Fermented food has recently regained favor, especially within those communities seeking healthy lifestyles. Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria—probiotics—to our guts and these probiotics aid in our digestion of food and the parceling out of nutrients. When our bodies can absorb nutrients effectively, our immune systems are at their peak.
Unfortunately, many of the fermented foods we buy in supermarkets, as products, must be pasteurized for safe distribution. The pasteurization process not only kills potentially harmful pathogens, but it also eliminates some of the good bacteria we want. Luckily, fermentation is safe, probably safer than canning, and we can do it at home.
Through fermentation, once a standard in food preservation, is no longer commonplace in homes, there are easy routes into the practice. It’s something we could all be doing, benefiting from and enjoying. Even better, no special equipment is required. These ferments take less than a week, and they provide complex flavor profiles that are often lost in store-bought versions.
Sauerkraut is something that some of us may not be all that familiar with, and the thought of fermented cabbage might not sound or smell (at least during the process) all that enticing. However, homemade sauerkraut is a delicious addition to soups, stews, beans, Buddha bowls, sandwiches, burgers, toast, and lots of other stuff. It’s super cheap to make and requires less than five ingredients. (If spicy is more your flavor, go in for some kimchi instead.)
This recipe is for a basic, no-frills but absolutely delicious homemade sauerkraut:
- Cut up a head of fresh cabbage into thin strips, maybe two inches long, and shred two or three carrots.
- Add a couple of handfuls of cabbage then a handful of carrots into a large mixing bowl, sprinkling each layer (the three cumulative handfuls) with a pinch of salt and pepper until all the cabbage and carrot have been added.
- Massage the mixture for a few minutes until it releases a good amount of water into the bottom of the bowl.
- Stuff the cabbage and carrot tightly into a clean jar(s), cover them with the liquid to about an inch from the top, put a cloth over the jar and allow it all to ferment for about four or five days on the counter before putting them in the fridge.
2. Hot Sauce
For those of us who like spicy, eating a meal without a prior dousing in hot sauce just seems wrong. While that often involves a popular brand of hot sauce, making it at home is simple and often results in much more interesting flavors. What’s more, is that a homemade hot sauce can be packed with probiotics that will not only make food taste better but will also help our guts digest and utilize it better.
This is a bare-bones recipe that is so good it’s hard to amend:
- Dissolve half a tablespoon of salt in a cup of hot water and let it cool.
- Meanwhile, dice up a cup of your favorite hot peppers and two cloves of garlic.
- Put the garlic and peppers in a glass jar and pour the cool saltwater over it.
- Let it ferment for three days, blend it, and refrigerate.
3. Oatmeal Yogurt
Homemade yogurt is incredibly simple to make, requiring nothing more than oatmeal, water, and time. Because the fermentation process harnesses the same bacteria and, thus, tangy zip that comes in yogurt we buy at the supermarket, the oatmeal transforms into something that smells and tastes familiar. Like the yogurt we know and love, this one is also packed with probiotics and valuable nutrients. What’s more is that it’s very inexpensive.
This recipe is simple, takes only a few of days and it will store in the fridge after that:
- Blend a cup dry rolled oats into oat flour.
- Put it in a jar, add water until it’s about an inch over the oats.
- Cover with a cheesecloth (or protective fabric: napkin, piece of old t-shirt, paper towel, etc.) and let it sit on the countertop, out of sunlight.
- On the second day, check the consistency, and add more water if necessary.
- When it smells like yogurt (3-4 days), put it in the fridge.
4. Pickled Vegetables
While most of us have come to associate pickles with vinegar, the original pickle is a fermented vegetable. More or less, this involves submerging vegetables in a salt-water brine for several days. During this time, the veggies undergo the fermentation/pickling process, developing healthy bacteria. While cucumbers are the classic pickles, lacto-fermenting works really well for hard vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, radishes and so on.
Again, this recipe is the basic idea, but flavor flurries—herbs, spices, etc.—can be added for fun.
- Make a brine by dissolving 2 teaspoons of salt in three cups of hot filtered water.
- Cut fresh green beans so that they’ll fit in a Mason jar vertically and stuff the jar completely full of them, no wiggle room at all.
- Pour the brine over the jar, fully submerging the green beans, and put the lid on loosely.
- Let if ferment for a day or two on the counter, until it starts bubbling, then put it in the door of the fridge for about a week to finish fermenting slowly.
For those looking for food adventures, fermenting is sure to provide them. While it may feel intimidating at first, it’s a fairly forgiving way to preserve food, and amazingly, it makes stuff healthier for us. In other words, first-timers are welcome on the scene.
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