Recent Posts by Diana Zahuranec

Part 2: Reasons to Ferment Food

Published by Friday, August 2, 2013 Permalink 0

Part 2: Reasons to Ferment Food

by Diana Zahuranec

From the archives

For the second post in this mini series on fermentation, let’s get into the “why” of fermentation.

Cultures from all over the world have fermented a food or drink. The principle reason has been to preserve their harvest. Over the winter months, fermented vegetables last and provide a source of calories, nutrients, and an accompaniment to the endless plates of what I imagine were sausage, jerky, smoked meat, and potatoes.

A 3 litre jar of salsa, ready to start ferment...

A 3 -litre jar of salsa, ready to start fermenting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to imagine what the first aspiring fermenters thought when they heaped their extra produce into a large mound in a dark, warm, covered area, poured brine over top (or not), and – fully aware that vegetables rot – left it to stew before digging in with their hands. “Let’s see what this tastes like! Sort of sour but…”

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Salone del Gusto versus Good, Clean, and Fair: Part 1

Published by Wednesday, December 12, 2012 Permalink 0

 

Salone del Gusto versus Good, Clean, and Fair: Part 1

by Diana Zahuranec

Salone del Gusto, an event held biannually in Turin, Italy by the organization Slow Food, gathers artisanal producers from around the world in five days of selling organic or biodynamic, high quality, artisanal, innovative and traditional products; tasting workshops; and conferences about the state of the world’s food system and what can be done to promote sustainable growth. It’s an amalgamation of the green movement and everything it could possibly stand for before such a thing as “green washing” existed.

So what were the Italian supermarket COOP, the internationally famous Italian espresso company Lavazza, and the ubiquitous road-side Italian convenience store Autogrill doing at the Salone?

A supermarket is the antithesis of Slow Food’s “good, clean, and fair” motto. Products are available at any quality, starting at “low” and often not reaching above “decent;” produce and packaged goods come from all over the world, with little thought as to what other countries deem as “safe” pesticides, and with less thought about the energy used to transport everything; and finally, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many products lining the shelves were made under unpleasant or dangerous working conditions with low wages as poor compensation.

Coffee beans are notorious for their high demand pitted against their low cost, possible only through unfair working conditions and wages. Coffee plants are harvested using mono-cropping methods, which is environmentally friendly only in the interests of that particular crop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Salone del Gusto versus Good, Clean, and Fair: Part 2

Published by Monday, November 26, 2012 Permalink 0

by Diana Zahuranec

In Salone del Gusto versus Good, Clean, and Fair: Part 1, I’ve already mentioned some healthy skepticism about the presence of two big Italian names at Salone del Gusto: Lavazza Italian coffee, and the supermarket Coop.

Lavazza takes on the responsibility of Fair Trade coffee, but wearing a label doesn’t necessarily prove honest actions behind it. There are loopholes to be jumped in any policy. Without venturing beyond the comfort of online research to the plantations in South America, however, I couldn’t say with utter certainty how good, clean, and fair they are. My main conclusions? Don’t check off the Good Deed Done for the Day box just by buying Fair Trade, without knowing all the facts behind it.

It just doesn’t look Slow Food-y

As for Coop, I was very surprised to see this popular Italian supermarket in a haven of small-time producers at the Salone. Coop is no WalMart nor, on this side of the Atlantic, EuroSpin; shopping in my local Coop store, I’ve noticed very high quality, Alpine mountain cheeses, for example, alongside the added-preservatives-colors-skim-milk-binder, generic salumi; and I suppose I notice more organic produce overall. As far as the realm of supermarkets is concerned, my limited observations earn Coop a dull gold star. But a place at Salone del Gusto? Hardly, I thought.

Asking fellow Slow Food members what they thought, a Swiss friend informed me that it was in large part thanks to Coop, a charter member of Slow Food, that Slow Food Switzerland was initiated and is running strong today. Polish that gold star!

