Monday, August 29, 2011

Bokashi, Oh my Gosh!

Fermentation is all the rage.  I am hearing fellow gardeners and foodies discussing lacto-fermented salsa, sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, kefir, les herbes salees...  The list goes on.  And, there are some serious health benefits with this method of preserving.  The claims range from reducing cholesterol to improving immune function and even fighting cancer.  A quick Google search on lacto-fermented foods will give you enough articles to keep you busy for a few days.  All good stuff.

I have decided to broaden our fermenting scope around here beyond my usual homemade yogurt.  But, I am not using it for preservation.  I am using it for decomposition.  See, I am still searching for that perfect composting system.  Bins are great.  Worms are great.  Piles are great.  But, I still have three big issues:
  1. Small hive beetle populations are known to be larger in bee yards that are in close proximity to compost.  I was warned about this over and over again by very experienced beekeepers.  And, I was encouraged to give up composting.  This I will not do.
  2. I am lazy about kitchen scraps.  I fully admit it.  I have a bin in my kitchen and the scraps end up sitting in there for days before I haul them out to the composter.  By the time I get around to it, it's a rubber glove event.  Frankly, it can be foul.  This becomes an even bigger issue in the winter due to the shorter days and cooler temps.  This means I have to trek out to the compost pile in the dark and in the cold.  Not likely.
  3. I have too many food scraps for the worms to get through.
The solution is simple, easy and oh so wonderful:  Bokashi

According to

"Bokashi means fermented organic matter in Japanese. Bokashi composting uses a selected group of microorganisms to anaerobically ferment organic waste. The microorganisms are applied using a impregnation carrier such as wheat bran. The fermentation process breaks the organic matter down in a process that is odor free. The process is very fast and usually takes less than two weeks. Once the fermentation has completed you can add the scraps to a worm bin or bury them directly in the soil. Since the process is done in a closed system you don't have to worry about insects and smells making it ideal for urban or business settings. Unlike more conventional composting systems bokashi systems can break down heavier items like meat, fish and cheese."

I have been using this system now for several weeks and I am happy to report that I am hooked.  I had my doubts about some of the claims, namely the claim that it would be odor-free.  (Especially once you smell the inoculant.  One whiff of that and you'll have your doubts, too.)  But, it's true.  In fact, my Mom was just here for a visit and she thought I had fashioned the buckets together to create a little sitting stool for myself in my kitchen.  She had no idea there's a week's worth of food scraps in those buckets.  Odor.  Free.

There are commercially made bins available for purchase to use in this system, but that's not really my style.  Why spend $50 when you can spend $10?  I set myself up with a bin for next to nothing and here's how you can do it, too:

These are the materials you will need:  two 5 gallon buckets and one lid.  Here, you see three 5 gallon buckets because I wanted to have an extra bucket on hand to start using when the first bucket became full.  I bought the buckets at Home Depot for under $3.  The lid was $1 or so.  If you don't care what color your buckets are or if you have a red kitchen, then you can buy recycled pickle buckets from Firehouse Subs for only $2 and the money goes to a good cause.  I care.  This thing is going to sit in my kitchen decomposing food scraps.  Call me petty, but I want it to at least blend

Turn one bucket over and and drill holes in the bottom of it.  I used a 1/8 inch drill bit and aimed for around 30 holes in an evenly spaced pattern.  I started in the center and worked my way out.  It took maybe 2 minutes.  This does not need to be precise for the system to work.  It can be completely random.  It really doesn't matter.  The evenly-spaced-pattern thing is just one of my hang-ups.  You don't have to make it one of yours.  At this point, you should have one 5 gallon bucket with holes drilled into it and one 5 gallon bucket with a solid bottom.

Now that you have drilled your holes, you are ready to use your bokashi composting system. First, you want to set the bucket with the holes in the bottom into the bucket with the solid bottom.  The goal is to create a reservoir to collect any liquids that leach from the decomposition process.  This liquid is good for a variety of uses including clearing and deodorizing clogged drains, feeding houseplants and activating regular compost among other things.  Now, based on some advice I read on the internet, I placed two coffee filters in the bottom of the inner bin to prevent food particles from falling into the drain holes and clogging them.  I am not 100% sure this is necessary, but it seemed like a good idea with sound reasoning and so I went with it. 

I then added a layer of shredded newspaper.  The idea here is to add an absorbent layer.  I forgot to do this the second time I started a bucket and have noticed no difference in either smell or amount of liquid leachate.  So, I would call this step optional.

