Ferments

Kimchi and Cranberry-Orange Chutney
Kimchi and Cranberry-Orange Chutney

Aren’t those jars just lovely?   They’re delicious, too – I’m in love with the fermented cranberry-orange chutney.

But why five quarts of fermented fruits and vegetables?  One word:  probiotics.

We’ve all seen the commercials of the lady showing up on airplanes and at town hall meetings, asking people embarrassing questions about the state of their digestive systems before handing out boxes of (expensive) pills.  We’ve seen Jamie Lee Curtis shilling for yogurt guaranteed to fix those same embarrassing digestive issues in just two weeks.  But just what are probiotics?

Well, we all know what antibiotics are:  medicinal products that either kill bacteria in the system or keep them from reproducing, allowing an infected body to heal by producing its own defenses and overcome the infection.  When antibiotics were isolated in the mid-twentieth century, they were widely hailed as ‘wonder drugs’ and indeed, formerly life-threatening infections could now be easily cured within a few days.

We’ve become quite dependent on antibiotics, in many cases to the point where some, like penicillin,  are no longer very affective; many people have also developed penicillin allergies.  Another undesirable affect of antibiotics is that in addition to killing off or halting the spread of “bad” bacteria, it also does the same thing to beneficial bacteria that our bodies actually need (hence the term probiotics – they’re literally the opposite of antibiotics.)

Most of these beneficial bacteria live in our gut – our digestive system.  When they are not sufficiently abundant or the balance of the different types of beneficial bacteria are out of whack, we often suffer from a host of irritating, if not downright unhealthy, digestive issues – the famed constipation, gas, bloating and diarrhea the lady with the pills carries on about.

Why not just take the pill or eat the tiny little container of yogurt?  Well, for one thing, as I noted before, this can be expensive – those pills the lady hands out so liberally can cost me and you upwards of $20 for 30 tablets (the recommended dosage is often 2 pills – or more – a day, depending on the severity of the symptoms).  As for the yogurt, it is made from pasteurized lowfat milk and contains added sugars or artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavors, and thickeners (modified food starch and guar gum) along with the probiotics – which don’t come from natural fermentation but are added afterwards.  There are also often only 2 or 3 types of beneficial bacteria in such products; far more live in your body, and an imbalance of probiotics is not a whole lot better than an absence of them.

Fermented foods contain more than just two or three types of beneficial bacteria.  As an added benefit, fermentation makes the nutrients in the foods more available to our bodies and easier to digest.  Making ferments is easy to do – the cranberry-orange chutney came together in all of 5 minutes – and is far less expensive than pills or tiny containers of yogurt.  Those five quarts will literally last us months – vegetable ferments especially improve with age (fruit ferments should be consumed a little more quickly) – and cost less than one bottle of probiotic pills.

Traditionally fermented foods have been around for thousands of years, and the commercial versions (sauerkraut and cucumber pickles immediately come to mind) are sad, pale bastardizations of what can and should be delicious, healthful additions to our diets; most are preserved with vinegar and pasteurized, which sort of defeats the purpose of them in the first place.   Not that I don’t enjoy a good canned pickle – I have over 20 jars of them in my basement – but they are not a replacement for the traditionally fermented kind.

If you haven’t eaten a true, traditional ferment, why not give them a try?  This kimchi recipe – spicy, tart, salty, crunchy and delicious – is a good place to start.

Kimchi

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Happy Monday, everyone!  I hope you all had a great weekend.  I’m slowly, but surely, getting my new laptop rebuilt, but have enough of it restored so I’m back to business as usual – blogging, at any rate.  I’ve been forced to restore my files via Carbonite at night, or else my system runs so slowly I can get nothing done.  Oh, well.

The Paleo Iron Chef competition is still going on; the powers that be gave us Saturday off, so we’re on Day 13 and the not-so-secret ingredient is garlic.  I was going to post, and submit, pickled garlic and ramps (ramps are in season!  ramps are in season!), but the weekend just got away from me.  I will post the recipe, it just won’t be today.  Instead, you get Kimchi – which works, technically, since this recipe contains an entire head of garlic.

