Gluten-free Sourdough

Things are going well in our CSNN Victoria classroom, which I’ve been running since September. The Victoria students enrolled in our one-year holistic nutrition program are approaching the midway point in their studies, in which food is central in many ways. We’re one of three classrooms across Canada that includes a culinary workshop program to help students apply some of the nutritional principles in the kitchen, and I’ll be teaching three of these.

So I was delighted to find a Gluten-Free Sourdough workshop last week to help me build my repertoire for next Spring’s “Alternative Breads & Crackers” session. I don’t eat gluten-free myself, but try to moderate my intake of wheat and other gluten-containing foods, which can easily dominate the everyday diet in our convenience culture.

Gluten is of course a major issue in holistic nutrition, both for celiacs and others with various degrees of gluten sensitivity.  For non-celiacs with food-related health concerns, a period of abstinence from gluten can often help soothe inflammation, but it’s a decision not to be taken lightly. Gluten-free products are typically very high in carbohydrates and low in fibre, and the manufactured versions tend to be very expensive, low in protein and vitamins and high in processed and artificial ingredients.

Last week’s workshop was led by a talented young baker, Kaitlin Chamberlin, who has been perfecting her skills at coaxing good flavour, nutrients and texture from a vegan and gluten-free sourdough loaf. She’s succeeded remarkably well and her breads are popular at local markets. They do cost nearly double what gluten loaves do, however, because gluten-free ingredients are expensive.

Why sourdough? Because any bread benefits from fermentation and a slow, natural rise. The native yeasts that populate grains convert the starches, phytic acid and (in the case of gluten) toxins to more digestible forms. Sourdough gluten-based breads keep their flavour, texture and moistness longer than yeasted breads. Gluten-free breads of any kind are more delicate and perishable, and their texture begins to decline quite quickly.

Start with the starter. Any sourdough begins with a sourdough starter, a mixture of flour and water that takes its power from local yeasts inherent on the grain. For this reason, you’ll want a certified organic flour, which hasn’t been treated with pesticides or fungicides that will inhibit the fermentation. You’ll also need filtered water, free of chlorine (which is a sterilizing agent, so not desirable when you are culturing microbes). Kaitlin’s starter was a mix of brown rice, millet and sorghum flours; she added water kefir to give it an initial boost (although this should not be needed).

Our first act was to refresh the starter. You need to feed it before baking so that it’s fresh and lively, and so that you have plenty left for future bakes. We added a dollop of flour (in this case rice flour) and a splash of water, mixing to a texture, as Kaitlin put it, akin to “wet hummus”. Similar texture to pancake batter, I’d say. The starter will need 4-6 hours to revive and grow bubbly, aquiring a boozy aroma; timing will depend on the strength of the initial starter, temperature, and of course  how chemical/toxin-free the raw ingredients are.

Mixing the dough. Once the starter has achieved a bubbly friskiness, the ingredients can be assembled. For this loaf, we used a flax “egg”, a psyllium “egg” and extra filtered water; mineral-rich salt (microbes need minerals too, so choose a good, natural sea salt) and a gluten-free flour mix. Kaitlin recommends sorghum, quinoa and millet for nutrition, flavour and lightness, buckwheat for colour and flavour, tapioca for fluffiness. She finds chickpea flour too heavy and rice or coconut flour too sandy, so she doesn’t use large quantities of those. She mixed it into a firm dough, able to hold its shape while rising, and then passed the bowl around so we could familiarize ourselves with the texture.

Baking the bread. Kaitlin slashed the loaf to allow even baking. Without the slash, the oven spring – the burst of leavening when the dough hits the oven – can cause the bread to bake unevenly, with lumps emerging randomly. A deeply slashed loaf rises through the cuts and looks more uniform. To bake, she recommends the highest temperature your oven will go (500f+ or 260c+) in which you heat a pizza stone or similar, plop the risen loaf on the stone, and bake for around half an hour.

My first loaf, as pictured above, was a success, and the method was forgiving of my errors of carelessness. My first error was to add too much flour, which meant I had to add more water, but the texture seemed fine. I shaped the loaf and set it to rise on a wax-paper-covered board, in a big plastic bag. After about 10 hours in my (chilly) house, when it looked ready to bake, I realized I was a day ahead of when I needed it, so I popped it in the fridge overnight, still covered. The next day I let it warm up before slashing and baking. Very nice flavour, texture and appearance.

