Anyone familiar withthe GAPS diet or Weston Price Foundation, will be familiar with the concept of fermented vegetables. In fact, even the uninitiated may well have added a little sauerkraut to their pastrami on rye?
Most cultures have their own traditional fermented foods that provide the gut with friendly bacteria on a daily basis. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, sourdough, small beer and kombucha are a few well known examples of foods that are fermented to improve digestibility, flavour and shelf life.
Unfortunately, most people in the west consume a very small amount of probiotic foods these days, having moved away from sourdough to super fast supermarket loaves, milk is drunk uncultured for the most part - the buttermilk of old making the odd appearance in a scone. Even yogurts are often a probiotic free facsimile of live, probiotic yogurt.
Is it any wonder that so many people find that their gut is not functioning optimally, their systems prey to yeasts and parasites and the B vitamins produced in the gut are low?
Many people with damaged guts and under-par bowel flora find the casein in milk hard to digest and so the most common forms of probiotic food (yogurt, buttermilk and kefir) are off limits. Lacto fermented vegetables are a great solution to this problem, as they contain only the tiniest amount of casein - only a trace - and yet they are packed full of the beneficial lactic bacteria that we need for health.
I find that the sweeter vegetables like beets and carrots are a great place to start - maybe saving a more challenging sauerkraut for later on, when you are used to a sour taste. Beets are only in season here for another few weeks, so now is the time to make beet pickle.
So if you would like to dip your toe into lacto fermented vegetables, why not start with this delicious, sweet and sour, cardamom scented beetroot pickle? It livens up a Russian salad no end and sits quite happily alongside cold meats, lamb dishes and roast chicken. If you can eat dairy, then it's also a great partner for a wedge of cheddar or a scoop of hung yogurt.
Cardamom and Beetroot Lacto Fermented Pickle
(adapted from a recipe in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions)
5-6 medium beets washed
6 cardamom pods
1/2 tablespoon sea salt (3/4 tablespoon if you use something flaky like Maldon)
2-3 tablespoons whey
2/3 cup of luke warm filtered water (you can use tap water if your supply is un-chlorinated)
1-2 probiotic capsules (I use Bio-Kult) - optional
If you don't already have whey, make some by straining some yogurt through muslin overnight. To do this, take a squre of muslin, lay it into a seive or colander and tie up the corners securely. I hang mine over the bars in the fridge and set a bowl under to catch the whey, but you can tie it over a wooden spoon and suspend it in a kilner (mason) jar in the fridge or a cool place. You'll also have greek yogurt or yogurt cheese if you leave it 24-48 hours.
Bake the beets in a medium oven (160C) for about 2 hours or until soft and a little shriveled. Cool until warm and peel wearing rubber gloves to protect your manicure! Leave to cool completely.
Slice cooled beets into 1cm square batons and pile into a jar that is big enough to take all of the beets and allow at least two inches above. A 1 litre (quart) sized kilner jar is plenty big enough, or a large glass pickle jar.
Crush the little black seeds from the cardamoms with sea salt in a pestle and mortar. Mix in whey, empty in the contents of your probiotic capsules (if you are using them) and warm water and pour over the beets.
Push the beets lightly down with your fingers or a blunt object. Make sure they are completely covered, with no bits of beet rising above the liquid. If the liquid does not completely cover them, add a little more water until it does.
Cover tightly with a jar lid and set in a warmish place at room temperature for 3 days. I find that the kitchen is plenty warm enough for mine - if you live in a hot country, or have a warm house your pickle may be done after 2 days. If you see lots of bubbles forming or scum on the top then you're probably there.
Don't open the pickle before 2 days have passed, or it may not be as good. Try to wait the full 3 days before testing.
When it's ready it should taste slightly sour (sweet and sour like a traditional pickled beet, but not vinegary) and it may tingle on your tongue slightly. It will have a slightly gloopy liquid around it - this is fine!
Put it in the fridge and have a dessertspoonful with your meals. It will keep for a couple of months in the fridge, but will become slightly thicker as it ages, almost like jam.