Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kefir - A probiotic healing drink!

(Homemade plain Kefir - shaken a bit to show how it coats the bottle, papaya kefir!)

When I was just getting started into Kombucha (another post), I kept coming across something called Kefir (pronounced Keh-fear!). Not wanting to distract myself, I just briefly glanced through it and forgot about it. Soon came the diabetes, the Candida and the food intolerances - all pointing to something wrong with my gut. The tests that my Naturopath did on me showed I can eat Butter, Yogurt, Kefir, but not milk. The former three are cultured foods, whereas milk isn't. And yogurt and kefir were pro-biotic and would help with the digestive issues too. I started looking around and found kefir in the aisle where I pick up organic milk. I got some and tried it. It tasted very much like fresh homemade buttermilk. With the slightest hint of sourness but also more creamier than buttermilk.

The cultures' chemical changes make the milk much easier to digest, allowing the body to absorb more of the naturally present nutrients. The transformation of lactose to lactic acid allows people, even t hose with lactose intolerance, to digest kefir and get its full benefits.Kefir is high in calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins and folic acid. Kefir can play a vital role in the development of a healthy digestive tract in babies, as it protects against negative effects of radiation and helps improve the immune system. Kefir's friendly cultures also produce specific antibiotic substances which can control undesirable microorganisms and act as anti-carcinogenic factors. Kefir also helps to enhance bowel function and control candida - a condition where there is an excessive growth of yeast cells. In reference to Candida, Dr. Orla-Jenson, a noted Danish bacteriologist specializing in dairy research states that "Kefir digests yeast cells and has a beneficial effect on the intestinal flora".
From here.

I liked the drink and started reading about how I can make it at home. While it helped digestion, it also colonized the intestinal tract with good bacteria and helped Candida. Whatever I read, sounded very simple and easy! A glass jar, some kefir grains, milk was all I needed and I had to remember that the grains strictly not be in touch with metal containers or spoons. (Nicole says: The grains are pretty forgiving though!) The story how the kefir came from the Caucasian mountains to Russia was interesting as well. I looked around and found that Cultures for Health sells Kefir cultures, sourdough cultures and a wide variety of yogurt cultures. I have read Julie's (the owner of the above website) posts in one of the forums I hang around and was glad to find that she had just started shipping overseas. She was very helpful in answering my questions.

Julie shipped my package with 4 starters (kefir, 2 different yogurt starters and a sourdough starter and a book) to Canada, real quick. I started with the yogurt (another post! yes, it deserves a post on it own!) and then the kefir. The dried kefir culture looked like a tiny piece of asafetida, and had to be reincarnated... er... re-hydrated first. The package also had detailed instructions on how to go about it.

Rehydrating the grains
1. Take a mason jar or a glass container. It has to be glass. Remember the no-metal-rule? Pour about a cup of milk in it. The milk doesn't have to be at room temp. Straight from the fridge is what I used.
2. Put the kefir culture in it, shake it a bit, cover
with a thin cloth. I used a very thin handkerchief - 100% cotton and used a rubberband to hold it tight.
3. Put this in a cupboard and forget about it for 24 hrs.
4. Filter this using a nylon strainer or using your hand and carefully look for the culture. Mine was like the tiniest cauliflower floret.
5. Wash it in milk (about 1/2 tsp milk) and repeat the process of putting the grains in milk.

The first 2-3 days would just be re-hydrating the kefir grains. Don't use the milk on first few days..

Making Kefir
Slowly on the 4-5th day, the milk would start coagulating and getting slightly thicker. The drink is slightly sour and smells clean. Now you can start drinking the kefir. After a week or two, you can slowy increase the amount of milk upto a quart (about a litre).

When is the Kefir ready?
When you shake the container lightly, it should be almost firm like a jelly and not much moving.. then it is ready. When you shake it a lot more, then it has the consistency of thick buttermilk with very small curds floating in the liquid. The longer you ferment, the more sour the kefir would be.

My kefir is very good and we like drinking it every day. The size of the kefir grain has doubled or maybe tripled in size. It would grow in size and soon, look like a bigger cauliflower floret. Then I can separate it and use it in 2 or more containers to make more kefir and/or share it with friends.

