When is it OK to smash a burger while you cook it?

burgersIt’s burger week around these parts.

Restaurant critic Matthew Odam and I teamed up for a bunch of burger stories this week, starting with my story today about how to cook better burgers at home.

We didn’t realize that National Cheeseburger Day is Friday, but that’s the day Odam’s list of his favorite 15 burgers in Austin comes out. Let’s just say that there are a few notable names NOT on that list, so keep your eyes peeled for it.

In the meantime, here’s a link to my story in today’s food section, where you can find a couple of cool fancy burger recipes.

But let’s be honest: Most of us are just trying to inch a little closer to those elaborate chef burgers you’ll find on Matthew’s list. Maybe we’ll use aioli or a fancy bun, for instance. Instead of grinding our own beef by hand, maybe we muster the courage to ask the butcher to grind a special cut to mix in with the ground chuck we usually buy.

Here’s one idea that might surprise you: Cooking a burger on a skillet or on griddle simply so you can smash it.

Since I moved into my new house earlier this year, I haven’t replaced my old rotted out Weber grill, so I am frying burgers on the stove. “In a skillet?!” I can hear you shout. Yes, in a cast iron skillet. I prefer charcoal-grilled burgers, but while researching that story this week, I found a whole bunch of science about why you might prefer to cook on a flat top. The biggest advantage is that when you aren’t cooking on a grate, you can smash the raw meat as soon as it hits the hot surface. That’s the secret to some of the world’s best burgers, including one of my personal favorites, Steak and Shake. The only thing to keep in mind is that you need to be pouring off the fat or else you’ll end up simmering the meat in grease, which isn’t a good look.

I’d love to hear your hard-earned wisdom for making better burgers. Have a great seasoning or mix-in? What’s your favorite cheese or topping? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

 

How to feed yourself, your family (or your next date) on a budget

Good and Cheap 2DHow do you cook well on a budget?

It’s an eternal question that many of us face, no matter how we might define “budget.”

In yesterday’s food section, I chatted with Leanne Brown, the author of “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” (Workman, $16.95), the best book I’ve seen on the subject.

She shared all kinds of tips for cutting down costs while amping up flavor and variety, especially when cooking for kids.

I made this peanut chicken and broccoli dish on a date recently (yes, I’m sticking to my own advice about bringing cooking back into the world of dating), and it was a hit, especially the coconut rice and peanut sauce. Per her advice, I chopped up the broccoli stem and cooked it a little longer than the florets, and you could add any other vegetables you have in your fridge.

Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice from “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown. Photo by Leanne Brown.
Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice from “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown. Photo by Leanne Brown.

Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice

This recipe uses peanut sauce to elevate a pretty plain chicken and broccoli stir-fry to something you’ll want to serve to your favorite guests. Make a full batch of the peanut sauce, and use some for this and the rest for dipping veggies, dressing salads, or smothering your favorite protein. You could replace the chicken with tofu that has been cubed and marinated in 1/4 cup soy sauce.
— Leanne Brown

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 lb. chicken (any part), chopped into bite-size pieces
Pepper, to taste
2 tsp. vegetable oil
6 cups chopped broccoli, stems and florets separated (about 1 large bunch)
1/2 cup peanut sauce (see recipe below)
Chopped fresh cilantro

Rinse the rice. Add it, along with the coconut milk, salt and 1 1/2 cups water to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Let the rice simmer, covered, with the lid askew, until the liquid is gone, about 20 minutes. If the rice is done before the stir-fry, remove it from the heat, fluff it a bit with a fork so it doesn’t stick to the pot, and cover to keep it warm.

While the rice cooks, sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.

Place a large pan or wok over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil. Let it get hot and add the broccoli stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, to soften the stems, about 3 minutes. Add the tops of the broccoli and ¼ cup of water and cover the pan. It will steam and sizzle a lot, so watch out! Let the broccoli cook until the water evaporates, about 3 more minutes. Test a piece of broccoli with a fork. It should be just barely tender, but not soft. Turn off the heat and remove the broccoli from the pan.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan and put it back over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add another ¼ cup water and stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked all the way through, another 2 minutes.

