Pickle Me Pink

Makes 1 pint + 1 C*

Why pickles?  First, because I’ve got to do something with the extra produce I have.  (The beets and radishes made my pickles pink.) Second, it seems the universe wants me to make pickles. Since the idea crossed my mind about a week ago, I’ve seen 3 articles on pickles and fermentation and listened to a segment on NPR with Ellix Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation.  (If this subject interests you at all, start with this book, aka the Fermenting Bible.)

So I made these easy, no canning necessary pickles.  Additionally, I’ve got some sauerkraut fermenting a la old school.  The difference is that these {beet and radish} pickles are sitting in vinegar, that was hot when added to the veg, and then they are refrigerated.  The vegetables get sterilized in this “acetic acid environment”¹.  Lacto-fermented cucumbers (sour pickles) for example, get brined in water and salt only and sit at room temperature for extended periods of time.  The “pickling” occurs as a result of the lactic-acid bacteria present on the veg.  Therefore, the latter encourages bacterial growth; lactobacilli, the good, happy, friendly bacteria that will do wonders for your health.

Those colonies of bacteria not only benefit good digestion, but they also enhance the nutrient density and enzyme content of foods. They promote a favorable pH in your gut that can prevent the proliferation of unfriendly bacteria while encouraging the absorption of protein and minerals.  Some have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and cancer fighting elements. These strains are pretty potent in fighting bacterial infections such as Strep, Staph, Salmonella, and E. coli.² “Some have even shown impressive effects against viral infections including polio, HIV, and herpes, and can also produce hydrogen peroxide which has the potential to kill undesirable Candida yeast and prevent it’s overgrowth.”²  These are your probiotics!

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fermentation.   Consequently, there’s also a lot of fear involved.  I have to admit, I too had my reservations.  We are actually talking about creating an environment for our food to GROW and MULTIPLY bacteria.  Anyone reaching for the Purell yet?

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon poses this question, “Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”³  It is a valid question and it deserves some more investigation.

This is what I learned.

  • Not all ferments are created equal.  There are a ton of different organisms involved depending on what you’re fermenting.  Mostly we’re talking about bacteria but there are ferments that also include fungi.  Also, usually fermenting is an anaerobic metabolic process, energy produced in the absence of air, but not always.
  • What gets fermented?  Everything!  Most cultures have some form of fermentation.  Coffee, wine, fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, it all gets fermented both to preserve the food and for safety.
  • Wild fermentation describes ferments that are based on organisms that are present on the foods you’re fermenting.  All veggies contain lactic-acid bacteria that acidifies the environment and it’s these good bacteria that get to work when fermenting vegetables.
  • Cultured foods involve the introduction of organisms or a colony of organisms to the food such as in the production of yogurt.  (You’ll also see cultured butter and kefir which are similarly produced.)
  • Pasteurization kills all the beneficial bacteria of fermentation.  This means if you want the real thing, you either have to make it yourself or get if from someone who does because you can’t buy it raw in the supermarket.  (At least not in NY.)
  • Enough cultures around the world have traditionally used this method to preserve their food and their health which to me is good enough reason to keep up with that tradition.

Does any of this tickle your fancy?

To help you get started, here’s another great resource.  Your first step is waiting for you below!

Good luck and happy pickling!  And please report back with your experiments!

You’ll need:

1 C small radishes, rinsed and trimmed

2 C beets, roasted and sliced (I had 4 medium-ish beets that came to about 2 C)

1 C water

1/2 C red wine vinegar

1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 T maple syrup or honey (I actually used date sugar once and was not disappointed.  Any good sugar will do here though.)

2 t sea salt

2 bay leaves

1/2 t peppercorns

1/4 t cumin seeds

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed

To make:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegars, maple syrup and salt to a simmer until salt (and sugar if using) has dissolved.

2. Chop the vegetables into the sizes you wish.  Add them to clean and dry mason jars and divide the bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and garlic among them.  (I only added the garlic and cumin seeds to the radishes to taste the difference.)

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the mason jars, let cool then cover and refrigerate.  Give the pickles about 24 hours to settle before digging in.  They will be tasty on their own or added to salads or as a condiment to a rich, meaty dish.

