They may make your lips pucker, but sour SUPERfoods are a brilliant way to benefit digestion, increase absorption of minerals, and help the body resist disease. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi are chock full of vitamins and probiotics, and pickled foods made with vinegar are effective at controlling blood sugar levels and increasing calcium absorption.
While you can find many of these foods in your local grocery store or specialty shop, you can easily make them at home. This is especially good since you can control the quality of ingredients and the quantity of sodium and/or sugar.
Fermentation for the (Healthy) Win
Fermenting food is an age-old method of preserving fresh vegetables which doesn’t require the cooking that destroys many of the health-giving properties of the food. Lacto-fermenting produces lactic acid, which gives veggies their zesty tang and preserves them so they’ll keep in cold storage for months without losing any of their enzymes and vitamins.
My favorite homemade fermented food is sauerkraut. It is nothing like the mushy, sour stuff you get in most store-bought versions. It is crisp, light, and you get to control the sourness by how long you leave it fermenting. It’s so good you can even eat it the same day. Just add a bit of good quality sunflower oil (Russian is best) for a sprightly salad.
Homemade sauerkraut requires two ingredients: cabbage and sea salt. That’s it. I like to jazz it up a bit by adding dill weed, and my Hungarian friends swear by a hearty sprinkling of caraway seeds.
Not only does fermented sauerkraut taste fantastic, it is a proven immune booster, cancer inhibitor, and digestive aid.
If sauerkraut isn’t your thing, try fermenting other veggies such as beets, carrots, fennel, or — my personal favorite — green beans. These babies taste wonderful when fermented with a few cloves of garlic, fresh dill, and a sliced, seeded red chili.
Pickles Can Be Perfect
If you’re a bit nervous about the fermenting process, go ahead and pickle your favorite veggies with vinegar. As mentioned above, vinegar is a wonderful ingredient to not only preserve and flavor food, but also to heal the body. It is especially good for the digestion, calming upset stomachs and nausea, and for regulating blood sugar.
I like pickling my beets with apple cider vinegar and spices such as cloves or cinnamon. They are lovely tossed on a salad, sliced on a pork sandwich, or snacked on throughout the day.
Vinegar can also help you lose weight if you use it regularly to keep your digestion in fine working order and use it to flavor food instead of using fat-laden sauces or sugary dressings.
- 1 head fresh cabbage, cored
- 2-3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon dill weed or caraway seeds, or juniper berries
- optional: grated carrot, celery, red cabbage, fennel, etc.
Using knife or mandolin, thinly slice entire cabbage.
Layer cabbage in non-reactive bowl or jar with sprinklings of salt and herbs/seeds. Toss well.
Using hands or potato masher or pestle, squeeze and press cabbage until it is firmly packed into bottom of container. Liquid will start to release from cabbage, forming a brine. Work cabbage every 20-30 minutes or so until liquid is 1-2 inches above cabbage.
Place a weight on the cabbage to keep the brine level 1-2 inches above, and drape with a dish towel to keep flies and dust out.
Set into a warmish corner to ferment for at least one week, longer if you prefer very sour kraut.
Refrigerate when done fermenting and eat as desired.
All photos courtesy of the author.