Add the peanut sauce and stir to coat the chicken. Don’t worry if the sauce seems too thick at first. It will blend with the water to become a glaze. Once the chicken is coated with sauce, put the broccoli back into the pan and stir it all together. Taste and add salt as needed.

Scoop the coconut rice onto plates and top with the broccoli, chicken and cilantro. Serves 6.

Peanut Sauce

1 jalapeño pepper or other chili (remove seeds for less heat), or 2 tablespoons chili paste
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot or small onion
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 cup sugar-free peanut butter
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp. sesame oil

Finely chop the jalapeño, garlic and shallot, or use a food processor to make them into a paste. (If you’re using chili paste instead of a fresh pepper, add it with the coconut milk.)

Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s warm, sauté the pepper and garlic paste until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup of coconut milk, turmeric and chili paste, if using.

Let everything come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, if using, and sesame oil. If the sauce is too thick, add more coconut milk to thin it out. Once the mixture is well combined, taste it and add whatever you think it needs, concentrating on salt and spices in particular. Makes 1 cup.

— From “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” (Workman, $16.95) by Leanne Brown

Austin History Center event celebrates city’s first cookbook

Things to do Tuesday, April 14 photoAustin’s first cookbook is older than our moontowers.

In tomorrow’s food section, I dig into the story of how Mike Miller, director of the Austin History Center, discovered that the 1891 fundraiser book “Our Home Cookbook” is the third oldest cookbook in Texas and why it was important to bring that book to life by reprinting it.

At 6:30 p.m. tonight (Tuesday), the Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe St., will host an event to celebrate the release of the book, which is a reprint of the 124-year-old “Our Home Cookbook” that also contains biographical information about the women who produced and contributed to it, the women who owned the copy in the history center’s collections and an analysis of what we can learn by reading the recipes.

If you can’t make the event, you can learn about some of these details in my column for tomorrow, and while you’re at it, here’s a sidebar I did about Texas’ largest cookbook collection, held at the Texas Collection at Baylor. Thanks to a 1,000-book donation from a Houston woman named Elizabeth White, Baylor now boasts 4,000 cookbooks that can teach us lots about life in the Lone Star State.

 

The very best spinach artichoke dip you’ll ever make

My sister is good at inspiring me to make hyperbolic statements like the one above.

She knocked it out of the park with her chocolate chip cookies, you’ll remember, but about a year ago, she mentioned that her friend makes a spinach artichoke dip with lots of garlic and sun-dried tomatoes that was known in her social circles as The Dip.

Spinach artichoke dip with sun-dried tomatoes. Photo by Addie Broyles.
Spinach artichoke dip with sun-dried tomatoes. Photo by Addie Broyles.

I finally made it last week for today’s big package on Super Bowl party foods, and I have to admit: She was right. Again.

I brought the dip into the newsroom after I photographed it, and quickly received about six emails from my colleagues says they’d make the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of that when the recipe came out.

Well, the recipe came out in today’s food section, along with recipes for tangy barbecue chicken wings, edamame pate, a quick turkey chili and some really good rosemary, apricot and pistachio crisps, and I’ve pulled it out for you below so you can bookmark it for the next time you’re hosting a get-together and need a really awesome dip for chips, crackers, sliced baguettes or raw vegetables.

Spinach Artichoke Dip with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup Riesling white wine
1/2 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary, crushed finely with mortar and pestle
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. celery salt
1 (14-oz.) can marinated artichoke hearts, halved (reserve the liquid)
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
Crumbs from 1 sliced baguette
1 1/2 cups Parmesan-Romano cheese
1/2 cup mayo
1 (10-oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 Tbsp. chopped chives (optional)

Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute onions on medium/high heat until soft and add balsamic vinegar. When the balsamic vinegar is absorbed, add the white wine, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and continue to saute until the ingredients stick again. Add all the spices, herbs, artichokes and 1/3 cup of the artichoke marinating liquid and simmer for one minute.

Lower the heat and add the cream cheese, bread crumbs and Parmesan to pan and mix thoroughly. When the cream cheese mixture is blended, add the mayo, spinach and chives, if using, and mix well. Add more of the artichoke liquid if needed.

Place mixture in a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes, until dip bubbles and begins to brown. Serve with a sliced baguette, crackers and/or raw vegetables.

