By Kristin Lehar –
Fermenting foods and making various jars of pickled delights out of the abundance of produce bursting out of the garden at this time of year is probably one of my favourite things to do. The satisfaction of harvesting the fruits (and veggies) of your labour, creating delightful vegetable combinations, stuffing them in jars, and saving them for a snowy winter day is well worth the work.
People from all parts of the planet have been fermenting foods for hundreds of years. It is an ancient practice that has been somewhat neglected with the industrialization and modernization of society, but is beginning to gain more and more attention once again. Fermenting was and is an effective way of preserving fresh foods for consumption during winter months when gardens are dormant and also to “process” the food rendering it safe for eating. For instance, Asian civilizations always knew that soybeans were to be fermented before they were safe to eat, hence their creation of miso, tempeh, and natto—all fermented soy products. Cassava root has been a food source in West Africa and has also always been traditionally put through a fermentation process to eliminate the poisonous natural cyanide found in the raw form. When a food is fermented or cultured, it is essentially “pre-digested” by healthy bacteria, which alters both nutritional content and flavour of the food. Lacto-fermentation being one of the most common methods is an anaerobic process in which lactic acid bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid that acts as a preservative and is responsible for the sour pickle flavour in fermented vegetables. Foods that have been pre-digested by these beneficial bacteria are extremely easy to digest and they also contain incredible amounts of healthy bacteria needed for a healthy intestine and immune system, which happens to be a huge key to the health of the entire body. Fermented foods are therefore an excellent source of probiotics sometimes even more potent that a probiotic supplement.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, chutneys, kefir, yogurt, pickles, vinegar, and kombucha—these foods do not only wonders for the body, but for the taste buds! Since the development of mass production of foods, we have imitated the flavors of fermented foods using white sugar and white vinegar in a sterile environment. While they can be tasty, these foods have very little to offer in terms of nutrition and can so easily be created at home with garden vegetables the way people have been doing so since the beginning of time.
This is the best time of year to begin stocking up on these lovely foods as garden harvests are only getting bigger. Just about anything can be fermented and the combinations of vegetables, herbs, and spices to create your own blend of veg is limited only to your imagination! Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage – is a classic and I assure you, and if you make it yourself with a locally grown head of cabbage it may just be your new favourite food. This is how I began my fermentation ventures.
One way to culture your veggies is to finely chop or julienne root vegetables of your choice—cabbage, beets, and carrots are my favourites. Adding onions to the mix is always a good idea if you are looking for divine flavour. You may also add some kale leaves, or as I do, the thick fibrous kale stems that are not as much fun to eat raw. The mix should contain a greater portion of hard vegetables as the leafy greens tend to get mushy after a while, though they make a nice addition in smaller amounts. Fresh or dried herbs and spices can also be added. Once you have your chopped vegetables in a bowl, the next step is to add salt. Salt is crucial to the first stage of the fermentation process as it inhibits undesirable bacteria growth while allowing the favourable lactic acid bacteria to thrive and do its job. Next, the mixture needs to be lightly pounded. This action releases juices from the vegetable, which provides a liquid under which it will all be submerged in your jar or vessel of choice. Once your mixture is juicy you simply take any glass jar and stuff it full, being sure to compress the veg really well, which will further release the juice. The jar should be full of shredded veggies submerged in their own juice and is then ready to be put away into a cupboard for at least two weeks, but often, the longer the fermentation time, the tastier the kraut.
A simpler method is to pickle foods of your choice. Instead of canning your mini cucumbers with vinegar and sugar, try lacto-fermented pickles. All you require are some garlic cloves, dill, and your cucumbers submerged in a salt-water brine. Put it in your cupboard or on your counter top and watch the transformation take place. Alternatively, you can pickle baby carrots, beet slices, kale stems, or whatever else your garden may have to offer at this time.
Simple dill pickled beets
- 2-3 beets, washed
- 500ml glass jar
- ½ tsp salt
- Fresh dill
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
Cut the beets up in whatever way you wish to eat them. I like long sticks so you can eat them like a pickle, but diced or sliced pickled beets are awesome, too. Note that the smaller the pieces are, the faster they will ferment through. Cut the garlic into a few large pieces and put them at the bottom of the jar with the fresh dill. Add all the beets until they fill the jar about an inch form the top. Sprinkle with the salt and add water so that the beets are completely submerged. Close the jar, lightly swirl the water around to distribute the salt, and put it away for at least one week, though if your pieces are bigger it may require a longer time. I like my pickled beets fermenting for a minimum of two weeks, but pickles fermented for two months are even better!
Kristin is a holistic nutritionist in training whose main goal is to live a simple and awesome life. She loves to inspire others to realize the power of the body and its amazing capabilities to restore and maintain health and to realize we each have the power to bring our bodies back into well-being. Having love for and being connected to the language of the body is the first step on the path to a thriving life and thriving planet.