Fermented foods are strong allies in our goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fermented foods – and I’m not talking the alcoholic drink type – are bursting with probiotics that help feed a healthy digestive tract. Yet the probiotics that flourish in the fermentation process are delicate, and have a long road to travel from the barrel to our stomachs. We want to protect that journey as much as we can, so these living bacteria may live on in our guts.
Just walk away from the fermented drinks
Quick-witted companies these days are producing ‘probiotic-rich’ fermented drinks, non-dairy yogurts, and other single-serve, on-the-run so-called healthy boosts (more like profit boosts). The advertising for kombucha, nut yogurts and other fermented treats are attractive. Hate to break it to you, but all the sugar added to these convenient treats nullify the benefits that come from fermented foods and fermented drinks.
If you still want to buy these products, at least check the ingredients and watch for refined sugar. Sugar in a refined form is simply not helpful for good body maintenance (and it may not even be vegan).
Want a quick probiotic drink? Put a tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar into water, a smoothie, or other beverage. Well, okay, it may not be exactly probiotic. But ACV does contain good bacteria that can contribute to gut health. Do this one to three times a day and you’ll feel the benefits. Don't overdo it, though, in case your body is sensitive.
My introduction to the health benefits of fermented foods
When I lived in Japan, my friends delighted in teaching me how to cook Japanese style. They all had their own particular family ways to make miso soup, and I practiced diligently. The number one common and crucial factor I remembered from all of those lessons is:
never boil the miso.
You do not want to kill all the good bacteria, my friends would say. At that time, an aha moment about fermented foods came to me that, I believe, many of us here in the West have overlooked. We’ve been boiling, frying and roasting the probiotics out of our foods.
Growing up at my house and at every house I ate, vegetables were boiled to mush. If they were still crisp, back they went onto the stove. Sauerkraut came out of cans – already an assault on healthy microbes – and then thrown into a pot with a chopped up apple to cut the bitter edge of the fermented cabbage. If any bacteria survived the can, they were doomed to be boiled alive.
The ignorance I grew up with in regards to a healthy diet was breathtaking.
I learned a valuable lesson about preserving the integrity of food from my Japanese cooking buddies. I ate a lot of kimchi, Korean spicy pickled cabbage, while there, too. After returning to the States, I reintroduced sauerkraut – pretty much kimchi without the hot pepper – to my diet in a healthier, more robust way: no more boiling.
I can laugh nowadays about the food beliefs I was raised with. Boiled was the only cabbage recipe in the house. The closest I got to raw was the coleslaw from KFC, which was loaded with sugar. I still remember the first time I ate a cold salad of shredded raw cabbage with a dressing. Fermentation moves this delicious, versatile vegetable from a healthy food to a super-nutrient boost.
Buy or make your own fermented foods
Personally, I can't be bothered taking probiotics in pill form. I want to know I'm eating live goodness. If you buy fermented foods like sauerkraut, the brands found in the produce refrigerated section will be fresher and filled with many more gut-pleasing microbes than in jars or cans. Making your own is easy, and here is a simple recipe for you.
Dave and Steve from The Happy Pear demonstrate a quick and easy basic recipe for any fermented vegetable of your choice. The lactic acid process explained in the video is a recipe with simply salt and water – no animals involved.
In The Happy Pear’s video, the pickled veggies start at 02:22
Photo source:Fermented vegetable jar by Kim Daniels on Unsplash
Cooking has strong cultural and traditional ties. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation. Secret oral instructions privately circle a home kitchen. Some home cooks inherit boxes of hand-written recipes on index cards. Others employ arguments and cook-offs between sisters, brothers, mothers and cousins at family gatherings. And yet others never set foot inside a kitchen until they live on their own as an adult.
Whatever experience you may bring to the table, as it were, start from what you know. Here on AVF, we used to detail recipes with exact measurements. But the more we cook, the more fun we have using the eye method, as well as the dash method. I explain these two methods on cooking without a recipe below.
The eye method
About 10 years ago when I was still eating fish, my brother would ask me for a Hawaiian poke recipe. Nowadays I prefer vegan plant-based poke, and you will see a series starting here on that soon. At any rate, I drove my brother crazy because I never gave him the exact measurements, nor a proper recipe with ingredients, let alone measurements (I've always been that kind of, throw whatever you've got into the bowl kind of cook).
Every time he asked me exactly how much of an ingredient to add, my response was always, “Just eye it; you'll get the hang of it.”
Well sure, there's a little more to it than that. For those who have been using the eye method for many years, they don't give it a second thought. Cooking and baking are like muscle memory, to the trained eye.
The metric and imperial systems are always a consideration (and a royal pain in the butt) when making recipes. Using both systems often makes recipes look overwhelming – and, of course, the risk of making a mistake doubles.
When you ‘eye it’ you use the volume system.”Pour a good amount could be anywhere from a quarter of a cup to a few cups, depending on how large your recipe is and what the ingredient is specifically. Don’t worry too much, though. This is how you learn to adjust your recipes through tasting rather than measuring – how you learn to have a good eye.