We’ve been kind of dancing around fermented foods for awhile.  Like a friend of mine who says he eats liver because he knows it’s good for him, but doesn’t enjoy it, I was hesitant to try fermenting.  Yes, I know they are good for me – all those lovely probiotics and all – but I hate sauerkraut.  I mean I really, really hate the stuff.  Beloved keeps telling me that’s because I’ve only ever had the nasty commercial kind you get at the grocery store, which is true, but still.

Sauerkraut.  Blech.

So, after some time of going round and round on the subject, we decided to compromise:  we’d make kimchi.

Kimchi is essentially Korean sauerkraut with a kick.  A traditional fermented condiment dating back at least 3,000 years, there are literally hundreds of variations of kimchi – and you can find a recipe for each and every one on the internet. 😛  So, I took a couple of recipes I found, sort of combined and tweaked them, and this is what I came up with.  And you know what?

It’s delicious.  Spicy and salty and tangy and tart.  And the longer it sits in the fridge it just gets tangier and more tart.

And I no longer fear the sauerkraut.

I think part of my problem was the fact that every time I tried sauerkraut, it was a huge portion of limp, pickled, salty cabbage piled on a plate.  True sauerkraut – indeed, kimchi as well as most fermented foods – is meant to be eaten as a condiment.  Several times a week, we’ll spoon a couple of tablespoons of the kimchi – as much as 1/4 cup, which is the serving size – on our plates with whatever else we’re eating.  I’ve gotten quite fond of mixing it with a compatible dish on my plate – usually vegetables, but often meat – and I’ve found that it really is as good as I’d been told.  It makes my mouth happy, and my digestive system even happier.

I’m really glad I made kimchi first; I just love the spiciness of it.  As soon as this batch is gone – we’re on the second quart of it, and I think we made it about 3 weeks ago – we’ll be fermenting something else.  And I will eat it gladly.

Note:  I’ve modified this recipe since originally posting to include a small amount of whey, which helps facilitate the fermentation process (it’s not necessary, but your kimchi will take longer to reach the “bubbly” stage without it).  You can obtain whey by draining full-fat, unflavored yogurt through some cheesecloth suspended over a clean container, such as a glass jar, for a few hours.

Kimchi
Kimchi

Serves: 32
Ingredients
  • 1 large Chinese or Napa Cabbage
  • 1 gallon water
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 1 small head of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup fish sauce (no sugar added)
  • ⅓ cup chili paste
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons whey
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced, including green parts
  • 1 medium daikon radish, peeled and grated
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
Instructions
  1. Slice the cabbage lengthwise in half; cut away the tough stem parts. Chop roughly.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water in a large stock pot; place the cabbage in the water. Place a plate on top, weighted if necessary, to keep the cabbage submerged. Place on the counter for at least 2 hours, or up to 24.
  3. Mix the remaining ingredients in a very large metal or glass mixing bowl.
  4. Drain the cabbage; rinse, and squeeze it dry. Add the cabbage to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
  5. Pack the kimchi into two 2-quart, clean glass jars and cover tightly. Allow the jars to stand for one to two days in a cool place, around room temperature, out of the sun.
  6. Check the kimchi each day for 1 to 2 days. When the fermentation process has begun, the kimchi will bubble slightly, and should be refrigerated. If not, let it stand another day. I do not recommend allowing it to sit on the counter for ore than three days – refrigerate the jars; they will still ferment.
  7. Once refrigerated, the kimchi is ready to serve. It will keep for many weeks, and continue to ferment and become more sour. If, at any point, it begins to smell bad, throw it away immediately without tasting.
  8. Nutrition (per serving): 14 calories, <1 calories from fat, <1g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 423.7mg sodium, 114.7mg potassium, 3g carbohydrates, 1.1g fiber, 1.5g sugar, <1g protein.