— Adapted from a recipe by Daniel Curry

A baked potato soup that’s mostly cauliflower

I’m a little late in posting a recap of our food section yesterday, but I was pretty happy with how this lead package on cauliflower turned out.

Both chefs and home cooks are using plain Jane white cauliflower in all kinds of new ways right now, including at restaurants like Gardner and St. Philip, which shared its recipe for golden cauliflower with herbed yogurt late last year. As it turns out, white cauliflower can be manipulated to make “rice” and even crazy things like pizza crust, tortillas and bread for grilled cheese sandwiches.

For our story, we had recipes for mock mashed potatoes and tabouli, as well as entree dishes like this cauliflower baked potato soup, which has both cauliflower and potatoes, but only one small potato for the entire soup, cutting the total carbs by more than half.

120_Dara_Creamy-Cauliflower-Baked-Potato-Soup-_art_r1
Creamy Cauliflower Baked Potato Soup from “Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot” by Melissa d’Arabian. Photo by Tina Rupp.

Creamy Cauliflower ‘Baked Potato’ Soup

There are few soups more decadent than a classic baked potato soup, loaded with cream, Cheddar cheese and bacon. I leave out the cream, sub cauliflower for most of the potato (using one potato locks in the flavor) and add a dollop of reduced-fat cream cheese to deliver the creaminess and cheesiness. A stealth addition of one carrot adds a subtle color that makes the soup seem cheesier than it is, since the only Cheddar here is what sits on top of the soup!

— Melissa d’Arabian

Add the bacon to a large soup pot set over medium heat and cook until the bacon is crisp, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate and set aside.

Stir the onion into the bacon fat and cook, stirring often, until it is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower, potato, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the broth and 1 cup water, and bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer the mixture until the vegetables are very soft, about 13 minutes. Turn off the heat and use a ladle to transfer half the vegetables and liquid to a blender. Add the cream cheese and blend until smooth.

Pour the puréed soup into a large bowl or clean saucepan. Blend the second half of the soup until it is smooth and add it to the first batch. Heat the soup over medium heat until it is warmed through. Divide among soup bowls and serve topped with a dollop of yogurt and some of the grated cheese, bacon, and scallion. Serves 4.

— From “Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot” by Melissa d’Arabian (Clarkson Potter, $24.99)

Making meatloaf magic, plus a frozen meatloaf taste test

I never in all my life thought I’d like meatloaf enough to write a whole story about it.

As a kid, I could barely choke down the bite or two that my parents would ask of me, but now, I find myself scarfing up meatloaf wherever I can find it.

Thai meatloaf from Kin and Comfort. Photo by Addie Broyles.
Thai meatloaf from Kin and Comfort. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road is one of those places, but so is Kin and Comfort, the eatery inside the food court at Hana World Market in North Lamar that serves a Thai meatloaf that is absolutely worth the drive up there for lunch.

For today’s lead story on meatloaf, I talked with Hoover Alexander about the sustained popularity of meatloaf, a surprise considering that most Americans now wouldn’t eat anything else with the word “loaf” in it that isn’t bread. We also have recipes from America’s Test Kitchen, Rachael Ray and Good Housekeeping for their versions of meatloaf, including a no-fail glazed slow cooker meatloaf.

If you’re like Statesman entertainment business reporter (and meatloaf lover) Gary Dinges, those recipes are fine and dandy, but he’s never going to make one himself. I asked him to taste a frozen meatloaf from Blake’s All Natural Foods, a company that reached out to me late last year promoting how good its frozen meatloaf casserole was straight out of the microwave.

To put that idea to the test, I made two of their meatloaf casseroles, one in the oven, which took an hour, and another in the microwave, which took about five minutes.

You can see the results of our taste test above, and to see the rest of the videos in this series, go to youtube.com/Austin360video.

Uchiko server makes spirits bright with weekly cookie delivery

Many of us use food as a way to show people we care about them, but few of us go quite so far as Sharon Bright.

She’s a cheery server at Uchiko who, after losing her dad to cancer in 2010, started baking every week for hospice staff, volunteers and patients in Austin and Williamson County.

It was her way of repaying some of the kindness she and her family experienced while her dad was in hospice in Amarillo, but her generosity doesn’t stop there.

