Thursday, March 21, 2013

Volkornbrot Recipe

Volkornbrot Recipe

A wide, flat loaf of Volkornbrot baked in a 5 quart dutch oven

I first discovered this delicious and hearty type of german pumpernickel bread some years ago at a Whole Foods supermarket.  According to my friend, John, the name means "the people's (volk) grain (korn) bread (brot)".  This is a very dense whole grain rye sour dough bread that is best cut into very thin slices and toasted.  I had difficulty finding a recipe for Volkornbrot.  Starting with Nancy Silverton's recipe for pumpernickel in her La Brea Bakery recipe book, I have by trial and error developed the following recipe for a sprouted rye volkornbrot that is pretty close to what I was going 

A toasted slice of a Volkornbrot.  Rye berries, pumpkin seeds, amaranth, and cornmeal are visible.

 Volkornbrot is best sliced thin.

This recipe requires using rye sourdough starter.  You can make starter from scratch, but the easiest way is to 'borrow' some starter from a baker who maintains their own culture of sourdough starter.  If you get a wheat starter, as I did, you must convert it into a rye starter.  This is done by repeatedly reducing the starter by half its volume and feeding the starter with rye flour, so that after a few generations, the wheat starter becomes a rye starter.  Once you have your starter you can make the bread, but you also must then take care of your rye starter and keep it alive and going so that you can continue making bread.  I don't want to spend too much time writing about starter, so do your own research if necessary.  

The following is an initial overview of the whole bread making process. 

 Evening 1.  Soak rye berries for 8-12 hours.

Morning 1.  Start feeding rye starter. Drain rye berries and allow to sprout for 8-12 hours.  Feed rye starter again during the day sometime.  

Evening 2.  Coarsely chop rye berries and salt in a food processor and combine with starter to form the sponge.  Allow to ferment for 8-12 hours.  A small amount of starter is reserved and put in the fridge to be used for the next loaf.

Morning 2 . Add dry ingredients to sponge and allow dough to ferment for 8-12 hours.

Evening 3.  Bake loaf.  When done the loaf is immediately wrapped in cloth and allowed to sit for 8-12 hours.

Morning 3.  Ready to eat.  

Ingredients for sponge:

about 2 cups rye starter

2.5 cups whole rye berries

1 tsp sea salt

water as needed

Dry ingredients (added to sponge after it has fermented for about 12 hours)

3 cups of flour.  Many variations are possible but first try 1 cup white flour + 2 cups of whole grain rye flour.

1 3/4 tsp salt.

1/2 - 1 T ground caraway seeds.  Caraway seed is the flavor people generally associate with pumpernickel and rye bread.  The strong flavor that some people object to has nothing to do with rye grain, but comes from the caraway seeds. I think it is a good flavor in this bread, but you can even omit the caraway seeds if desired.  I buy whole caraway seed and then grind them in a heavy duty mill, as I have found these surprisingly tough seeds too difficult to grind with a stone mortar and pestle.  So, I would advise people to buy pre-powdered caraway seed if they don't have a way to grind it or don't want to deal with that.  

Ingredients to be added right before baking:

1/4- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, or any other kind of nut or seed.

Step by Step Instructions:

1. Soak rye berries.  On Evening 1, put the rye berries in a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl and cover with enough water to submerge them generously. Let them soak overnight. 

2 A. Sprout rye berries. The next morning drain all the water off the soaked grain.  You can do this by transferring the grain to a large sieve and rinse the berries under the faucet, or by holding a plate against the top of the bowl and pouring the water off and shaking it out thoroughly.  Then leave them for 8-12 hours to sprout in the same bowl, and cover with a plate to help keep them moist. 

 The rye berries are just beginning to sprout                                             

2 B. Start feeding rye starter.  At the same time bring your rye starter out of the fridge and and start feeding it.  You are aiming to make 2 cups of starter plus a little extra to save.  If you start with 1/2 cup of starter, stir in 1/2 cup of rye flour and some water until you have a thick liquid.    

3.  Feed starter again. After about 6 hours you should feed the starter again with another half cup of flour and more water.  To reserve some starter culture for the next loaf, take about a few T of what you make and put it in 8 ounce mason jar, stir in spoonful of rye flour and some water, leave the lid not fully closed and store in the refrigerator. 

Rye starter bubbling after it has been fed a few times

4.  Chop sprouted rye berries. During the evening (Evening 2) check on the rye berries.  They should have just started to sprout minuscule white tails. They don't need to sprout any more than just barely.  If you have a large enough food processor such as a cusineart, put all the berries in it, adding 1 tsp of sea salt.  Chop the rye berries very coarsely, pulsing until it looks like most of the berries have been cut in half or so.  No need to overdo it, as one nice characteristic of volkornbrot is the presence of visibly whole grains in each slice of bread.