In fact, Slow Food and Coop have a partnership, with Coop supporting and promoting Slow Food values through selling local products as well as over 100 Presidia products (a Presidia labeled food being the equivalent of a protected or endangered animal in the food world).

Coop’s powerful, positive presence in the world of local producers and Presidia was brought home when I sat in for a tasting of some products during Salone del Gusto. Not that I wanted to taste anything. By the end of one of Salone’s last days, I had done as much tasting as my belly and buds could bear. But my legs were tired, and Coop had set up a booth lined with dangling Prosciutto legs, plastic chairs in rows, and a tasting of jam and juice. I didn’t resist.

The tasting was introduced by a Coop Quality Control employee and a representative of a Bosnian company based in Bratunac called Frutti di Pace, or “Peace Fruits.” Together, they told a story of how the Coop employee traveled to Bosnia for this product, met with the Bosnian woman, and formed an instant friendship that was strengthened, as in all cultures, over an abundant welcoming meal.

The employee found that the hardworking spirit and community of the women of Frutti di Pace were as charming as the incredible, all-natural flavors of their products were delicious.

Frutti di Pace was established after the Bosnia and Herzegovina War in 1992-1995. The members of this cooperative, mostly widowed women or women with husbands injured from the war, wanted to spur growth: of the local economy, of a long-held tradition ground to a halt from the war (raspberry production), and of a sense of community and confidence.

The first product we tasted was a thick raspberry juice. No colors, sugars, or conservatives were added – just water and red raspberry. It was exactly like plucking a handful of raspberries from a bush, squishing them all into your mouth, and squeezing out the juices with your tongue. The jams were next, and equally impressive in their bright, strong raspberry flavors. It lacked seeds, but that’s a personal preference of mine for raspberry jams.

Frutti di Pace spent ten years trying to get into the European market. The speaker was overwhelmed almost to tears when she recalled how happy they had been when Coop began selling their products. “’To hope’ is still difficult after everything we’ve been through,” she said.

My knee-jerk reaction to “supermarket” is “too much fluorescent light!” and then, “against all things Slow Food.” But this is not true (well, the second one). Today’s food market is pulled in two directions: one towards a global system made of imports, exports, and oil, the other towards local, small production, trends, and being organic. It’s important to consider the possibility that, between these two polar opposites, not everything is black and white. The grey areas will be necessary to marry two things that won’t go away for better or for worse: supermarkets in many parts of the world, and the importance of strong, local economies and good, clean, and fair food in all parts of the world.

Selling local food (or organic, or from a small producer, etc.) through a medium that everyone uses and will continue to use as long as it exists is ethically responsible and also quite genius.

The question remains: Does Coop Italia earn the good, clean, and fair award? It is still a supermarket that sells items ranging from low to high quality, from all parts of the world, and at prices too low to actually be profitable for the producer. But the answer is nevertheless yes – just, in a rather grey way.

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Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

Published by Thursday, November 15, 2012 Permalink 0


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Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad Recipe

by Diana Zahuranec

As fall slips into winter, the open air markets in Turin, Italy push nature’s seasonal fruits and vegetables to make early appearances in the crates and boxes stacked inside each bancarella, or stand. Oranges, grapefruits, and clementines from Calabria and Sicily showed their waxy globes in the middle of October; bitter turnip tops called cime di rapa were available by the end of September; spiky artichokes, still not technically in season, have been around for weeks.

The sweet, crispy finocchio, or fennel, one of my newly-discovered favorites, entered the scene two weeks ago at the beginning of November. Last year’s discovery that I’ve waited impatiently for since the end of September is the sweet, soft kaki vaniglia, the persimmon, which has a designated corner in my refrigerator. These bombs of juicy, fruity sugar are an after dinner treat that could almost replace autumn pies. Almost.

According to the illustrated and finely detailed wheel of seasonal fruits and vegetables that I bought at Eataly, citrus fruits have just begun their yearly cycle in November. I pat myself on the back, since I resisted buying these until a few days ago. There was one mysterious exception in the form of yellow-green skinned citrus fruits, easy to peel and sour-sweet inside. They came from Calabria, and the hulking, big man that sold them ensured me they were sweet and ripe, never mind their greenness. The man who sold them seemed to have been plucked from another time and place, where people can and still do pick oranges in the fields all day for decent wages, the weakening winter sun warm on their backs. His nails were dirty and his accent thick (presumably Calabrian).

