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How to prepare some live foods.


LIVE YOGURT

Live yogurt has high nutritional value and considerable health benefits.  Beneficial bacteria which produces yogurt from milk support the immune system and keep the intestines healthy and clean.  Lactic bacteria fight successfully certain harmful micro-organisms, thus preventing and treating some gut and urinary tract infections, including candidiasis.  Eating plenty of live yogurt restores proper gut microflora, which is extremely important for our general health.  The right balance in the gut can be easily upset by infections, alcohol, junk food, use of antibiotics, or ageing.  This leads to fermentation, putrefaction and poor absorption, becoming a contributing factor to many health problems.  Intestines are a major place of free radical activity in the body and keeping them clean and well-planted with the right bacteria promotes overall good health, vitality and longevity.  

Yogurt is easily digestible food as it is already pre-digested by bacteria.  Living lactic bacteria synthesise the whole vitamin B group, so yogurt contains more vitamins then milk.  They also make the nutrients more easily absorbable – particularly calcium, which yogurt also supplies.  Home-made yogurt contains more beneficial bacteria then any commercial brand.  Making yogurt at home is not difficult but one has to keep in mind a few points, in order to get perfect results every time.

The Starter
A couple of tablespoons of good-quality live, natural yogurt are required as a starter.  I do not believe in powdered starters.  Choose the yogurt you will use as a starter carefully as the same bacteria will go on to produce your home-made yogurt.  Not all brands work equally well.  It is best to look for a brand that contains four, or at least three, strains of bacteria.  Good yogurt should include Lactobacillus Bulgaricus which is not only very beneficial but gives the yogurt a firmer texture.  The perfect yogurt should contain Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Streptococcus Thermophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum (Lactobacillus bifidus).  Just the first three strains will also do but Bifidobacterium bifidum makes the yogurt creamier and provides additional health benefits.  Once you become confident with making yogurt at home, you may want to experiment with different strains in different proportions, and enjoy the variety of flavours and textures they give.

First one or two batches of home-made yogurt started with store-bought yogurt will be thinner and runnier then normal.  To start every new batch, use a little yogurt from the old batch, so you will need to use the store-bought yogurt as a starter just once, in the beginning.  In this way, your milk cultures will grow from strength to strength, giving you healthier and more delicious results every time.  You will not need to buy another starter, unless for some reason your yogurt gets spoiled or is not doing well.


The Milk

Dried milk is easiest to work with.  Again, not all brands work well, possibly because of the different levels of antibiotic residue, so you may need to experiment a bit.  I recommend that you double or increase the amount of dry milk (1 part dry milk to 5 parts water, instead of 1:10), as in this way you will get a nicer texture and less chance of spoiling.

 

Preparation
Cleanliness is very important as foreign bacteria may spoil your yogurt.  Wash your utensils in hot water, adding to it a little bicarbonate of soda if needed.  Do not use detergents.  If your yogurt gets spoiled, wash thoroughly all the utensils with bicarbonate of soda and rinse them well with hot water, before you start the next batch with a new starter.  

Making yogurt requires temperature of 38-42 degrees C, constantly maintained for at least a few hours.  It is very convenient to use a yogurt maker, as it will easily keep the right temperature for the required period of time.  You just need to follow the manufacturer instructions.  If you do not have a yogurt maker, choose a suitable thick-walled container, for example a crock.  In the container, cool some boiled water down to 40 degrees C, add the dry milk and the starter, and mix.  Cover and wrap the container well to keep the warmth in and place it in a warm place.  It usually takes between 4 and 8 hours for the yogurt to thicken.  The longer you leave it, the sharper it gets.  Store yogurt in the fridge and eat it in the next few days.  Heating and cooking kills beneficial bacteria.


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SPROUTING BEANS AND SEEDS


Sprouting beans and seeds is easy and fun.  I love to watch my crop growing.  The sprouts grow so fast, I can almost see them moving!  Sprouts are an excellent food - their nutritional value is very high and they are brimming with life-energy.  They also taste delicious and make a welcome addition to any salad.

