Friday, October 23, 2015

Promote wellness with cultured foods; plus simple veggie slider sandwiches

Bailey, the cat, demonstrates relaxation techniques we all need.

Kombucha is one of the fermented foods that I have added to my diet because of its health benefits. A diet rich in fermented foods like kombucha helps strengthen the digestive system and bolsters the immune system, something those of us with fibromyalgia need to be concerned about all year round. Actually, everyone’s immune system could probably use a little tune-up, especially as we head into cold season.

What fermented foods can you add to your diet? Besides kombucha, I make sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. I’ve even made fermented dill pickles, cultured fruit leathers and salsa. Other fermentation projects I am planning include sourdough gluten-free, paleo bread and Greek-style yogurt.

What is fermentation?
People have long been fermenting foods like wine, yogurt and cheese. Fermentation is a process by which sugars are broken down by helpful bacteria allowing the foods to be stored longer, a practical reason before refrigeration was invented.  

Why eat fermented foods?
Fermented foods are easier to digest because the beneficial bacteria have helped break down the foods. This results in better absorption of nutrients. For instance, raw cabbage is difficult to digest and often causes gas. When cabbage is fermented into sauerkraut, you are better able to absorb its large amounts of vitamin K and C, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols.

I find it difficult to digest carbohydrates but fermentation allows me to enjoy a wider variety of foods. For instance, I usually avoid salsa but I can eat cultured salsa, a little at a time.

Nutritious yogurt and kefir are other foods I can consume because the bacteria break down the lactose during fermentation.

Other beneficial byproducts of fermentation include omega-3 fatty acids, B complex vitamins, digestive enzymes and immune system-enhancing beta glucans. Glutathione, a free radical scavenger in the brain, also is produced during fermentation.

Most of your immune system resides in your gut. These fermented foods give your gut a powerful boost and help strengthen your immune system. Are you convinced?
Three stages of kombucha (l-r): gallon brewing, starter culture tea, kombucha poured for drinking

Getting fermented foods into your diet You can purchase fermented foods in the market (sourdough bread, kefir, fermented pickles and kombucha) but make sure the foods you choose are naturally fermented with traditional lacto-fermentation methods.

I usually culture my own foods because I want to control the ingredients. Homemade cultured foods also are usually richer in bacteria. I always have a number of culturing projects going at the same time. Guests at my house often wonder about all the jars I have placed in warm locations throughout the house. I tell them, “These jars are my science projects.”

You may want to get started by trying kombucha. This fermented tea is made with a kombucha starter culture (scoby), tea prepared with sugar, and some vinegar and/or tea from a previous batch (starter tea). The fermented tea contains a number of vitamins, particularly B vitamins.

I get my supplies from When you purchase a kombucha starter culture (scoby), you will get step-by-step instructions for activating the culture and making kombucha. 
Starter culture tea, ready in 30 days

I was a little unsure about trying kombucha because you need sugar to make it. I found out the longer you ferment it, there is very little sugar remaining. In fact, a longer brew time (30 days) results in tea with a richer flavor; more bacteria; and little sugar.

Once you are hooked on kombucha tea, you will want to keep it brewing continuously. I want my kombucha to ferment for at least 21-30 days. That presents problems if you want some to drink every day. 

I started three batches of tea to try to solve the problem. One is ready to drink; another is brewing for 21-30 days; and another is activating the scoby. But if I want to drink some every day, I will need to make bigger batches in gallon-size containers. Another possibility is activating another scoby and getting another container of tea brewing.
Kombucha ready to be enjoyed

While all my culturing projects are going, I’m still harvesting veggies from my garden. Our extended summer weather has kept veggies growing and growing and growing.

I grew patty pan squash this year. It’s delicious and versatile. I made veggie slider “sandwiches” out of some. These little “sandwiches” made me feel like I was eating a real sandwich. Other veggies will work as well. I have tried eggplant, zucchini and winter squash.
Veggie slider sandwiches made from eggplant and patty pan squash

Simply, cut the vegetables into rings. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange your veggies in a single layer on a large baking sheet, covered with parchment paper. Season the veggies with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and roast until tender (about 20 minutes). Throw on other veggies from the garden to serve alongside your “sliders”

While the veggies are cooking, prepare your sandwich ingredients. Pretty simple!

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