Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Sauerkraut

I realize not all of you are going to try this at home, but I wanted to share how super easy it is to make your own sauerkraut. I made it a few weeks ago and have been wanting to tell you about it!

Sauerkraut directly translated from the German is “sour cabbage” and consists of finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and distinct sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

As I’ve previously written, fermented foods have a long history in many cultures with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known. The Romans mentioned preserving cabbages and turnips with salt but it is believed to have been introduced to Europe in its present form 1,000 years later by Genghis Khan after invading China. The Tatars took it in their saddlebags to Europe. There it took root mostly in Eastern Europe and Germanic cuisines, but also in countries like France.

Ok, that worked for people back then, but why eat it now?

The health benefits of sauerkraut are numerous. It is a source of vitamins B, C and K. Get this: the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients, rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage! It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium and is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

Sauerkraut contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract. It soothes the digestive tract and is effective against stomach ulcers.

Sauerkraut can even save your eyesight! That’s because it is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.

And perhaps most important of all, for this affects everyone, not just those of us with digestive issues: fermented foods, including sauerkraut, bolster the immune system.  Dr. Oz tells us how and why this is so important.

Anyway, now that I’ve (hopefully) sold you on the importance of eating this stuff not just once a year at Oktoberfest, let’s discuss how to make it. Here’s what I gathered to make mine:

1 head of green cabbage
4 peeled carrots
1 peeled daikon radish
1/2 bunch cilantro
a rather large wide mouth glass canning jar with a gasket and hinged lid (see photo below)

A Note:
While sauerkraut can and usually is as basic as just cabbage and salt for the brine, you can experiment as I did with adding additional vegetables such as carrots or cucumbers, raw ginger or daikon, herbs, and spices such as caraway seeds (very yummy - they will appear in my next batch). Makes things a little more interesting.

Pulse everything in batches in your food processor using the shredding disk. As the processing bowl fills, dump its contents into another larger bowl. Keep working until everything is shredded. When everything is in the larger bowl, sprinkle 6-7 tsp of good quality sea salt over it all and then get your hands into the kraut and start squeezing it.

Really work the salt into the veggies. Do this for about 10 minutes until you extract a good amount of liquid from the vegetables. This is an important step because by doing so you are creating the all-important brine that will begin the fermentation process. Now, spoon the kraut mix into a container large enough to fit it all in there and cover. You’ll want a container that looks something like this:

Ok, so you’re done......for now. Let it do its thing.

The fermentation process:
Every day you’ll need to open the lid and let it burp. Gasses will be forming that need to escape. I let mine sit on the counter like this for 10 days, burping it daily (there was less gas on those final days), until the 10th day when I moved the container to the refrigerator. I didn’t get around to eating it right away because I was going out of town for the weekend, so it sat in the fridge another 3-4 days resting. Sauerkraut, believe it or not, actually improves the longer it sits, so don’t be afraid you have to eat it right away.

The tasting:
So the day finally came about 2 weeks after having started the process when I actually got around to opening up the sauerkraut and trying some. I was pleasantly surprised to find, like the cauliflower I had previously made, that the vegetables were not mushy at all but crunchy even, and that tangy flavor from the fermentation was there, but not overly so. My husband was leery about eating my “science experiment” as he called it, but was also surprised at how good it was.

Sauerkraut, as long as it remains raw and uncooked such as this one, is a tremendous addition to anyone’s health. Make some and enjoy it for lunch, alongside a sandwich or some lovely gourmet sausages with mustard.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Chicken Noodle Soup

Most of you know by now that I just love soup. I inherited this gene from my mother. And this week the temperatures here in Southern California provided the ideal conditions for “soup weather”. So I looked for something new to try out. New to me, but certainly not new to most. The humble, but ever popular, Chicken Noodle Soup sounded good.

This recipe contains digestive-friendly ingredients that soothe the digestive tract. There is nothing in it that could irritate, so just like when you have a cold and aren’t well, a bowl of chicken soup is perfect for when you need a little something soothing for your insides.

Just like in my post a few years ago on that wonderfully fragrant Vietnamese soup called Pho, this soup, as nearly all of them, calls for a rich bone broth to start. If you’re short on time, you can certainly use a prepared chicken or vegetable broth, but as I stated in that article, making your own homemade bone broth is not difficult and because of the rich nutrients that a bone broth contains, it’s definitely worth making.

Here’s the recipe I made this week.

Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Soup

Image result for chicken noodle soupIngredients:
2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large stalks celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. turmeric
5 thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. finely chopped
3 marjoram sprigs, plus 2 tsp. chopped, or 1-2 tsp. dried
8-10 cups of homemade chicken bone broth
10 oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1 cup rice vermicelli, broken into short lengths
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaf and turmeric, and cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
2. Add the chicken and brown a little with the vegetables. Add the herbs sprigs, broth and corn kernels and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes if you’re using fresh or canned corn, 15 minutes if you’re using frozen).
3. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and let them soak in a bowl until they soften. Drain.
4. Remove the bay leaf and herb sprigs from the soup, add the noodles (*see note below) and cook an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped thyme and marjoram, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with a sprinkling of parsley.

