Kefir & The Importance of Fermented Foods

Kefir Orange Smoothie

Several years ago, when I first started researching/learning about fermented and cultured foods, I came across a few articles about kefir, an ancient probiotic dairy drink similar to yogurt but, reportedly, even better for you.

Curiosity piqued, I picked up a bottle from the store and used it to make a smoothie. The flavor was great—tangy and slightly effervescent. Moreover, I liked how it made my stomach feel: settled and refreshed. While I had never thought of myself as someone with digestive issues or sensitivities, I did regularly feel like I had too much “air” in my stomach after eating (I really can’t think of a better way to describe it—just kind of like there were air bubbles between my rib cage or something). It was a little uncomfortable, but I honestly didn’t think it was related to what I was—or, in this case, wasn’t—eating.

But the more I drank kefir, the less the cramps seemed to happen. As I started having it daily, and making it myself rather than getting it from the store, I noticed that everything became more regulated with my digestion—no cramps/constipation/gas /bloating/nothing. I felt completely cleansed. Was this really the work of fermented food?

I am inclined to think so. Kefir was the only change I made to my already healthy diet at that point in time, and the bloating symptoms that I thought were just part of everyday life disappeared completely. Many others that I have passed on my kefir starter to have reported similar benefits.

So what are fermented foods, and how do they perform magic like this? Simply put, fermented foods are living foods rich in the microbes that our bodies need to function and thrive. Just like there is bad bacteria, there is good bacteria, and this is what fermented foods contain. These “good guys” go after the bad bacteria (and other nasty stuff), help balance out your digestive system, keep your immunity up, stave off disease, and much more. Research is only just beginning to discover all of the intricate and powerful work that microbes do.

To our misfortune, however, the amount of good bacteria (probiotics) we consume has declined sharply over the last few decades. Why? Because we over-sanitize. We ultra-pasteurize. We eat processed, dead food instead of the real, living stuff like plants. And we have let go of the age-old practices of fermentation that were once seen as vital to diet and life. Sauerkraut and pickles, for example, which were traditionally made using salt + time (the two keys to fermenting vegetables) are now made with vinegar, a shortcut technique that mimics the same “tangy” taste, but takes away all the benefits of real fermentation.

Bacteria has somehow become a bad word in our society, when in reality, it’s a vital life force.

One of the ways we can get ourselves back into balance is by adding fermented foods to our everyday diet. These foods are nothing to be scared of. Fermentation is just a process that transforms one food into an even more nourishing one. Think of cabbage → sauerkraut, cucumbers → pickles, grapes → wine, or milk → yogurt/cheese/kefir. This process, called lacto-fermentation, enables natural (healthy) bacteria to feed on the sugar and starch in the food, which in turn creates more enzymes and vitamins, breaks down difficult-to-digest food components, and makes minerals in the food more available for your body to assimilate. It also preserves the food so it can be kept longer. Magic, I tell ya!

My favorite fermented foods are sauerkraut/fermented vegetables, yogurt, kvass, kombucha, sourdough, and of course, kefir. I make most of these foods at home because I find it both simple and gratifying. It’s also much less expensive than buying them at the store, but that’s certainly fine too if you would rather! Just be sure to inspect your labels carefully. You want to see some mention of the product being “probiotic,” “naturally fermented,” “cultured,” and/or with “live and active cultures.” Going back to the pickles I mentioned earlier—most are indeed made using a shortcut version (i.e., vinegar), but you can find the real, fermented thing if you look around. A true fermented pickle will only contain cucumbers, salt, water, and maybe some spices. Here is a good example: Bubbie’s Kosher Dills. Just scroll to the bottom of the linked page and check out the label. See the simple ingredients, and the mention of “live cultures”? That’s a winner. Pickles like this can increasingly be found at health food stores, and farmers’ markets too.

As for kefir, you can either buy it from the store—in which case I would encourage you to just get the whole milk, plain variety, not the flavored stuff—or you can buy some kefir grains online and start making it yourself. The kefir grains, which look a little bit like cottage cheese, are just the “live and active cultures” you need to ferment the milk—the term “grain” just refers to their appearance; they are in no way related to wheat grains.

The process for making kefir itself is dead easy: You put your grains in a jar, add milk, cover, and let sit on your counter for about 24 hours, until you see the milk start to separate a bit and thicken. Then you just strain out the grains and your milk is now → kefir!

