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archive for fermentation

you bet your boocha

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Recipe: kombucha (plain, ginger, huckleberry ginger)

Happy Chinese New Year! The house has been cleaned, dumplings eaten, luck symbol hung upside down on the front door (translates to “luck arrives”), parents called, and red envelopes delivered to young friends. A low-key lunar new year celebration was just right for me, mostly because my February has been dedicated to fermentation. In addition to making delicious breads from my sourdough starter, I am also brewing kombucha!

Kombucha is fermented sweet tea. My motivation for brewing my own kombucha (booch) was more curiosity than anything else. I like the stuff, but drank it infrequently because it can become a spendy habit. Yet, kombucha is ridiculously easy and inexpensive to make. The only “exotic” component is the scoby, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Think of it as the equivalent to the mother for making vinegar. You can purchase scobys (try a local homebrew supply store or go online), get one from a friend, or make your own. Once you have a scoby, you’re set (unless you kill it – don’t kill it).

I got my scoby from my buddy, Erin (Canyon Erin), who grew hers from its infancy and split one off for me with some starter tea. I named it Scooby. Scobys are weird, ugly, and a little gross looking – at first. After brewing a few batches, you will come to love your scoby(s) like a pet. It feels rubbery and slippery, and all manner of random things float untidily off of it in the tea. But the scoby is what transforms plain old sweet tea into magical, fizzy, slightly alcoholic (less than 1%), tangy kombucha.


meet scooby, my scoby



Making kombucha is easy. I’m on my fourth batch now. The long instructions look daunting, but that’s only because the instructions are for newbies so they don’t kill their scoby. It basically comes down to: make sweet tea, stir in starter tea, slide the scoby into the tea, cover, ferment, bottle, carbonate, refrigerate. But there are tons of additional notes that go with that list.

I use purified water because our municipal water is chlorinated (I checked the town water quality report online) and chlorine can kill your happy bacteria. I read from a bread baker discussion that you can leave the water out on the counter for a day and the chlorine will evaporate because it’s rather volatile. So there’s that. For my first batches of kombucha, I stuck with organic black tea. Plain black tea works well. You can use other teas like green teas or white teas or a combination of teas, but avoid flavored teas – especially ones with added oils. And I make the sweet tea with organic granulated sugar. Please, people, don’t use artificial sweeteners. You will starve your scoby because it requires real sugar. The sugar is not for you, it is for the fermentation process. The starter tea comes from the previous batch of kombucha. If you bought or were given a scoby, it should have come in some starter tea.


sugar, black tea, scoby, purified water, and starter tea



The first step to making kombucha is to brew sweet tea. Boil your water, stir in the sugar until dissolved, and then drop your tea bags or loose tea in. Let the tea steep until the liquid has come to room temperature because hot tea is going to kill your yeasts and bacteria. If you are in a hurry, you can set your pot of tea in an ice bath to cool it down faster, but I prefer to leave mine in a cool part of the house for a few hours. My climate is quite arid, so while the tea is cooling I cover the scoby with a bowl or slip it into the starter tea to prevent it from drying out.

adding sugar to the boiled water

steep the tea until the water cools to room temperature

remove the tea bags (or strain the loose tea)



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no need to fear

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Recipe: chinese fermented sweet rice (jiu niang)

We are two weeks away from the Lunar New Year, which I’ve always known as Chinese New Year. If you are wondering what to make for a party or for your own celebratory dinner, I refer you to my Chinese New Year recipe round up from last year to help give you a few ideas.

I consider myself a very lucky girl. I’ve always been pretty happy (except in graduate school – sheesh) and a little silly and very much loved by my family. It’s that love which anchored me from an early age. Wherever I went and whatever I did as a kid, I had a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. I know now that much of that warm fuzzy was because of Grandma, who was always there for me. We had our routine: a daily walk around the neighborhood, making her bed together every morning (good habits!), putting my hair into cute little pigtails, emptying the sand from my saddle shoes when I got home from school, folding laundry together while watching cartoons. This kind and gentle matriarch would create special Chinese treats from scratch in our 1970s southern Virginia kitchen while I sat on the counter next to her, pretending to be the neighbor’s dog. These memories are so vivid in my mind. I told my friend over the weekend that Grandma has been gone for almost four years and yet I still feel her presence in my heart. She is just that much a part of me.

Last November, when my parents were in Boulder, Mom told me she was going to make jiu niang or Chinese fermented sweet rice. This was one of Grandma’s specialties that I used to sneak spoonfuls of from the refrigerator – that sweet rice porridge floating in rice wine with the slight fizzy tang of fermentation. She would turn it into a hot sweet soup for celebrations or to help kick a cold, flu, or tummy ache. I loved it so much. You can buy it pre-made in Asian grocery stores, but it’s expensive for a pretty small quantity. “Come down and learn how to make it,” Mom commanded. She had been trying for a few years to reproduce Grandma’s recipe, but with mixed results. Now, Mom had finally mastered it with consistency and it meant a lot to her because she too loved, cherished, and missed her mother. It wasn’t something I could put off. Mom and Dad were flying back to Virginia in a few days and as I get older I know not to take time for granted. “Okay, Mom. How about Saturday?”


start with good quality sweet rice

and chinese rice wine yeast



It’s just two ingredients, but you need to get the right two ingredients. You can’t use sushi rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, wild rice, long grain rice, medium grain rice, black rice, whatever rice that isn’t sweet rice – you must use sweet rice. Sweet rice is also known as glutinous rice, which contains no gluten, it’s just really sticky. I’ve shopped around for sweet rice and have seen some bagged varieties with grains that look longish, almost like medium grains. My advice is to get the good stuff. Premium sweet rice resembles short, fat, pearly, oblong grains. As for the Chinese rice wine yeast – it’s jiu qu (see Wikipedia) – a fermentation starter. This one can be tough to find even if you know what you are looking for. It always seems to be tucked away in some random little bin or corner of Asian grocery stores. Luckily for me, Mom had already found them at Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield, so she told me where to look (by the refrigerated canned drinks at the front near the cashiers). If you can’t find it or if the employees in the store act like your Chinese is just THAT BAD, you can order it from Amazon – but you have to order a dozen and they’re four times as much as what I paid (I paid $.79 for two balls).

2.5 pounds of sweet rice (uncooked) and a ball of chinese rice wine yeast

crush the yeast ball with a mortar and pestle

turn it into a powder



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