I obtained a kefir grain from fellow MPLS Swapper and (now) friend, Holly, after the June swap. It quickly made itself at home and starting growing and growing and growing. For the uninitiated, kefir is a form of fermented milk. It is fermented using something called a grain, which looks and feels a bit more like squishy/rubbery cauliflower.
Here is what I have been doing to make my kefir: I place the grain in a canning jar along with my milk of choice. I have tried cow (various percentages of fat) and goat milk. I then loosely screw on the plastic canning jar lid. I found the metal rings weren't holding up well against the fermenting kefir, so I switched to the plastic lids that are made for canning jars.
After the loosely covered jar sits out for a day or two, depending on the temperature, I pour it into my ceramic strainer. I have heard it is better to avoid contact with metal when you are handling fermented foods, so I use my ceramic berry bowl strainer.
Depending on what I am planning to do with the kefir and my desired consistency, I can use it as is or strain some of the whey off.
But, no matter what, the grains need to be put back into another batch of milk right away. Sometimes I rinse them between batches and sometimes I don't. The grains grow a bit bigger with each batch, which adds up quickly when each batch only takes 24-48 hours. This means that my kefir grain has grown to over 10 times the size it was when I first got it! The bigger the grains, the more milk they process, too! As my grains have separated, I have given some away to others and plan to give some more away soon. Fortunately, I have figured out how to "rest" it in the fridge for a break. I have definitely needed the break on more than a few occasions.
Kefir Cheese in straining (jelly) bag
Being able to control the consistency of the kefir by straining off whey has made it such a versatile ingredient. Leave it as is and you have a buttermilk substitute. Strain a little whey off and it behaves like plain yogurt. Strain a little more off and you have a mayo replacement. A little more than that and it can be used like sour cream. Keep going and it is a spreadable, tart tasting cheese. Plus, straining the whey off means you also have whey you can use!
Using whey is a new thing for me. I have greatly enjoyed the lacto-fermented carrots I made recently. Paul and I are both looking forward to making lacto-fermented pickles with our next cucumber crop. I have been poking around for other ideas, but I have to confess, most of the whey has gone into our compost pile. I am not sure how to use it in large quantities, so any suggestions you have are welcome!
The kefir-as-buttermilk substitute has opened a door to so many lovey baked goods. The yogurt consistency mixed with a little vanilla extract and maple syrup poured over granola has become a common breakfast. In the past month or two, I have made many modified versions of this baked oatmeal to use up kefir. The baked oatmeal makes for delicious leftovers. Sometimes I even reheat it and then pour some kefir over it. All of this kefir has been a delicious curse.
Here is a round-up of some recipes I know I have followed with kefir subbing in for the dairy products:
Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes (We have made this many times. They are great as cold leftovers with jam.)
Banana Blueberry Buttermilk Bread (I used frozen raspberries instead of blueberries and I didn't mash the bananas very thoroughly. Yum.)
Cranberry Buttermilk Loaf (I made multiple batches over Thanksgiving. This was delicious with frozen or fresh cranberries.)
Whole Wheat Apple Muffins (Made with apples my dad grew!)
Baked Oatmeal (Mentioned above. Play with the combination of fruit and definitely add in minced candied ginger.)
In the warmer months, I blended the kefir with all sorts of things to be eaten as smoothies or frozen into popsicles. I also tried mixing it with fruit and turning it into fruit leather in the dehydrator. That received mixed reviews.
I am looking forward to continued experimentation with this ingredient. In addition to the versatility and the tangy taste, kefir is purported to be full of great health benefits. A quick google search for "kefir" and "health benefits" brings up a ton of positive claims including that it helps boost your immune system and, in many cases, is easily digested by people with lactose intolerance.
Last but not least, if you are local to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and this kefir thing piques your interest, feel free to get in touch with me by email or through the comments. I would be happy to pass on a grain to you! Be warned, though, when I give a grain I call NO BACKS!