Sprouted rye berries and mung beans coarsely chopped with a Cusineart

5.  Combine grain and starter to make the sponge. Combine the salted chopped rye berries and rye starter in a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl.  the sponge should be thicker than just the plain starter, but still of a wet and soupy consistency, so more of a liquid than a dough.  If it seems a bit dry, add more water in small increments as necessary.  

The sponge

6. Allow sponge to ferment for 8-12 hours.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, a plate, or a damp cloth and allow to ferment (overnight in my hypothetical example).  If you use plastic wrap, almost no water will evaporate, so don't make the sponge too wet in this case.  But if you use a cloth or plate, more water will evaporate so it will need a little more water.  

7.  Add dry ingredients to sponge to make a wet dough. (Morning 2) It will become very difficult to stir this sticky dough with a spoon, so feel free to just use your hands.  If you have bread mixer you might want to use it.  I just do it by hand.  I have a very large and shallow ceramic bowl that works well for this step.  It is not really kneading because the dough is too wet, but just combine everything very thoroughly.  The dough's consistency should be extremely sticky, not a kneadable dough, but not a liquid either.  You should be able to gather it up into one big sticky mass.  

Dough just after mixing in the dry ingredients.  It is on the wet side, but it worked out fine.  

8.  Allow dough to ferment for 8-12 hours.  Keep the dough in the bowl covered with plastic wrap, a plate, or wet cloth.

9.  Prepare to bake the bread. (Evening 3) Pre heat the oven to 460-475 F.  The jury is still out on what the best temperature is.  I think 475 might be a bit high for my oven, so I have been trying lowering the temperature.  I now bake the bread in a enameled cast iron dutch oven.  I used to use a regular rectangular bread loaf pan, which make a good shape for slicing, but I think having a lid over the top is better than having the top of the bread exposed to the oven.  Coat thoroughly the inside your bread loaf pan or dutch oven or whatever with a thin layer of olive oil and then put a heaping spoonful of rye flour into it.  Over the sink, shake, tap and rotate the baking pan or dutch oven to evenly dust the oiled surfaces with flour.  

10. Add any last minute ingredients.  Right before baking add the sunflowers seeds, or pumpkin seeds or what have you to your dough and mix them in thoroughly by oiled hands.  Transfer the finished dough to the oiled and floured dutch oven or loaf pan. 

11. Bake the bread for one hour.  I usually check on the bread after an hour to see that it looks pretty brown, and I give it a tap to hear that it sounds kind of hollow. Don't let it get burnt.  At lower temperatures you might need to leave it in for a little more than an hour, but at 475 it will probably be done possibly even before an hour.  

A taller loaf of Volkornbrot baked in a 2 quart Dutch oven

12. Remove bread and wrap it in a cloth.  After removing the bread from the oven, use a thin knife or something to go around the side of the loaf as a precaution against sticking, and then invert the pan/dutch oven so that the loaf is deposited on a cutting board or countertop.  It should come out immediately with no problem.  If not, the loaf may not be done, assuming that you did a good job oiling and flouring the pan/dutch oven.  Immediately wrap the loaf in a clean cloth and then put it into a paper or cloth bag.   

12. Allow moisture to equalize in the loaf.  You are supposed to wait for 12 hours before eating the bread, to allow it to cool and for the moisture to equalize.  That is why in my example is planned so that you bake at night,  so that you just go to sleep and then it is ready the next morning.  You can eat it earlier though, but you should at least let it cool down all the way.  

It takes some practice to get good at slicing this bread thinly.  Try starting making a shallow cut on the top and turning the bread to continue the shallow cut all the way around before cutting through the center, like a carpenter making an accurate saw cut around a piece of wood.  

Possible Variations:

Different Flours.You can experiment with different combinations of flours.  For example, I like using 1 cup white, 1 cup rye, and 1 cup buckwheat.  I am currently making a loaf that has fine cornmeal in it.

Dried fruits. You can add some dried fruit right before baking, but don't add too much, maybe 1/4-1/3 cup.  I have tried adding dried apricots and cherries and I thought that came out pretty good.

Sprouted beans.  I have tried adding sprouted mung beans, lentils, and chickpeas to the bread.  I sprouted 1/4-1/2 cup of dry beans separately at the same time as the rye and ground them up together to make the sponge.  At first the beans added a very beany smell to the sponge, but by the time the dough was ready to be baked there was no bean smell.  I could not really discern the beans in the final bread.  But by adding beans, the bread certainly becomes more nutritious and protein rich.

Sprouting other grains.  I have not tried this yet but I assume one could sprout other grains besides rye to make this bread.  