You can click here to read this Christmas Eve column, and here is the recipe Bright made for her friends at Hospice Austin last week.

brightgingerbreadbarsWhite Chocolate-Gingerbread Blondies

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
2 3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
10 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 17-inch-by-12-inch rimmed baking sheet or a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment cut to fit, and coat parchment. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices.

Beat butter and brown and granulated sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Stir in white chocolate.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake until edges are golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 2-inch squares or desired shape. Store for up to a week in an airtight container.

— From MarthaStewart.com

The secret to really great tamales…

tamalesLove tamales?

If so, you’ll enjoy today’s lead story about making the most out of masa, the key ingredient that makes tamales tamales.

(If not, who are you and how are we friends?)

tamalesfilingFor that story, Fresa’s Chicken al Carbon chef Rene Ortiz and “Tamales” author Alice Guadalupe Tapp shared their tips on getting even more flavor out of masa harina, the dried cornmeal flour used to make the masa. Ortiz will toast some of the masa harina in a dry skillet before adding the fat and stock, and he’s even been known to crush up corn nuts in a coffee grinder to add even more “perfume” of corn.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I made a batch of pork tamales with my friend, Kristina, and experimented with some of their advice. We used both butter and lard and various ratios of salt, baking powder and liquid in the masa before steaming the tamales, but I must say, the biggest difference between the batches was whipping the lard or butter before incorporating it into the masa harina with your hands. (I used a handheld mixer, but you could use a stand mixer if you have one.)

The last batch of the day, I simply mixed the unwhipped lard with the masa harina, and the tamales were noticeably more dense than the ones we’d made earlier in the day with whipped fat.

I was surprised how wonderful the masa made with butter tasted, and that idea came from Tapp, who has written several tamales books and runs a tamales shop in Southern California with her daughter.

Here’s her basic recipe for masa, and I’d love to hear any lessons you’ve learned about making tamales in the comments.

Oh, one last trick: I didn’t have an official tamalera for steaming the tamales, but I crumpled up balls of aluminum foil in the bottom of a big soup pot and place a small plate on top of them. We then added water to the pot and placed about 15 to 20 tamales upright on the plate (in the middle) and on the balls of foil (around the edges) to steam them for about 40 minutes.

Ortiz’s trick about putting a penny in the bottom of the pot so that you can hear when there’s water boiling worked great. As soon as we stopped hearing the penny, it was time to add more water to the covered pot.

tamalesmasaBasic Fresh Masa

1 lbs. butter or margarine, softened
5 lbs. fresh masa (unprepared)
2 to 3 cups stock (chicken, pork, beef or vegetable)
2 Tbsp. salt (or less to taste)

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add one-third of the fresh masa alternating with one-third of the stock, then add the salt. Beat until well mixed, adding more stock if needed, turn the mixer to high and beat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the dough resembles spackling paste.

Take a small piece (about 1/2 teaspoon) of the dough and drop it into a cup of cold water. If it floats, it is ready; if it sinks, whip for another minute and test it again. Repeat this process until the masa floats.

Note: The fresher the masa, the faster it will become light and fluffy enough for use. Refrigerate for up to three days. Makes about 60 tamales.

— From “Tamales” (Ten Speed Press, $18.99) by Alice Guadalupe Tapp

From the archives: Was the first Thanksgiving held in Texas?

Each spring, a handful of residents from San Elizario, Texas, outside El Paso, gather dressed as conquistadors and native Americans and feast in remembrance of the 'First Thanksgiving' in Texas, 1565. Photo by Lila and Joe Grossinger.
Each spring, a handful of residents from San Elizario, Texas, outside El Paso, gather dressed as conquistadors and native Americans and feast in remembrance of the ‘First Thanksgiving’ in Texas, 1598. Photo by Lila and Joe Grossinger.

Thanksgiving, at least the Thanksgiving we celebrate now, has its roots in Plymouth Rock, but both Texas and Florida have made their cases, to varying degrees of intensity, you’ll read below, that the first Thanksgiving feast was actually held in their respective states.

I wrote this column four years ago, and the subject of Texas hosting the first Thanksgiving recently came up in a taping of this week’s Statesman Shots podcast, which is all about Thanksgiving and will publish sometime tomorrow.

