Cultured and Fermented Foods
excerpt from Cooking for the Love of the World, Awakening Our Spirituality through Cooking
by Anne-Marie Wiboltt
I serve some kind of fermented or raw food with each meal. Naturally fermented and cultured foods are an exceptional way to prepare different ingredients and some of the most important side dishes or condiments in our diet. They are often overlooked or not mentioned when we describe what we had for dinner and yet they are pivotal in creating a well-balanced nutritious meal. They add a bounty of nourishing and life promoting substances and forces, almost miraculous curative properties and a wealth of color, flavors and shapes. They increase the appetite, stimulate the digestion and make any simple meal festive and satisfying.
It is an old art to make naturally fermented and cultured foods. They are prepared without the direct use of fire or heat and were an excellent way to preserve food for the times where fresh produce was not available. People of all cultures enjoy fermented and cultured foods. The Greeks pickle olives, Germans turn cabbages into appetizing sauerkraut and the Japanese transform green, immature plums into the tasty medicinal umeboshi plums. Grains and beans are cultured in the Far East creating the now well-known nutritious miso and tamari soy sauce. Indonesia families culture soybeans to create tempeh. In many places of the world people ferment grains or fruit into vine, beer or vinegars. Everywhere flours of various grains are traditionally leavened with sourdough to create delicious breads. From Scandinavia and Russia came the tasty drinks kvass and kombucha, which kept young and old healthy and satisfied the need for fresh foods throughout the long winters. Many societies in the world culture the dairy of animals to make yogurt, butter, kefir and cheese.
The most significant aspects of these foods are found in the process in which they are made. The fermentation or culturing process is more important than the foods that are fermented. When green cabbage is shredded and placed under pressure with a little sea salt, the liquids are extracted from the cabbage. In this liquid ethereal life forces and gases are freed. While the cabbage mixture increases in temperature, chemical interactions take place and substances transform. The matured and finished sauerkraut, has become an individual unique food with an inner liveliness, flavor and aroma completely its own. A whole new product has been created consisting of ‘magical’ living microorganisms and an abundance of nutritious substances and forces. The microorganisms in the sauerkraut, the lacto bacilli, create not only flavors and textures they also produce an environment wherein ‘unwanted bacteria’ can not live and therefore the foods are preserved instead of rotting.
It is relatively simple to ferment or pickle vegetable foods. They can be ready in a few hours or in a few days and others, like miso, can take years to mature. The different pickles and fermented foods have different properties, effects, flavors and consistency. Some are more sour, some salty, some crispy and some soft, some are strengthening and warming, others loosening and cooling. If for example a heavier meal is served with fried foods and well-cooked dishes a lighter, cooling fermented food is preferred to balance the meal.
I make sauerkraut regularly in fall, winter and spring. The first autumn cabbages are juicy and crispy. In the winter I sometimes have to add water to the brine of the sauerkraut, because the cabbages are very dry. Red cabbage makes beautiful sauerkraut. I like to add caraway seeds or juniper berries to the kraut as it ferments. In warm weather I double the amount of salt. The fermentation process can take longer then. 1/2 cup of whey from may be added as a starter but is not necessarily.
* 6 pounds green cabbage
* 3 tablespoons sea salt
Take the outer layers of the cabbage and discard. Shred cabbage very fine.
With clean hands, rub salt into cabbage until it gets shiny and juicy.
Clean a one-gallon ceramic crock. Sterilize it with boiling water for 5 minutes. Pour off the water.
Pack the crock with cabbage. Press it down firmly. Place a sterilized weight, such as an upside-down plate with a rock, on top of the cabbage. After one day check if the liquid is above the plate and that no cabbage is exposed to air. Adjust the weight, or add extra brine if necessary. Boil 1/2 quart water and add one teaspoon sea salt to make brine. Let brine cool before pouring it into the jar.
Cover the jar with a kitchen towel and let sit in a dark place at room temperature, or 72 degrees, for the first 2 days. Place the crock in a cooler place, about 65 degrees, and let kraut sit for 5-12 days. Check from time to time to make sure the liquid is above the plate, but do not disturb the cabbage. When the sauerkraut is done, it has an appetizing sweet and sour taste, with a unique aroma.
Transfer the sauerkraut to smaller jars. Keep the sauerkraut in the refrigerator for months.