Final note about the starter.  It is good for the starter to be refreshed and fed often.  It is bad for it to sit for too long in the fridge.  So if you don't make the bread often and use the starer, the starter may decline.  If your starter has been in the fridge for a week without being used, take it out and throw out half, feed it, wait six hours, throw away half, give it another spoonful of flour and put it back in the fridge.  

That is all.  I hope someone finds this useful.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


According to the dictionary, foraging can be defined as: " The act of looking or searching for food or provisions".  Although humans have developed methods of producing food and provisions for more and more people, it remains as true today as ever that all our food and provisions ultimately come from nature.  It is also true that there are many kinds of foods and provisions potentially available in nature that we do not fully appreciate or utilize.  The problems of feeding, clothing, and sheltering humanity has not and will not ever disappear as long as there are people; the search for food and provisions is ongoing.  It is good to remember that nature is providing all the materials for our foods and clothes, energy and everything. 

I believe that foraging in its most basic sense remains a good idea that has great potential to enrich our lives here on this planet.  My own interest and experience in foraging has evolved gradually.  I would like to share the story of how I came to be interested in foraging and what I think are some of the benefits I notice in my life today that are related to having taken this interest in foraging. 

Being outdoors and spending time in beautiful natural environments has a beneficial influence on people.  My parents did me and my brother a favor by regularly taking us out into the woods when we were growing up.  However, the wonders and complexities of nature can be completely invisible when people lack the interest to observe them.

When I was younger I had a much more limited interest in my surroundings than I do now.  While hiking, I would often rush along, hitting things with sticks, thinking and talking about irrelevant things like computer games, being without any interest whatsoever in learning to distinguish between one kind plant and another.  But there was one thing that I was always on the lookout for during our hikes, and that was the skeletal remains of any animals, particularly skulls, and especially fanged skulls.  Eventually I had quite a collection of different bones.  This initial interest in collecting bones was a seed that later grew into a broader interest in nature.

My foraging career began in earnest when I learned to enjoy eating wild mushrooms.  My parents had always collected and cooked several varieties of wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, but it took me a long time to come around to liking such things.  Eventually though, I decided that these wild mushrooms were not only edible, but positively delicious.  Even before I was interested in eating them, I loved to look at the photographs of mushrooms in our copy of the classic field guide Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora.  Now that I had motivation to learn about mushrooms, I started to actually read and use that guidebook.  I began to actively search all over the woods for mushrooms and systematically identify anything I did not know the name of.         

My main goal was to find new edible mushrooms, but in order to identify each unfamiliar specimen I had to observe its individual characteristics closely.  Inevitably, I learned about all different kinds of fungi that inhabit the woods I hike, the categories to which they belong, and where and when they tend to appear every year.  In order to expand my knowledge of the edible species, I had to learn more about mushrooms in general, including the non-edible and poisonous varieties.

A word of warning concerning poisoning.  There are indeed many edible plants and mushrooms growing all over the place, but there are also a few plants and mushrooms that could kill you if you so much as tasted them.  As a forager, it is imperative to learn to recognize poisonous plants and mushrooms.  There is no need to be overly fearful of being poisoned, but in order to forage safely, you cannot just start nibbling on everything you see.  Right from the start the forager must develop the habit of tasting things only after being fairly certain of what they are and after being absolutely certain that they are not deadly poisonous.  The best way to avoid being poisoned is to simply learn, without any thought of eating, about both the edible and poisonous plants and mushrooms until you can reliably tell the difference, and THEN collect the good ones you recognize to eat.  When trying any new edible mushroom or plant for the first time, eat it in small quantity to make sure it agrees with you.  People react to foods and medicines differently.  Even if a given food is edible for most people, some individuals may have adverse reactions due to their particular constitutions. 

Understandably, my parents were initially wary about eating these unfamiliar varieties of mushrooms I would collect, but eventually, when they had been sufficiently convinced that I was correct in my identification of an edible species, they would try it.  I have my parents to thank for introducing me to wild mushrooms, and they have me to thank for expanding the number of edible varieties that we now recognize and collect.

Not only did I learn about which mushrooms were edible, inedible, or poisonous, I learned about other uses of mushrooms that I had not suspected.  For instance, there are mushrooms that have been used for tinder and as an insulating material in which a burning coal can be kept alive and carried around.  There are some that have been used as a source of dye for fabrics.  I was very interested to learn that some mushrooms I often encountered, such as Reishi and Turkey Tail, have beneficial medicinal qualities.  This discovery that wild mushrooms could be useful in surprising ways was another step in a transformation in the way in which I looked at nature. 

