Pickled Beets

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Making pickled beets couldn’t be easier.  They are delicious and very good for you, and they make a colorful addition to a dinner plate or a salad.  And fermenting them makes them a probiotic powerhouse which will strengthen your immune system and improve digestion.

Ingredients:
Beets, enough to fill a quart jar
1 tablespoon of salt, non-iodized like sea salt or kosher salt
Optional, fresh or dried herbs, or other seasonings
Optional, a slice or two of onion
Fresh, filtered water

Wash and trim your beets.  If they are small and young, I usually skip peeling them.  If they are large, the peels will be tough and you will probably want to remove them.  My beets were small, with thin skins, so I left them unpeeled.  Slice them into wedges.  Smaller wedges will ferment more quickly than larger ones.  It doesn’t really matter too much what size you have, except it’s wise to make them somewhat even so they will all be done at the same time.

I have fresh herbs in my garden, so I grabbed a handful of mixed herbs.  I stuff half of the herbs in the bottom of a one quart mason jar.  Then, I packed in my beet wedges, tucking in a few garlic cloves for good measure, but they are totally optional.  I then topped off the jar with the remaining herbs, and a slice or two of onion.  The onion is optional, but adds to the flavor and will help keep your food under the brine.

Add one tablespoon of non-iodized salt to your jar.  Kosher or sea salt are excellent choices.  Table salt has iodine…you want to avoid using that.

stacked

Fill your jar with clean, filtered water almost to the top of your jar.  Place a smaller jar on top of your stacked beets.  You want to find a jar that will keep all of your food under the brine.  Food that is exposed to air could develop mold.  But food that is under the brine is preserved.  “Under the brine is fine!”

Place a dish underneath your stacked and pressed beets.  You will want something to catch any liquid that might overflow. especially if you are fermenting beets!  Top off your water level to make sure all of your food is under the brine.

Take a dishtowel, or piece of cloth, and cover your fermenting beets.  Secure it with a rubber band to make sure nothing gets into your fermenting beets.

Leave your beets at room temperature for anywhere from 4-7 days.  A warmer spot, like the top of your fridge might yield quicker results.  Cooler temperatures will take longer.

Feel free to taste your beets at any point and cover them and move them into your fridge when they taste good to you.  Longer fermenting times will result in a more sour pickled beet.  It’s entirely up to you.  Some people might go well over 7 days.  Just keep an eye your your brine level and water if needed.  Given too much time, the beets will get softer.  I prefer a beet with some crunch to it.  I’m usually happy with about 5-7 days at room temperature.
sliced

 

Fermented-related news!

I know my allergies have improved vastly since I’ve been eating fermented foods regularly.  This article talks about how good bacteria have helped with peanut allergies.
Scientists May Have Discovered How to Stop Your Peanut Allergies for Good

And another article about the benefits of good bacteria for allergies.
Scientists Sniffing Out the Western Allergy Epidemic

And a good article about pH levels and kombucha.
What is the ph Balance of Kombucha and why do I care?

Kombucha-fermented BBQ Sauce

chopThis fruit-forward BBQ sauce is easy and very delicious!  And the fermented goodness develops both the flavors and the wonders of probiotics that help to heal digestive issues and develop a strong immune system.  And, frankly it’s just an awesome sauce that is great with chicken, pork or beef!  To preserve the probiotic magic, add the sauce just before serving.  You are welcome to cook with it, but high heat destroys any fermented magic.

Ingredients:
1 onion, peeled and sliced
10-12 ounces of pitted cherries (a cereal bowl)
2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes
1-3 hot peppers (I used one poblano…not very hot)
2 mangoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 package of raisins (12 ounces)
1 bottle of kombucha (12 ounces, plain or an appropriate flavor, I used ginger)
1/2 cup molasses

stackedPlace all of your fruit and veggies into a container.  It does not matter if they are neatly layered or mixed together.  Pour your bottle of kombucha over the top.  Add more kombucha, or even filtered water to ensure that everything is covered.  Place something on top that will keep all of your fruit and veggies under the level of your liquid.  This is very important, otherwise exposed food could possibly mold.  Use a plate, some clean rocks, whatever works for you.