Homemade kefir is typically more potent than store-bought, and of course fresher. Better still, the grains can be used over and over again, and stored in the fridge in some milk when not needed. You can drink the kefir itself plain/as is, put it in smoothies (my favorite use), strain it to make “kefir cheese,” or even use a few tablespoons to soak your oats, grains, or nuts (as I covered in this post; you just sub kefir for the apple cider vinegar, as it does the same thing).

Whether it’s kefir, or sourdough, or something else, I encourage you to experiment with whatever fermented foods you think you’ll like best, and branch out as your taste for them grows, which it surely will (I still can’t believe how much I’ve grown to love sauerkraut). Start trying these foods in small doses, as they can be quite powerful—especially for those with any imbalance—and increase as you feel ready. Over time, your stomach and digestion should start acclimate and improve for the better …because, of course, you’ll be letting the good guys win!

Homemade Kefir

What you’ll need:
Kefir grains
Milk, preferably organic and whole (avoid “ultra-pasteurized,” which will not work)
Glass jar, plus a small cloth and rubber band to cover
Strainer
Bowl

  1. Kefir grains are live, active cultures that look like little pieces of cottage cheese or tiny cauliflower (see photo above). You can buy them online or get some from a friend if you’re lucky enough to know anyone who has some. You can also try to finding a Facebook fermentation group (I belong to one called “Boston Culture Sharing”) to see if people in your area are willing to giving away any for free. Craig’s list is a good resource, too; I’ve sold quite a few starters (sourdough, kombucha, kefir, etc.) there. If you just want to buy online, I suggest either Cultures for Health or the Kefir Lady, which is where I got my grains years ago.
  2. When you get the grains—you’ll probably have about teaspoon or so—place them in a strainer and rinse with filtered water.
  3. Put the rinsed grains in a glass jar and cover with about one cup of pasteurized milk—I use whole, organic, pasteurized milk. DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk. It is too “dead” for the grains to ferment.
  4. Cover the jar with a cloth and secure with a rubberband. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours; you can stir it once or twice if you like but it’s not necessary. The milk will be undergoing fermentation during this time, a safe process that can only happen at room temperature, not in the fridge. Have a little faith in the safety of this—kefir dates back centuries! (Legend has it that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. It is still widely consumed today throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.)
  5. You’ll know the kefir is done when the milk doesn’t swish around when you move the jar. It will seem thick toward the top, and you may also see small pockets of whey (clear yellow liquid) start to separate out—that’s a tell-tale sign it’s ready (see first photo in series above). If you see more whey than milk, you have let it ferment a little too long. It is totally safe to consume, but will just be a bit more tangy.
  6. Place a strainer over a large bowl and dump the contents into it. The resulting (strained) liquid is your kefir, and the grains in the strainer are now ready to be used again. Place them back in the (rinsed out) jar, cover with fresh milk, and repeat the process.
  7. Use the strained kefir right away, or refrigerate until needed. It lasts for weeks, if not longer, in the fridge (though it does get more tangy over time, as fermentation slows, but doesn’t stop completely).
  8. For smoothies: Blend kefir + whatever fruit/veg you like in a blender or food processor. I find that the best smoothies always have at least some frozen fruit in them, which makes everything extra thick and creamy once blended. My favorite is 1 frozen banana + 3/4 cup wild frozen blueberries + 2 cups kefir (and sometimes a scoop of this Green Superfood powder). If the mixture looks too thick, just dilute with milk, water, or, my favorite, coconut water.
  9. Consume smoothies immediately, or within a few hours at most. Real kefir is so alive that it will begin feasting on the sugars in the the fruit pretty quickly, so after a few hours, most of the smoothie’s sweetness will be gone. I always drink immediately.

Some Final Notes
–The kefir grains talked about in this post are also known as “milk kefir grains.” They can ferment dairy as well as non-dairy milk (such as coconut milk, which is excellent). “Water kefir grains” are different and are used to culture sugar-water instead of dairy. They can be found online at all of the places listed above. I’ve experimented with them, but prefer kombucha over water kefir in terms of non-dairy, fermented drinks.
–Avoid using any metal utensils or bowls when making kefir, as it can react negatively and produce off-tasting flavors. (A metal strainer is fine since you’re only using it for a minute.)
–Your first batch of kefir may take a bit more time to ferment, as the grains need to adjust and acclimate to your house and the milk you’re using.
–Your grains will grow in size and multiply as you keep using them, and as they do, they will be able to culture larger amounts of milk. A tablespoon of grains can culture at least 2 to 3 cups, sometimes more. If you find you can’t keep up, just give some grains away or discard a bit.
–If your kefir is too strong for your liking, try fermenting for only 12 hours, or add some fresh milk to an over-fermented batch and let things balance out. It takes some experimentation to get it how you like it.