Several years after my mushroom hunting renaissance, I decided that I couldn't go on being completely ignorant about all the wild plants surrounding me.  I got out out Newcomb's guide to wildflowers and just tried to identify any plant that caught my eye.  I remember an incident during this period when, using my guidebook, I learned to identify the plant Dogbane, which I had previously been confusing with another plant called Milkweed.  I had a vague familiarity with Milkweed and had never heard of Dogbane.  The two plants looked quite similar to my untrained eye and both exuded a white milky sap when broken.  I had guessed that this plant I was seeing was some variety of Milkweed.  But as I scrutinized the plant's characteristics with the help of my guidebook, I was able to compare it to the Milkweeds and see that it actually was a Dogbane plant.  There really are obvious differences in their appearances, but before I made an effort to seriously examine each of them, I could not tell them apart.  Today I would never confuse them for an instant, even at a distance.

A person who is a really knowledgeable naturalist sees a very different landscape than someone who cannot identify anything.  Once you really internalize the characteristics of a plant, a mushroom, a skull, a stone, a bird, or a certain kind of anything, and you really know what it looks like, you will be able to discern that object at a glace, anywhere.  It is not uncommon for me to be walking, riding a bike, or even driving along when I suddenly see some edible mushrooms out of the corner of my eye, even though they may be off in the distance or partially obstructed.  When you are tuned into something, it will just jump out at you.  And if you know something about a subject's role in the ecosystem and whether it has any particular uses for humans, that makes looking around all the more interesting. 

The motivation of finding edible mushrooms led me to discover that mushrooms and plants potentially have many interesting uses.  I was then not content to simply learn the names of things, but started to use my identification guide as a jumping off point to learn about the possible uses of wild plants.  The internet is a great resource for both learning to identify things and learning about their uses.  There are many knowledgeable foragers and naturalists who maintain excellent blogs and websites.  There is also a wealth of photography available on the internet that can be very helpful in learning to recognize the characteristics of anything you want to be able to identify. 

I was a little disappointed to read in the guidebook that this was an inedible, poisonous plant.  But I was still curious, hoping that the plant had some other use.  Most guidebooks do not give much information on the uses of plants, so I headed to the internet to find out more.  I was surprised to learn that Dogbane (which is apparently poisonous to dogs) turns out to be a very good source of plant fiber.  I read that the Native Americans used the long fibers found in the stem of this plant to make exceptionally strong cordage and thread, from which they crafted an amazing variety of useful things.  Then I went to Youtube, and sure enough there were many videos demonstrating how to collect fiber from Dogbane and twist it into cordage.  I actually tried this out myself, and although I never put in the time to master this skill,  I was able to learn to make some basic cordage and see for myself the impressive strength and potential of Dogbane fiber.

If I had not looked Dogbane up on the internet, then probably today I would have less respect for this inedible, poisonous plant that looked to me like a shabby Milkweed.  There is truly a multitude of plants, mushrooms, and other substances in nature that have potential uses and benefits that are largely unknown to us today.  But even if a plant has no particular use for humans, that does not mean it is useless.  It is probably useful to other lifeforms who in various ways benefit other lifeforms, and so on.  Thus, indirectly it benefits humans.  If I had not learned about how Native Americans were so skillfully able to utilize the Dogbane plant, I would have thought it was useless and called it a weed.  The more we know about nature, the more we see that there is nothing there that is really useless.

The ancient Native Americans knew a great deal about how to use what they found in nature and they were much more able to live harmoniously with nature than we are today.  We have gone very far away from having simple lives close to nature.  I believe that foraging, to practice which increases our knowledge and appreciation of nature, can be a way to help us get a little more in touch with nature in this modern time of alienation. 

A few more tips about foraging:

You should not harvest plants or mushrooms to eat from places that are very polluted, as they are likely to have absorbed harmful chemicals.  Examples of such places are: the sides of busy roads, drainage ditches or places that obviously collect polluted water, manicured lawns or any such places routinely sprayed with chemicals. 

Another important issue that should be addressed is over-harvesting.  A lot of things that can be foraged are abundant, but if people take all of them without replacing them or allowing them sufficient time and numbers to reproduce themselves, they will become rare and maybe even disappear altogether.  Some relatively recent examples are Ginseng and Goldenseal.  These two very useful medicinal plants used to be common here in West Virginia, but they are rare now because people irresponsibly over-harvested them to make money.  Don't be greedy, and don't harvest things that are already rare.

To give another example, Ramps are a very popular wild edible here in West Virginia and some other eastern states.  Every year there are Ramp festivals in early spring, when the Ramps appear.  Lately, Ramps have gained in popularity at fancy restaurants around that nation.  There is only one Ramp farm I know of in West Virginia.  Most of the ones that are sold are taken from the wild, without much of an eye to making sure that Ramps are not depleted.  A fact that I only recently learned about that most people probably don't know is that it takes five years for a Ramp plant to grow to maturity, but every year people dig them up in large quantities.  It is possible to just harvest the leaves of the Ramp plant, and then the plant can come back the next year from the bulb.  Now that I know how long it takes for a Ramp to grow, that is how I prefer to harvest them.  But people usually dig up the bulb, because it is considered the best part, and because they don't give much thought to the possibility of over-harvesting.  Every Ramp forager thinks his own harvesting won't make a difference, but it will matter if each year the Ramps are being harvested faster than they are growing back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thanks to some encouraging feedback from my family's dental hygienist, I am pleased to offer my latest version of toothpowder for sale. 

