Healthy Living Blog: Next Level Veggies: Fermentation for Everyone

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Whether you’re shopping in our produce department, at a farmers’ market, or eating out of your own garden this season, I’m sure you’ve noticed how abundant the harvest of fresh food is right now! Personally, I find it a little overwhelming (in the best way possible, of course). I want to eat everything all the time, and I can’t keep up! New things appear on our shelves every day, and each is better than the last. How can we keep enjoying our favorite staples, explore the ephemeral seasonal items, and keep some around for times of less abundance? I have an answer for you, and it’s a practice as old as agriculture itself. I’m talking about fermentation.

Yes, fermentation is an ancient alchemical process by which raw ingredients are combined in such a way that biological reactions take place and fresh perishable food is transformed into a mystic concoction that only gets better with time. In wild-fermented foods, the healthy bacteria inherently present in raw fruits and veggies are manipulated to transform these foods, introducing new intriguing flavors, preserving raw nutrients and unlocking vital minerals for our bodies to use.

 

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Some lucky Healthy Living staff got the opportunity to learn about wild fermentation last week from the very man who wrote the book on this art, Sandor Katz. In his intensive, hands-on class, we took fruits and veggies grown by the same Vermont farms who supply Healthy Living and added nothing more than sugar and salt to them, and watched as before our eyes they were transformed into probiotic soda and lacto-fermented kraut. In a few days (or weeks, or months, depending on your taste), you can enjoy your next-level veggies as a savory, nutritious kraut, and your ripe berries as a delicious effervescent tonic—and you won’t believe how easy it is.

 

The vegetable versions most are familiar with are sauerkraut, simply cabbage and salt, andkimchi, a Korean-style kraut usually made with nappa cabbage, carrots, scallions, radishes, garlic, ginger and hot pepper as well as salt. In class, we made a hybrid ferment, using many of the ingredients of kimchi minus the chili pepper and ginger. This “kraut-chi” has the variety of kimchi with a milder flavor. If you don’t like some or any of these classic veggies, you can use almost anything—roots, brassicas, nightshades, stonefruit, apples—even watermelon rind and rhubarb! If you can grow it, you can sour it. Not everything will ferment to your liking—greens have a bitter flavor and slimy texture on their own and work better in a mixture—but the possibilities are as varied as your own preferences, and the only way to find out what you like is to experiment!

 

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Begin by trimming and rinsing the dirt off of your produce—but no need to scrub too hard or peel; the bacteria in the outer layers will catalyze the fermentation process. Then grate, chop or slice everything into small pieces. Different sizes are OK as long as you are exposing plenty of surface area—the more, the better to achieve even texture in the final product. Mix all your prepped produce together in a large bowl, crock, or bucket—glass, plastic or ceramic are great, and a metal mixing bowl is fine at this stage, but don’t use metal as the fermentation container, as the salt can corrode it.

 

The next step is to add salt—any salt will do, but keep in mind that the less refined it is, the more minerals will be made bioavailable by fermentation, and the more nutritious the final product will be. A sea salt is ideal for this reason. You want to aim for roughly 2% salinity in your kraut, so measure based on the volume of your veggies. The saltiness can be adjusted to your liking, but you want to make sure there’s enough to get the process going.

 

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Using your hands, massage, pound or squeeze the slaw to evenly mix in the salt, and then keep kneading it. This will slowly release all of the water from the veggies and produce your brine. Keep going until the volume of the slaw is reduced by about half. When your veggies are good and tender and there is some liquid in the container, you can stop and let things sit for a few minutes. More water will be released.

 

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While the veggies marinate, you can prepare your fermentation container. In class, we mixed our kraut in a 5-gallon bucket, pounded it down to 2.5 gallons and filled 10 quart-sized glass jars with our fresh kraut. You want at least an inch of space at the top of the container to allow for bubbling. The final step is to press the mixture down in its container so that all of it is submerged in the brine. This will keep oxygen from acting on the kraut. Lacto-fermentation takes place by the action of lactic acid bacteria, or lactobacillus, which is an anaerobic process. This means it happens in the absence of oxygen. While your kraut is fermenting at room temperature for the next few weeks, all you have to do is keep it covered with a lid (but you don’t have to seal it) and pressing it down below the brine. If you decide to seal the lid to prevent overflows, remember to burp the container a couple of times a day.

 

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For the first few days, the bacteria will produce lots of carbon dioxide, which creates bubbles. You may see your kraut bubbling visibly or it may simply rise to the top of the jar. Using your clean hands or a spoon, just press it down until all of the bubbles below the surface are released. After about 10 days, it will be reasonably mature and you can start tasting it to monitor its flavor. When you like the way it tastes, put it in the fridge—or let it keep going! Kraut can keep fermenting in this environment for months, even years, and it will never spoil, only develop further. White mold on the surface is not necessarily a problem—just a result of the kraut coming into contact with oxygen. Scrape it off, resubmerge and let the party continue!