fizzCover the entire container with a dishtowel ( I use a rubber band too!) and set it somewhere in your kitchen where you can keep an eye on it.  Allow everything to ferment for 7-10 days.  Check to make sure your food is submerged.  Add additional liquid if necessary.  You will notice that things will slowly bubble as your fermentation proceeds.  I recommend that you have a pie plate or bowl underneath, in the event that your liquid bubbles over.  I discard any liquid that bubbles over.

colanderAfter 7-10 days, drain your fruit and veggies in a colander, reserving the liquid.  Place all of the fruit and veggies into a blender or food processor and puree.  Do this in batches, if necessary.  Add the molasses.  Add just enough of your reserved liquid to make your sauce smooth, yet thick.  Save in bottles and keep refrigerated.  Warning: this sauce is powerful and alive, and can develop a good amount of carbonation.  Check your bottles for pressure carefully.  Refrigeration will keep carbonation limited, but always open bottles with caution.

3veggiesUse this sauce to top chicken, pork or beef after it is cooked to preserve the fermented magic, though cooking with it is just fine too.  Mixing this sauce with mayo, or other ingredients can make a very nice dressing for coleslaw or other salads.  Your feedback is always welcome!  I would love to hear from you.

cherries

 

Avocado Soup, with Kefir or Yogurt

doneTonight I made a soup that I’ve been plotting to make for over a week.  But when you are a blogger who writes about what you make for dinner, not every night is the right night to cook, photograph and write about dinner.  But tonight was a good night for that.

This is a cold soup that is perfect for summer.  And honestly, I was blown away at how flavorful this turned out.  I hope you are encouraged to try it.

ingredientsIngredients:
2 ripe avocados, seeds and skins removed
1 large English cucumber, peeled, seeds scraped out
1 cup of kefir or plain yogurt
1 lime, just the juice
1 tablespoon minced basil
1 teaspoon of lemon pepper
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
chicken stock, vegetable stock, or white wine
1/2 of a purple onion, finely diced

Add ons:
shrimp, bacon, or whatever turns your crank

Combine avocados, cucumber, kefir (or yogurt), lime juice, lemon pepper and salt in a blender or food processor.  Add stock to thin out as necessary.  I was planning to use chicken stock, but the pantry was bare…so I improvised with some white wine, and the results were amazing. The lime juice is important to keep the avocado from turning grey.  But lemon juice or a nice vinegar will work just as well.

avocadosThis is a great soup just like this!  But I decided to make it my entire supper, so I sautéed some shrimp and diced purple onion, which I stirred in after it was all blended.  Honestly, it was a stunning combination.  But something like bacon and tomato would be pretty terrific as well.  You are empowered to be creative.  Add a thing or two that you have found that pairs well with avocado.  

And using kefir in your lunch or dinner adds that fermented magic that keeps your gut healthy and your immune system strong!

I hope you try this recipe.  Please let me know how it turns out for you!

Frozen Dog Treats with Kefir (Or Yogurt!)

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Make these VERY easy 3 ingredient frozen dog treats!  One banana, one cup of peanut butter, one cup of kefir or yogurt…that’s it!

bananaTake one banana, even that one that is getting past it’s prime.

pb2Put in the blender with one cup of peanut butter.

kefir2Add one cup of kefir…or yogurt.  And blend until smooth.

trayFreeze.  If you don’t have a cool dog bone mold, spread the mixture onto a pan with a sheet of wax paper.  Once frozen, cut into bite size pieces and store in a sealed container.  If you make treats too large, your dog will drop it onto your carpet, or couch, or bed.  Or so I’ve heard.

finalEnjoy along with your dog.  They are pretty darn good!  And my dogs have always loved them.  Adding a little fermented goodness to your pet’s diet is a very good thing.

Gut-Healthy Fermented Salsa

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Fermenting fresh vegetables allows the natural, and very-good-for-you bacteria (you can say “probiotics” if you think bacteria is gross) that is present to flourish and grow. This good bacteria  will give you a healthy gut and “strong like bull” immune system.  Eating fermented foods has seriously done wonders for me…and I want that for you too.

