Monday, November 29, 2010

Get Cultured with Fermented Vegetables

I’ve written before about the benefits of adding probiotics to the diet in the form of cultured dairy products and fermented foods like miso and tempeh. This time of year, especially, it’s important to keep the immune system in top condition to ward off colds, the flu and the myriad of infections that can arise during the cool, dry winter months. Probiotics are an effective way to do just that.

One method I’ve been using to add more probiotics into my diet is culturing vegetables. This time of year, in particular, I believe they’re a great idea because we often skimp on the veggies we consume during the cold months and opt for heavier, cooked foods. This is fine and even preferable for me too because my body naturally wants warmer, heartier meals right now. It’s helpful, though, to balance the diet out a bit with some raw food and the root veggies and heartier winter crops are the perfect varieties for fermenting.

There is also a significant benefit to fermenting vegetables of the Brassica family, including kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. In their raw state, these vegetables have thyroid-suppressing activities because they can interfere with the uptake of iodine by the thyroid. However, fermented vegetables lose this property while still remaining raw. They are also alkaline in nature and therefore detoxifying and a great alternative for people who stay away from dairy products.

It’s easy and inexpensive to make your own cultured vegetables. Here’s what you need (adapted from

- A sealable glass container, one to two quart

- A large bowl

- a cutting board and sharp knife

- blender and/or food processor

- mixture of veggies: cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, sea vegetables,

- fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, seeds like fennel or caraway, pepper, etc.

1. Wash well and chop finely or shred/process a mixture of vegetables of your choice.

2. Mix together in a large bowl. In the blender, add a couple of cups of the mixture and enough water to blend into a thick liquid.

3. Add the liquid slurry to the bowl of veggies and mix well.

4. Pack the vegetables into your glass container, leaving an inch or two at the top.

5. Stuff a couple of rolled-up cabbage leaves at the top of the container and seal the container.

6. Leave undisturbed in a warm place (~70°F) for ~3 - 7 days (Although, I do invert the jar once per day to redistribute the liquid that naturally settles to the bottom. Is this interfering with the fermentation process? I don't know for sure, but my veggies are usually ready within 7 days). Check the taste. They should taste vinegar-y. When they reach the desired flavor, refrigerate to slow the fermentation process.

7. Eat as a side with your meals, in salads, sandwiches or wraps, or as a topping to other foods. They should be eaten raw, though, the preserve the beneficial enzymes and bacteria. Enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Brussel Sprouts Please!

Growing up, I was not a big fan of brussel sprouts. I vaguely remember them being served at dinner, taking one bite and deciding they were not my favorite food. Although, I think it would be rare to find a child that liked them. These days, I love seeing them in the store and immediately reach for a few handfuls because I know that their health benefits are tremendous and that I am equipped with a few recipes that allow me to welcome them on the dinner table. In fact, the last time I made them, they were my dinner!

The recipe below features warm, Autumn colors and a combination of nutty, tangy flavors that go well with the bitterness of the brussel sprouts. If you’ve got the time, you can also roast your own cranberries. They really do add a special touch to this recipe and will also eliminate the excessive sugar that can be found in dried cranberries. This pretty dish would make a beautiful addition to your Thanksgiving table.

Brussel Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans

½ c pecans

1 T grapeseed oil

1 lb brussel sprouts, washed, stems and outer pieces removed

1 T grated ginger

orange zest and juice from one large orange

½ c dried or roasted cranberries (see below)

1 T butter

Heat a skillet, then add the pecans and lightly toast. Remove them from the pan and chop coarsely. Heat oil in a large skillet. Chop the brussel sprouts in half lengthwise. Add them to the skillet and saut̩ until lightly browned. Add the grated ginger, orange juice and zest, and cranberries. Cover and let simmer for 5 Р10 minutes until sprouts are the desired tenderness. You can also add a bit of water if it needs more liquid. Add the pecans and butter and mix well. Serve warm.

Roasted Cranberries

1 12 oz. bag cranberries, picked through, washed and dried

1 T grapeseed oil

2 – 3 T maple syrup

Heat the oven to 225°F. Using a wire whisk, mix the grapeseed oil and maple syrup in a medium bowl. Add the cranberries and toss well to coat. Transfer into a single layer to a glass or ceramic flat-bottomed baking dish. Bake for ~45 minutes. Stir, then bake for an additional 30 minutes or until they start to shrivel. Let cool then refrigerate in a sealed container.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mustard Greens and Kale Sauce with Sundried Tomatoes

Two of the most powerfully beneficial groups of vegetables that we can eat are leafy greens and cruciferous veggies. This includes foods like lettuces, spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy. They’re low in calories and fat, high in fiber, and a great source vitamins such as A, K, C, and folate, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous.