This natural toothpowder should appeal to anyone who is looking for an effective alternative to commercial toothpastes.  Several people have found this toothpowder to help with persistant gum problems that had not improved despite regular use of commercial toothpaste.  The ingredients in the toothpowder are:

Baking powder, ground Star Anise, Clove powder, powdered Fennel seed, Neem leaf powder, Licorice root powder,  ground Cinnamon, ground Turmeric, Peppermint oil, Tea tree oil, and Blood Root powder.

The price is 7.50 for 1 oz.  1 oz is the smallest amount I am willing to ship.  1 oz of toothpowder will  last about a month and a half.  

 Shipping costs are as follows:

for 1 oz toothpowder = $1.50
      2 oz                      = $2.00
      3 oz                      = $2.50

 The following are some tips about using the toothpowder.

When you get the package you should transfer the powder from the freezer paper or plastic bag I mailed it in to an airtight, rigid container.  1 oz of toothpowder fits perfectly into a 4fl oz canning jar. Plastic tupperware will work ok if you don't have a glass jar.  If you have 2 or more ounces of toothpowder, what I would do is to use two containers, one to be the working 'toothpaste tube' and one to be the reserve/refill supply.  You can use one 4 fl oz canning jar for the working jar, and another 4 or 8 fl oz canning jar for the reserve.   this makes it easier to travel with and also prevents getting water in all your toothpowder.

to use the powder there are a couple of options. you can either apply the toothpowder to a damp toothbrush using a small applicator or you can dip your damp brush into the jar.

the advantage of the first way is that it is more sanitary and you will be less likely to drop water into the powder jar, but if you are careful, the second method works fine too.

the applicator stick could be something like a gelato spoon or a popsicle stick. I have used a simple carved wooden spoon. Whatever it is, you can make it fit inside the jar itself so that it does not get separated or knocked on the floor or in the sink, or in the toilet.

whether you use either method, your tooth brush should be wet first to help the powder stick to it. pour water onto the toothbrush and then shake off the excess. then hold the toothbrush over the jar while adding the powder with the applicator or just dip the damp brush to pick up some powder. if you have too much water on the toothbrush it is hard to avoid dripping it in jar. However, if that happens occasionally, it will not be a problem. I don't know what would happen if you put a lot of water into the powder, maybe then it would be toothpaste.

if the powder feels too dry in your mouth you can add more water to your brush after brushing your teeth for a few seconds, but if you try to pour water on a toothbrush that is loaded with dry powder, the water will probably knock the powder off the brush.

It is likely that you will be initially surprised by the unusual flavor of this toothpowder.  It might taste pretty bitter at first, but if you just keep using it you will quickly become accustomed to it.  This toothpowder no longer tastes bitter to me, but it definitely did when I changed the recipe to include neem leaf.  that is the source of the bitter flavor.  don't worry, it is good for you. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Homemade Toothpowder

Homemade toothpaste is an idea I've been playing around with for a few years now. I wanted to come up with something simple that worked at least as well as store-bought toothpaste, was less expensive, contained no toxic ingredients, and did away with the landfill waste created by non-reusable toothpaste tubes.

Some time ago in another post I put forth the idea of cleaning one's teeth using the twigs of certain trees. This was an attractive idea, but I eventually found that I could not practically replace my toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss with twigs alone. I have not yet found an environmentally friendly toothbrush or floss, but I am happy to say that I have the toothpaste solution figured out.

This recipe I am sharing is actually a powder, not a paste. You can use it either by dipping a moist but not dripping wet brush into the jar of powder, or by using a small wooden spoon to apply the powder to the moist brush while holding it over the jar to catch any powder that falls. The first method is easier and quicker, but the second method is a little better because you avoid getting moisture in the powder jar.

I have personally been using nothing else for about a year, and my teeth are doing as well as ever. I believe that the ingredients in this powder are more effective than most store-bought toothpastes when it comes to keeping your gums healthy. My mother has had bad gums for most of her adult life, although she brushes her teeth diligently. But somehow, my father, who had himself already converted to the tooth powder, convinced her to try out this unconventional stuff and she noticed an immediate improvement in her gums. When the toothpowder ran out, however, and she began using fluoridated toothpaste again, her gum problems again worsened.
I have since kept a plentiful supply handy.

A few months ago we sent a jar of this tooth powder to one of my mother's friends who also has had chronic gum problems. Not too long ago she wrote back an enthusiastic email saying that using the tooth powder had made a definite improvement in the health of her gums.