Plus, fermenting foods, especially in delicious combinations, melds flavors and creates a special magic.  My friends, family and coworkers love this fermented salsa…even those that are suspicious of anything fermented.  I really hope you are brave enough to try it.

onachip2Day 1 Ingredients:
4-5 plum tomatoes, or any kind, cut into medium wedges
1 jalapeño pepper, stems and seeds removed, cut into a few large strips
1 yellow sweet pepper, or red, orange or green, stems and seeds removed, cut into large chunks
1/3 of a medium onion, sliced into 1/3″ thick disks, try to keep them together
1 tablespoon non-iodized salt (like kosher or sea salt)
water

Day 4 Ingredients:
1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
the juice from 3-4 limes
1-2 avocados, diced (optional)

Also needed:
a 1 quart glass jar
a smaller jar that fits inside the mouth of your larger jar

packedInstructions:
Take a clean one quart glass jar and fill about 2/3 full with your tomato wedges, tucking your jalapeño pieces amongst the wedges.  Add your sweet pepper chunks into a layer on top of the tomatoes.  Finally use your onions slices like a cap on top of everything.  If you can find a slice that is just the right size to wedge under the shoulders of the jar, that is terrific.  You want to allow at least an inch of space at the top of your jar.

Mix your tablespoon of salt with one cup of water.  Cold or room temperature is fine.  Do NOT to use iodized table salt.  Iodine will inhibit the fermentation process.  I use kosher salt or sea salt.  Kosher salt has less sodium in it than sea salt, by volume, so if I use kosher, I use a rounded tablespoon, if sea salt, a level tablespoon.  Who am I kidding???  I never really measure anything.  I always pour the salt in the palm of my hand…but that is roughly what I shoot for.  But you should measure.

stackedPour your salt and water over your packed veggies.  Then add enough extra water so that all of your veggies are completely covered.

None of this order really matters all that much, do not sweat things.  The main principle is to pack your veggies into the jar in big pieces, so you can chop them up later.  And the onion on top merely serves as a “lid” to help keep your food below the brine.  Repeat after me, “below the brine, is fine!”

Place another food safe “whatever” on top of your veggies.  Your “whatever” can be a smaller jar, a wine or ketchup bottle, or even a few smooth rocks that you’ve washed off.  It’s smart to have a bowl or plate underneath your jar of veggies.  The brine will likely bubble over during the first couple of days.  This is perfectly fine and expected.

packed3Allow your jar of veggies to sit out at room temperature for 3-5 days.  Check daily to make sure you have enough water to keep everything sufficiently submerged.  Top things off with fresh water, as needed.  It’s wise to cover everything with a dish towel, in the event of something like fruit flies in your kitchen.  You are welcome to unpack things and taste them along the way.  But I have found that 3-5 days is about perfect for this combination of vegetables.

ingredientsSo, about day 4, unpack your jar and dice the tomatoes, onions and peppers, then finely mince the jalapeño.   You could probably have packed the jar with diced pieces in the beginning, but I think using larger pieces and dicing at the end makes the salsa visually more appealing.  I usually dice things into a various sizes based on how I think it will look visually.  I do not include the brine into the salsa.  You are welcome to drink it…it’s is delicious and very good for you.

Mix everything in a bowl, add your minced cilantro (feel free to sub out parsley, even basil if you hate cilantro…and I know some of you do), and squeeze in your lime juice.  You might want to mix your tomatoes and sweet peppers first, then add your onion and jalapeño in gradually, deciding how much you like.  Some of the heat from the peppers will already be present on all the veggies.  When I served this particular salsa at my sister’s birthday party, I divided the salsa into two bowls and made one mild and one hot.  Kinda smart, just sayin’.

onachipAdd diced avocado if you like!  I really like diced avocado with this salsa…I just thought it wouldn’t photograph as well, so I left it out of the photos.  But, I don’t recommend trying to ferment avocado…that just sounds gross.  Add it fresh, just before serving.