Favorite Kefir Smoothie Flavors
Note that pineapple is the only fruit I’ve found that doesn’t seem to go well with kefir. Everything else is great (especially frozen banana—essential for ultra creaminess!).
♦ frozen banana + fresh or frozen strawberries or cherries + dash of vanilla or almond extract
♦ frozen or fresh banana + ½ really ripe avocado + honey
♦ frozen banana + 1 knob fresh turmeric + juice of one orange + honey (pictured at the top of this post)
♦ frozen mango + strawberries
♦ frozen mango + fresh banana (or vice versa on the fresh/frozen) + juice of one orange
♦ frozen banana + frozen wild blueberries (pictured below)

Kefir Smoothie 3

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Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

Home

I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!

No-Knead Sesame Sourdough

Sliced Sourdough

If there is one thing that you will always find stocked in our freezer, it’s bread. Right now, we’ve got a loaf of regular wheat (this King Arthur recipe is a favorite) and three kinds of sourdough: Amish rye, sandwich-style multigrain, and sesame. I also have a loaf of fruit & nut on my to-do list. We really like toast around here.

Baking bread is my yoga. It calms me, it focuses me, and it fulfills me. It’s a process that takes time, but rewards you infinitely for the commitment.

More often than not, the bread I bake is made using a sourdough starter rather than store-bought yeast. What is a sourdough starter? It’s basically just a mixture of flour + water that has sat out over time, acting like a net and collecting all the healthy microbes and yeasts from the air. It’s “wild yeast” by definition and it’s super healthy for us because it is made up of good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing), which is essential for healthy digestion as well as our health overall. You’ve heard of probiotic foods, right? Well, sourdough is one of the best.

If you are someone who would much rather just buy sourdough bread than bake it, that’s fine too! Just be sure to look at the ingredients. The label should say: “flour, water, and salt” and possibly “sourdough starter” or “natural culture” (which, again, is just flour + water but some people include it). It should not contain yeast. Most local bakeries have a true sourdough—just ask!

Here are few more facts if you’re keen to learn more:

  1. Sourdough bread is healthier than regular (yeast) bread because it is fermented. Sourdough starter helps break down the many of the nutrients found in flour that our bodies cannot access otherwise. You know those microbes I just mentioned? Well, they’re responsible for eating all of the “anti” nutrients in the flour, and their pre-digestion in turn makes your digestion of the bread a breeze—they do the work for you, quite literally (those holes you see in the crumb are, in fact, their handiwork). The longer the bread dough sits/ferments before baking, the more work they can do, and the better the final bread is for you. This is why a lot of people find true sourdough bread easier on their stomachs than any other type of bread. Many people with gluten issues can even tolerate it.
  2. Sourdough baking is the traditional way of baking bread, one humans have relied on for at least 6,000 years. Commercial yeast is a very, very new thing; sourdough bread is ancient. I like to trust our ancestors. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have spent days carefully making their breads if there wasn’t a good reason for it.
  3. Sourdough tastes better. Sourdough breads have a much deeper flavor. I know some say they don’t like the sourness, but this certainly varies by recipe, and I also truly believe it’s one of those tastes that builds on your palette over time (seriously, does anyone like coffee the first time they try it? same kind of thing). Suraj, my partner, can definitely attest to this. The first few slices he wasn’t completely sold, but he now happily eats an egg sandwich on sourdough sandwich bread almost every morning.
  4. It’s exciting! I feel so empowered when I see my dough rising and take my finished loaf out of the oven. “Look what I did! With only air!” Harnessing the natural, wild yeast in our environment to create food is just such an extraordinary, ordinary idea, isn’t it?
  5. It’s easy. I realize this sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Sourdough requires only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Oh, and time. That’s it. The techniques—resting, folding, shaping, etc.—can all be adapted based on what works best for you and your schedule. It’s really hard to mess up.

“In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. Diabetics should note that sourdough produces a lower surge in blood sugar than any other bread: in a 2008 study published in Acta Diabetologica, subjects with impaired glucose tolerance were fed either sourdough or ordinary bread: the sourdough bread produced a significantly lower glucose and insulin response. In the sourdough process, moreover, gluten is broken down and rendered virtually harmless. In one small Italian study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, in January 2011, celiac patients fed sourdough bread for 60 days had no clinical complaints, and their biopsies showed no changes in the intestinal lining.” —The Guardian

I’ve maintained my sourdough starter for a few years now, which I first purchased from King Arthur (uh, can you tell I like them?). I’ve since learned I could have just as easily made one on my own (see link here), but whatever, it was $8 well spent.

