We all know most food preparation techniques diminish the nutritional value of the food we eat. From the minimally-prepped (raw, chopped) to the totally killed (deep-fried, overcooked), the range of nutritional degradation is wide. But I bet you didn’t know that there’s a way of preparing your dinner that not only preserves but enhances the nutritional value of your food. Let me introduce you to one of my all-time favorite ways to eat veggies: cultured. A little Picasso with your spinach? No, silly, not that kind of culture. I’m talking about fermentation.
Cultured veggies are veggies that have been naturally fermented through a process called “lacto-fermentation.” When veggies are cultured, their sugars and starches are transformed into lactic acid by micro-organisms, a process that adds loads of beneficial bacteria and amazing enzymes. Fermentation was traditionally used to preserve vegetables and fruits through their off-season. Think of foods like sauerkraut or kim chi. The fermentation process keeps the veggies from going rancid.
There are lots of health reasons to eat cultured veggies:
- They’re already partially digested and packed full of enzymes. This means they’re super easy to digest, and aid the digestion of anything you eat with them.
- They balance the pH of your digestive tract
- They offset the carcinogenic effects of that yummy charcoal you find on anything BBQ’d
- They’re packed with probiotics, which makes them very healing to the digestive tract and great for the immune system
- They help reduce sugar cravings (bonus!)
- They add a really interesting and distinctive taste to your meals.
How do you eat them? Add them to salads, use them as a side or relish with any kind of protein or other veggie, throw them in wraps. You can add them to just about anything savory and they’ll enhance the food and the flavor. The only thing important to remember is to keep them cold – DON’T heat them, or you’ll kill all those great enzymes and probiotics that make them such nutritional powerhouses.
Here’s a video demonstration of how to make them. Or, if that sounds like too much work, look for them in the refrigerated section of your health food store, and look for the words “raw” or “cultured” on the label. The commercially made sauerkraut that’s not refrigerated isn’t the same thing – they use heat, vinegar, and often too much salt.
Cultured Veggies Part 1 – How to make the culture starter
Cultured Veggies Part 2 – Making the veggies
Probiotic culture starter
Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is packed full of probiotics, which can be used as a starter for cultured veggies.
- Big bowl
- Large sieve
- Clean tea towel or cheese cloth
- 1 large container organic plain yogurt (the best quality you can find)
Line a large strainer set over a bowl with a clean dish towel or cheese cloth (I prefer the dish towel). Pour in the yogurt, cover and let stand at room temperature for several hours (this can take up to 12 hrs).
The whey (clear liquid) will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the strainer. Store the whey in a mason jar in the fridge (keeps for up to 6 months), and the cream cheese in a covered glass container (keeps for about 1 month).
Basic cultured veggies
Makes 2 quarts
- Food processor (not mandatory, but your life will be much easier)
- Big bowl
- 2 quart size wide-mouth mason jars
- 1 head green cabbage
- 1 small yam (note: the size I used in the video was way too big and the cultured veg came out a little mushy – use a small one) or 1 carrot
- 4 pieces celery
- 1 bunch radishes
- ½ – 1 tbsp sea salt
- 4 tbsp whey
Put veggies through the food processor on the grate setting to shred. Add to big mixing bowl with the sea salt and whey. Mix thoroughly, squeezing the veggies to release some of their juices.
Pack tightly in mason jars and press down firmly with a pounder or meat hammer until juices are released. The top of the vegetables should be a least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3-5 days before transferring to cold storage.
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