The day after, it was less wonderful, the crumb developing a bit of wetness. I had used brown rice flour as part of the mix, as that’s what I had on hand, so that might have been part of the problem. I tried toasting it, which took about double the time of wheat bread, and the interior was still quite moist, but it was acceptable and held its texture well. It’s in the freezer now awaiting further experimentation – I’d like to try a grilled cheese sandwich for example, or reheat it for a meal.

Too much work, or prefer to buy your bread? The term “sourdough” is almost as abused as the term “natural”. So here is a helpful list of pointers to find out if what you’re buying is really sourdough, from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters website (Whitley’s book of the same name has an easy to follow recipe for making your own brown rice flour sourdough starter):

  • the bakery keeps its own sourdough starter (if it doesn’t, it must be using dried sourdough powder)
  • the bread is made from scratch on the premises (i.e. is not ‘half-baked’ or re-heated)
  • the baker knows what sourdough is and is happy to discuss the process and the time it takes
  • the bread has no added baker’s yeast – or any additives, though this is hard to establish since the most problematic enzyme additives are classed as ‘processing aids’ and don’t have to be declared on the label
  • it tastes good and is easy on the digestion.
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Sipping Your Way Through Flu Season

Winter’s very slowly sneezing and coughing its way out. Staying healthy with seasonal flu and colds circulating and recirculating can be tough. This year seems particularly fraught with heavy colds that keep coming back. Take care of the basics: make sure you get enough exercise (keep that lymphatic system moving!) and sleep, watch your sugar consumption, and remain well hydrated. Moonshine Mama’s Turmeric Tonic is well worth a try if you want to treat yourself to something delicious and fortifying. And here are some more immune-boosting beverages you can make yourself that might help get you through the season.

2017januarykvassBeet Kvass

Why drink it? Fermented beverages benefit your microbiome and overall health. A happy digestive tract makes for a better functioning immune system. And I really like this version of kvass, as it’s quite like sauerkraut.

How to take it? A small glass a couple of times a day, alternating with other lacto-fermented beverages (kefir, water kefir, kombucha etc) will give your gut the variety it needs.

Ingredients

2-3 medium beets, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
¼ cabbage, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 tbsp sea salt2016aug21kvassday01
¼ cup whey or 1 tbsp starter culture, optional
filtered water to cover

Directions

  1. Add onion and cabbage to a 2 quart glass jar.
  2. Add the beets to the onion and cabbage.
  3. Add salt and optional whey.
  4. Cover with filtered water, leaving an inch between the water and the jar lid.
  5. Close the jar and leave in a cool dark place. The mixture will deepen in colour to a rich ruby red.
  6. Start tasting it after 3 days and if it’s too salty or not sour enough, let it ferment until you like the taste.
  7. When you’re happy with it, strain into bottles and transfer to the fridge; it will keep for months.
  8. The vegetables can be used to make a second batch, depending on how long you’ve had to ferment to get the taste you want, but the results of the second batch will be weaker, so you may wish to augment with a little more of each ingredient.

2017januaryfireciderYarrow Willard’s Fire Cider

At the talk where I was first introduced to this concoction, Willard made the excellent point that his fire cider ingredients are easily found in most supermarkets, a boon for ailing travellers (as long as you pack a blender I guess!) He says it’s kept his family healthy through many a flu season.

Why drink it? It contains alliums – onion and garlic – particularly high in the valuable flavonoid quercetin, and containing various other polyphenols and sulfur, so have multiple health benefits. Horseradish too is believed to boost the immune system due to its antioxidant qualities. Cayenne is an antioxidant, high in vitamin A, and contains capsaicin, which is garnering much research attention for its circulatory-system benefits and antimicrobial properties. Ginger is a well known medicinal spice, soothing and stimulating as a tea, and discussed further in the context of Chris Kresser’s very gingery drink below.

How to drink it? Take a few tablespoons in a glass of water or a daily shot during flu season.

