Over the past century alone, 75% of our agricultural crops have gone extinct. We often hear about endangered animals like pandas and tigers, whose plight is of great importance. But what about the disappearing agricultural species whose unique flavours will never be experienced again? 

The other thing I learned about is phytic acid, a substance in grains that prevents our bodies from properly absorbing their nutrients. Although I own a copy of Nourishing Traditions, the cult classic book by nutritionist Sally Fallon, I never gave it a proper read until I was writing this article. Fallon has documented how cultures around the world and throughout history have often soaked or fermented their grains before cooking them. This process activates phytase, an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid and helps us to better digest grains and assimilate their nutrients and vitamins. Fallon advocates soaking grains in water to which a small amount of yoghurt, lemon juice, or vinegar has been added.

This rye berry salad was my first try at cooking grains using this method. And the results were wonderful. Soaking the grain berries this way made them chewy, tender, and tasty. Since then, I have tried other recipes from the cookbook and made soaked flour muffins and pancakes (you soak freshly ground flour in water with whey or yoghurt for 24 hours) and so far I'm loving it. 

I hope you'll try this salad. The rye berries can be substituted for wheat, spelt or any grain berries of your choice. Please modify the rest of the ingredients according to your preferences and what is seasonally available in your area. Have fun and bon appétit!

Note: The general rule for the preparation of grains for optimal digestibility and nutrient absorption is to soak them in twice their volume of water, adding 2 tablespoons of an acidic medium per cup of grain. The acidic medium should ideally be yogurt, kefir, whey or buttermilk but apple cider vinegar and/or lemon juice can also be used.

Rye Berries
1 1/2 cups rye berries
3 tbsp plain yogurt (see Note, above)
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt

Juice & zest of one lemon
1 tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded cooked organic chicken
2 to 3 ears of sweet corn, steamed, kernels removed
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1 shallot or small red onion, finely diced
4 ripe figs or seasonal local fruit, chopped
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 small bunch basil, stemmed and chopped 

In a large bowl, add the rye berries, yogurt and water. Stir well to combine. Let soak for a minimum of 7 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse the rye berries. (You can cook them in the soaking liquid if you wish.) Bring the berries and about 5 cups of water to a boil. Remove any scum that rises to the surface. Stir in the salt, reduce the heat, and simmer until the rye berries are the desired tenderness, about 45 minutes. Drain the rye berries. Transfer the rye berries to a large bowl. Cool to room temperature. They are now chewy, flavourful little bundles of nutrients, all ready to use!

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar and mustard. Slowly whisk in the oil. Whisk in the maple syrup and garlic. Add salt and pepper, to taste; set aside. In the large bowl with the rye berries, add the chicken, corn kernels, zucchini, shallot, figs, walnuts, cranberries, basil and lemon zest. Stir well to combine. Stir in the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

September 19, 2012

Easy Ruby Sauerkraut (In a Jar!!)

Part of me was sad when it came time to actually make something with our cabbage because it meant I could no longer take photos of it.

For a few glorious days, I was the red cabbage paparazzi, following their every move, shooting them from every angle. I mean. What more photogenic vegetable is there? I was all the more attached to them because we grew these babies from seed so I've watched them from their infancy as delicate seedlings that survived a sopping wet spring, to their remay-blanketed childhood, in our best attempt to protect them from rapacious flea beetles. On more than one occasion, we delivered them from a lambsquarter take-over. 

They made it through their parched adolescence under a scorching July, and then one day in late August, there they were, all grown up and screaming to be harvested.

This summer I succumbed to the lacto-fermentation craze, took a workshop, and learned how to make the most easy sauerkraut recipe I've come across. I also learned that you can pretty much throw any veggies in a jar with the right amount of salt (or in some cases a salt & water brine) and watch the fermentation miracle unfold. After the workshop we promptly bought Sandor Katz's new book "The Art of Fermentation" (known by fermentation fanatics and Katz groupies as THE BIBLE) and now the sky is the limit. We have got a couple dozen jars of various veggies bubbling away on our shelves, everything from cauliflower and carrots to dilly beans, pickled cukes, peppers, and the queen of the pack...  ruby kraut.

