In my quest for a steady supply of non-dairy probiotics, some friends turned me on to MYO (make your own) water kefir (tibicos) and lacto-fermented sauerkraut, the latter of which led to a beetroot and apple relish.
I happen to love sauerkraut, and apples, and beets, so these will be perfect for me, assuming I succeed at actually fermenting them properly.
I am not so much in love with kefir - wasn't when I ate dairy (and loved yogurt), and the MYO kefir water is not a happy taste for me, though my komboucha-loving friend Karen thinks it tastes great. [Note: Please read my January and February updates at the end of this post - water kefir is now a very happy taste for me.] Still, after 20 years of being sick and on various meds that tasted downright vile, I am used to ick, so it's doable. It is extremely doable when I add the instant Salabat mix to it (think instant ice tea, but made with ginger, cayenne pepper, sugar, and calamansi juice and no tea). Oh, dear, this is way too good and I don't need all that sugar, as I could easily drink through an entire 'harvest' of kefir water in a single afternoon this way. Happily, mixing a little Stevia and calamansi juice (purchased frozen from my local Asian market) into the kefir tastes just as good, so that's the way I'll drink it.
Of the jars of kefir you see fermenting in the photo above, four have a bit of unsulfured dried apricot floating in them. The yellowish-looking one is for Karen, so I put some dried blueberries in hers.
Reading the Wikipedia page on tibicos gave me an idea: for my next batch, I am going to put in slices of raw gingerroot instead of the apricots (or maybe with the apricot, as I put the fruit in to give the little beasties something else to feed on rather than as a flavoring or coloring agent).
In the mean time, I seem to be able to keep the kefir 'grains' alive (what started out as 3.5 tablespoons of grains on January 6 was, by January 18, 2.5 cups of grains), so I will have both probiotic-laced water to drink and some grains to eat. Yesterday's breakfast was about 1/4 cup of the grains tossed with a bit of stevia and cinnamon and the apricot pieces I picked out when I harvested the water and made a new batch. I'm giving away three of the kefir cultures you see above so I will be back to my original two jars, but with more grains than I started with. I'm harvesting every four days, so should have 2 cups of grains again next week.
As for the beet/apple and sauerkraut, those will be fermenting for several days, assuming they ferment as they should. The beet/apple recipe says to puree them once they are done, but I rather like the shredded texture, so may just leave them like that. As for the kraut, I used a red cabbage and a green cabbage. If the kraut turns out, I may play with some of the other non-red cabbages to see how they taste.
Digits crossed, please, in hopes that all turn out as planned!
January 25 update: Well, when I harvested and re-cultured the grains on Sunday, I had 4 cups of grains and 2 about 3 quarts of kefir water. I now have 8 jars fermenting. Some of the grains will be going to their new homes on Thursday, after I harvest once again. The ginger kefir turned out GREAT! I can now say, I love it - it's refreshing like ginger ale but without the harsh bite of the carbonated ginger ales. Now I just have to keep a steady supply of gingerroot on hand to keep making the ginger kefir water.
I put the fermenting beetroot/apple mixture into the fridge, and one of the bowls of sauerkraut. Neither are quite done yet, but they will continue to slowly ferment in the frige, and besides, I need more room on the table top for my kefir!
I wrote up the way I am culturing the water kefir grains (updated 3/31/2010), in case you'd like to take a look and maybe give it a try yourself. The instructions are based on those I received with my starter culture, but simplified and expanded in some areas. I've seen variations on this elsewhere around the web, so there are other right ways to do it; this is what is working for me.
February 3rd update: I 'harvested' almost 1.5 gallons of kefir water today, some ginger (brewed with slices of fresh ginger root), some apricot (quartered unsulfured dried apricots), and a little blueberry (dried, probably sulfured). The kefir continues to ferment in the fridge, getting a lovely 'bite' after a couple of days. I'm now looking for half-gallon and gallon sized jars because the quart jars are soon going to take up all the available space.
Plus, I now want to make kimchee. Fermentalicious!
Fermented Foods update - February 6: I have been enjoying the sauerkraut and beet/apple relish. I ended up tossing half of each of the batches, draining them of the salty brine, and replacing the brine with kefir water. I think next time I'll just do a light brine and pounding to start the juices flowing, and then replace with kefir water and let most of the batch slowly ferment/sour in my fridge.
March 1 Update: Having yesterday harvested THREE GALLONS of kefir water and a gallon of grains, I have cut myself back to only brewing two gallons of kefir and a half gallon of lacto-fermented lemonade. Some of the older kefir water fed my drains, while the grains fed me. For this latest kefir batch, instead of putting dried fruit or raw gingerroot into the canisters. I plopped in a teabag from my current favorite tea: Celestial Seasonings Tangerine Orange Zinger. See that empty gallon canister (behind which you can see the half-gallon of lemonade)? That's the future home of kombucha, once I get a SCOBY from Karen or grow one myself from a bottle of store-bought.
March 31 Update: The insanity continues. I harvested 3 gallons of kefir this morning, and ended up feeding our sewer system several quarts of grains that have been in my fridge for a couple of weeks, since I haven't been keeping up with eating them (and Mikey (Cyclura iguana) and Treppie (desert tortoise) have been turning their snouts up at them when I add kefir grains to their food; happily for Karen, however, Ginger (doberman) loves them). Despite having given away some quarts and passing my bottle around at a couple of meetings, I still have over a gallon of the last batch left, plus the 3 harvested this morning, so I only made 2 gallons today. I'm loving the cookie jar canisters I got (Walmart carries them, as does Cash & Carry), as well as the 1 gallon mayonnaise-style jars I got at The Beverage People. The latter I use for both brewing and storing the kefir.
Yes, we have some kombucha.