If you don’t yet have a sourdough starter, I really encourage you to start or buy one (heck, I’ll even mail you some of mine). They are easy to maintain and can just be kept in a jar in the fridge when not in use. That’s where I keep mine, taking it out weekly to feed it a little more water and flour (in equal parts), discarding any extra. There have been weeks where I’ve forgotten to tend to it, and it’s been fine. I see people claim they’ve “killed” theirs, but I doubt this every time. Starters are resilient creatures. They don’t go down without a fight.

When you want to use your starter in a recipe, just take it out of the fridge and feed it every 4 hours or so, until it’s bubbling nicely and doubles in size each time you feed it—after a few feedings, it’s ready to go. I use it to make pizza dough, English muffins, pancakes, waffles, and even cake.

I have quite a few favorite sourdough loaves, but I wanted to share the easiest one with you today: a no-knead sesame sourdough. It’s the one I make when I have no time or energy, but still want to enjoy a fresh, warm loaf of bread the next night at dinner. The whole process takes about 20 hours start to finish, but only about 10 minutes of that is hands-on time. I usually mix the dough together around 9 or 10 pm, then bake it around 6 or 7 pm the next day, when I get home from work

This long fermentation/sitting time makes the final taste and texture of the loaf incredible—deeply nutty from the sesame seeds, with a soft, chewy interior and a crisp crust. Like something you’d get imagine standing in line for for hours at a trendy artisan bakery in San Francisco (not that I’ve done that or anything… ahem…). It’s also destined to be the best toast you’ve ever had; see my two favorite combos at the end of this post.

If you are still on the fence about obtaining a starter or have questions, ask away. You can also just use store-bought yeast in this recipe. It’ll still have great flavor, and about 50 ingredients less than a store-bought loaf. Whatever it takes to convince you give bread-baking a try! I promise it’s worth it.

Full Sourdough


No-Knead Sesame Sourdough
Adapted from the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipe. Note that weight/gram measurements are most precise, but either works. Makes 1 large loaf.

1 cup (5 oz.) white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups (11 oz.) white bread flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 cups purified water
1/4 cup sourdough starter, or 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Dry-roast sesame seeds in a small pan over medium heat. Watch them carefully and stir frequently; it should take around 5 minutes to toast them. You want them to turn a deep golden color and smell fragrant, but don’t take your eyes off them because they can burn very easily. Let cool while you gather your other ingredients.

Combine the flours, salt, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Mix in water and starter (or yeast) until incorporated; you don’t have to mix it a ton, just enough so that there’s no dry flour remaining. It will look pretty shaggy and messy.

Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours, during which it will do some fermenting and rising. If you’re not a big fan of that tangy sourdough flavor, aim for the shorter (12-hour) timeframe. I like to put my dough in a large (8-cup) Pyrex glass bowl and cover with a lid, then put it up on a shelf in my cupboard. A dark place is best. You could just cover with a towel on your counter too.

After you’ve let it sit, you should see that it’s bubbled up nicely (this is why I like using glass—helps give you a visual of what’s going on in that dough). It will be sticky and a bit wet too.

Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice (I found this video super helpful for this). Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a large bowl and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour or line a bowl with parchment paper (my preference) and put the dough seam side down on the towel or in the bowl. Dust the top with a little more flour. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2  to 2 hours. The dough should rise slightly (more so if using yeast)—it’ll spring up much more once it hits the heat of the oven, so don’t worry about it rising too much here.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart oven-safe heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats—as always, I use my le Creuset dutch oven.

When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. (If you’re using parchment like me, you can just carefully pick up the parchment by its sides and transfer the whole shebang into the pot. The parchment will darken when baking, but it shouldn’t burn—see photo above.)

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. If you can wait until it’s cooled a bit to cut it, the texture will be better, but  I understand if you find that to be a ridiculous request.

Eat and rejoice.

Tahini Toast

Favorite toast #1: salted butter + bitter orange marmalade + tahini + raw honey.

Avocado Toast 2

Favorite toast #2: butter + avocado + salt.

Indian Breakfast: Dosa & Iddly (Also, Hi)

dosa batter

“To begin, begin.” -William Wadsworth

And so that’s what I’ll do.

