October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:

mustard

– salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

– roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard

Awesome.

And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.

sauerkraut

Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

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Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.
curry

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.

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October Unprocessed: Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

I have found some truly amazing recipes for October Unprocessed (check out my Pinterest board for them all here), but there are a few that are fast becoming my favorites. I am particularly happy to work with other things I make from scratch (even before the OU challenge), like homemade, nitrate-free bacon, and sauerkraut I made in my own fermenting crock.

I found this excellent recipe by Sweet & Sauer for a bacon, potato and sauerkraut soup, and I had to try it … although I kicked it up a little. I like my soups to be nice and chunky, and I generally use vegetable stock or chicken stock, where this recipe calls for water.

Oktoberfest soup

I added some German favorites like dill and beer, so call my kicked-up version “Oktoberfest Soup.”

Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

  • 8 ounces bacon (my recipe for unprocessed, nitrate-free bacon is here)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, cubed
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-5 new potatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups sauerkraut (my homemade recipe is here)
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • dash of hot sauce or sriracha (my homemade recipe is here)
  • lots of black pepper
  • half a bottle of good beer
  • just a little bit of salt*

I rendered the chopped bacon with the onions and garlic, then added the hot sauce, the chopped carrots and potatoes, and the dried dill and pepper.

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Then I added the beer (be sure to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pot) and the water. Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the sauerkraut at the end — *and salt to taste, ONLY if you need it. There is a lot of salt in the bacon and in the kraut, so taste it first and make sure — you don’t want to overdo it.

The hot sauce, the dried dill, the good beer and the bit of sweet earthiness from the sweet potato make a huge difference in the flavor of the stock. Make sure you use a tasty beer, as the flavor of it will concentrate as the soup cooks.

Kicked-up Oktoberfest soup

A quick note about adding the sauerkraut at the end: I found the best result when I put cold sauerkraut on the bottom of my soup bowl, and then ladled the hot soup on top. If you heat the kraut over 110 degrees, the probiotic goodness of the sauerkraut might be compromised … although it will still taste very good. 🙂

After October Unprocessed is over, I think I will try a slightly processed, slightly spicier version … I want to get some good marinated pork belly (my local Korean grocery has the best stuff in their deli, but I am sure it’s processed on some level) and make a stew from it with noodles, then add my homemade kimchi at the end. I think it would be fantastic.

Stay tuned.

oktoberfest soup recipe card

Pickles and probiotics … four recipes in one

*Cabbage Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles and Hot Sauce

My apologies for not posting a new blog post in so long, as you can see I have been busy with experimenting.

A little over a year ago, I tried my hand at fermenting — my own homemade kimchi in a few different-sized mason jars. I adapted this recipe from Recipe for Disaster, using a mixture of pre-made, store-bought Thai curry/chili paste, and pureed fruits and vegetables, which I used to coat cabbage, fresh herbs and shredded carrot. I then put the kimchi in a few different jars and let each jar ferment for a different amount of time so I could determine which one I liked best.

In case you were wondering, the 10-day batch and the 14-day batch were the tastiest.

kimchi-dinner-007

In all honesty, the kimchi turned out very well and lasted me quite a while, but I was wary of making it at home again after making it in mason jars. If you recall (or read about it, link above), one of the glass jars of kimchi BURST and shards of glass went everywhere. In my zeal to have the tastiest kimchi, I neglected to read about how it actually works … that is, the gas has to escape as the kimchi is fermenting, and as it’s bubbling and getting happy in there, if the gas has nowhere to go, it apparently finds a way.

If you have a mason jar with a lid that is closed, the jar will go boom.

Ruh-roh.

Ruh-roh.

Luckily, I was shopping at a local Korean grocery store recently, and as I was perusing the store’s massive Kimchi Department (no joke, a full section of the store was devoted to nothing but freshly-packed kimchi of various types and flavorings), I noticed this beauty. She was just sitting there on a table full of pots and pans, just looking at me.

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She was about $25. I named her Peggy. Now I have no issues making any kind of fermented … anything.

Needless to say, I was inspired. I don’t know a whole lot about fermenting (although that’s starting to change), but I do know that a dark ceramic crock that can let gas escape while it keeps the goodness inside is what you use for pretty much all sorts of lacto-fermentation. Obviously it was designed for kimchi, but it can be used to ferment anything.

I did a little searching and pinning after I got home from Kimchi Land, and was amazed! I can make sauerkraut in there. Plus kimchi can be made from pretty much any type of vegetable, from ramps to cucumber to radishes to bok choy. Ooh then there’s fermented hot sauce and salsa, horseradish and miso, even fish sauce. And I can pickle turnips and beets, cherry tomatoes, even corn on the cob (!) and carrots and ginger for a healthy slaw.

Let me just say I was up late that night on Pinterest.

Had enough of the links? OK, I’ll continue with my experiments. Let’s roll.

Experiment No. 1: of course, I had to make kimchi.

I used the exact same recipe as before (see first link at the top), only I used chili paste from the Korean grocery instead of the Thai chili paste/red curry I used the last time. I pureed an apple and a pear, mixed it with salt and chili paste, and coated leaves of cabbage (Napa cabbage and regular green cabbage) and some shreds of carrot with the mixture.

