Monday, September 27, 2010

Homemade Ginger Ale

When you're trying to avoid sugary products it's easy to feel there are no refreshing drink options left to choose from. Juices have high impact on blood sugar and should be had in small amounts; that 24 oz bottle on the store shelf is going to be way too much sugar overload!  Soda is out of the question.  Bottled teas are usually sugar-laden, and Gatorade? Better than soda but still a long way from wholesome. What are you left with but water or empty "diet" products?

Here is an acceptable drink you can make at home. But more than acceptable, it's even healthy!  This is Ginger Ale, not the kind you're used to buying at the supermarket, but the real thing (betcha didn't know there was a real thing), and it's super easy to make yourself. This recipe is based off of the traditional way of making ginger ale, similar to the "ginger water", that farmers and field workers used to use to quench their thirst after hard work in the sun.  The ginger would help the body hydrate without getting nauseous as can happen with plain water.  Ginger also promotes digestion, blood circulation, is great for treating nausea and diahrrea, helps regulate blood sugar, even helps relieve menstrual cramps and gas and bloating.  Sally Fallon, the author of the book I got the recipe from, Nourishing Traditions, advises drinking a small amount of this ginger ale (at room temperature) with meals to help with digestion, especially if the meal consists of all cooked food (low in enzymes) because it helps stimulate the body's intestinal juices.

On top of our star ingredient the recipe includes lime juice, which has myriad benefits to the body, salt (electrolytes, anyone?), and whey.  Whey is something of a wonderfood, containing lactose, calcium, vitamins, minerals and protein; it's excellent for the gut and it helps regulate and reduce sugar spikes because it increases insulin secretion.  Don't worry about how to get whey, I'll tell you how to make your own below, with extremely minimal effort.

There is sugar in this recipe, but it's a nominal amount, you can use less if you please, and as usual we aren't using refined white sugar. Between the sugar regulating properties of both ginger and whey, I think we've come to kind of a safe zone in regards to sugar spiking. Still, like anything with sugar you don't want to consume large amounts, so I wouldn't suggest drinking more than a half a quart in a day (equal to a can of soda but with about 40 percent less sugar); in fact, less is better--I don't drink usually more than one cup, that is, 8 oz.  If I'm taking it with me on the run I put it in a small glass bottle with a cap that used to contain sparkling water, like the size of those mini soda cans.

The flavor of this ginger ale is more akin to Gatorade than to soda, and of course it isn't carbonated like soda, although I believe "ginger beer" is naturally carbonated, but that's another beast altogether.  If you feel you need carbonation you can mix it in a glass with sparkling water, but of course it will be partially diluted. It's a good way to stretch the ginger ale so it feels like you're having more. You can toy around with the amounts until it tastes right to you. 
The amount of ginger I call for is half of what Sally Fallon calls for in the book because it came out far too "hot" for me. This has a bit of spice to it but it's pleasant.If you find you really enjoy this as I do, it's easy to double or quadruple the recipe to have it ready when you want it.  Start to finish you'll spend about ten minutes making this, and the rest is up to nature. 

makes 1 quart

Ginger Ale

1/4 cup plus one tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I use a microplane zester)
1/4 cup lime juice (or juice of one lime)
1/4 cup whey (see below)
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (see "Guide to Natural Sweeteners tab) I find mine at Trader Joe's
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 quart filtered water

Put it all together in a sterilized quart sized jar with a tight fitting lid.  Close the lid, shake it up, and let it sit at room temperature for two to three days.  There may even have formed a slight bit of natural carbonation, so don't be alarmed if you see this.  Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth and return liquid to the jar.  From now on store it in the refrigerator and shake it up before serving.  Due to the whey, ginger ale should last for months and months in the fridge, as whey has been used for centuries as a food preservative.