If the idea appeals to you, I would encourage you to try this out. I would also be willing to sell jars of the tooth powder to anyone who doesn't want to actually make it.

It is important to have the spices ground up as finely as possible. Therefore, unless you have a machine that can do that for you, I would recommend buying the spices in powdered form if possible, especially cinnamon, which is very tough to grind by hand or in 'light weight' machines.

The amounts are given in rough proportional parts. Every time I make it is slightly different. Maybe in the future I will post a more definite recipe, but this is the basic idea.

4 parts Star Anise
3 parts Cloves
1 part Cinnamon
1 part Turmeric
1 part Cardamom
Thyme < 1 part
Licorice powder < 1 part
several drops of tea tree oil

More baking powder than baking soda

Mix the spice powders together and cut with enough baking powder and some baking soda so that the spices are extended but the powder is still colorful with an abundant proportion of spice. Store in an airtight glass jar. Consider making a small wooden spoon/spatula/applicator stick to fit right in the jar.

The baking powder/soda are ingredients that probably mechanically help clean teeth while also being infused with the spices' medicinal oils.

The first tooth powder recipe that I experimented with was very simple: pure baking soda. It tasted terribly harsh and salty. The addition of antimicrobial, anti inflammatory, flavorful, and aromatic herbs makes a great improvement. Eventually I made a discovery by mistake that baking powder can serve a similar function in the recipe while tasting much better than baking soda. I still include some baking soda, though.

Other things that would probably be good in the toothpowder:

spearmint oil
oregano oil, supposedly very good for gums, but expensive
tulsi, holy basil

final note: go light on tea tree oil because it is toxic to ingest

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sprouted Whole Wheat Flatbreads

For some time I have been trying to come up with a bread recipe that uses whole sprouted grains instead of flour. There is good evidence to believe that eating whole grains (such as wheat berries, rye berries, rice etc) is better than eating things made of flour, even 'whole grain' flours.

If you take a whole grain, such as wheat berries, soak them overnight, and drain them the next day, they will begin to come to life and sprout. This is a good time to use them in a recipe, when they are alive, like freshly cut vegetables. Contrast this with typical store-bought flour: the grains have undergone processes that remove nutrients to improve shelf life and been ground to a powder while in a dormant state.

According to wikipedia,

"An important problem of the industrial revolution was the preservation of flour. Transportation distances and a relatively slow distribution system collided with natural shelf life. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids of the germ, which react from the moment they are exposed to oxygen. This occurs when grain is milled; the fatty acids oxidize and flour starts to become rancid. Depending on climate and grain quality, this process takes six to nine months. In the late 19th century, this process was too short for an industrial production and distribution cycle. As vitamins, micro nutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was a brilliant solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard."

As we have seen, what is convenient for industry is often not what is best for health and flavor. Making flour out of grain is a lot of extra trouble, and actually diminishes the grain's original nutritional value. There is no need to mill the grain to begin with, and so then there is no need to remove the germ either.

But if you try to make a loaf of bread out of whole grains or whole grain flour, the result will most likely be very dense and heavy, and your family and friends may not appreciate it. Then you will have to eat it all yourself. I made a few brick-like loaves that were actually pretty tasty, but I wanted to find a recipe for something that most people would like.

After a number of experiments, I found that one solution to this problem of density was to give up on making 'loaves', and instead make the bread flat. At first my dough recipes were complex, including sprouted wheat and rye berries, nuts, and dried fruits, but eventually, through trial and error, I discovered a very simple recipe that was much more successful than anything previous: delicious pita pockets from sprouted whole wheat berries with a little salt and honey to enhance the flavor.

The recipe goes like this:
1. Soak wheat berries in water overnight or for about 8-12 hours in a bowl covered with a plate or cloth. Then drain the water completely.

2. Allow the wheat to sprout and grow a 'tail' less than about a quarter inch in length. This may take a day or so. Rinse and drain the wheat when necessary to keep it moist but without standing water.

3. Grind, blend, and completely pulverize the sprouted wheat berries. I use a food processor for this, maybe there are some other ways this can be acheived. Because the grains have water in them, you should not have to add any water. Add salt and honey to taste. I use about one generous spoonful of honey for each cup of dry wheat berries. Honey and wheat are a very harmonious combination of flavors/smells. As they are ground up and blended together the wheat berries will gradually turn into a ball of dough right in the food processor. Grind the wheat thoroughly.

4. Remove the dough from the machine and knead it until it becomes elastic, shiny, and smooth. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add whole wheat flour on your hands, the kneading surface, and the dough gradually, in small amounts, until it does not stick. Letting the grain dry out a bit before grinding it can help to avoid an excessively moist dough.