Our friends over at Taste of Home have some good tips on how to wing it when you don’t have your measuring cups:
The dash method
Another way to share a recipe is just to list the ingredients of a dish. That’s how chefs exchange secrets. They are not bothered to give measurements, as they know the foundations of how to cook – well, okay, not a surprise, it is their job after all.
When you ask one of these pros to give measurements, they may simply say, use a dash of this and a dash of that. Bartenders can be notorious for using the dash method, as you can see here:
The birds living at the New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary in Rhode Island are the inspiration for naming of this salad. The cockatoos love healthy snacks, and when I shared this one with Kongo Bird, he dove into it. So, I thought it would be a cute play on words, for the two beans of cubed baked tofu and chickpeas, or garbanzos. You can find the recipe for the baked tofu at the end of this post under “sources”.
Eat chickpeas not chicks
When I was a carnivore, I used to eat a lot of chicken salad. I made it different ways – curried with raisins, or with walnuts and cranberries – it always had a creamy base to it. Now that I am vegan I started to explore different kinds of creamy salads. Salads I can spoon into a pocket, definitely a comfort food for me.
The two beans in the salad are baked cubed tofu and chickpeas. Try smashing a few of them so it holds together better. A handful of grape tomatoes and a stalk of celery provide a nice contrast in color and texture. Some leftover parsley needed to be used, so I chopped that up and threw it in, too.
I remember visiting a friend down in South Carolina awhile ago and going to the neighbors for dinner. The neighbor had a big bowl of potato salad with some interesting ingredients in it, like peas. Sue said, “Yeah, I put about anything I have in it.”
Then I added a spoonful of the vegan pesto from Trader Joe's and a spoonful of Vegenaise. If I ever have more time I may try making a homemade mayonnaise recipe I found on YouTube. The base is navy beans and vegetable oil. The only thing I don't like about Vegenaise is the canola oil. It doesn't stop me from buying it though, because it tastes so good. Besides, I'm getting less and less comfortable using cashews, so any other alternative ingredients work for me. See why in “sources” at the end of this post.
Here below is VeganLovlie's video how to bake vegan mayonnaise. It looks delicious with the white beans.
Make your own mayo that rocks the house!
I found that chopped up celery gives a nice crunch. It replaces onion, without the aftertaste of onions. As I write this, it is late spring with chives and scallions, green onions, in season. These have a lighter taste than regular onions, so you may enjoy mixing them in as well.
A few raisins add sweetness. Yum!
My blogging partner reminded me that celery is not welcome in her home. She said “I would replace your celery with radishes.”
Okay, radishes, celery, I don't judge. What would your optional crunchy veg be?
I also decided to splurge and add two twists of the black pepper mill and a sprinkle of pink salt.
As you can see from the image, I chose to use a pita pocket. Lately I've been on a flat bread, or unleavened bread Kik because I know they do not have eggs or dairy added to them. Perhaps even subconsciously I am thinking about the yeast, I don't know.
Whatever your choice of bread or grain, let us know! I didn't have any greens, but I may have added some arugula or spring salad leaves. Come to think of it, this salad has chopped up kale in it, too.
As my friend Sue from South Carolina says, “Throw whatever you've got into it.”
Chickpeas – either from a tin or soaked and cooked. Not raw or soaked only.
Italian herb-baked tofu, cubed
Celery and/or radish
Kale, chopped or your choice of leafy greens
Parsley or your choice of herbs like chives, basil.
Anything else you want to throw in, like chopped up walnuts, raisins or cranberries
“Can we have spinach for dinner”, my 5-year-old son asked me. “I want to be as strong as Popeye”. I bought spinach, steamed it and served. He didn't like it, but he wanted to be strong so he ate it. Unfortunately, we dined at Grandma's house 3 days later and she served spinach in cream sauce. “Mum, this is how spinach is supposed to taste” was his verdict. Yes, I agree. Yet, because of the amounts of calories there's no way I would serve that version. Now 26 years later he agrees that this vegan version of “Granma's spinach” is just as good. [mpprecipe-recipe:70] This recipe is adapted from “Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen“.
The sun is shining, it's hot, I want a snack, I don't want to cook. In my freezer I have chickpeas, in my fridge I have lemons, a cucumber, and tahini. Hummus comes to mind, why not add cucumber to a hummus? it would make it lighter and healthier. Yes, I'll give that a try with crackers. Goes well with a glass of chill white wine. The best thing about this recipe is, you just toss everything in a mini chopper or a food processor.
Start – pulse – ready to serve.
I use avocado oil, you can of, course use your favorite or none at all.
Why would you want to make a homemade Nutella? Because Nutella is not vegan, yet there are some Nutella-alike products for you to buy. If you are anything like me, you will spend endless hours reading the labels – yes I know you do, you love Nutella too. So Nutella is not vegan? no, read this ingredient list for the original Nutella Hazelnut Spread:
Sugar (may or may not be vegan)
Palm oil (vegan but not for the environment-friendly)
Reduced minerals whey (and that's milk)
Lecithin as emulsifier (soy, unless labeled “organic” it's GMO)
Vanillin: An artificial flavor (can contain anything)