To make whey:

Put a fine mesh sieve over a bowl.  Line the sieve with either a double layer of coffee filters or cheesecloth.  Scoop around a cup of plain yogurt (use a natural one without additives) into the lined sieve.  Please do not use non-fat, ever.  The fat in the yogurt is what's good for you!  Anyway, allow the liquid drain out from the yogurt and into the bowl.  This is whey!  Leave it sit until you get a quarter cup, and that shouldn't take more than an hour; usually less.  That's it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Buckwheat Pancakes

Buckwheat is not just a character from the old time tv show, the Little Rascals.  It's also a flower, whose triangular seeds, or groats, can be cooked and used in place of rice or potatoes.  They are also ground into flour that can be used for baking.  Buckwheat flour is completely gluten free and wonderfully healthful--don't worry, it's also tasty!  Read this quote from a website about buckwheat:

"Buckwheat contains linoleic acid, vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, E, P), essential amino acids, minerals - chromium, copper, manganese, folic acid - and is an excellent source of magnesium. These proprieties recommend buckwheat as having a pronounced Yang feature. It has anti-tumor and tonic effects.

Due to the presence of inosit, buckwheat adjusts metabolism, fat and the lipo-soluble vitamins. It also helps the liver in processing hormones, medicines, and glucoses, with a protective hepatic effect. Buckwheat provides the necessary amount of proteins necessary for the body because it contains essential amino acids which the body cannot synthesize and who need to be taken from one's daily nutrition.

Buckwheat decreases the cholesterol level by eliminating fat and assuring protection against arthrosclerosis. It prevents the developing of biliary lithiasis by optimizing the synthesizing of biliary acids and eliminating neutral and acid fat.

Owing to the quantity of magnesium contained, buckwheat has a relaxing effect over blood vessels, improving circulation and decreasing blood pressure. Because it contains plenty of vitamins with B complex, buckwheat is recommended in cases of liver disorders and sugary diabetes, illnesses where it is unadvisable to increase the quantity of sugary substances consumed each day. Due to the fact that it lacks sugary substances makes buckwheat ideal for those who need to keep a restrictive diet.

This herb offers protection against breast cancer as well as against other forms of cancer dependent on hormones. Through the contained antioxidants buckwheat is an antidote for X ray irradiations or other forms of irradiation."

Wow!  Powerful stuff!   

I haven't yet tried cooked buckwheat groats, but I do use buckwheat flour.  My favorite way to utilize it is  in pancakes.  Buckwheat flour is increasingly easy to find. I have seen it in several major grocery chains, but usually I get mine from a co-op store that sells it in bulk.  It's more cost effective this way.  Buckwheat flour is not white like others, but has a purple-ish or gray tinge to it, so naturally it will look different in baked goods.  I enjoy its texture, which is slightly gritty and "toothsome", but not hard or chewy, and it's mild in flavor, even a little sweet.

Since buckwheat flour is not a grain flour, I think of these pancakes as "safe" food, knowing it won't have a negative effect on my blood sugar or digestion.  If you like these you will also like the blueberry buckwheat cake/muffin recipe I'll share soon, which happens to taste a lot like blueberry buckwheat pancakes.

If it's your first time making anything with buckwheat I suggest maybe using half buckwheat flour and half plain flour.  Even with 100 percent buckwheat the texture is still light like a regular pancake.  Although these can be made with regular milk, I definitely recommend buttermilk because it really complements the flavor of buckwheat.

Makes 12-15

Buckwheat Pancakes
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup buckwheat flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

The healthiest way to make these is to soak the buckwheat flour in the buttermilk overnight, then go on and add the rest of the ingredients when you're ready to cook.  The buttermilk does great things to the flour, reducing any anti-nutrients or phytates that may be present in the buckwheat that would go on to leach out minerals from your body.  This is true with all grains and seeds, and our ancestors made a habit of soaking and/or fermenting grains before consuming them to help with digestion.

So, after you've soaked the buckwheat in the buttermilk overnight, throw all ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until smooth.  Easy, right?  Cook on a hot, oiled griddle, flipping when bubbles form all around the edges, then cooking about a minute more. Serve with bananas and a drizzle of molasses, if desired.