Monday, May 16, 2011

On Frugality and Lacto-Fermentation

I like being broke. Someone should make this into a bumper sticker, and I would happily paste it onto my aging Oldsmobile. There is something about going through lean times that makes me insanely happy, like I am better able to take stock of all of my blessings as well as my well stocked pantry and freezer. The only thing perhaps I don't like is not being able to splurge on specialty ingredients, but given how delicious a simple Lima bean can be, even that facet has no lasting appeal.

Fragality causes me to examine all parts of my kitchen life. Am I baking bread? Then, something else can be baked before or after the oven is at the 475 degrees to make use of the energy. Running the dehydrator for more soaked oats last week, I made a triple batch so there was no extra space - and today I soaked three different kinds of nuts so I could again fill the dehydrator nearer to capacity before plugging it in for a day of running. I have no dishwasher, and now find myself cooking things in batches in one cast iron pan instead of three so I only have to clean up one. It's actually a pretty good idea, saving me wear and tear on my hands as well as on the kosher salt I use to clean the pan. It's sad that the tightening of the belt makes me remember to be extra cautious of my energy consumptions...

Last week, I soaked three kinds of dried beans to make a three bean salad, and then ended up making only a two bean salad. The Limas sat in the fridge, in their liquid, for 4 days until I remembered that I should do something with them - or freeze them: an option I try to use as a last resort. Sometimes, the freezer turns into a forgotten wasteland of perfectly viable comestibles, and lately as I focus on zero food waste, I try to find creative ways to use up all parts of whatever I made before joyfully leaping on to something new. I try to do this without relying on the banishment to the freezer. That's actually hard when I love cooking so much.

My fridge looks like a glass jar heaven, bits of fermented this and that taking up precious space - but worth it in the enjoyment a spoonful or two adds to each meal. Lacto-fermentation is actually a terrific way of stretching out the deterioration rate of foods with a limited lifespan, not to mention that I find it enhances the flavor in nearly every case. The Limas, I decided, would become a hummus inoculated with whey, increasing both their nutritional profile and their staying power.

...if I don't eat the whole jar in two days, that is.

I actually had a small amount of bean puree when it was all finished up. It could have been all the tasting I did... and I had maybe a scant cup and a half of cooked beans to start with. Bean purees in general are some of my favorite things, since they are really a great complement to bread. I also love making them, since they require a bit of kitchen alchemy. Tasting, tweaking, thinking about flavor and what I have a taste for, it's like lazy and inspired cooking, without even firing up the stove.

Even though my VitaMix would make absolute smoothness of bean puree, I always opt to use my ancient (well, probably '80's model) Cuisinart food pro. The subtle graininess is something I appreciate, and I like adding olive oil through the top that is designed to let the finest drizzle through on the way to emulsification. My flavors yesterday leaned heavily toward traditional hummus, though sometimes garlic is just too much for me. (Saturday, I lacto-fermented some guacamole and used far too much garlic. It was good, and my Husband really liked it, but I was a little "garlicked out" buy the time I started the Lima Hummus.) Ever since I visited E. in Boston last Summer, I have been addicted to the combination she served of radish, hummus, olive and maybe cheese with bread. Radishes will be planted in my garden for the first time this year, I'm hoping to plant later in the week if this weather ever warms up...

LinkMy favorite chile olives that my co-op sells in bulk.

The only thing to really remember with lacto-fermentation is to let the mixture sit for at least 7-8 hours at warmish room temperature, and then transfer to cold storage. Some things can ferment for a few days before refrigeration, in general I follow the guidelines in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. For simple things that I know I'll likely polish off within a week, I ferment this minimum time. For condiments that I will keep longer, like the cilantro-raisin chutney, I ferment for 3 days. Also remember to use whey that has a live, active culture (or if vegan, and not lacto-fermenting something with fruit, an appropriate amount of salt). Another thing to keep in mind is that the whey that is a by-product of heated cheese-making is not good for lacto-fermenting.

Lacto-Ferment Lima Hummus
  • 1 1/2 c. Lima beans
  • granulated garlic
  • lemon zest (I was out of lemon, and keep zests in my freezer)
  • a few tablespoons of white onion, chopped
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • cumin
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
  • about 2 T. olive oil, more to taste and consistency desired
Add Lima beans to the food pro and blend until fairly smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients pretty much to taste, using the full amount of whey. Continue to blend until desired consistency is reached, and taste to adjust seasoning to your preference.

Pack into a jar, leaving a small amount of head space, and seal tightly. Leave to ferment at room temperature for at least 7 hours before transferring to cold storage.

I lacto-ferment stuff because it's fun and tasty, but also because I really believe that the extra fermenting is good for me. In things like this, where spiciness plays a vital role, my family can't even tell, and I don't even tell them. But really, I made this Lima Hummus just for me, and will likely eat it all week, with the radishes that felt like a splurge to purchase. I'm excited to try a new version of a Peter Reinhart bread that uses a multi-grain mixture of polenta, rolled oats and wheat bran... I hope I still have some hummus left when that rolls out of the oven on Wednesday...

Lessons in living with less are plentiful. Certainly, it's a theme throughout American history especially in times of economic stress. But really, they are good lessons for anytime, whether flush or spread thin. Frugality reminds me personally to appreciate everything - be it my health or the ability to do things for myself, the luxury of good urban ground to grow food in. These are all daily blessings I forget, and the wastefulness that begins to entangle me when I have extra is something that feels so good to have off my shoulders.

Sometimes I think maybe my food-blogging will suffer for lack of new and exciting food, but really, Lima beans are exciting! They are cheap, and take on flavor well. They have occupied my kitchen thinking for a couple of days and that is really what I best take away from writing about my experiments. Every day I spend a good amount of time poking around my kitchen, thinking of ways to sneak nutrition into my family, and I have the privileged of succeeding most of the time. This doesn't change with the amount of dollars spent on groceries. For all of it, and for living with less for now, I am so thankful.


  1. I make yogurt and strain it. Can I use the resulting whey for this? The original milk is heated to 185 degrees for the yogurt. I generally use the whey in baking - breads and quick breads, but this sounds great!

  2. Dee, straining from yogurt is fine whether you use a strain that has to be heated or not because the yogurt has active cultures!

  3. Loving your thoughts on frugality! I am going through the same thing right now-- it's a great reminder of how much we take for granted when we can.

  4. Ahhh, I know that guilt of over consumption well. I like your approach!

  5. Lovely post! Being broke pushes me to get creative in the kitchen (and elsewhere), even when I don't feel like it. Never thought to ferment bean puree before, but what a great idea. Have you ever fermented vegetable juice?

  6. Thank you Chris! I haven't fermented any veg juice actually - I do ferment a batch of kombucha every week or so, but I know that's different. Maybe that's something I'll look into!

  7. Over-consumption is no good... Probably why I haven't been posting as much all summer Elliecan!

  8. I just came across your blog! I love it. I am big on eating organic, traditional foods on a tight budget.


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