This blog is a place to share my passion for cooking and inspire people to cook more from scratch. With six people in the family, cooking is something that is always on my mind. I want to share some of my favorite foods and recipes and share more about traditional diets (like the kind of food our great, great, great grandmothers would have made). Right now I am fascinated with fermented vegetables, coconuts, seafood with a cerviche twist and organ meats... although maybe not all in the same meal!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Shining a light on... Sea Salt and Cabbage
It's been on my mind all week.  Ever since last Sunday when I was in church and the priest was talking about last week's reading in Matthew (chapter 5, verse 13-16) about our being asked to be "salt of the earth" and "light of the world."  The fact that this reading would send me to sauerkraut thoughts shows how far my fermentation fascination has taken hold!  To me this was a clarion call to get busy on New Year's Resolution #5.... to make kraut more often!
     To me, the connection between this reading and kraut is that we are being asked to reach out to bring God's goodness to others.  Sauerkraut, a healing food that has been around through the ages, can bring digestive ease yet few of us in the modern era know much about how to make it anymore.  In Kevin Brown's book The Liberation Diet, he mentions enzyme enhancement, elimination of anti-nutrients, reduced carbohydrate content and synthesis of important nutrients as additional benefits of fermented foods.  It is a wonder how something as mundane and pedestrian as cabbage can be elevated, through the magic of salt, pulsing hands and time into a life force that gains power and strength with each passing day.  While some may see a stinky jar of vegetables past their prime, I see vibrancy, rejuvenation and vitality.  In the days before refrigeration, sailors would take large barrels of sauerkraut with them on their voyages because the high concentrations of vitamin C, lactobacilli and other nutrients prevented them from getting scurvy during their long journeys.  
  And I don't just love the kraut.  I find the process of making it to be therapeutic.  I love the visceral feeling of the cabbage in my hands as I feel the salt and vegetables and pound them into submission. I also like the fact that it is a bit out of the mainstream and gives conventional wisdom a twist.  In the days of flu season when the masses are sanitizing everything in sight and yet still getting sick, it catches my attention that this kraut thing is all about letting bacteria run rampant.  The trick is that we are harnessing the power of good bacteria.  There's a lesson in there for those willing to ponder such things.  We need to find a way to live in harmony with the bacteria in our world as we cannot clorox our way out of every bad situation.   
    There are many sources out there that can teach you better than I about how to make the kraut itself.  There is a book by Sandor Katz called Wild Fermentation that has great information about fermenting all kinds of things.  Also a good place to buy fermented foods is Zukay's fermented vegetables if you are still a bit squeamish about trying this at home.  My aim today is to inspire you to WANT to actually give this a try.  It really is not as difficult as it sounds.  If you are willing to be brave and give this a try, I have a simple recipe to get you started with just a mason jar.  Sally Fallon's Ginger Carrots recipe is a good place to start.  Simply grate 4 cups of carrots in a food processor and add a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and a tablespoon of sea salt (Fallon's recipe calls for two tbs but I found this way too salty).  Either use your (very clean) hands (make sure to take off any metal rings) or use a wooden pounder or meat hammer to pound this mixture to watery submission.  Be patient as this is hard work and takes some time.  You can also use some plastic gloves if you feel called to do so.  You can also add 4 tablespoons of whey (which is the clear dripping that comes from yogurt).  If you don't want to add the whey, you can add a tablespoon more of salt but you may find the mixture to be too salty.  You'll have to experiment a bit to find the right balance of salt but you do need enough salt to make sure you get a good fermentation.  The whey helps make sure you get the good bacteria off to a jump start.  You can also buy starter cultures from places like Common Culture.  Once you have all the ingredients in the mason jar (which should be very clean) you have to push it down, down, down to cram it in there.  Then you have to make sure you have enough liquid (which should just appear after pounding down the veggies) to cover ALL the veggies in the jar.  If you have a smaller jar or rock or something to keep the veggies submerged, that is good.  Make sure you have about an inch on the top clear and then put the lid on.  You leave this at room temperature for about 3 - 5 days and then transfer to cold storage.  I find this process works well but if you see slimy, moldy stuff.... use your common sense and don't eat it.  Now you are going to get a stinky smell... which I actually like... but some people may not.  This process is actually much safer than canning as you have the good bacteria working with you.  But again, as a disclaimer, I say that you may have to do some further research to gain skills in this area and I take no responsibility if your batch goes awry.  Life is full of risks and each person has to assume their own.  But for those willing to take a ride on the wild side, there is great reward.  Life is more fun when you take a walk on the wild side!

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