Once at a food photographer’s studio in Emilia-Romagna, the chefs and food stylists there prepared a tangy, salty, sweet salad from the South. It had been inspired by the chef’s Sicilian roots. It’s now one of my favorite meals, and I have to wait for these seasonal fruits and vegetables before I can enjoy it. It evokes flavors from a land where the sun shines across fields with rows and rows of citrus trees, bright orbs decorating the branches in a warm Christmastime.

The traditional olives to pair with this are black ones, but I had green, which I might actually prefer. Being the salt queen that I am, a shot of capers hits the spot, but I don’t know how “traditional” that is. Also, blood oranges knock the pretty factor up a notch for this already aesthetically-pleasing plate.

Recipe

Sicilian Orange and Fennel Salad

For 2-4 people (depending on if using as a light lunch or as a side dish)

 

Ingredients

1 large fennel
1 medium orange
¼ red onion, sliced finely (or less)
¼ cup black or green olives, pitted and sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 1-2 Tbsp capers, hot pepper
  1. Slice the fennel in half, and then core each half by cutting out the tough triangular sections at the bottom.
  2. Trim the ends, reserving green fennel leaves for garnish. Trim any bruised parts. Slice finely and set aside. Note: I also slice the very end green stems, because they’re strong in flavor and very crunchy. They may be too astringent for some tastes.
  3. Peel the orange. Setting it on its side, slice it very thinly so that each piece is divided into segments. Keep them as full round slices, or break them into halves or double segments.
  4. Layer the fennel, orange, and onion, then scatter the sliced olives over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with the fennel leaves. Add a dash of hot pepper and a sprinkling of capers if you so choose.
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A Look at Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto, October 2012, in Turin, Italy

Published by Saturday, November 3, 2012 Permalink 0

by Diana Zahuranec

Salone del Gusto ended on Monday 29, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

Salone del Gusto, held in Turin, Italy, is a Slow Food biannual food fair and conference. To sum it up in these few words undermines everything else it is, too, and its importance as an event that brings together producers from all over the world. These are producers that grow ancient varieties of grain to save genetic biodiversity, that make Slow Food Presidia cheeses or salumi, that pipe their cannoli full of the freshest organic ricotta you’ve ever tasted, and whose principles and values align with your own and, it goes without saying, Slow Food’s – good, clean, and fair food for all.

The Slow Food mascot

For all things Slow Food, here are some links courtesy of Scoop.it and Slow Food. To understand a few of those words in the paragraph above, just look at the end of the article.

This year, Salone del Gusto was a marriage of the original Salone del Gusto, first held in 2006, and Terra Madre, first held in 2004. While both events had food artisans and producers from all over the world, different activities were held at each and were not all accessible to the public. Salone del Gusto focused more on the exposition and sale of high quality foods and products, while Terra Madre was a gathering of a network of food producers from around the world. Having never been to either of these before, I can’t offer judgment on the differences of before and after. What I would love to do is share my first-time impressions of this year’s.

To say Salone is a food fair means that, like your down-home county fair, the place is jumping with activity – with a few notable differences. The funnel cakes are replaced with French butter cookies in 20 different flavors, the groundhog whacking game is replaced with the foodie’s (divisive word, I know) form of fun, that is vertical Barolo wine tastings, and that feeling of riding the Zipper right after you eat your funnel cake is replaced by the feeling of pressing up against crowds right after you drink your Barolo wines.

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Carrot Crazy: A Recipe for Pickled Carrots

Published by Thursday, October 18, 2012 Permalink 0

by Diana Zahuranec

Why did I eat half a pound of carrots before tearing myself away from the refrigerator? It is not a Vitamin A deficiency. Nor was I hungry. It was this magic “pickled” carrot recipe with drugs in the ingredients – just kidding, of course, about that last part. I am not kidding about the magic part.

