When a master bread maker – the ‘bread whisperer’ – offers to barter his artisanal sourdough bread, you cannot not pay heed. More so, when this alchemist (oops, baker) lives literally 5 minutes away on your scooter. And, especially, when he sounds like a jolly good fellow with some jolly good wit and humour, as crackling and crusty as his loaves.
So, yes, I took up his offer. As part of the barter I offered him to choose from a whole range of delicacies that I create and am humbly proud of. :-) He declined to choose. “You decide what’s of value to us”.
Alright then. It had to be my home made organic hummus (the mediterranean chikpea delicacy no one can say no to!), plus from a whole range of vegan (coconut milk based) fruit blends that Avie and I enjoy these days.
Sujit Sumitran is the guy – the bread whisperer – I’m talking about. His ‘well-bred’ breads are the talk of the town. Not just in Goa, but in near-by cities and towns. Picture this – those aware Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore folks considering a weekend visit to Goa not for the balmy beaches but for Sumitran’s sourdough bread workshops!
The ingredients (non-hybrid/heirloom ancient wheat), the process (slow fermentation – upward of 15 hours), the care, the passion, the expertise that go into his bread baking set his breads apart from the store bought ones by miles.
Frankly speaking, we haven’t eaten those mass-produced breads in years now. They just don’t feel right.
Now, if you’re wondering what’s all this fuss about a bread! A bread is a bread is a bread after-all, right? Wrong.
I didn’t know much myself about sourdough breads and stuff until I started getting curious about fermented foods. The world of fermented foods is big and wide and wondrous, and those traditional recipes – sourdough breads, cultured vegetables, kimchi (korea), kanji (various parts of India), kambucha have been there for ages. While fermentation then was a way of preserving vegetables that would go out of season soon. The emphasis now (since the deadly impact of pasteurization has come to light) is to get more and more probiotics or good bacteria into our gut, for fermentation does just that – multiplies the healthy microbes in the food.
Sourdough breads have slowly gained limelight once again around the world as health of the global population is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Once again, we’re going back to some of the old-fashioned ways of living and eating and being in our quest to resolve the problems that modern, fast lifestyle has created.
Slow food is gathering momentum. Housewives and master chefs and gourmets around the world are waking up to the fact that when it comes to food, shortcuts spell doom on your health, on this environment. Slow Food is necessarily regional, promoting and protecting local produce. Its aim: “To counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how food choices affect the rest of the world”, says Carlo Petrini, the founder of the slow food movement.
So, going back to sourdough breads – these are so much better than the standard mass-produced breads because the baker takes the time to prepare (slow food). He’s invested his time and patience and diligence to let the yeast and bacteria work with the flour and water and create something that’s good for your gut, good for your mind, body and spirit.
There’s also some solid science that works in favour of sourdough breads. The best of grains (and seeds and nuts) inherently contain a unique natural substance called phytic acid or phytate. The phytate is also called anti-nutrient because it’s the plant’s defence mechanism to lock all the nutrients within itself only to release when the seed sprouts so the next generation of young plants will carry them forward. When you eat these grains ‘packed’ with nutrients, you’re not benefitting because the nutrients are ‘locked-up’. They’re locked up because of the phytic acid. Phytic acid would have broken down if you had soaked and sprouted those grains and seeds or if you had fermented them – the way you do with your idli or dosa batter.
Now, sourdough bread-making is all about the fermentation. The slow and natural fermentation with wild yeast makes sure nearly 60-70% of the nutrients, if not more, are released by the grain. They’re released and hence available for your body to absorb. This is not the case with factory-produced breads that use commercial yeast and go through fast-paced fermentation.
Tell me now, was that bread barter worth it or not! Sujit Sumitran’s breads are rich – rich in nutrition, taste, flavour, texture, colours and sound! Yes, you can tap the base and hear the unique hollow sound, which means the bread inside is well aerated. The crusty outside and the soft, chewy inside will tickle your taste buds positively.
Look at those massive caverns when sliced up! This bread appeals to all five senses. Any wonder then that the loaf was gone in seconds. The one he baked for us had that tangy aroma of sundried tomatoes and the sweet fragrance of rosemary. Perfect with my organic homemade hummus. Incidentally, the hummus I’d made was infused with oregano, sweet basil, rosemary and thyme, besides cumin and coriander that’s part of the recipe. I’d made the tahini that goes into it with un-hulled black sesame. The texture of the hummus and the texture of the bread were a perfect match for each other.
Sumit experiments in the kitchen like a kid would with concoctions, or for that matter like a scientist would in his lab. He tries a variety of combinations – grains, nuts, seeds, seasonings, as well as the cultures. Even the glazing with various liquids yields diverse results, he says. Among some of his very popular breads are the seven-seeds seedgasm loaf, the panch-phoren bread. Also, a loaf seasoned with ajwain or Indian Borage. The ovens that he bakes in are diverse too – electric, mud, cast iron (Dutch Oven).
I’ve been researching for a while about ovens and found that Dutch ovens are unbeatable when it comes to baking a good loaf. Even cakes or pizzas. Dutch ovens, this article says, “owned by cooks who understand their subtleties are kept in places of honor, sanctuaries reserved specifically for them.”
As if the bread itself was not good enough, Sumit’s residence – a 200-years old Portuguese house overlooking a tributary of the Mandovi – transports you back into the bygone era. Every nook and corner of the house tells a story of their rich taste and traditions. Speaking of traditions, they sure have inherited bountiful culinary heritage. Sujit’s mother makes delectable delicacies from Kerala – appams and stews and so much more. So does Sudha – his wife, formerly a teacher and now an avid kitchen gardener. Sudha conducts cooking workshops as well – her Kerala inspired cooking is nothing if not food that heals and soothes.
Speaking of the barter per se, what an innovative idea to exchange food, form connections and grow your community. I also see this as a way to initiate the uninitiated into the realm of slow food, slow living, nurturing the community and such.
I’m game. Are you?
And, Goa being Goa, it provides the perfect environment for people to nurture their inner child, unearth those buried longings and do what they always wanted to but could not pursue due to the traps of routine life.
You can read more about Sujit’s breadmaking process and get his sourdough recipes on his blog. Sujit conducts breakbaking workshops twice every month at his residence. To book a class, you can reach out on his blog: http://www.glutenforgluttons.com/
All pics (except Sujit’s profile pic) are courtesy Sujit Sumitran.