Chlorophyll-containing greens purify and alkalize the blood, and both groups provide anti-oxidants, phyto-nutrients, and are mildly to strongly anti-inflammatory. So any way you can think of to get these veggies into your diet will provide tremendous health benefits to you and your family.

The inspiration for this recipe came from 101 Cookbooks from a pasta recipe calling for kale that sounds fantastic. The recipe sounded good and since I had a bunch of kale and mustard greens in the fridge at the time, I decided to combine the two. Because I was using mustard greens, I thought it would be nice to caramelize the leeks to sweeten them up a bit to balance out the bite of the mustard greens–the same for the balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes give the sauce more of a concentrated flavor as well as body, but I think tomato paste would work here too.

The sauce is good both cold/cool and heated and I’ve had it both ways. First with quinoa pasta (which is actually a blend of rice and quinoa flours), pictured above, and with cooked quinoa. It would also work with rice or other grains, or (I’m thinking!) as a pizza sauce.

Mustard Greens and Kale Sauce with Sundried Tomatoes

1 T grapeseed oil

1 leek, sliced thin crosswise

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c vegetable broth (or more for a thinner sauce), warm

2 T balsamic vinegar

½ c sundried tomatoes, sliced

6 – 8 large leaves each of mustard greens and kale, removed from the stems and broken into large pieces

sea salt and pepper to taste

goat or feta cheese, optional

In a medium skillet, heat the oil to medium and sauté the leek until tender and almost caramelized. Meanwhile, soak the sliced sundried tomatoes in the broth. When the leaks are ready, add them to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic, tomatoes and about ½ cup of the broth, vinegar, the mustard greens and kale leaves, and a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Blend or process until the leaves are well processed. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper. Add more broth if a thinner sauce is desired. Serve over pasta or grains. Top with cheese (or blend in during the processing).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chickpea and Lentil Chili

I wasn’t paying attention to what the weather would be today when I decided to try something different for a vegetarian chili recipe. But the heavy, Autumn rain is a perfect match for a dish like this. I actually had it simmering on the stove by mid morning and the aroma was almost too much to handle!

This recipe is a variation on the vegetarian recipes that often call for pinto, red, and/or black beans. I’ve replaced them with lentils, seen above. I’ve included this picture because I marvel at how pretty they really are! They remind me of the stones that I saw at the edge of the ocean in Northern California. Just thought I’d share that. : )

Back to the chili, I’ve also kept the chickpeas (and I've explained their amazing health benefits here) and added lots of vegetables, including cauliflower, mushrooms, and greens.

The cauliflower, lentils, and mushrooms give this dish a texture that is surprisingly like a meat-based chili and you won’t even miss the meat! I think almost any vegetable you have on hand will work well in this dish. I also feel that good quality spices are really important. I used a smoked, Hungarian paprika here and a nice chili powder. Start off on the low side when adding the spices then add more to taste.

In addition, because I try to use canned foods as little as possible, when not using fresh tomatoes, I’ve switched to tomato products in tetra-pak containers. I’ve seen them at many of the major grocers in this area.

This would make a very hearty meal over brown rice or quinoa and can be garnished with traditional sour cream, chives, and cheese, or even cashews.

Chickpea and Lentil Chili

1 – 2 T grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped small
2 stalks celery, sliced lengthwise and chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
½ head cauliflower, chopped into small pieces
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t dried oregano
2-4 T chili powder
2 T paprika
1 T cumin
½ t cayenne pepper
1 t black pepper
1 t sea salt
~2 c vegetable broth, simmering
1 12 oz. bottle dark beer, at room temperature (optional)
1 c lentils, soaked overnight and rinsed
3 c chickpeas, soaked overnight and rinsed, divided
2 large tomatoes, chopped small
3 c tomato puree or strained tomatoes
2 c chopped fresh green, such as spinach or kale
cooked brown rice
shredded Monterey jack, cheddar, or other cheese, or

1. Heat the oil on medium in a large pot. Add the onion and saute until they become translucent.

2. Add the peppers and celery and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and spices and cook briefly.

4. Add the hot vegetable broth, beer, lentils, 2 cups of chickpeas, tomatoes, and puree.

5. In a blender, blend the remaining 1-cup of chickpeas with just enough water or vegetable broth to cover. Add the puree to the pot.

6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes cook down.

7. A few minutes before the end of cooking, add the chopped greens. If adding spinach, add about 5 minutes before serving. If adding kale, allow a few more minutes for it to wilt.

8. Serve over brown rice and garnish as desired.