A Recipe for Injera


One the many searches that leads folks to this cranky web site is the topic of the Ethiopian sponge bread known as injera. We think we know what’s going on. People go out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant and come home wondering how to make the bread, leading to a fruitless search of the internets for a recipe and our old post about one of the ingredients, teff flour.

The recipe we used comes from the excellent book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This is a life changing recipe book that every urban homesteader should own–so go out and buy a copy!

So here’s how we made injera based on Katz’s recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups sourdough starter (check out our post on an easy way to keep and maintain a sourdough starter)

5 cups lukewarm water

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups teff flour (an Ethiopian grain available from Bob’s Red Mill at Whole Foods)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder (optional)

Vegetable oil

1. Mix the sourdough starter, flours and water. The result should resemble a pancake batter.

2. Ferment in a warm place for 24 hours.

3. Just before you cook add the salt.

4. Katz gives several options with the baking powder/soda. He says that if you like the sour flavor and don’t mind a less bubbly bread skip the baking soda. We like sour, but we thought the final result was too sour so we added the baking soda. Katz says that using baking powder will provide leavening but leave the dough sour. Again, we recommend adding some baking soda.

5. Stir well and let sit for a few minutes after adding baking soda or powder.

6. Heat up a pan and and lightly coat it with oil.

7. Spread the batter thinly in the pan and cook on one side only. Cover the pan and cook the injera over medium heat.

Injera works as both bread and utensil and the batch we made tasted better than what we’ve been served in restaurants.

Daikon Radish Pickles

 Don’t cut your radishes like this!
Cut them in coins. See comments.

Even though we know–intellectually–that for centuries people have preserved food via lacto-fermentation, again, as with cultured milk, it is a head trip for grocery store kids like us to soak some veggies in brine for a few weeks, open them up and chow down.

Lacto-Fermentation is a process in which naturally occurring lactic acid producing bacteria are allowed to multiply. The lactic acid that they produce prevents the growth of the kinds of bacteria that cause spoilage. Thus lacto-fermentation is a method of preserving foods as well as a way of creating a distinct flavor. Lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, Swiss cheese, and sourdough bread among many others.

Lactic acid producing bacterias, and there are many different varieties, tend to have a high tolerance for salt unlike their unwanted bacterial cousins. The process of lacto-fermentation begins with creating a brine, which is the is the way pickles used to be made–most store bought pickles are now made with vinegar due to unwarranted safety concerns over lacto-fermentation.

Today, sauerkraut is the best known lacto-fermented food. Dill pickles are traditionally made this way too. In an old country store pickle barrel, lacto fermented pickles would sit out all winter long. All they’d do is make sure the brine always covered the pickles. They’d get stronger flavored, and softer textured as the year went on, but they lasted.

We look forward to trying this with cucumbers, but for this first experiment we used a big, pretty daikon from the farmers market. The entire process is amazingly simple:

Stir up a brine solution of 2 Tablespoons sea salt (un-iodized salt) to 1 quart water. Note that you must use salt that has no additives-check the ingredients of your salt to make sure that it contains nothing but salt. Additives in salt can prevent the lacto-fermentation process from occurring. Bottled water is best, but we used LA tap with no ill effects. The worry is that the chlorine in tap water will also interfere with the culture.

Peel and slice the daikon, and pack it into a very clean quart sized mason jar. Add a peeled garlic clove if you want. Pour the brine over the slices until the jar is nearly full. Leave just a little room at the top for gas expansion. Put the lid on, and place it your cupboard for as long as you can wait. A week, two weeks, a month–the flavor changes over time. We waited 2 weeks.

When we opened the jar it hissed and fizzed, and let off the powerful aroma of sauerkraut. We fished out the first slice, sniffed it and eyeballed it like curious but frightened monkeys. An uninformed and vague discussion of botulism followed. Finally the gauntlet was thrown down, and the challenge could not be ignored: are we wimps or are we homesteaders? So we ate of the fruit. Or one of us did. The other stood by ready to dial 911.

Yum! Our pickled daikons are salty and garlic-y and firm, and taste a lot like a good garlic dill, only with a different texture. Now that the jar is open, we’re keeping it in the fridge.

Fermentation Update–Filmjölk

Survive LA declares Fermentation Month a success!

During the month of March the Homegrown Revolution kitchens were full of strange jars full of burbling mixtures. We are pleased to report that none of these experiments have failed, and that we have not yet succeeded in contracting food poisoning.

One of our most successful ferments was a Swedish milk product called filmjölk. This starter came to us as an unexpected gift. We’d never been filmjölk drinkers before, but were willing to give it a go. There are three ways to get the culture you need to produce this beverage: live in Sweden and buy a carton of it in the store, order the culture from a supplier such as G.E.M. Cultures, or what we did–meet someone who smuggled it back from Sweden.

Like sourdough you must keep your filmjölk milk starter alive: we made more filmjölk with the small amount we were given by putting 2 teaspoons of the culture in a quart of milk and leaving it out on our counter top overnight. Filmjölk culture, by the way, is not something special–it is just filmjölk, the same as you drink–you just use one week’s filmjölk to make the next week’s, and so on and so on.

Now, as a thoroughly industrialized people, it does go against the grain to leave dairy products just sitting around at room temperature. But power to the people, it works! The next day we had a jar full of kind of chunky, yogurty stuff, which was not rancid, but really quiet tasty. We shook it up to remove the lumps before drinking it.

We must confess that only one of us partook of that first glass, since our other Homegrown Revolution compound comrade is a bit of a, dare we say it, pussy when it comes to drinking questionable milk products.