Not all beans are suitable for sprouting.  Broad beans, Red kidney beans and probably Soya beans should not be eaten raw even if sprouted.  In my experience, particularly good for sprouting are: Lentils, Mung beans, Aduki beans, Chickpeas and Quinoa.  Pumpkin, Sunflower and Sesame seeds are also sproutable but I would not recommend it because of their unsaturated oils which quickly turn rancid, sometimes even during soaking.  Buckwheat is not sproutable, but can be eaten raw, after a few hours of soaking.  Quinoa sprouts easily and is ready to eat in 12-24 hours after soaking.  Mung beans and Lentils will sprout in about a day or two, while Chickpeas need a bit longer – three days perhaps.  Bear in mind that sometimes, especially when travelling, you may come across seeds and beans which may have been processed, or simply are too old to be sprouted.  

 

Here is how I grow my sprouts.  It is a very simple method.  All you need is a medium size sieve and a large tray.  Use only about one cup of seeds or beans at a time as they increase significantly in volume as they grow.

* Rinse well your chosen seeds or beans holding them in the sieve under running water.  Sometimes they can be quite dusty, so do this carefully. 
* Soak your future sprouts for about 12 hours in cold water.  Chickpeas need 18 to 24 hours - change the water once or twice during this time.  Lentils need only 6 to 8 hours.  Mung beans should be soaked for about 10-12 hours.
* Drain them, rinse again and place in a tray, spreading evenly.  
* After that the seeds or beans need to be rinsed 2-3 times daily.  The growing sprouts should not be allowed to dry out but should not be left soaking in water either.  It is handy to keep the tray somewhere in view, near the kitchen sink and away from bright light. 
* When they are already big enough, rinse them for the last time, removing any broken or failed to sprout seeds or beans if you can catch them.  Place your sprouts in a polyethylene bag and store in the fridge.  They will keep there for two or three days.  


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KEFIR

 

Kefir is a cultured-milk beverage, produced by a fungus and originating from Caucasus Mountains.  It has thick liquid consistency, slightly sour taste and fresh flavour.  Traditionally, they claim that Kefir “cures one hundred diseases after one year of drinking”.  But even if you happen to have fewer diseases you can still enjoy this wonderful drink!  Interestingly, the word kefir is derived from the Turkish word keif, which loosely translates as feeling good.  So this is a drink that will make you feel good.  Kefir shares many of the health benefits of yogurt – supports the immune system, helps digestion, fights harmful bacteria and generally helps to keep the body clean and detoxed. 

It is very easy to make your own Kefir at home and it takes very little time to do so.  You will need Kefir grains, milk, a glass jar, a large spoon (preferably with holes for straining – a skimmer or a slotted spoon) and perhaps a wide-necked bottle to store your Kefir.

Obtaining Kefir grains
I would send some Kefir grains to anyone who is interested, free of charge, provided of course that spare Kefir grains are available to me at the time.  Alternatively, they can be obtained from any of the websites that sell them.


The Milk
I recommend that you make your Kefir from UHT milk (that you do not need to  refrigerate before opening).  This milk is sterile and will work best for this purpose.  Skimmed, full-fat, Soya milk or any other kind of UHT milk can be used.  The carton should be just opened and at room temperature.  Warm milk will speed the fermentation process.  If you need Kefir urgently, use warm milk, up to 30 degrees C, and your drink will be ready much quicker.  Do not heat the milk over 35 degrees C as the grains are alive and they will not survive extreme temperatures.

Preparation

Cleanliness during preparation is important to keep the culture healthy.  Rinse the grains with cool water - it is best to do that under running water, keeping the grains in a sieve – then place them in a glass jar and fill the jar with milk, allowing 2-4 tablespoons of grains per one litre of milk.  Cover the jar loosely, so that the fungus can “breathe” and leave it at room temperature.  In 24 hours at most, your drink will be ready – it will thicken considerably and it will be slightly effervescent, with a few bubbles on top, the taste will be slightly sour and the flavour more pronounced.  Stir the milk and the grains, then remove all the grains carefully with a slotted spoon. Kefir should be stored in the refrigerator.  If it separates in the bottle during storage, just give it a shake.  Rinse the grains and the jar, add fresh milk and start again.  Some people believe that rinsing the grains is not necessary, so they just strain the ready Kefir and add more milk.  This is easier and cuts the fermentation time almost in half.  However, it is still good to rinse from time to time in order to keep the culture healthy.

The fermentation time could be anything between 8 and 24 hours and depends on the quantity of the grains in the milk, milk temperature, room temperature, and whether the grains have been rinsed or not.  With time, the fungus will grow, so some grains should be removed regularly maintaining more or less constant grains-milk ratio.