Bonus tip!  I think I’ve figured out how to not get hot pepper juice in my eyes when dicing peppers like jalapeños.  I wash my hands, lightly towel dry them, pour a few drops of cooking oil into my palms and massage in thoroughly.  Be careful that your hands aren’t too slippery when using a knife of course, but I think doing this prevents the hot stuff from the peppers from getting into your skin and then later rubbed into your eyes by accident.  You’re welcome.

Amazingly Easy Sourdough Bread With Cranberries And Swiss Cheese

whole2Making sourdough bread is often considered a daunting task!  But through the power of kefir, making sourdough bread is actually very easy.  Kefir evens adds it’s own yeast.  With kefir you can make basic sourdough bread with only three ingredients: kefir, flour and salt.  Could it get any easier?

A little background.

Kefir is milk that has been fermented by the addition of a SCOBY.  SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.  If you are new to this stuff, that may sound frightening, but it is not.  The process is similar to making yogurt, but is both easier and better for you!  Kefir makes milk better by adding a rich array of probiotics, and breaking down things like lactose, that are often hard for some people to digest while making nutrients more easily absorbed by the body.  Many people who are lactose intolerant are able to tolerate kefir.

Kefir means “good feeling” in Turkish, and when I drink kefir, I do feel good!  Some days I swear it improves my mood almost instantly.  Perhaps it is the strong dose of B vitamins.

And the benefits (without getting too technical) of making sourdough are:
• nutrients (like B vitamins and more) are broken down and are easier to digest and absorb
• reduces blood sugar spikes that can be common with carbohydrates
• makes bread that often can be tolerated by those with gluten sensitivity
• creates preservative-free bread that stays fresh longer than regular bread (due to phytic acid)
• is part of the ancient art of making bread (there is something magical about making bread this way!)

Ingredients:
1 cup of rye flour
1 cup of kefir
1/4 cup of water (if needed)
1/2 a packet of yeast (optional)
1/2 tablespoon of salt
2 cups of white all purpose or bread flour
1 cup of diced Swiss cheese (or another medium-firm cheese)
1 cup (more or less) of dried cranberries
1 dash of oil
1 egg white to brush on top (optional)

kefir_ryeMake the sourdough starter:
Mix the rye flour and kefir together in a glass jar with a lid.  Leave the lid a smidge loose so any pressure can be released.  Allow the flour and kefir to sit at room temperature for 2-3 days.  Give it shake from time to time.  Your mixture should be like thick pancake batter.  If the mixture gets too thick, add some water to thin it out a bit.  Open the lid from time to time and smell.  You will begin to smell the “sour” that give sourdough bread it’s distinctive tang.  If you want a more powerful sour flavor, let your starter go a couple of days longer.  But for me, I find that 2-3 days is just about right for a good, but not too powerful sourdough flavor.

starterMake the dough:
When you are ready, add all of your sourdough starter into a mixing bowl.  If you have a mixer with a dough hook…that is going to be perfect.  If you want strong arms, use a bowl and a strong spoon.  Remember to stretch first, and stay hydrated if you go the bowl and spoon route. If you want, add a half packet of yeast now and mix thoroughly into your starter.  This will ensure you have an even distribution of yeast.  Adding yeast will merely speed things up.

(A note about the yeast…  Kefir contains yeast already.  You do not need to add additional yeast, but sometimes I do to speed along the process.  If you add the yeast your bread will probably rise in a couple of hours.  If you opt to skip the yeast, your dough may take an extra day or two to rise.  Both options are just fine, I do it both ways.)

Add the salt and mix thoroughly.

doughbowlBegin to add your white flour in half cups, mixing along the way.  You will probably need to stop the mixer, scrape the sides, and shift things around to get an even mix.  Keep adding white flour until your dough “comes together”.  If using a stand mixer the dough might begin to clean the sides of the bowl and hold together.  You want a nice, pliable dough, not too dry and not too wet.  Adding your flour slowly will let you judge things.  Do not rely on my exact measurements for flour…you need to add enough to make your dough just right.

cheese_cranWhen your dough looks right, add the cheese and cranberries and mix until incorporated.  I often rehydrate my cranberries in warm water to make them softer.  This is a great idea.  If you do this, you might need to add some more flour to adjust for the extra moisture.