As of now we’re treating the stuff like a salty lassi –meaning we pimp it out with a little salt, fresh cracked pepper and crushed fresh mint.

L’hamd markad – Preserved Salted Lemons

One of the big problems with citrus trees is that you get a whole lot of fruit all at one time. There are two ways to deal with this–share the harvest and/or preserve it. Homegrown Revolution has done both this week by mooching some lemons off of a friend’s tree and preserving them by making one of the essential ingredients of Moroccan food, L’hamd markad or preserved salted lemons. L’hamd markad is easy to make. Here’s a recipe from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse:

12 or more unblemished organically grown Meyer or other lemons, scrubbed
Sea salt
fresh lemon juice as needed

Pat lemons dry. Cut a thin dime-sized piece from both ends of each lemon. Set each lemon on end and make a vertical cut three quarters of the way through, so halves remain attached at the base – do not cut all the way through. Turn lemon upside down and make a similar cut through at a 90 degree angle to the first. Fill each cut with as much salt as it will hold. Place lemons carefully in a sterilized wide-mouth glass quart jar. Compress lemons while adding them until no space is left and lemon juice rises to the top. Lemons must be covered with juice at all times, so add lemon juice if necessary. Seal and set aside in dark place.

Keep for 4 to 6 weeks before using. To use, discard seeds, and rinse lightly if necessary. Once opened, store in refrigerator where they will keep up to 6 months.

In the photo you will see that we added some spices to our lemons. This is an optional thing. A traditonal spice blend would be something like 3 peppercorns, 3 cloves and one cinnamon stick.

Also, we found it impossible to follow the command in the recipe to cut the lemons this way and that, cleverly leaving them whole and stuffing them with salt. That just didn’t work because our lemons were too big to fit in the mouth of the jar while whole. You see, we’re using honkin’ big ghetto lemons, not nice little Meyers. So we cut them up into quarters and just made sure they were well coated in salt.

You can use your L’hamd markad in a variety of dishes, from salads to meat stews. You use them in a relish sort of way, as a salty-sour accent. We want to try chopping them fine, blending them with other tasty things, like garlic, and sprinkling them on everything from greens to pizza.

There’s also an expensive condiment you can recreate at home by blending together 2 preserved lemons lemons, 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1/4 cup honey, 1 garlic clove, salt and pepper. Blend in some olive oil until it gets the consistency of mayonnaise.

Moroccan cuisine makes a lot of sense in Los Angeles as the two places have similar climates and all the stuff that grows in Morocco also grows in Southern California–olives, tomatoes, fava beans, dates, and mint. The only thing we’re missing are the sheep . . .

The revolution will be fermented . . .


Homegrown Revolution’s month of fermentation continues with the following bubbling containers–from left to right:

Rye Sourdough Starter
More info in a future post, but rye flour is much more active than a starter made with white flour!

White Flour Starter
We’ve already ranted about this stuff here and here. So far, much success.

Crème Fraîche
Special thanks to Susan of Northeast LA’s “culture club” for giving us some Swedish fil mjolk culture. We gave it some cream to feed on to produce a delicious batch of crème fraîche, though you can also make crème fraîche with buttermilk .

Filmjölk
Once again, more filmjölk given some milk to feed on thus producing more . . . filmjölk. More info here.

Lacto-fermented Daikon Radish
We’ll report the results. In the meantime read all about lacto-fermentation from an excerpt from the book Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.

Make a Sourdough Starter

Every damn urban homesteader ought to have a sourdough starter living on their countertop. It’s easy and here’s how we do it around the Homegrown Evolution compound:

1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.

2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.

3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.

4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.

6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.

7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.

So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:

When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.

The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.

Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:

You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.

You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.

You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.

You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.

Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.

So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.

Injera

Hermann Göring is alleged to have said “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. These days when Homegrown Revolution hears the world culture we reach for our knife and fork, since our compound’s test kitchen has been busy experimenting with the bubbling and frothing world of live cultures through the ancient art of fermentation.

We revived our sourdough starter (to be explained in a future post), and cooked up a batch of the fermented Ethiopian crepe-like bread called injera. Injera is made by fermenting overnight a mixture of sourdough starter, whole wheat flour, water, salt and teff flour.

Teff is an extremely fine grain grown in Africa. It’s so tiny in fact that a handful of seeds is enough to plant a small farm. Teff is grown in the US by the Teff Company of Caldwell Idaho and is available (though somewhat expensive) at Whole Foods via Bob’s Red Mill. The teff growing folks claim that the iron from teff is more easily absorbed by the body, and that it also includes high levels of calcium and fiber. According to the Teff Company Gezahegne Abera, Ethiopia’s champion marathoner insists on Teff wherever he travels.

Our home-cooked injera was delightfully sour, a perfect counterpoint to spicy food and much tastier than the injera we’ve been served in our local Ethiopian restaurants. Rumor has it that many Ethiopian dives here skimp on the teff by substituting whole wheat flour and skipping the fermentation. Too bad there won’t be any room for growing more teff in America, since we’ll soon be using every available agricultural space for corn to produce ethanol so that we can continue to drive our big-ass SUVs to the mall. In the meantime we’ll enjoy the teff while we can as we declare March the month of fermentation.

Homegrown Revolution got our injera recipe from the astonishing and highly recommended book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz offers recipes for every imaginable fermented food, from kimchi to Andean chewed-corn beer (a recipe that involves gathering a bunch of friends to chew corn kernels, spit them out, and then ferment the results).

Anyone up for a chew-in?