5. If you want to save the dough for a later meal, coat the dough ball with some olive oil or ghee, put it in a covered bowl in the refrigerator, and do not let it dry out.

6. When ready to use the dough, use a sharp knife (serrated works well) to cut slices off the ball. Flatten and shape each slice into a circular pancake with your hands and then use a rolling pin to flatten the pancake into as thin a sheet of dough that you can make. What I do is rapidly alternate between rolling the dough out a little and then flipping it over to prevent getting it stuck and then tearing it. When you have a thin sheet, fold it into thirds, producing a long flat tube. Then fold the tube into thirds, producing a fat little square. Roll it out once more, but not quite as thinly. I find that the folding step helps the pita puff up and form a good pocket. You can fold into halves instead of thirds also, but your pita pockets will be less round.

7. I have been cooking them in the toaster oven, 3 or 4 at a time at about 350-400 F. They usually inflate and cook in a short time. I think they are best when they are still nice and soft, but you could make them crispy if you wanted.

This simple idea of using whole wheat berries to make unleavened flat breads could be adapted for toasting wheat tortillas or chapatis on a griddle as well. Keep in mind that the gluten in wheat is responsible for the great elastic quality of the dough, so using other grains will not have the same effect. I experimented with half millet and half wheat for example, and the resulting dough was not elastic at all, did not puff up into pita bread, and yielded a dense, unpleasantly dry and grainy bread. To remedy the situation I turned that unsuccessful dough into a batter by adding milk and an egg to make sprouted millet and wheat pancakes.

Keep experimenting; I'd be interested to hear about any other sprouted grain bread ideas.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Growing up, I rarely ate sauerkraut. In later years, however, I eventually became interested in fermented foods. I reconsidered my indifferent attitude toward sauerkraut, and tried making some. Today my opinion is that sauerkraut is delicious, versatile, easy to make, inexpensive, and very healthy. And, of course, the 'raw' kraut that you make yourself will be superior to the pasteurized store-bought version.

Sauerkraut really makes itself. You slice up a mess of cabbage, pack it into a suitable vessel or crock with some salt, place a weight on the kraut to keep it compacted and submerged in brine, cover the whole thing with a cloth, and let it ferment.


- fermentation vessel. This could be a ceramic crock, a food-grade five gallon plastic bucket, or a glass container. Do not use metal containers, as they can react with acidic foods like sauerkraut. Ceramic vessels are traditionally used for making sauerkraut and kimchi, but they tend to be pricey. If you are a potter, you could make a crock. If you do be sure to use a glaze that is food safe. There are ceramics out there that have lead-based glazes, and these would be a bad choice for sauerkraut making, and for food in general. Food grade plastic is supposedly safe, but I prefer glass because it will definitely not leach any chemicals into the kraut, is easy to find and inexpensive. I bought a large cylindrical glass container, intended purpose unknown, for ten dollars at TJ Max.

-weight, to hold sauerkraut under brine during fermentation. A standard eight inch diameter plate fits perfectly inside my glass container, upon which I place a large glass jar filled with water.

-a clean cloth to cover the fermentation vessel.

-sea salt. Use good salt. A friend of mine who makes sauerkraut professionally recommends 12 tablespoons per 36lbs or 5 gallon container. Sandor Ellix Katz, author of 'Wild Fermentation', suggests roughly 3 tablespoons salt for five pounds of cabbage. I just add salt gradually and stop when it tastes salty enough.

-cabbage. Use good cabbage. minimum: about 4 small or 2 large heads. Experiment and find out how much cabbage can fit into your crock, you might as well make as much as possible.

- After you make plain kraut, experiment with adding any herbs, spices or other vegetables. I have been warned by a friend that kale does not ferment well, but rather turns into foul smelling "ooey gooey". Some possibilities could be tender green beans, onions, garlic, peppers, broccoli, apples, cauliflower, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary. Red beets will turn the sauerkraut bright pink.

-a sharp knife and big cutting board


0. Make sure you have everything and that your fermentation vessel and everything is clean. Get out the big cutting board and a sharp knife.

1. Wash the cabbage and remove the outer leaves attempting not to break them. Set them aside.

2. Cut a cabbage in half and make two diagonal cuts to remove each half of the stem. My suggestion is to slice the cabbage as thinly as possible, but you can cut it up however you like. A sharp knife and full attention make this operation easy, safe, and enjoyable. Alternatively, it may be possible to shred the cabbage quickly with certain food processors.

3. Place the sliced cabbage in the crock as you work, sprinkling a little sea salt , and tamping it down as you go, using a large wooden spoon or some such thing. Don't over salt, you can always add more later.

4. When all the cabbage is in, tamp it down as much a possible. Take a few of the outer leaves of cabbage you saved in step 1, and arrange them as a thin layer over the sliced cabbage. Put your weight down on top. In my case, an eight inch ceramic plate fits perfectly inside the cylinder, and then a heavy glass jar of water sits on the plate.