These carrots aren’t exactly pickled. I suppose they could be if the water-to-vinegar ratio was double-checked for optimum bacteria inhibition, and of course if all canning and preserving steps were followed. But there’s no point in actually canning these if they’re eaten in under a week (ahem, sometimes under 4 days). Anyway, they should keep for 4 weeks refrigerated – provided they last that long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first tasted these crunchy, addicting snackies during a University of Gastronomic Sciences potluck dinner. A jar of carrot sticks amidst homemade quince tart, cinnamon sticky bread, cheesy focaccia, and endive leaves filled with oniony salsa – who had time for carrot sticks? But all it took was two or three unsuspecting students to reach into the jar, get hooked, and munch through 2/3 of the supplies before they kindly, reluctantly, let me in on the secret. I tried two, glanced the other way, and the carrots were gone. My friend told me they were simple to make: “Just blanch the carrots and soak them in boiled water with vinegar for a while. And I add some sugar and spices.” How long do you soak them? What spices? How much sugar? I wanted to know. My friend shrugged.

Four months later, I googled “pickled carrots” and then created my own recipe based on a mix of the ones I saw. My friend’s casually imprecise directions are pretty much the whole idea behind making these, because if you’re not pickling them, just loosely follow these instructions with your ingredients at hand or of choice. There’s little reason to actually be precise. Here it is.

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Coconut Pound Cake and Ratio Cooking

Published by Monday, October 15, 2012 Permalink 0

by Diana Zahuranec

It was soft and yellow-white with a thin, dark crust. The crust was not hard or chewy, but broke away perfectly from the rest of this pillow-y treat. It wasn’t a piece of bread, though it looked like one. Was it cake? It was on the end of a long table under a blue tent shading us from the summer sun. A gold cardboard plate presented perfect slices of this marvelous discovery.

I held the slice in my little sweaty hands, taking small bites that burst with butter, vanilla, and sugar. Its texture was half of the pleasure: smooth, moist, fine-grained, and soluble, I already wanted more. But the table was on the other side of the lawn now, and there were so many long tables laden with food with big people figures milling about, from one end to another. I never found it again.

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Part 6 on Fermentation: Sauerkraut Success

Published by Friday, August 31, 2012 Permalink 0

Part 6 on Fermentation: Sauerkraut Success

by Diana Zahuranec

I filled two scalloped blue bowls with homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, sat down, and taste-tested.

I was hesitant, but I was encouraged by the lack of mold.

Kimchi wanna-be and sauerkraut

After two weeks of pushing down the bottles that weighed on my sauerkraut and “kimchi” (which was not actually kimchi, but will be referred to as such because that’s what I wanted it to be), I balanced the heavy, full bowls of vegetables on a flimsy, plastic tray and carried them to the kitchen counter.

I removed the bottles filled with water, the plates, and then the bags (why all this? Here’s why in Step-by-step Fermentation). I began to pour the mix into large containers of what once held 1 kg of yogurt, but I stopped when I lost too much liquid.

I assumed that the liquid of fermented vegetables contains all the healthy nutrients  that can be found in the vegetables themselves. I didn’t want to lose that, although I remain baffled as to what I could do with it, and haven’t found great sources backing up my Water-From-Fermented-Vegetables-Is-Healthy Theory (yet).

So I stuck my hand in and scooped it all out, pouring the liquid over top at the end. The liquids also help to preserve the vegetables when you store them in the refrigerator, and many say that the flavor improves as the fermentation slowly continues. And another reason to save the water: use a bit mixed in with the brine the next time you ferment vegetables, helping to jump-start the fermentation process.

According to Nourishing Days, ferments with 1-2% salt content will store for 4 to 9 months.

I filled two of those yogurt containers and some glass jars, or about roughly 13 cups of sauerkraut and kimchi from almost the same amount of vegetables. I had read that the vegetables will shrink as they lose their water, but the before:after ratio was nearly the same.

