Fermentation

Lacto-fermentation

Regular readers of my column may recall my recipe for quroot an Afghan cheese I make by souring goat buttermilk at an Afghan room temperature. I had a few comments on Twitter regarding how I achieve such conditions, which prompted me to share one of my culinary secrets: Bikram Yoga. Bikram, is a popular form of hot yoga practiced in a room heated to 105°F with a humidity of 40%, conditions similar to those met in Afghanistan. I simply take my buttermilk along to class in a mason jar and leave to sour while I pose; thinking about lacto-fermentation also aids with the meditative aspect of Bikram. After the success I had with this recipe, I began to experiment with an effervescent kefir grape juice – perfect for celebrations, and wild yeast cultures for sourdough bread.

Believed to have its origins in the Caucasian mountains, kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains. Kefir grains are not actually grains, but a friendly colony of bacteria and yeasts that thrive in warm conditions. I like to make a variation of this drink by substituting the milk with grape juice. To make this, I add one tablespoon of kefir grains (donated by other growers) to two cups of organic grape juice and leave to ferment in a skin bag hung near a doorway of my Bikram class; this way the bag will be knocked by anyone passing through helping to keep the grape juice and kefir grains well mixed. As well as being an excellent party starter, this champagne substitute is also great on Cheerios.

Cultivating wild yeast has been more of a challenge. I have been collecting sourdough starters for a long time, mostly donated by friends looking to give them a good home, but it was only recently I thought about making my own. I tried a few methods for catching wild yeast with limited success until I took a mason jar of unsweetened grape juice and rye flower to Bikram – inspired by my kefir. I put the jar on my yoga mat so it was at foot level of the yogi in front of me. Within twenty-four hours the mix began to bubble. Success. Something I can only put down to the meditative yeast in the room. I continued to feed the mixture rye flour once daily and by day four it had bloomed into a bubly yeast-smelling starter.

What are your culinary secrets?

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