This blog has been a thought of mine for years now. Cooking and sharing are two of the things I treasure most in life, so a blog would seem a natural fit for me, no?

Well, yes and no. While food is my life (more about me here), I’ve struggled with the idea of spending more time in front of the computer, since I already do that for 8+ hours a day. I’ve also convinced myself time and time again that “I have nothing new to add” and that “there are so many blogs out there already.”

Those close to me have all responded to those questions pretty much exactly the same way, however: “Yes, you do!” and “So what?!”

And so here I am. Because I’ve realized they’re right; I do have something to add. [In fact, we all do.] And I’d love to share it.

The food I make is many things, but above all it is real, it is honest, and it is thoughtful… qualities I value in what I eat, but also in who I am, and who I work to be (imperfections included and accepted).

And that just might be worth sharing, yes? I really hope so.


So let’s get to it! I’ve decided to start first with what is perhaps my favorite food on Earth: dosa/iddly. It’s a food that showcases many of the things I love—namely, breakfast, Indian food, and fermentation—and its flavor is like nothing else, so I’d say it’s an obvious first choice. Every time we go to India, it is the first thing I request. I don’t think I will ever tire of it.

Dosa and iddly are two versions of the same product: a batter of ground and fermented rice and lentils. For dosa, the batter is used to make crepes, whereas for iddly, the batter is steamed into (savory) cakes. Dosa can be filled with a spicy filling (usually potatoes), and iddly is typically served with sambar and chutney. It’s a breakfast that has been a staple of Indian cuisine for centuries, and it makes sense why—it’s healthy, it’s fermented (read: easy on your stomach and good for digestion/your gut), and it is very inexpensive to make. One batch will give you at least three days of breakfasts.

While this recipe is lengthy (I swear not all the recipes to come will be nearly as long! I just really want you get it right!), the process is pretty simple: soak your ingredients, grind them in a blender, let them sit out and ferment (where they’ll get all bubbly and tangy and wonderful), and either cook them like crepes (dosa) or steam them into cakes (iddly).

Dosa & Iddly
Fermented Lentil-Rice Crepes and Cakes

dosa

3 cups iddly rice
3/4 cup whole urad dal
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional–see Notes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Place the iddly rice in one bowl, and the urad dal + fenugreek seeds in another. Rinse each once, then cover both with filtered water—the water should come up at least an inch or two over the grains. Allow to soak—on the counter, uncovered—for at least 4 hours. I typically start soaking around 11 am, so that I can blend together around 3 pm, then ferment overnight.

Once soaked, you’ll need to grind each mixture separately. Start with the dal + fenugreek, adding enough of the soaking water to keep things moving. A high-speed blender like a Vitamix is ideal for this. You want the batter very smooth, almost silky in feel, so that when you rub some between your fingers, there is no grittiness. This takes at least a few minutes of blending, even in the Vitamix. It should look like a thick vanilla milkshake when it’s done.

Transfer this batter to your fermentation vessel—I use my large le Creuset dutch oven to ferment in, though glass also works well (avoid metal). If all goes well, your batter will be nearly doubling in size, so you want something with room to spare.

Repeat the grinding/blending with the rice and a bit of its soaking water (no need to wash the blender). It’s okay if the consistency of this batter is a little more gritty—like tiny, tiny pieces of sand—than the urad dal batter. Add this batter to the urad dal batter, then add the salt.

Use your hands to combine the two batters and the salt. This helps pull in more wild yeast, and it also helps you gauge consistency: You want the batter to pour off your fingers like thick cream. It should come off them in a nice stream, not like water, but not thick like yogurt.

Once combined (and you’ve washed your hands), take note of your batter line—ideally you want the batter to rise well above this, so you could mark the outside of the container with a piece of tape or marker if you don’t think you’ll remember. Cover the vessel lightly. You can use cloth, plastic wrap, or even the lid if it allows for a little air flow but still keeps the warmth in. I use plastic wrap and then cover with a light cotton dishtowel.

Move the vessel to a very warm place (75 to 80 degrees is ideal) and allow it to ferment for 12 to 18 hours. I put mine in the cupboard above the refrigerator and it works like a charm, usually taking about 17 to 18 hours for a hefty rise. It seriously feels like Christmas morning to me waking up to see if my batter has risen! But maybe this is just me.