Dump your dough onto a clean counter and knead just a bit.  Your mixer may have provided enough kneading, but it’s always fun to get your hands on some fresh dough.  Over kneading will cause your dough to start to look rough…stop if you hit this point.

lump

Add your dash of oil into the mixing bowl and turn the bowl a bit to spread the oil around.  Plop your dough into the bowl and give it a swirl to get it oiled up, like a coed trying to get a tan.  Then flip the dough over once to make sure the entire dough ball is coated with oil.  Cover your bowl with plastic wrap.  If you don’t get a good seal, use a rubber band.  I always save those bands that keep the broccoli together.  Usually these can stretch to fit my Kitchenaid mixing bowl.  Set your bowl in a warmish, draft-free location to rise.  If you added the optional yeast, your dough might double in about two hours.  If you do not add extra yeast, your dough might take a couple of days to double.  This is not bad!  Flour that gets more time to ferment is even better for you…plus you get to work on your patience!

At the risk of getting lengthy, I will add, that if your dough is rising, and it’s bad timing to bake it, you can punch it down, put it into an oiled Zipoc bag and toss it in the fridge.  Bread dough will easily keep a few days this way!  Often, I make a two-loaf batch and toss half into the fridge to bake a day or two later.  Cold dough will just take longer to warm up and start to rise again.

When your dough had doubled in size, turn it out onto the counter and knead a bit more, shaping the loaf into the size to fit your container.  You can use a typical loaf pan, or a pie plate, or even just place it on a baking sheet.  This time I used a baking sheet with a piece of parchment.  If you use a loaf pan or pie tin, make sure you oil or butter the inside before placing your loaf into it.  Remember that your dough will likely double in size after your second kneading and shaping, so allow for expansion.

Cover your dough with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap.  If using plastic wrap, give the top of your loaf a bit of oil so the dough doesn’t end up sticking to it.  Trust me, I’ve done this…learn from me.

risingAllow your loaf to rise until doubled in size.  Beat an egg white with a half tablespoon (yea…like I measure anything!) of water and brush on top.  You won’t use all the egg, not even most of it, just brush on enough so you can see the top is glistening.  This step is optional, but gives the top a nice shine.   Sometimes I save a few slivers of cheese and make a design on top.  Totally optional. Today I went with a radial design.  Then, make an omelette with your leftover egg.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes.  Factors vary, the size and shape of your loaf, etc. will all factor in.  I set my timer for 20 minutes, and start checking my bread at this point.  I typically will give my loaf a half a turn in the oven as well, as sometimes ovens don’t heat evenly.

meltingBake until done.  Keep checking as needed.  You want a nice brown loaf, but the real test for doneness is if your loaf has a hollow thump when you give it a thump with your finger.  If doesn’t have that hollow thump, pop it back into the oven for a bit more time.

If you have a nice color but not the hollow thump, place some foil very loosely over the top to prevent the top from getting too dark.  If you seal your foil on top, you will steam your nice crisp crust…let’s not do that, ok?

Final thoughts.

And now that I’ve gotten you to buy some kefir…please make sure that you drink it!  I really do believe that kefir is really one of those very special super foods.  If you don’t like the taste of it plain, it blends really well with nearly any fruit.  Or you could sweeten it up with honey.  If you use sugar…that will be our little secret.  I hope you try kefir.  Even more, I hope you find a way to make kefir and other fermented foods a regular part of your diet.  I have found it to be utterly life-changing.

Also, you could totally strip this recipe down to three ingredients.  Kefir, white flour and salt.  Just just those three and this technique, you can make plain sourdough bread over the course of about 4-5 days.  Give it a try!

My Story

krautMy stomach hurt for 15 years.

