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If you’ve ever tried lacto-fermented vegetables, you know they’re quite different from the one-note sourness of vegetables pickled in vinegar. Plus, lacto-fermented foods are not just delicious, but they are raw and nutritionally dense.
By employing beneficial cultures like the ones present in sourdough bread and yogurt, naturally pickled vegetables are not only preserved, they are also enhanced. Through the process of fermentation, the bio-availability of certain minerals and complex carbohydrates are increased, while vitamins K and C are synthesized outright. Alongside all that, a host of beneficial probiotics and prebiotics—gaining increasing renown in scholarly articles on the human microbiome—are introduced each time you take a bite of naturally fermented foods. Cultured vegetables are also safe for people who cannot tolerate lactose.
But beyond having a little sauerkraut with your sausage, what’s a person to do with lacto-fermented vegetables? The good news is that, over thousands of years, cultures all over the world have developed delicious, simple ways to boost ordinary meals with the flavor and ultra-nutritious benefits of lacto-fermented vegetables.
Here are three ways we enjoy pickled beets, sauerkraut, and grated gingered carrots at our organic farm, along with steps to make your own healthy fermented veggies at home.
Borscht: Eastern European Beet Soup with Sauerkraut
There are numerous variations on this classic soup, but this is how we eat it at our farm.
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 quart crushed tomatoes
- 4 cups chopped beets
- 2 cups cubed potatoes
- 3 cups sauerkraut
- 1/2 cup fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons dried
- Heat a soup pot or Dutch oven over a medium flame and add the oil and onions. Sauté them over medium heat until the color deepens and the onions begin to stick to the pan. Add garlic and sauté a moment more.
- Add the stock and tomatoes to the pot, and as the soup warms, chop and add the beets to the pot. Once the beets are just tender, add the dill and sauerkraut and warm to serving temperature. Add a scoop of plain yogurt and extra dill for garnish.
Arugula Salad with Pickled Beets and Feta
- 1/4 pound arugula
- 2 cups pickled beets
- 1 tbsp brine from the beets
- 3 ounces feta
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Put the brine and olive oil in the bottom of a medium-large bowl, then mix in the feta and pickled beets. Toss the arugula with the dressing and serve alongside something crunchy.
Massaged Baby Kale Salad with Gingered Carrots & Pumpkin Seeds
- 1 bunch tender baby kale, about a pound
- 1/2 teaspoon good salt
- 3/4 cup gingered carrots (recipe below)
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 2 tbsp carrot brine
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Chop the baby kale coarsely if it seems to need it, and add it along with the salt in the bottom of a salad bowl.
- Press and knead the kale until it softens and greens up a couple shades, then toss in the carrot brine and olive oil and mix again.
- Add the pumpkin seeds and gingered carrots, and enjoy.
Make It at Home: Fermented Gingered Carrots
- 2 lbs carrots
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- Rinse off the carrots and grate them coarsely (box grater or food processor, your choice).
- In a medium mixing bowl, toss the carrots with salt and the grated fresh ginger.
- Press and pound the carrots with your hands until the carrots release a good deal of soupy orange liquid.
- Pack the soupy shredded carrots tightly into a wide-mouth Mason jar. Weigh the carrots down with something (a plate, a plastic bag with water in it, or a little jar) so the carrots are totally submerged.
- Leave the jar of carrots out in a warm place for a week or longer. Check the jar once a day for the first 3 or 4 days, burping the carrots of air bubbles with a chopstick or a butter knife and re-sealing it once again. After 3 or 4 days, the jars require less attention.
- When the carrots are sour to your liking, put them in the fridge. They’ll keep for a month or longer.
Mary Brower and her family own Bluestem Farm, a year-round organic farm in northern Michigan that offers community events and food outreach programs. Find out more at www.bluestemfarm.net.