Once your batter has risen, it should look crazy bubbly and beautiful (see photo at the top of this post). It will also have a slightly tangy smell. If nothing has happened, cross your fingers and give it some more time. Sadly, if it never rises, it’s hard to save things and I recommend starting over, considering the suggestions mentioned in my Notes below.

Assuming things have worked, congratulations!, it’s time to make your iddly and dosas! I like to steam a few iddly first (usually about 16—they’re small and you’ll have a lot of batter), then use the rest to make dosa.

To make iddly: You will need a steamer for this, and some sort of small cups (like ramekins) to steam them in. You can also buy an iddly steamer for relatively cheap if you plan on making them a lot–I think I got mine for about $15 from the Indian grocery store.

Either way, grease your molds with a little oil or ghee and gently scoop out some of the batter, filling to about 3/4 of the way full. You really don’t want to stir down or crush those beautiful bubbles in the batter—they are what make the iddly taste like little clouds. Be gentle.

Steam the iddly for 12 to 15 minutes—you will know they’re done when (after cooling down for a minute), you touch the top and it feels dry. Leave in their molds for a few minutes before removing.

To make dosas: Stir down the batter and add a bit more salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon maybe). You may also need to add some water–the consistency should be somewhere in between crepe batter and pancake batter. It should pour easily off a spoon.

Heat a pan on the stove to medium heat. I use two cast iron flat griddle pans, which are perfect because they hold the heat well and also don’t have tall sides that interfere with spreading. The also make the dosa nice and crispy. You can use non-stick if that’s all you’ve got.

Spread a little oil onto the pan, then take a ladleful of the batter (about 1/4 cup), and pour it in the center (remember, the pan needs to be hot so that batter “sticks” immediately). Using the bottom side of the ladle, spread the batter out into a larger circle, working from the center out, and always in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). You want the batter spread really thin. This takes practice but don’t fear! You’ll get the hang of it. I watched so many youtube videos before mastering it myself that I should probably send those people a check.

Allow the dosa to cook for a minute or so, sprinkling a little oil around the edges as needed. It should brown and release itself from the bottom of the pan on its own, or with just a little bit of help from your spatula. I typically do not cook the other side because it doesn’t need it, but if yours is thick and you think you need to, go for it.

Serve the dosas (and the iddly) hot with whatever spicy curry, dal, or chutney you like. We always go with the classic: turmeric-spiced potatoes and coconut chutney, along with some ghee. Perhaps I’ll cover those in a future post …but for now, enjoy the fact that you’ve mastered perhaps the most quintessential Indian breakfast dish!

Leftover dosa batter can be refrigerated and used for at least a week. Leftover steamed iddly freezes superbly—one of our favorite quick breakfasts is to slice the thawed iddly in half lengthwise and shallow fry them in a little oil.

Notes:

  • Iddly rice is not the same as regular rice. It is parboiled and very short-grained. Without going into too many science-y details, it’s much better for dosa/iddly because of the proteins it contains. All of these items are available at all Indian grocers–and for cheap cheap cheap! Stored well, they’ll last for months. Just look for skinned, whole urad dal if you can (it’s white and round). Like the iddly rice, it’s better for dosa than the split, unhusked version. Ask for help if you’re not sure—the staff should know exactly what you mean and will be happy to assist. You may feel intimidated at first, but I promise you no one cares if pronounce something wrong, or spend an hour meandering the aisles (speaking from experience here…).
  • Natural fermentation draws in (healthy) microbes from the air to act as your yeast and give the batter lift, which is vital in giving the final product its slightly tangy, light-as-air texture and taste—not to mention its health qualities. Unfortunately for many U.S. households, we have over-sterilized things so much that it can be difficult to grab these yeasts from the air, so here are my tips for ensuring success:
    • Do not over-rinse the grains; you don’t want to wash away all those wild yeasts already on the rice and dal!
    • Use the fenugreek seeds—these aid in grabbing extra yeast from the air. Pretty sure this tip has been around for hundreds of years. Indian grandmothers never steer you wrong.
    • Leave your bowls uncovered when soaking; again, more opportunities for new microbes to join the party. Better yet, leave the bowls near a houseplant, as they usually have good wild activity to draw from.
    • If you have sourdough starter handy, consider adding a spoonful to the soaking water as well—I find this immensely helpful in kickstarting life.
The first dosa (spinach) I ever had in India. I still dream of this.

The first dosa I ever had in India. On the drive to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), we stopped at this tiny little restaurant connected to a gas station, in the middle of nowhere. I ordered this spinach dosa and that.was.it.     Life, fulfilled.