About 17 years ago I developed an ulcer.  I believe it was caused by excessive use of antibiotics due to chronic sinus infections as well as heavy use of Tylenol to relieve chronic neck pain from a car accident.  For 15 years I took ulcer medications like Prilosec to relieve nearly constant stomach pain.  And, I took the doctor-prescribed regimen of heavy-duty antibiotics more than once, and my ulcer would not heal.  I had 15 years of misery!  15 years of constant pain.

But the cure was just around the corner.

A friend of mine had recently begun making her own sauerkraut to address some of her own digestive problems.  She shared with me how to make sauerkraut…it was easy, fun and delicious!  And who knew the powerful probiotics that were created through the fermenting process were going to be powerful enough to restore my compromised digestive system to good health again???  After making and consuming my homemade sauerkraut I began to experience real relief from my near constant stomach pain.  After a few months, my regular use of Prilosec dwindled and then eventually ceased.  I have not taken a pill for stomach pain in two years.

castironOh, and did I say that my immune system went from “tin foil” to “cast iron”?  It really did.  Five years ago I would catch EVERY bug in the office, and it would turn into pneumonia or bronchitis almost every time!  it was SCARY!  I’d reached a point where powerful antibiotics were barely able to heal me.  It really did begin to scare me.  But my regular diet of fermented foods has restored my immune system.  I have not caught the office cold or flu when it makes its rounds for a couple of years now.  If I do feel like I might be coming down with something, I up my intake of fermented foods and I can feel my body fight off the unwelcome intruders!  How cool is that?

It sounds to simple and to easy to be true!  Making and eating fermented foods healed my 15 year ulcer!  I made sauerkraut!  It’s cheap and easy to make. And it’s tastes good!  And frankly, I was never a huge fan of store bought sauerkraut, but homemade is so much better tasting.  And most grocery store sauerkraut has been pasteurized, killing the probiotic goodness.  And if making sauerkraut does not appeal to you, you can buy probiotic-rich ‘kraut at stores like Whole Foods.  Find the “living sauerkraut” in the refrigerated section, often sold in pouches now.  And if you don’t like the taste of sauerkraut there are many other kinds of fermented foods that you can choose from.

Can’t I just take probiotic supplements??  Yes, of course you can.  And I did too.  But from both my reading, and my personal experience, probiotic supplements are ineffective at actually getting into your system.  I took many probiotic supplements, many of them were very expensive, high-quality brands and they did not heal my ulcer.  But eating living sauerkraut worked!  And you know how cheap cabbage is!

What about yogurt??  Yogurt is good for you, and some kinds do contain living probiotics.  But yogurt does not have a a diverse array of good bacteria, it is pretty limited.  Other fermented foods contain higher quantities and a greater variety of good bacteria for your gut.  I think yogurt is good for you, and I ate it regularly, but it wasn’t powerful enough to heal my ulcer and transform my immune system.

Let me explain more.

bacteriaThe experts say that 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut.  “Gut flora” is the community of bacteria that resides in our digestive systems.  That is a broad spectrum of bacteria that lives inside of us.  Antibiotics, stress, alcohol, poor diet, and other factors can compromise the bacteria in our digestive systems.  I like to think of our digestive systems like a garden.  We want happy, flourishing gardens that are free of weeds.  If we neglect our gardens, the weeds, or bad bacteria, can get a foothold.  Our gut flora includes h. pylori, the bacteria that is believed to be the cause of most, if not all, ulcers.  I believe that we all have h. pylori in our guts, but given a healthy spectrum of gut bacteria, h. pylori is kept in check.  When our gut flora is compromised, h. pylori can take over and result in ulcers.  Many doctors will prescribe a mix of very powerful antibiotics to try and kill the h. pylori bacteria.  And I tried that route a couple of times!  But my ulcer always returned.  but by simply including sauerkraut in my diet, I “replanted” my gut with a spectrum of good and desired bacteria which restored balance and returned my h. pylori back into the corner where it belongs.

And this is where my story with fermented foods began…and now it continues as I strive to share about here, and encourage you to include fermented foods into your diet and see a vast array of health benefits.