Ahead of that podcast, here’s the original story that ran on Nov. 21, 2011:

Was the first Thanksgiving feast really held in Texas?

There’s little debate that Thanksgiving as we know it stems from a dinner in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrating the newcomers’ first successful harvest, but historians have plenty of proof that this wasn’t the first feast of thanksgiving shared between Europeans who’d come to settle the New World and American Indians who were already living here.

Way back in 1565, more than 50 years before the Pilgrims left England on the Mayflower, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the Timucua Indians shared a meal of thanks – and oysters, clams and garbanzo bean soup – in St. Augustine, Fla.

Texas’ first Thanksgiving claim doesn’t go back quite that far, but close.

In spring of 1598, Juan de Oñate led more than 400 men, women and children almost 400 miles across the Chihuahuan Desert to claim the northern Rio Grande Valley for Spain. On the final days of the trip, the travelers ran out of food and water, so when they finally reached the Rio Grande, there was cause for much celebration.

After spending 10 days in the shade of the cottonwood trees along the river recuperating, Oñate ordered a day of thanksgiving that featured a mass, a reading of La Toma, which declared the land a possession of King Philip II of Spain, and a great meal, with duck and geese that the Spaniards had hunted and fish from the native population.

“We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before,” a member of the expedition wrote. “We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”

Every year, on the fourth Saturday in April, people in San Elizario, the small town outside El Paso where Oñate’s meal took place, mark the occasion with a re-enactment and speakers talking about the importance of the event, says Eloisa Levario, who runs the Los Portales museum in San Elizario that features an exhibit on the first Texas Thanksgiving.

Few in San Elizario go so far as to re-create the meal itself, but Levario says it’s important to keep the Oñate story alive. “We celebrate the regular pilgrims’ Thanksgiving, ” she says. But the first Thanksgiving event “brings in a lot of folks and it takes them back to the era of what it would have been like if they had been there.”

Gov. Ann Richards thrust the Texas Thanksgiving into the national spotlight 20 years ago when she signed a proclamation declaring Texas as the home of the first true Thanksgiving, which triggered an lively but mostly good-natured back-and-forth between promoters of both the Massachusetts Thanksgiving and the Texas one.

Dressed as conquistadors, members of the El Paso Mission Trail Association traveled to Plymouth, Mass., in November 1992 to debate a group of people dressed as Pilgrims over who held the first Thanksgiving. According to news reports of the exchanges, the Plymouth County sheriff “arrested” the Texans on charges of “blasphemy and spreading false rumors” and held a mock trial.

The next year, a group of Massachusetts residents dressed as Pilgrims and traveled to El Paso and San Elizario, where they were (fake) arrested, charged with spying, thrown in jail and threatened with hanging.

Elizabeth Engelhardt, professor of American history at the University of Texas, says it’s no surprise that there’s an emotional backlash against long-held cultural traditions. “People just really want to figure out what was the first, ” she says. “But for me, it’s not so much about which one of those stories is true, but what are you telling me about yourself when you care about those stories.”

Thanksgiving is such an intimate holiday, she says, that telling and retelling stories, especially of where our Thanksgiving traditions come from, are as important as the meal. “Memory is so much a part of it, ” she says, and history – the whole spectrum of historical record, both what actually happened and the history that the winners chose to record – is nothing if not a collection of memories. (It’s also worth noting that what we chose to forget says much about us, too. We like to remember the spirit of sharing and common good celebrated at these meals between conquerors and the soon-to-be-conquered, but it’s less comfortable to acknowledge the hundreds of years of violent strife throughout the country that followed.)

“There was always a certain amount of tongue and cheek involved, ” says food writer (and former Austinite) Robb Walsh, who wrote about Texas’ first Thanksgiving in his 2004 book, “The Tex-Mex Cookbook, ” of Richards’ proclamation and the subsequent exchanges between Texans and Bay Staters.

Most of the rest of the country learns the New England version of American history, which greatly overlooks the colonization that happened in the South and Southwest before the American Revolution, but “Texans look at their history from a Texas point of view, ” he says. “To say that American history started with the Pilgrim, what sense does that make?”