The fabulous thing about this kraut-making technique is how simple it is. Although I love sauerkraut, the idea of preparing it never really appealed to me. It seemed complicated somehow and I pictured large, hard-to-find vats filled with stinky cabbage in a dark basement with random objects pressing it down. The possibility of having to scoop mould off the top (even though I know it's harmless) didn't exactly get my blood pumping either. 

Enter: The Jars. Ta dah! 

I don't really know how to describe these jars other than to say you know, the French ones with the rubber gaskets and metal clasps. I'm sure you've seen them. A few companies make them including Le Parfait and Fido. And no, I don't just love these because they're French. What these jars will do that other jars won't, is seal your ferments so they don't get mouldy, while at the same time, allowing excess fermentation gases to escape so the glass won't shatter from the built-up pressure once the bubbling begins. However, you must obey the cardinal rule: NEVER, EVER open the jar unless you are ready to eat what's inside (that means no peeking peekers!) The jars are pricey but well worth the investment and if you have some older ones lying around or find some at a yard sale, you can always replace the rubber gaskets (you can order them here).

Why is it called lacto-fermentation? No, there's no milk involved, only vegetables and salt. But one of the by-products of fermentation is lactic acid, which not only preserves the veggies but promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in our guts. In other words, you don't need to buy expensive probiotic supplements, you can grow them yourself, in a jar! Fermentation has been going on in one way or another in all cultures around the world, since long before freezing and canning became the preferred ways to preserve food. The fermentation process enhances the digestibility and nutrient content of food. And since no heat processing is involved, the raw enzymes are left intact. In 2002, The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a study showing that a compound in fermented cabbage helps prevent the growth of cancer. 

But here is my favourite thing about lacto-fermentation. Unlike canning, which can take hours because of all the sterilizing and boiling, preparing foods for fermenting can take mere minutes since botulism and other toxic bacteria are not a concern, as the marvellous Sandor Katz explains in this video. Lacto-ferments are teeming with good microbes, which crowd out the harmful bacteria, so it is truly a LIVING and life-giving food.


5 lbs red cabbage
3 tbsp sea salt or pickling salt (NO table salt)
Your choice of optional add-ons: 2 tbsp juniper berries or 2 tbsp caraway seed or a dozen large dried bay leaves)

Remove the part of the cabbage you won't use (outer leaves, stem, etc...). Weigh the cabbage to get 5 lbs. If you have more or less, make the appropriate calculation so the salt ratio stays the same. 

Slice / shred your cabbage adding salt as you go and throwing everything into a large mixing bowl. Once all the cabbage is shredded and salt incorporated, add your optional flavourings (juniper berries, caraway seeds, or bay leaves). 

Stuff the seasoned shredded cabbage into clean metal-clasp jars such as Fido or LeParfait. (You don't need to sterilize the jars like you do in canning, but they should be perfectly clean). Press the cabbage down as much as you can. You can even pound it a bit with the end of a rolling pin to get more liquid out. After pressing it down repeatedly, the cabbage will produce enough juice to submerge the kraut. Once this has happened, take an intact cabbage leaf and place it on top of the cabbage, pressing down. This will help the shredded cabbage stay under the brine. Wipe the rim and close your jar. 

Leave the jar at room temperature for about a week and then move it to a cooler place such as a basement. It should be ready to eat within a month and will keep for up to a year or longer. Do not under any circumstances open the jar until you are ready to eat your kraut!


I would love to hear in the comment section below from people who have tips, techniques, and favourite recipes for kraut and other ferments...  For instance I've heard that a grape leaf placed on top of the kraut before closing the jar will give your kraut some extra crunch. Happy krauting everyone!

Easy Ruby Sauerkraut in a Jar on Punk