*You will surely have leftovers. In that case, I have found that the noodles soak up too much of the broth and get mushy the next day. What I do in Step 4 is leave the noodles out and instead, when the soup is ready, I take my bowl, put some noodles in the bottom and pour some soup over the top, and then sprinkle with parsley. I keep the noodles separate when storing them in the fridge overnight as well. So I would just add the herbs in Step 4, and leave out that bit about adding the noodles, and proceed with the rest of the directions.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fermentation vs. Pickling

For those of us with digestive issues, and even for those of us without digestive issues, fermented foods can be an important aid in maintaining the delicate balance of our gut flora.

But what is fermentation?

Fermentation goes way back in our history. At some point, humans figured out a process to ensure that foods could be easily preserved (before refrigeration) and could be made easier to digest. The diets of every traditional society have included some kind of lacto-fermented food so news of this process must have gotten around somehow. Europeans consume lacto-fermented dairy, sauerkraut, grape leaves, herbs and root vegetables. The Alaskan Inuit ferment fish and sea mammals. Asia is known for pickled vegetables, sauces and kimchi in particular. Farming societies in central Africa are known to make porridges from soured grains.

But what exactly are fermented foods and how is fermentation different from pickling? 

The dictionary defines fermentation as metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases, and/or alcohol. It occurs in yeast and bacteria, but also in oxygen-starved muscle cells, as in the case of lactic acid fermentation. Fermentation is also used more broadly to refer to the bulk growth of microorganisms on a growth medium, often with the goal of producing a specific chemical product. Salt is typically used to create a brine, in which foods are allowed to “ferment” for 3-7 days or even longer. 

While most people think about beer or wine they hear the term fermentation, it is the bacteria that are responsible for lacto-fermentation. The “Lacto” portion of the term refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Various strains of these bacteria are present on the surface of all plants, especially those growing close to the ground, and are also common to the gastrointestinal tracts and mouths of humans and other animal species.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Beyond preservation advantages, lacto-fermentation also increases or preserves the vitamin and enzyme levels, as well as digestibility, of the food. So before science showed this to be true, traditional societies already knew this. 

Pickling is defined as the process of preserving, even expanding, the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation also in brine but typically by immersion in vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle or "pickled [insert word here]”. Pickles and relishes are a part of the American food tradition. Since the advent of industrialization, most pickling is done with vinegar, which offer more predictable results, but no lactic acid.

So really fermentation and pickling are nearly identical, as they are both methods of preserving food and contain a salt brine, although pickling includes the use of vinegar. But fermented foods offer distinct advantages for the digestive system over pickled ones because of the lactic acid.

I had read that digestion could be improved by eating a few spoons of fermented foods at the start of each meal. This would entail having a jar of the stuff around at all times. But before investing the time to making some at home, I decided to look for an example at my health food store. I had sticker shock. A 16 oz. mason jar of it cost $11.00! I did get it, in the name of research, and it was tasty, but I am not about to shell out $11.00 every time I want some, so the next step was to make it myself. And it’s a good thing - it’s really ridiculously easy to do.

First on the list to try is Curried Cauliflower. It sounded zippy and a little spicy and interesting. Here’s all you need to make it.

1 small head of cauliflower (about 3 cups of small florets)
2 1/2 Tbsp. curry power of choice
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
3 Tbsp. sea salt
1 quart of water

1. Make a brine by heating up the water, adding the salt, and allowing it to dissolve. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Cut the cauliflower into small florets.

3. Place the garlic cloves in the bottom of a mason jar. 

Add the curry powder followed by the cauliflower. Pour the brine over the vegetables until they are covered, leaving 1-1/2 inches of headspace. Place a lid on and shake well to dissolve the curry.

4. Place cover on jar and allow to sit out at room temperature for 3 to 7 days until fermented. You may have to burp the jar for the first few days to release pent-up gases. To do this simply open the jar until any pressure is released and immediately retighten.

Once you are satisfied that your cauliflower is fermented (it has a little tang), you can move it to cold storage.

Stay tuned - we’ll see what it tastes like later in the week!

Ok, so what’s the word on the cauliflower? I let it ferment on my countertop for 5 days since that was a happy medium between the 3-7 that was recommended. Any less and I didn’t think it would have the same zippiness. And it was surprisingly good! The cauliflower retained its crunch while having a nice little tangy curried flavor. I usually eat it as a snack when I get home from work, before I go for my walk. I take it to work and eat it alongside whatever leftovers I’m bringing. It would be a good side for a sandwich. My sister-in-law folded it into an omelet she made with spinach and kale. I might also add it to a salad or have it as a side to a bunch of Indian dishes. If you made it, what have you done with it?