Success! They were both delicious. There was not a hint of rot. In fact, although many sources claim that it’s highly probable that you’ll lose some of your batch – especially a small one, like mine – due to air or uneven fermentation, I lost no more than a few shreds of cabbage.

Both were crunchy and flavorful. The pure cabbage had a more delicate flavor, and a bit of lactic acid tang. When I made the brine, I also added a teaspoon or two of yogurt whey to help . Sauerkraut naturally has a  lactic acid flavor, so I’m curious to see if fermented vegetables without added whey would give off that taste as strongly. Fermentation Project Number 2?

The kimchi was spicy from the chili pepper flakes and chopped hot peppers I added, and the mix of vegetable textures was delightful. The tastes all ran together – a carrot didn’t taste much different from a chard stem. And the chard stems were tougher than I wanted; but on second thought, it’s great that everything retained its crunchy structure. Mushy vegetables can be the result of not adding enough salt; I also read on Nourishing Days that tannins keep the structure of the vegetables intact, so you may be able to add grape leaves, for example, to retain crunch.

And now I’ll admit that I tentatively drank the fermented water, out of curiosity and refusal to waste something healthy. Its flavor wasn’t offensive, just mostly salty. I decided it might be healthier to forgo the salt than to absorb the other nutrients in there. And drinking fermented water just doesn’t sound very appetizing.

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Part 5: Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut – Fermenting Vegetables

Published by Wednesday, August 8, 2012 Permalink 3
cafemama / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Part 5 on Fermentation: Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut – Fermenting Vegetables

by Diana Zahuranec

Once again, Harold McGee’s The Science and Lore of the Kitchen comes to the rescue.

In fermented vegetables, remember that the two components that determine aroma and flavor are the salt concentration and temperature of fermentation. Those are the two main differences between kimchi and sauerkraut.

Bowl of kraut, by Diana Zahuranec for The Rambling Epicure, editor Jonell Galloway.

Bowl of kraut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sauerkraut, besides being cut more finely, has no other ingredients besides cabbage and brine. It ferments at 64-76 °F/18-24°C for 1 to 6 weeks. Its final salt content is 1-2%, and its final acidity level is 1-1.5%. That higher temperature for sauerkraut results in more lactic acid bacteria, giving it a tangier flavor.

Kimchi is cut into larger chunks and includes plant leaves and stems, too; and hot Korean chili pepper, garlic, and fish sauce are added for flavor. It’s fermented at a lower temperature than sauerkraut at 41-57°F/5-14°C for 1-3 weeks, with a higher salt content in the end (3%) and lower acidity (0.4-0.8%).

Bowl of kimchi, Part 5 on Fermentation: Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut - Fermenting Vegetables, by Diana Zahuranec for The Rambling Epicure, editor, Jonell Galloway.

Bowl of kimchi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Smart is a Sheep? The Churra da Terra Quente

Published by Friday, August 3, 2012 Permalink 0

by Diana Zahuranec

As I stood in the crisp air and bright sun of a Portuguese farm with the other Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences students, a single question popped into my mind. We were learning about the Churra da Terra Quente sheep breed, an indigenous and endangered animal with tangled wool and long, dirty tails. They were a rough-looking lot, but watched us curiously and weren’t as shy as other sheep I’ve unwittingly terrified just by standing by them. Some scratched their dirty wool on dry tree trunks, and others flopped down onto the dry soil that was bereft of rain for 4 ½ months, unconsciously dirtying themselves even more. They had curly horns like trofiette pasta. I got the impression that they were happy, or content, to be out in the sun watching us watching them.

Churra da Terra Quente sheep in the dry Douro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an indigenous flock – or group, or pack, or what-have-you – the purity of the breed is kept by inbreeding. In dogs, I know this leads to some odd character traits: Dalmations, for example, can be suddenly temperamental; my family’s Vizsla at times suffered anxiety and, strangely for a dog, psychological problems – and was also, of course, the most intelligent dog on earth.

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