Make sure every single bit of cabbage (or bok choy, radish, etc.) is thoroughly coated — I put gloves on and literally cover each cabbage leaf by hand to make sure. Then pack it tightly into the crock.

Before:

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After:

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Be sure to check it in the meantime — you will want to take a peek every couple of days to stir it up a little. After a few days, more liquid will form, and it’s important to keep everything mixed well, and as more liquid forms, keep the solid pieces of cabbage and whatnot underneath the liquid. This kimchi was perfect after exactly 14 days … a little soft but not soggy, and a little sweet but still spicy.

It was delicious.

Note: I should also mention at this juncture that the part between “before” and “after” was two whole weeks of fermenting. TWO. WHOLE. WEEKS. Of my whole house smelling like a spicy cabbage burp. I am the first to admit that my domicile is not conducive to many cooking experiments, in no small part because I have bad ventilation and no central air (I live on the beach in a cottage-style apartment). I also have no cellar or secure back porch. If you are trying to get started fermenting and you have a nice porch or a cellar, by all means, use it.  If you don’t, but there is a space in your kitchen next to an open window, that should be fine. Just make sure it’s not in the sun and is still in a relatively cool place. I had to make do with Peggy sitting on a kitchen counter in a stuffy apartment, so it was a little funky. It wasn’t much better with my next experiment …

Experiment No. 2: sauerkraut.

Talk about like, even easier than the kimchi. You basically have to measure salt and water (1 tablespoon salt to every 2 cups of filtered water), and shred the cabbage, and stuff it into your crock. That’s seriously all there is to it.

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I really loved reading the Spunky Coconut blog and her discovery of this awesome recipe … you seriously can’t compare the deliciousness of fresh, homemade sauerkraut to anything else. As a child, I hated sauerkraut because the only kind I had ever tasted was the horrible canned mess you get slathered on your who-knows-what-those-are-made-of hot dogs at school or a hot dog stand. I visited Germany as a teenager and for the first time, tasted some homemade kraut, made in a lovely German family’s ancient fermenting crock. It was divine. Used to top an authentic, spiced, meaty, German bratwurst, it’s simply magical.

I let my sauerkraut ferment for about three weeks … technically it was 25 days. However, as you can tell by the photo above, my cabbage was pretty chunky. I prefer it this way even though it takes a bit longer to ferment than it would if I had shredded it very finely with a mandolin or something. This way it was very flavorful and pungent, yet still nice and crunchy. Perfect!

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Note: I should also add another tip here. Many of the fancier (ahem, pricier) fermenting crocks come with a nice weighted piece of split stone you can use to hold the cabbage under water during the fermenting process. These are usually the European-style (traditionally German and Russian) crocks, and they are lovely, but they are too expensive and way too large for my needs. Amazon has a comparatively very good price for a nice ceramic crock like this, but you can rarely find a similar one for less than $100. What’s more, they are usually upwards of 5 liters. I am a single girl, but I can’t imagine anyone needing 5 liters of sauerkraut or kimchi … and I bought Peggy for about $25. She holds about 2 liters.

But she didn’t come with a weight. I couldn’t find a plate that was small enough to fit into the crock yet wide enough to hold down the majority of the cabbage, so I improvised and took apart a pie gate, cross-crossing each piece (since it was nice and bend-y and plastic) to hold down the majority of the kraut and kimchi. After packing the mixture inside, I placed one or two whole leaves of cabbage on top, and then held them all underwater with the plastic. A few stragglers aside, it worked out perfectly.

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Experiment No. 3: pickles.

I followed this recipe from My Simple Country Life, but it’s pretty basic: for the size of my crock (about 2 liters) I would need about 6 tablespoons of pickling salt for a good, salty pickle brine. Add some adorable Persian cucumbers, fresh or dried dill, a few cloves of garlic, and let it sit for about two weeks.

Before:

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Just a couple of days later there were bubbles …

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And after 10 days they were perfect.

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Many recipes also call for grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves or some other leaf to add tannins to the mixture, but other recipes leave them out entirely. I made mine without any leaves and they turned out great.

Experiment No. 4: hot sauce/ sriracha

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I used this recipe for sriracha from VietWorld Kitchen (by the way, a great blog for many other recipes and ideas, if you are trying to learn more about Asian cuisine and cooking), only I used brown sugar, and I used a variety of peppers that probably are milder than usually used in sriracha recipes.

010I seriously can’t get over how easy each of these recipes are. I found a bunch of peppers and diced them, diced a few cloves of garlic, added a cup of whey I saved from the last time I made cheese, and a few teaspoons of salt (I ended up needing to add more salt later, but I didn’t want my sauce to be too salty). The VietWorld blog post also has an interesting discussion about using fish sauce or certain types of sugar to make your sriracha more authentic … feel free to experiment. This was just my first try so I am sure I will have to try more variations.

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I checked it every day, giving it a little stir and checking to make sure no mold had formed (if some has formed, just skim it off). After just a few days, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and then used my immersion blender to puree the last little stragglers of chunks of pepper or garlic.

020You can learn more about probiotics and all the awesome things they do here, at this great piece on the Kitchen Rag blog.

Happy fermenting!