Now, this is the step where this system goes from being an indoor waste bucket to a bokashi system.  The inoculant comes into play.  This is what makes bokashi bokashi.  This inoculant is made with bacteria, molasses and wheat bran.  If you perform a Google search for homemade bokashi recipes, you will get pages of hits.  Some recipes use shredded newspaper, some use wheat bran and others still use rice hulls.  I wanted to do this right the first time, so I bought this bokashi wheat bran made by Pro-kashi at Farmer D's for $14.00.  Going forward, I will make my own or buy directly from Pro-kashi for only $9.00.  Anyway, back to the directions.  You want to add a few tablespoons of bokashi inoculant on top of the shredded newspaper.

Now, add some food scraps and sprinkle more bokashi mix on top. Here's the great thing about bokashi- NOTHING is off limits.  Dairy?  It's fine.  Meat and bones?  Okay, too.  Oils and fats?  Toss 'em in.  We literally clear our dinner plates into the bin and call it a day.  A bokashi system reduces your household food wastes to zero. 

Put the tight fitting lid on your bucket and your system is complete and working.  At this point, you keep adding food scraps as you need to.  When you have a solid layer, you toss in a few more tablespoons of the bokashi inoculant.  When the bucket is full, you set it somewhere to let it decompose for 2 to 4 weeks.  Then, you can add it to a worm bin, bury it in the garden somewhere or add it to an existing compost pile where it will continue to break down even more.  Here's a great pictorial of the process -->click me!<--

As I mentioned earlier, I have been using this bokashi system for several weeks now and I don't think I will be stopping anytime soon.  It's so simple and convenient.  No more runs to the compost bin.  No more bins of rotting food scraps sitting on the kitchen counter stinking up the joint.  And, as an added benefit, I can take the buckets with me to the community garden where I have a plot and add my bokashi straight into my raised bed if I have an open space or am in between seasons.  It's portable like that.  Oh my gosh!  What else can I say? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Sprout. What's Your Superpower?

In just a matter of days, these seeds will be sprouts.  Highly nutritious.  Highly delicious.  

I am going to come clean here.  I don't really care about salad greens- or any greens for that matter (save for the super yummy sweet potato greens which are so, so good and versatile)- in the summer.  Don't miss 'em.  Don't crave 'em.  I have a summer fling with sprouts.  Let me introduce you to them:

This jar is where all the magic happens.  This is a wide-mouthed one quart canning jar.  I bought it at Michael's for very little money plus a 40% off coupon.  Instead of the metal disk at the top, I have a few pieces of cheesecloth being held in place with the ring.  This is all you need.  The first thing you do is add sprouting seeds, cover with water and let sit for about 6 hours.  This is what you see happening in the photo above.

After that, you drain the seeds and rinse them well.  You will be left with wet seeds.  Technically, at this point, you should keep your jar inverted so the excess water drains out.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  I would say it happens fifty percent of the time around here.  That's all you do the first day.

This is what you'll find the next morning.  See the tiny white shoots starting to grow?  Sprouts, baby!  At this point, you want to rinse and drain your sprouts twice a day.  Again, the jar should be inverted to allow the excess water to run out.  You can see I've done that here.  NOT.

This is what you will find the next morning.  It's a little harder to see.  As the sprouts grow larger, they hold more water around them and clump together clouding the photo.  Again, rinse twice a day and keep going.  By day three or day four, they will be ready for your favorite veggie sandwich.  Once they look like sprouts, they are sprouts and you are good to go.  At that point, I stop rinsing mine, remove the cheesecloth and replace the solid disk and store the whole jar in the refrigerator.  I use my sprouts or compost them by day 10.  I don't hang on to them any longer than that.  You know me.  A stickler for rules and all that...

A note about seeds:  If you are lucky like I am, you have a few places where you can buy organic sprouting seeds.  To me, organic is key here.  Most likely, you are eating these things raw.  You don't want to mess with anything that is not organic.  I bought Mumm's Sprouting SeedsBotanical Interests also sells sprouting seeds, all of which are organic.  Sprout People is also an excellent resource with lots of gadgetry available for purchase in addition to seeds.  You know how I feel about gadgets!  Bring it!  At any rate, a quick stop at a local health food store (not GNC) should put you on your way if you have any trouble.