If you are in drinking kefir for eliminating lactose intolerance, you will need to ferment close to 36H. However, never drink a kefir fermented over 48H, it provides a serious constipation! With 12H of fermenting, it works like a gentle laxative, 24H gives fully fermented balanced kefir. Overfermenting is not advisable, since kefir pH becomes too acidic and growth of grains slows. Normally, the grains tend to double in size about every 20 days. From here

Kefir can be drunk on it's own, or in smoothies, can be made into many types of icecreams, popsicles. It can also be used in cooking. I have used kefir to make pancakes and that resulted in really soft and fluffy pancakes. It works just like buttermilk in baking. It can also be used to make kefir cheese, etc. The kefir drink can be refrigerated for later use. 24 hrs is the ideal time to make kefir, but if you live in a hot area, then your milk might change into kefir much before the 24 hrs. Do NOT let the kefir grains sit in the same milk for more than 48 hrs. If you do, save the grains, discard the drink. Wash the grains in milk and start over again. If you want to take a break from making kefir, store in a glass of milk in the refrigerator. Change the milk once a week.

More reading material:
  1. Detailed information about Kefir can be found at Dom's Kefir in-site. It also has links to various Kefir communities - which are very helpful.
  2. Kefir on wiki
  4. Kefir manual
  5. Babushka's kefir
  6. How to second ferment Kefir and also flavor it

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chettinad Mutton Soup / Aatukaal Paaya

Call it by any name - Chettinad mutton soup, Chettinad mutton bone soup, Aatukaal soup, Aatukaal paaya, Trotter soup, Nenjelumbu soup based on the type of bones used - This is my most favorite soup in the whole world! :) There's absolutely nothing else like this one. To top it off, this mineral rich bone soup is very good for health.

My mom learnt this recipe in Sivakaasi, from her neighbors who were from Kaaraikudi. The recipe calls for fire roasted trotters (நெருப்பில் வாட்டிய ஆட்டுக்கால்) because trotters have more collagen in them. When cooked, the collagen becomes gelatin and the broth gets very rich and has healing properties. If you can't get trotters, you can use any kind of mutton bones. I've used goat/lamb bones with good results. Since I can't flame-roast them at home, I broil the bones in the oven and that gives a rich, smoky flavor. And for making the soup part, You can use a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. I use both methods depending on my availability at home that day - And both methods give excellent results!

While making this soup seem very easy, don't underestimate the recipe. It is really good. Having eaten (drunk?) this soup umpteen times, I tried once at a restaurant, popular for its Chettinad food and found that actually mine was better. :p To the kind person who shared this simple but amazing recipe with my mom, Thank you very much!! :) And thanks mom, for passing it on to me. Now I pass it on to everybody else who'd want to try this.

Goat Trotters, cleaned and chopped - 1-2 lbs (You can use any mutton bones - that's what I do)
Coriander leaves - handful, cleaned and chopped
Salt - 1 tsp
Apple cider vinegar - 1-3 tbsp (optional) The original recipe doesn't call for this, but I add this to draw out all the minerals and nutrients from the bones.You can add lemon juice too.

Broil the mutton bones until the bones are roasted, say for 20 mins. If the bones are frozen, it might take more time. Keep a closer watch on the bones once they are in the oven. I sometimes broil the bones the previous night and put it in the fridge, so that I can make the soup in the morning to get a head start on making lunch.

Grind to a 'coarse' paste
Pearl onions - 5-10 (substitute with 1 red onion)
Ripe Tomato - 1
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Pepper - 2 tsp (add more if you can take the heat!)
Ginger - 1 inch
Garlic - 4-5 pods
(In case you are wondering, No! this recipe does NOT have coriander powder in it!!)

Pressure cooker method:
Put the broiled bones, ground paste, turmeric powder, salt, apple cider vinegar, cilantro and about 5-6 cups of water (I don't measure) in the pressure cooker. Pressure cook for 10 whistles in medium heat. Let the pressure cool down [No, Don't be sneaky and lift the weight off like my DH used to do. The wait is so worth it!]. Adjust salt and pepper and serve hot.

Slow cooker method:
This is super easy.
Put the broiled bones, ground paste, turmeric powder, salt, apple cider vinegar, cilantro and about 5-6 cups of water (I don't measure) in the crockpot. Cook on slow for 8 hrs. Then put it on high for another 2-4 hrs. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Some even mix this soup in hot steamed rice. It's good that way too.