Even the most vocal advocates of Texas’ first Thanksgiving acknowledge that Thanksgiving as we know it is an extension of the Pilgrim tradition, but too often, we let cultural traditions like turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce alter how we think of American history. “Just so we don’t get too full of the idea that the Pilgrims started America, ” Walsh says. “It’s good to remember that other people were giving thanks before them.”

So how does he celebrate the Texas Thanksgiving? By stuffing his Pilgrim Thanksgiving turkey with tamales.

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504

 

Have you eaten something fermented today?

fermentedhotsauce

The answer is almost definitely yes.

If I learned anything from putting together today’s A to Z guide to fermentation, it’s that fermentation is all around us, all the time.

Beer or sauerkraut might be the first things that come to mind when you think about fermentation, but I bet most of us could find half a dozen fermented foods in our fridge or pantry right now, from bread and cheese to yogurt and vinegar.

breadfermentation

Ahead of Austin’s first fermentation festival on Saturday, we put together this package, including a photo gallery full of both common and rare fermented foods (zha cai, anyone?). (PS, if you can’t make the fermentation festival on Saturday, Métier Cook’s Supply, 1805 S. First St., will host a book signing with keynote speaker Sandor Katz from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday to highlight his book, “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.”)

fermentedpickles

Consciously or not, I’ve been on a fermentation kick for years, writing about the probiotics craze, kimchi, bacon, kombucha, pickles, hot saucebread and probably another few dozen smaller items on kefir, aged vinegars, charcuterie and sourdough.

But what’s crazy about fermentation is that I’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Last week, I told you about those fermented bananas, but you could also see a world of potential in these curried golden beets from Kirsten and Christopher Shockey’s excellent new book, “Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes” (Storey, $24.95).

These beets are lacto-fermented similar to sauerkraut, but with only five ingredients, they take on a completely different flavor profile than the condiment we associate with bratwursts. (Not that this sweet tangy relish would be excellent on a bratwurst.)

Curried golden beets, from "Fermented Vegetables." Photo by  Erin Kunkel/Storey Publishing.
Curried golden beets, from “Fermented Vegetables.” Photo by Erin Kunkel/Storey Publishing.

fermented-vegetableCurried Golden Beets

Shred the beets for this recipe at the last minute, as golden beets will start to oxidize as soon as you cut into them. Work quickly once the beets are shredded; they’ll retain more of their golden color the sooner you can get this ferment tucked under the brine. The optional dried currants in the recipe make this ferment thicker and sweeter.

1 head cabbage
2 golden beets
1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp. unrefined sea salt, divided
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup dried currants (optional)

Remove the coarse outer leaves of the cabbage. Rinse a few unblemished ones and set them aside. Rinse the rest of the cabbage in cold water. With a stainless steel knife, quarter and core the cabbage. Thinly slice (or shred) with the same knife or a mandoline, then transfer the cabbage to a large bowl. Grate the beets and add to the cabbage.

Massage 1 tablespoon of the salt and the curry powder into the cabbage and beets, then taste. You should be able to taste the salt without it being overwhelming; add more salt if necessary. When the brine has developed, add the currants, if using.

Transfer the cabbage-beet mixture to a crock or 2-quart jar, a handful at a time, pressing down with your fist or a tamper to remove the air pockets. You should see some brine on top when you press. When the vessel is packed, leave 4 inches of headspace for a crock, or 2 to 3 inches for a jar. Top the vegetables with one or two of the reserved outer leaves. For a crock, top the leaves with a plate that fits the opening of the container and covers as much of the vegetables as possible; weight it down with a sealed, water-filled jar. For a jar, use a sealed water-filled jar or ziplock bag as a follower-weight combination.

Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, out of direct sunlight, and cool, for 4 to 14 days. Check daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pressing down as needed. This beet kraut foam may look a little brackish after a few days, which is normal. Just skim off the foam; underneath it, the kraut will be perfect.

You can test the kraut after 4 to 5 days. This kraut has a rich, deep flavor, and the sweet curry and currants add complexity. You’ll know it’s ready when these flavors are developed with an acidic or pickle-like undertone.

Store in jars, with lids tightened, in the fridge for up to 6 months. Makes 2 quarts.

— From “Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes” by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey (Storey, $24.95)