Healthy fermented foods can be pleasing to the palate

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Portia Little

Budget Kitchen by Portia Little

The word fermented is not often used in the same sentence with tasteful. When it comes to food, however, fermented is one way to benefit overall health, with foods such as pickles and yogurt, which also taste good.

What exactly are fermented foods?

Fermentation, is a process that helps to preserve foods, introducing bacteria that breaks sugars down into simple molecules such as alcohols or acids. Breaking down the food both introduces good bacteria that increases nutritional value, and it adds a lot of flavor. Fermented foods are sometimes labeled cultured or pickled.

There are loads of benefits to eating fermented foods. They provide good bacteria to your intestinal tract, which improves how it functions and also how you feel, augmenting brain health and also weight management. Here are some favorite fermented foods:

• Kombucha, a fermented fizzy sweet tea that’s packed with probiotics and antioxidants.

• Sauerkraut, a combo of cabbage and salt with probiotics and fiber. If you make it at home, it will be healthier than most traditionally packaged varieties, which lose probiotic power after pasteurization.

• Pickles, made from vinegar, salt and cucumbers. They are also good to make at home.

• Kefir, a drinkable form of yogurt, but with more probiotics. It is great for smoothies and as a dressing base.

• Kimchi, made from cabbage and other veggies, salt and spices.

• Tempeh, fermented soybeans, a good vegetarian source of protein and also probiotics.

It’s fun and easy to make your own sauerkraut, made from cabbage and salt. Salt pulls water out of the cabbage, which fosters an environment where the good bacteria flourish and the bad bacteria die off. Save the juice to use in vinaigrettes and gravy, and to marinate tough cuts of meat. And for a double whammy of fermented food benefits, try a Reuben sandwich made with both sauerkraut and tempeh – a delicious vegetarian take on the usual version made with meat.

We have to admit, we are in the process of making sauerkraut at home, so we can’t give the process a report at this time. We’d like to hear from any readers who have made sauerkraut. Please email us at panntree@msn.com about your experiences.

Homemade Sauerkraut

1 pound cabbage (or use 3 percent salt ratio to weight of cabbage)

2 teaspoons sea or pickling salt (do not use table salt)

Wash and cut cabbage. Chop into shreds. Add layer of cabbage to a crock, then salt. Pack down cabbage mixture, and continue to layer cabbage and salt, packing down until mixture is a few inches from rim of crock. As salt draws liquid from cabbage, brine will develop on the surface. Exclude as much air as possible from brine surface. Put cheese cloth on top of cabbage, then a tight-fitting plate. Weigh down plate with a weight. The juice should cover cabbage at all times without rising above the plate. Let cabbage ferment in 60- to 65-degree temperature. Each day, remove weight, plate and cloth to skim brine. Test taste it after a few weeks to see if it is to your liking. It may take up to six weeks. Keep it in the fridge in glass jars.

Creamy Sauerkraut Dressing or Dip

1 cup sauerkraut

3 tablespoons sauerkraut juice

1/3 cup herbs, packed (such as parsley, chives, tarragon)

¼ cup toasted walnuts

2 garlic cloves

2/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

In blender bowl, blend sauerkraut, juice, herbs walnuts, and garlic on medium-high speed until almost smooth. With blender running, slowly add olive oil and mayonnaise; and blend until emulsified. Makes 1 ½ cups.

Tempeh Reuben Sandwich

1 8-ounce package tempeh

Canola oil or cooking spray

1 tablespoon soy sauce

8 slices rye bread

Butter or soft margarine

Russian or Thousand Island dressing

1 8-ounce can of sauerkraut, drained well

4 slices Swiss cheese, or nondairy alternative

Slice tempeh into 4 ¼ -inch slices. Sauté in skillet that you have sprayed with cooking spray or coated with oil, sprinkling with soy sauce, for about 1 minute per side. For each sandwich: spread one side of each bread slice with butter. Spread dressing thickly on opposite sides of bread. Top each with tempeh slice, sauerkraut to taste and cheese slice, then with second bread slice, butter side out. Cook sandwiches in skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown and toasted on each side, checking carefully for doneness. Serves four.

Portia Little is the author of six cookbooks. You can contact her at panntree@msn.com.

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