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Microscopic bacteria and fungi - dish me up another serving, please.
Before you stop reading - never to return - I ask you to hang in with me here.
The microorganisms I'm referrring to protect us:
-- by competing with - and conquering - potentially dangerous organisms
-- they teach the immune system how to function when it's exposed to the diversity of unsavoury microorganisms, e.g. those found in soil and untreated water
And - those living cultures have transforming power to create flavorful, nutritious fermented foods.
Following are some of the myriad health benefits of fermentation:
-- preserves food - history has is that sauerkraut lasted for 27 months on Captain James Cook's second exploration, preventing his crew members from developing the dreaded vitamin-C deficiency disease we know as scurvy
-- breaks nutrients down into more easily digestible forms
-- increases the nutritional value of certain foods, e.g. sauerkraut has significantly higher vitamin C levels than unfermented cabbage
-- provide lactic acid, food for the good bacteria
-- creates new nutrients - e.g. B vitamins like folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and biotin
-- can function as antioxidants, those scavengers snatching up free radicals (unstable molecules that can wreak cellulor damage, promoting disease)
-- removes toxins from foods, e.g. fermenting grains by soaking them before cooking neutralizes phytic acid, a compound that can block absorption of minerals
-- ancient Chinese medicine states that the unique flavour of cultured foods has a balancing effect that helps cancel out cravings for sugar - and neutralizes/helps assimilate sugar if/when it is eaten with a fermented food
Be watchful of commercially fermented foods:
-- yogurt: pasteurization after the culturing process kills the bacteria so you want to purchase yogurt that states on the label "contains live cultures". Or another way to be certain is to make your own. I have step-by-step-instructions for you.
***Another bonus of making your own yogurt is your opportunity to make your own yogurt cheese, a healthier version of sour cream. It's a simple process of lining a small strainer or colander with a couple layers of cheesecloth and carefully scooping yogurt into it. Let it drain: the liquid left is whey, which can be substituted for water in baking or cooking. My sources tell me this whey can be used as a starter for kick-starting other foods to ferment - some day I'll try it but as yet have no experience to report.
-- store bought sauerkraut is often heat-processed and canned for longer shelf life. This too I recommend that you make your own. Here's how.
Another favourite fermented food in our house is kimchi. I have tried several recipes: the following is my present go-to. I love this condiment as a a spicy topping on my rice, spooned over salad, snuggled next to poached eggs, hidden in a veggie wrap......
Kimchi (Korean Sauerkraut)
1 large head napa cabbage – (this type of cabbage will give the traditional look and taste of kimchi)
1 large bunch of green onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
5 or 6 cloves minced garlic (for my taste, more is better, but this is a personal choice)
2 – 3 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 – 1 tsp. dried chili flakes
2 Tbsp. sea salt – to taste
black sesame seeds (optional - add later when serving.)
(other vegetable options to add: finely sliced daikon or other radishes, turnips)
Cut each napa cabbage leaf if half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch (bite-sized) pieces.
Chop the green onions using both white and green parts.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
Massage the veggies with your hands until juices are released.
Pack the kimchi into quart jars, making sure that there is some liquid above the vegetables, and leave a 1-inch of air space on top. Put lids on the jars, without turning them too tight.
Let the jars sit out on the counter at room temp for 3 – 10 days. I let mine sit out for about a week. When the veggies rise to the top in the jar be sure to push down with a spoon to keep them covered by the brine.
Put into the fridge for storage.
(Note: It's the benefit of the fermentation that makes this such a healthy condiment. Amounts of garlic, ginger and chili flakes is totally dependent on how spicy you like your food. This recipe is a variation of one from the Domestic Diva: whose enthusiasm for all things fermented is contagious.)
Ideas for fermented foods is a list limited only by your imagination and taste. If you're interested at all in this kind of experimenting and eating, I recommend you read Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz: it's a valuable resource - one I give credit to: for much of the information, and certainly the inspiration, for the writing of this post.
Olives are on my fementation to-do list. Or were. Yesterday I checked out the idea at the Mid East Food Center in Halifax. The only way that's going to happen is if I go to the Middle East/Northern Africa and buy the olives freshly harvested and smuggle them home in a hurry before their condition deteriorates. Thankfully Mid East has a variety of delicious olives besides many other Mediterranean foods.
Any time is an ideal time for a second serving of an FFF: a fantastic fermented food.