My husband manages our community's online farmers market, and we are both heavily involved in educating customers and community members about whole foods nutrition. I am also the co-founder of the soon-to-be Greenbrier Valley Chapter of the Weston A Price Foundation. If you are not familiar with the Weston A Price Foundation or Dr. Price's work, check it out at www.westonaprice.org. The foundation's dietary teachings center around the preparation of traditional and whole foods to promote health. Many of the recent clean eating diet fads share similar ideals: less processed foods, more fresh ingredients, smaller serving sizes. All of which are important factors in promoting health through nutrition.
However, a key element missing from these other diets is fermented foods. People have been fermenting foods since the beginning of humanity. It is a traditional method of food preservation. Fermentation also makes food more digestible and nutritious. Fermented foods such as kimchi, milk kefir, sauerkraut, natural picked, and yogurt are imperative in providing our body with important probiotics. I bet you have heard about probiotics before, but do you really understand and appreciate their role?
Probiotics are edible products containing the helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium that normally inhabit the human digestive tract. These bacteria help to digest food, helping to keep the digestive system in balance and functioning properly. They are also extremely helpful in supporting the immune system, particularly when taking antibiotics, which can wipe out intestinal bacteria indiscriminately, including those that help keep the intestinal tract healthy. I have worked at hospitals where supplemental probiotics are added to the patient's medication list as part of an order set when antibiotics are prescribed to help prevent complications from antibiotics. And yes, you can take a probiotic supplement, but isn't it much more fun to consume your probiotics?
Basic vegetable ferments are quite easy and can be accomplished in your home kitchen. Give this easy recipe a try to promote microbial diversity within your body and expand your food horizons.
adapted from Nourishing Traditions
1 head pak choi, chopped or shredded
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 carrots, finely grated
4-6 French Breakfast radishes, grated and some of the greens
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon (or more if you like spicy) dried chile flakes or red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Himalayan Pink Sea Salt (or other quality salt)
4 tablespoons whey (from whole fat organic yogurt or from your fresh cheese, milk kefir, or yogurt making)
*You can omit whey if you need a dairy free recipe but use an additional 1 tablespoon salt. This will result in a slightly saltier kimchi and may need a longer fermentation.
Add salt to pak choi in a large bowl and use hands to massage. This draws out the moisture in the pak choi, creating the brine which will ferment your kimchi. Let rest while you chop and grate the remaining ingredients.
Add remaining ingredients to salted pak choi and mix again with your hands.
Transfer your kimchi to a quart jar or other fermentation vessel. Use a pounder or meat hammer to press down until the brine comes to the top of the kimchi. If your brine doesn’t quite cover your kimchi you can add a little extra water.
Seal with a lid and keep at room temperature for 3-5 days then enjoy! If your kimchi is still a little salty for your liking you can continue to ferment at room temperature or in a root cellar or basement until it meets your taste preferences. Kimchi and other fermented vegetables will keep for several months in cold storage.
Try your homemade probiotic filled kimchi on a fish taco, as a salad or soup topping, or as a simple flavorful side with any meal. It is also very tasty on your farm fresh breakfast eggs.
The ingredients for kimchi are very flexible. You can use summer cabbage, Napa cabbage, pak choi, or even beet or broccoli greens. Any type of radish will do, but the traditional radish is the Daikon, a long white radish that looks somewhat like a very large white carrot. The same is true for onions. If you don’t have green onions use some fresh chopped white or yellow onions.
Make the recipe your own and use what you have. The whole idea of fermentation is to store your fresh and healthy vegetables for future use. You shouldn’t have to make a special trip to the grocery store for a special type of onion, radish, or cabbage. I was able to use garlic from a friend's fall harvest, pak choi, onions, and radishes from the Monroe Farm Market (shameless plug for our local online farmers market) and only purchased the carrots and ginger from a grocery store because they are not available locally.
For further information on fermentation check out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sallon Fallon.