Finally, you might ask why these are so critical for me during the summer.  For starters, it's really hard to grow salad greens in the Georgia heat.  They bolt or wilt.  Either way, they are unappetizing.  These are salad's understudy.  When the main performer isn't available, you can call on sprouts.  Secondly, these really work with our laid back summer routine.  The kids sleep late which gives me an hour or so by myself to fiddle in the kitchen, tend to the garden or lounge in my favorite chair.  Inevitably, I happen upon the sprout jar and remember to rinse them.  During the hustle and bustle of the school year when it is rush, rush, rush, I often forget to rinse them.  They are still edible and still delicious, but being neglected, I often wonder...

At any rate, get yourself a jar and some cheesecloth or one of those handy dandy reusable (bonus points!) screens and sprout yourself silly.  It's a miniature garden right in your window.  That's pretty super!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dog Days Dinner

They’re here.  It’s hot.  And, steamy.  It’s been this way for a while.  It’s natural to wish for a change in the weather pattern.  But, after these dog days, the weather will change and summer will officially be history.  I love summer.  I live for summer.  Unwilling to wish it away, it's time to dig down and find the good.  My silver lining?  The food.  The garden is flourishing.  Peppers are coming in daily.  Tomatoes are coming in daily.  Summer squash is gorgeous.  Melons are so ripe that my kids walk in the door and ask for a slice because they can smell it at the threshold.  What to do with all this produce?

As you may recall, I have had a love/hate relationship with cooking for most of my life.  As a result, I have a hard time classifying anything I make as good.  Well, this dinner changed that.  This meal was good.  So good, in fact, that my husband made me promise to write it down so I won't forget it and will be able to recreate it next summer.  Even I am willing to admit it was good.  And, I am a tough sell.  

If it is so good, why not whip up a batch this winter?  Well, this medley shines because of fresh, locally grown produce.  And, the ingredients won’t be available fresh during the winter.  Maybe it will be good with frozen vegetables, but I haven't made it (yet) so I can't say for sure.  Why take the chance?  Hit up your local farmer’s market, grab your CSA box or harvest from your garden and whip up a batch of this Dog Days Dinner.  Your taste buds will thank you. 

Dog Days Dinner
This meal can be served hot or at room temperature which makes it perfect for dinner at the table or for packing for a picnic in the park.
Serves 4

3 cloves of garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 large onion (any variety), diced
Medley of peppers, diced (I used 2 banana peppers, 2 cubanelle peppers, 2 poblano peppers and 4 pimiento peppers.  You can use whatever you have available.  You can also add some jalapenos for added heat.)
3 medium to large sized summer squash and/or zucchini, diced
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup pistachios
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon honey (preferably local)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
½ cup ground cherries, halved
10-15 leaves of lemon basil, torn

I realize this recipe calls for a lot of diced vegetables.  If you don’t have the time to dice this many, I highly recommend the Vidalia Onion Chopper.  Yes, it’s gadgetry.  It’s another thing to store.  Maybe you can do this with a food processor.  Or, are skillful enough with a knife that you can knock this out in no time.  I am not.  So, this baby is a time and life saver (literally, I am dangerous with knives) for me.  It allows me to quickly dice all these vegetables into perfectly-sized, uniform pieces. 

Here we go:
1.       Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat in a large sauté pan.  Add the garlic and let it mellow in the pan.  You want it to lose some of its rawness, but not brown.  If it begins to brown, reduce the temperature.
2.       Once the garlic has cooked for about a minute, add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes.  If you have reduced the temperature, increase it to medium high again.
3.       Add the pepper medley to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes.  You want the peppers to sweat to reduce the moisture, but not brown.  If they begin to brown, reduce the heat slightly.   If the pan begins to get watery, increase the temperature.
4.       Add the summer squash and continue to cook.  At this point, you have two choices; you can cook at the same temperature for another 2-3 minutes.  Or, you can reduce the temperature and cook the mixture more slowly.  I reduced the temperature to medium low so that I could quickly make the sauce.
5.       To make the sauce, mix the juice of a lemon, the zest of a lemon and the tablespoon of honey.
6.       Once the squash is cooked al dente, remove the pan from heat and dress them with the honey and lemon mix.  Finally, toss in the golden raisins and pistachios.  Salt to taste.
7.       Plate the vegetable medley and dress each serving equally with halved ground cherries and torn lemon basil.
I served the vegetable medley over farro.  Farro is easily my favorite side.  I like it better than pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, etc.  It has a wonderful texture and a delicious, nutty flavor.  It is the perfect complement to this medley.  I make it according to the package directions skipping any added fat and adding just a touch of salt. 

Stay cool!