 

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The ecosystem created by fermentation is amazing, and when you eat fermented foods, you are adding this community of good bacteria into your gut, and both supporting your digestion and fortifying your immune system. Not to mention the amazing anti-cancer compounds that are made accessible in simple, inexpensive foods such as cabbage by these bacteria! You could say that eating fermented foods is your best health insurance policy…but don’t take my word for it—try it yourself! Healthy Living sells both of Sandor’s books, which are full of funny anecdotes, practical instructions and recipes for both the beginner and the advanced fermenter, ranging from fruit and vegetables to grains, beans, dairy and beverages—kombucha, anyone? You can create a lifetime of living food from these books and they are worth their weight in gold. You’re the alchemist—have fun!

 

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Posted on the Healthy Living Blog on Monday, July 8th, 2014

Healthy Living Blog: Sprouting: A DIY Embryonic Journey

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I am a dedicated DIYer. Few things in life are more satisfying than the things you create, repair or repurpose yourself, in your kitchen, your garage, your office. Taking these projects on is far more engaging and empowering than paying a premium to have a specialist do them for you. I realize not everyone shares this sentiment. Why spend free time doing things I can pay others to do? Yes, I admit that there are plenty of times when I consciously buy into convenience, but I try to keep things interesting by getting my hands dirty from time to time. I’m about to share with you a DIY technique so easy that you’ll barely realize you’re doing it, and so rewarding you won’t believe what a clever hobbyist you are! Hobbies you can eat are the best kind, right? Join me on this edible adventure into sprouting!

 

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What is sprouting, you ask? Well, it’s a simple yet incredibly significant process. Sprouts, the very first life to emerge from germinated seeds, are the genesis of all plant-based food. Therefore, a sprout contains a highly concentrated plethora of nutrients—when you eat a single sprout, you are consuming the nutrient load of an entire plant. Whoa…let that sink in.

 

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So imagine what a whole handful of these little guys contains—vitamins, enzymes, minerals…and a whole lot of protein! Yes, for vegetarians and vegans, sprouts can be a vital source of pure and potent plant-based protein. Trouble digesting beans? Suspicious of soy? Sprouts are the answer! So do you need more convincing? Let’s roll up the sleeves and begin.

 

There are plenty of fancy seed sprouters on store shelves, but all you really need to sprout is a wide mouth ball jar—I like the quart size, but you can definitely go smaller or larger—and a sprouting screen, available for cheap in the store. I begin with 1/3 cup of seeds. This will yield about 2 cups of sprouts, so if you don’t think you’ll eat that much within 5 days (average time they’ll last in fridge), then go with less. The more room they have to grow in the jar, the better, so if you’re doing more than half a cup, I’d suggest sizing up.

 

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What kinds of seeds are we talking here? The sprouts most people are familiar with are probably mung bean sprouts, common in Asian dishes such as Pad Thai. These are fat, juicy, and easy to grow—great for beginners. I started sprouting with mung, then tried a storebought mix of mung, adzuki, and green lentil, and loved it—so I created a blend of these seeds for my home sprouting. You can eat any kind of sprouted seed, but most popular are beans, greens and grains.

 

You can get all the seeds you need in the Bulk Department, but we also have some fantastic new sprouting mixes brought to us by High Mowing Seeds available in the Produce Department. These seed experts have pre-selected their favorite combos and brought them directly to you, ready for your sandwiches, salads and anywhere else you can think of. They have a great demo video on YouTube at http://youtu.be/s9oJLrCQy6A —check it out! I would recommend a single seed or simple mix for a first time sprouter, since different seeds have different germination periods and some may be ready to eat before others. The mix I used in this batch contained alfalfa, radish and clover in addition to mung, lentil, and adzuki, and the former take a little longer to finish. In the future, I’ll keep them separate to let each seed reach its full potential! But the results were still delicious 🙂

 

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The first step is to measure out your seeds into your jar, and wash them in 3 changes of water, letting the water drain out through the screen. This will remove any residual dust from their dormancy period. To wake up your seeds, you will need to soak them overnight or for 8 hours. Fill up your jar with about twice the volume of water as seeds—they will absorb plenty—and leave it on your counter to hydrate.

 

When the time is up, dump out the water, rinse, repeat, and set the jar propped at an angle (in a bowl works great) so extra water can drip out. Relax—the hardest part is over! All you will need to do now is rinse them twice a day—I usually do it along with my breakfast and dinner dishes. Putting it right next to the sink helps as a visual reminder.

 

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The key to great sprouts is giving them enough air in the container to breathe, but not so much that they dry out between rinses. If you see this happening, rinse more often—your sprouts should remain moist, but not dripping wet, at all times. You can watch the amazing sprouting process unfold by the hour, and remember—the more sun they get towards the end, the more chlorophyll the leaflets will produce. Green is good, so let there be light!

 

You’ll know it’s time to harvest your sprouts when you start to see their cotyledons—the pair of leaflets that emerges from the tip of the tail. An early harvest is fine, too—don’t be afraid to eat what you soak! For detailed instructions specific to each seed, check out http://sproutpeople.org/growing-sprouts/sprouting-instructions/. These folks are a fountain of information and expertise, and I enjoyed several chuckles while combing through their site. Highly recommend.

 

I hope after reading, you are convinced both of the worthiness and the facility of adding sprouting to your DIY repertoire! Your wallet and your body will thank you—it doesn’t get much healthier than this. Happy sprouting!

 

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