Ingredients

⅛ tsp cayenne
1 small onion or ½ a big one
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh ginger
½ tbsp horseradish
1 cup apple cider vinegar (not pasteurized)
1 cup water

Directions:

Blend for 30 seconds. Store in a jar in your fridge; keeps for months! Makes about 2 cups.

Chris Kresser’s Immune-boosting Ginger Juice

Why to drink it? Fresh (not dried) ginger is a well known anti-inflammatory and antiviral herb, widely used for digestive issues, which has been found effective in treating respiratory viral infections common in childhood. It is a known bile stimulant, so avoid it if you are experiencing  gallbladder or bile duct disorders. As it can also act as a blood sugar modulator, consult your doctor before taking if you are taking diabetic treatments. Honey has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, and is also an expectorant and decongestant and really soothing for cough and the lungs. Cayenne‘s fiery capsaicin content is also helpful in clearing congestion.

How to drink it? This is an intense beverage which Kresser recommends you mix up and then sip away at throughout the day, at the first signs of flu. He recommends juicing or straining blended ginger; I like the chewy bits and leave them in for a bit of extra fibre.

Ingredients:

Sufficient ginger, juiced (or peeled, blended and/or strained) to make 1/2 cup ginger juice
Juice of 1/4 lime or lemon
1 tbsp honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Stir ingredients together, dilute to taste with hot water, and sip throughout the day.

 

The lovely aubergine

eggplant-fbYou may think I have been in summer hibernation, but only the blogging part of me has been. The rest of me has been keeping extremely busy with many things. One of those is writing a weekly letter for the Haliburton Community Organic Farm food box program, which will be winding up at the end of October. I thought, belatedly, I could share some of those messages with you. (If you’re in Victoria and interested in signing up for next year’s offering – a weekly certified organic food box, please email me at the food box email and I’ll put you on the list to be notified when we’ve established timings and prices, most likely in January 2017.)

Eggplant – or aubergine as I learned to call it while living in England – is a much-abused vegetable, in my experience. When, as is too often the case, it is served undercooked, it has a chewy, spongy texture which would revolt any sane eater. Properly cooked, it is soft and luscious, infused with the flavour of its surrounding ingredients. As for the salt or don’t salt question: perhaps through sheer laziness I am in the “don’t bother” camp and still love eggplant in many ways.

Delicious, okay, but is it healthy? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! The deep purple skin’s colouring is due to an anthocyanin (a type of beneficial compound that colours berries and other ‘superfoods’) called nasunin, which has been found to be a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals – harmful molecules that damage our body’s cells, causing aging and diseases like cancer. But nasunin also plays a uniquely helpful role, by removing excess iron from the bloodstream. Excess iron can cause many problems (so don’t supplement unless medically directed to do so!) including leaving harmful deposits in the heart and brain.

Eggplant also contains a compound called chlorogenic acid (found in coffee beans, apples, pears and blueberries) which researchers think may have properties effective against cancer and diabetes.

So all this goes on while you sit back and enjoy the moussaka! Like so many healthy foods, remember that the antioxidant benefits are in the skin, so recipes that call for peeling eggplant, while delicious and rich in fibre and other nutrients, won’t have this bonus.

Here’s one of my very favourite ways to enjoy it, based on a Peg Bracken recipe (anyone else remember the I Hate To Cook books?) It’s an easy and delicious veggie main course, excellent served on rice, that you can make ahead and store in the freezer for a rainy day, when it will be best appreciated.

Spicy Baked Eggplant
Serves 4-6
Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (unpeeled)
¾ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped or canned tomatoes (400 ml)
1 red pepper, peeled and chopped, or 1 small jar of pimentos drained and coarsely chopped
2 medium sliced onions
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp capers
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil, or 3/4 tsp dried (or to taste)
1 tbsp soy sauce
Instructions:
1. In a large frying pan, sauté the eggplant in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, until soft.
2. Add remaining ingredients and cook the mixture for about 15 minutes.
3. Pile it into a casserole dish, wrap it, cool it and freeze it.

When ready to eat it, thaw it overnight in the fridge then top it with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Heat half an hour at 350f and make sure it’s hot all the way through.

Enjoy!