6. Cover the fermentation vessel with a cloth and put it out of the way. After some time check to see how much water has come out of the cabbage. Press the cabbage down repeatedly to squeeze out the air bubbles trapped throughout the cabbage. You may have to add more water to submerge all the cabbage. Adjust water and salt as necessary.

7. Let the sauerkraut ferment for about a week or as long as it takes. The sauerkraut will ferment faster at warmer temperatures. You will notice the sauerkraut smelling more tangy as it progresses. The brine will become cloudy, and the cabbage will become more compacted and translucent. Taste it as you go, and when you decide it has gone far enough, transfer the kraut (always submerged in brine) into glass jars, and refrigerate. Save any extra brine for cooking, drinking, or starting a new batch of sauerkraut. The kraut will continue to ferment in the fridge, but much more slowly.

If you are interested in fermented foods, I recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It contains a wealth of traditional recipes from around the world.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Making Ghee

I learned how to make ghee some time ago and have since found it indispensable. Ghee is a purified form of butter in which water and milk solids have been removed by boiling and straining. Ghee originated in ancient India, and the idea of removing the milk solids and water from butter is found in other cultures as well.

High quality fresh butter contains water and quickly spoils, but by making it into ghee it can be safely stored without refrigeration for a very long time. As you have probably experienced, the milk solids in butter cause it to burn easily, and by removing them ghee becomes more useful for cooking. In general ghee, like butter, makes food delicious and satisfying.

'Fast' food drenched in rancid hydrogenated vegetable oil is one thing, but high quality, naturally fat-containing foods are not unhealthy. On the contrary, oils such as ghee are strengthening to the body and support good health. While certain individuals with conditions such as obesity should avoid fats, and though, as with everything, we can harm ourselves by overindulgence, reasonable amounts of the right kinds of fats and oil are nourishing and healthy.

I think if you go to the trouble of making ghee you will decide it is a good idea.


The butter must be boiled gently so that the ghee does not burn while all the water evaporates. When the water has evaporated the ghee is poured through layers of cheesecloth into dry, sterilized jars. The jars are allowed to cool and are then sealed and stored at room temperature for use.


- at least one pound of the best butter you can get
- a knife
- lidded glass jars
- tongs
- large pot, preferably thick-bottomed
- cheesecloth


0. Take the butter out of the refrigerator to warm up. You should use no less than a pound of butter because otherwise it might burn and/or not be worth the time you are investing. I usually use a two pound roll of butter.

1. boil your jars and lids in a pot of water to sterilize them. Use metal tongs or some other way of not burning yourself to remove the jars from the water and place them face down somewhere clean to cool and dry. Before you pour any ghee into your jars, be sure they are completely dry.

2. Cut the butter up into smaller pieces to let it melt more easily. If you have a thick roll, this will be easier with a big knife that you can push down on with both hands.

3. Melt the butter in a wide and tall, uncovered and thick-bottomed pot on low-med heat. Gently bring the melted butter to a low boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting at which the butter still bubbles. You will notice white froth foaming on the top and the yellow ghee underneath. You should not stir the pot at any time in the process.

4. Continue to cook the ghee until all the water is gone. The more butter you begin with, the longer it will have to boil. A pound of butter will probably take around thirty minutes or more. You can judge how much water is left by watching and listening for bubbling. In the beginning you will see and hear steady bubbling and gurgling noises, but the frequency and magnitude of these decrease as the water disappears. Keep a close watch on the ghee when the bubbling has diminished. You may also see some starting-to-burn milk solids at the bottom of the pot near the end of the process. At some point you have to decide it is done or the golden-colored ghee will go too far, change taste and turn a darker color. Before that happens, take it off the heat and let it sit uncovered to evaporate more and cool for about 15 minutes.

5. Make sure your jars are all dry. Some people first skim off the unwanted crust from the top of the ghee. I think this is a good idea although it is not the way I have done it in the past. You will lose a small amount of ghee, but it will make straining the ghee easier.

6. I usually just poured it through cheesecloth into the jars. The cheesecloth gets clogged with milk solids I should have removed in step 5, and so I squeeze out the burning hot ghee into a little bowl to save it and then brush off the milk solids from the cloth. Be aware that the ghee may be very hot.

7. After filling the jars, allow the ghee to cool down uncovered. If you cover the jars of hot liquid ghee, water will condense on the underside of the lids and fall back in. Instead, put the lids on after the ghee cools, solidifies and becomes opaque.

8. Store ghee in a dry place at room temperature. It should not be refrigerated because water will get into the jars. Only put clean, dry utensils into the ghee.

Try making a simple pot of basmati rice and adding some ghee to the water. It makes a big difference.