4. Enjoy!

*Please note that this is what I had on hand so these are the yields that were produced.  This recipe can easily be altered if you should find yourself with more or less produce to pickle.

¹ The Art of Fermentation, WNYC New York Public Radio, The Leonard Lopate Show

² http://naturalbias.com/a-great-source-of-natural-probiotics/

³  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/lacto-fermentation

P.S. I like the suggestions that I found in Nourishing Traditions because Sally Fallon deals with much more reasonable sizes than Sandor Katz does in Wild Fermentation.  Since I’m new to this, I’m sticking with small batches.

Golden Beet Slaw with Tahini Dressing

Makes 3 C

Variations on classics are never ending in the kitchen.  It’s one of the reasons I so enjoy cooking and sharing what I cook.  We don’t usually think of beets in the midst of the summer heat.  Especially not when there are berries and lovely greens all over the place.  It seems like we should just leave these root veggies alone, till fall.  Seems!  Beets are actually harvested through summer.  Golden beets are a delightful sunny color (or sometimes they conceal a beautiful orangey fuchsia in their center) and have a crisp refreshing crunch especially when eaten raw as in this recipe.  (They’re also delicious pickled!)  The main reason I got these beets?  Claire.  It just felt like a good time to introduce her to what Tom Robbins calls “the most intense of vegetables”.  He also said, “beets are deadly serious”*.  Let’s find out why.

They belong to the chenopod family, along with chard, spinach and quinoa.  (The beet greens are not only edible, they’re delicious, too! Sauté or eat raw in salads.)  Beets are special in that their overall phytonutrient content has a special, beneficial relationship with our nervous system.  Their pigmentation is a result of betalain antioxidant pigments (as opposed to beta-carotene for golden beets or anthocyanins for red ones) which makes them very unique.  They are also high in Vitamin C and manganese (also antioxidants) which further enhances their potency.¹  To refresh our memories, antioxidants protect our cells from free radicals roaming around. Free radicals occur as a result of the food we eat, the air we breathe, the stress we manifest, etc.  Thank goodness beets are deadly serious!  They are also serious about being anti-inflammatory which wards off everything from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to cancer.  Additionally, they’re incredible detoxifiers and therefore essential to any detox program. Beet juice anyone?  And finally there’s our buddy fiber keeping things in check.  It seems that the fiber in beets is pretty special, too.  Extra good news for our digestive and cardiovascular systems.¹

Put simply:  Super unique antioxidant power + incredible anti-inflammatory power + special fiber = serious anti-cancer!  (“Betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of pro-inflammatory enzymes.”¹)  We should throw beets a party!

Given all this, I figured these beets should be treated with a certain amount of respect.  The dressing was my way of doing just that.  Another influence from my family’s sojourn in the Middle East, tahini is likewise special and this dressing is sure to wow your palate.  Trust me on this one!  (More on tahini for another post.  I use it often.)

In the meantime, get serious about making this slaw.  Happy tastebuds, happy body, happy spirit!

You’ll need:

3 C beets, julienned or shredded (about 3-4 medium beets)

1/4 C golden raisins (optional)

2 T parsley, finely chopped

1 T sesame seeds, toasted

For the dressing:

2 T tahini

1 T brown rice vinegar (I’ve also used champagne vinegar and apple cider vinegar with equal success.)

1 T maple syrup

1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/4 t ground cumin

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

1. Trim ends of beets and peel with a vegetable peeler.  I chose to julienne the beets instead of shredding them this time.  I used a mandolin to get even planks and then cut 1/8″ rods using a chef’s knife.  I think it looks a bit nicer and I love the extra cutting practice.  (I have many times shredded the beets in a food processor however, and it’s just as delicious!)

2. Combine julienned/shredded beets with raisins and set aside.

3. Mix all dressing ingredients together and whisk thoroughly until well combined.

4. Add dressing to beets and raisins.

5. When serving, top with sesame seeds.

6. Enjoy!

*Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

¹ http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49  (There’s some great detailed info on this site about the phytonutrients and overall health benefits of beets.  Enjoy!)