Monday, May 7, 2012

Cultured Vegetables

Cultured foods are one of the most beneficial foods for the human body. They contain plentiful amounts of naturally occurring probiotics that populate our guts and contribute to GI health and immune function. The immune system is one of the most important systems, as it is our bodies main defense mechanism against pathogens, bacteria and any other foreign substances. What might be surprising is that almost 80% of our immune system resides in our guts and is largely based upon the amounts of healthy bacteria, aka probiotics that live there. 

Probiotics have become quite the new 'trend' in supplemental nutrition but probiotic foods have been consumed by traditional cultures for centuries. It seems that every culture had its cultured food (pun intended) that was consumed regularly. Germans ate sauerkraut, Japanese miso, Koreans kimchi, Greeks and Turks yogurt, Russians kefir, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, today's modern diet contains no traditional, truly cultured foods. Some people may have never actually had a truly cultured food in their lives. Today's commercially made products are not the same. They are not fermented with the same traditional care and attention as they once were.
There are a lot of probiotic supplements on the market but my recommendation is always the most traditional way. Cultured vegetables are a great way to get a good supply of naturally occurring probiotics into your body. You can choose to make cultured vegetables with just high quality sea salt or with a purchased vegetable culture. I use the Body Ecology's Veggie Culture Starter to ensure that there is a good supply of probiotics in every batch.

The Recipes
All the vegetables should be organic and fresh or the ferment won't occur as evenly and properly. This recipe is not exact, simply gather all your vegetables, make a brine, slice your veggies very thinly, mix together thoroughly, pack tightly in glass jars, seal, leave in a warm place, undisturbed for 2-3 weeks. More detailed instructions are found below.

Carrot Dill 
1-2 heads green cabbage
2 bunches carrots
1 bunch dill
1 stalk celery

Beet, Dandelion and Cilantro
1 large green cabbage
5-6 beets, peeled
1 small fennel
1 bunch dandelion greens
1 bunch cilantro

1. Wash all vegetables thoroughly. Peel beets, remove celery tops and the outer leaves of your cabbage.
2. Using a Cuisinart food processor or a Vitamix, blend the celery with a bit of water (start with a half a cup) until you get a watery blended mixture. This is your brine. Add one of the packages of your veggie culture starter. If not using, you can add 1 T of sea salt or 1/2C whey to the brine. Let sit while your dice your veggies.
3. Shred your vegetables using a food processor, add the grate blade and shred the vegetables. Remove the stems on greens or herbs and dice finely using a sharp knife.
4. In a large bowl mix together your veggie combinations. For this recipe I had one for the carrot dill and one for the beet, dandelion, cilantro.
5. Pour the brine onto your vegetables. Mix thoroughly using a wooden spoon or your hands (after thorough washing). 
6. Pack tightly into glass mason jars. Leave a few inches at the top because they do expand.
7. Leave in warm place, depending on the weather you may want to wrap them in a towel. The time length depends on the weather as well. When you notice the little bubbles coming up from the bottom of the jar have stopped this is a sign your veggies are thoroughly fermented. You can also taste them and if you taste that 'zingy' taste you're good to go!

Consume a small amount of the veggies each day with a meal, only a tablespoon or so is needed to inoculate our gut with a healthy source of probiotics.You may notice adverse affects at first as most of our bodies are not attuned to fermented foods, if so start with a smaller amount, a teaspoon maybe or even a teaspoon of just the juice. Slowly, very slowly increase the amount. Eventually you will work up to 1/2C or so if you like! They are an acquired taste but you will likely find a combo you enjoy! Don't give up, there are so many herbs and different veggies you could try, for the benefits of probiotics, it is worth the effort!

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