If you miss to strain your Kefir in time, it will thicken further and separate into greenish liquid at the bottom half of the jar and white quark-like mass at the top.  This is also eaten after straining, as quark or soft cheese.  However, proper straining and removing the grains from the thickened mass is more difficult and the taste may prove a bit disappointing.

If you do not wish to make Kefir for a few weeks, place your grains in a bowl with some milk, cover them but not tightly, leaving some air inside, and place the bowl in the fridge.  When you want to start to use the grains again, rinse them well and proceed as normal using warm milk but if the resting period has been long, you will probably need to discard the first Kefir.  Usually, the fungus “wakes up” quite quickly and you will soon be able to have again your refreshing beverage.  If your fungus is producing too much Kefir too quickly, simply use less grains or store the jar in the fridge for part of the time.

These are alternative names: Tibetan mushroom, Yogurt plant, Yogurt Mushroom, Yogurt fungus.  Yogurt and Kefir is not the same thing.  Yogurt is produced by a few strains of Lactic bacteria, whereas Kefir grains are a symbiotic mixture of specific Lactic bacteria and yeasts.  The healing properties of both are destroyed by cooking.


 

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CIDER VINEGAR

 

Home-made cider vinegar is raw and has no preservatives or other additives.  It is slightly less acidic then commercial vinegars and makes a perfect dressing for salads.  Apart from its culinary use, raw cider vinegar has a number of health benefits – it is a wonderful tonic, detoxing, rejuvenating, and cleansing remedy for the whole system.  It works against viruses, fungi, and harmful bacteria, clears a number of skin conditions, such as fungal infections or dandruff, and brightens the skin.  There are some recipes with cider vinegar in Cosmetics and in Herbal Remedies.  Making cider vinegar at home, the way I do it, is not difficult at all and does not involve buying and peeling sacks of apples.    


Obtaining Vinegar culture

I would send a piece of Cider vinegar culture to anyone who is serious about taking good care of it, free of charge, provided that spare culture is available to me at the time.  Alternatively, it can be obtained from the websites that sell vinegar starters.

The Apple juice
I use store bought apple juice for making vinegar.  Any brand is fine as long as the juice is pure. The carton should be opened just before you need it and at room temperature.


Preparation
As with all brewing, cleanliness during preparation is important.  Place your culture a large glass casserole.  Pour on the apple juice, 2 litres to start with.  You may also add a couple of tablespoonfuls of good quality commercial organic cider vinegar.  This is not strictly necessary but will ensure that the right fermentation process will take place.  Cover the casserole with a piece of cheesecloth, fastened with a rubber band, and put it in a warm, dry and dark place.  Airing cupboard is ideal.  From time to time, check the taste and the level of the liquid – in a couple of weeks some more juice may need to be added, especially in hot weather.  The whole surface of the culture must be in contact with the juice at all times.  In a few weeks your vinegar will be ready – it will become light and clear and there will be no more sweetness in it.  At that time, a new ‘baby’ layer will appear on top of the mother culture.

When the vinegar is ready, remove the cultures – the old and the new - and separate them.  Bottle the clear liquid, avoiding the rusty coloured sediment at the bottom, and store this vinegar in a cool place, or in the fridge.  Rinse the casserole with hot water.  Do not use detergents, other then a little baking soda.  Then rinse the ‘baby’ with cold water and use it to start the whole brewing process again. 


If it goes wrong

It may happen that after a few successful brews, the fermentation goes wrong – smell is not that good, the liquid does not clear up but still looks darkish and murky after 4-5 weeks, and the new culture is thin and unhealthy.  In this case, do the following.  Discard the liquid.  Cut out the healthy parts of the culture with clean scissors and cleanse these parts with commercial organic cider vinegar.  Leave them to soak in a clean portion of vinegar for a while.  Wash the casserole carefully using baking soda and rinse with hot water.  Then place the healthy parts in, add ½ to 1 cup of commercial organic cider vinegar, 2 litres of apple juice and start brewing again.


The Cider vinegar drink

After 10-15 days, at about half of the brewing time, the future vinegar will become a very nice and refreshing drink.  It will not smell of vinegar yet.  You may wish to consume some of the brews in this way.
 

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(C) 2003-2007, Veronica Verai