While working in a small upscale French restaurant 10-15 years ago, someone accidentally ordered 4 litres of pre-peeled garlic. It promptly started to go off from a lack of use, and stink up the walk-in, and I remember worrying about the smell attacking the rest of our mise en place and fruit, cheese etc. A fellow cook who I worked with had spent a few years working in South Korea, and she was the only one embracing the fermented garlic cooler-stench wafting around our small kitchen. She had eaten her fill of (intentionally) fermented foods while there, and loved it enough for some rotten garlic in our walk-in to be causing her nostalgia. I found this hilarious yet oddly intriguing at the time, and have never forgotten it. Little did I know….
Fermented is now the new green, which is great for people like myself, (enthusiastic, but needs to see it happening to fully understand it, as opposed to reading about it in great black and white detail a trillion times while absorbing nothing) because there are now plenty of colourful pictures and videos out there happily spinning our right-brained minds into action.
Everything about fermenting your own foods is funky, from the smell (it is subtly funky, unlike rotting garlic, and you learn to love it, as the smell of pride and creation), the froths and foams that can billow over the top, the vinegar-free acid taste appearing like magic out of nowhere, and the fact that things happen. They are mostly invisible, but they are happening and they are important.
Fermented foods can contain more living probiotics than probiotic supplements, which is great news, and not only because cabbage costs considerably less than the supplements. People often notice that things move more ‘regularly’ when they include some fermented foods in their diet. Many chemo drugs (and other medications) can cause cement-like constipation, which, let’s be honest, really sucks on a good day, but it means that toxins aren’t leaving the body (cancer and cancer drugs need out before they reabsorb into your bloodstream) and it doesn’t help out in the psycho-spiritual arena either.
I’m just going to say it -pooing is important, and fermenting your food is one of the best ways to set yourself up for regular wins and happiness. They also help out with digestion, mineral absorption and produce other nutrients including B vitamins (used up in excess during stressful times). Including a little bit of cultured/fermented food in every meal is a good habit to get into whether you are preventing cancer or supporting yourself through a cancer chapter of your life. A healthy gut is one of the best tools to help us reach our optimal health, and homemade fermented foods are an inexpensive, simple and effective way of achieving it.
Sauerkraut is one of the most commonly made types of fermented foods. This works in terms of crushing cancer because cabbage, being from the cruciferous family, already has crushing cancer in its repertoire, but give it some extra gut-army-building bacteria, and we have some pretty powerful (homemade!) stuff. Roll around in it for a while, it’s empowering. By all means, don’t stop at cabbage though, add spices, herbs, sea vegetables and other tasty veggies to your cabbage to mix it up. Or skip the cabbage altogether and ferment some grated carrots with ginger, some red onions and dill to add to your salads, and beets are AWESOME when they are fermented. I can’t help but think you’ll love them too. The fermentation process also mellows out the fibers, softening the vegetables as though they are lightly cooked, but being raw, they still contain all of their enzymes to help optimize digestion.
In this particular recipe I fermented green cabbage and golden beets with fresh turmeric, mustard seeds and black pepper. It is clean tasting and can be added to pretty much anything you are eating, adding some zest, saltiness and a pop of yellow. You really just slice and grate everything together, toss with good quality sea salt (I use Himalayan) and then mix and muddle to help release some juices. The salt prevents fermentation from happening too quickly, mold from forming and also pulls out the water from the vegetables. Pack it all into a fermentation crock, or glass jar, with the liquid, and press it down, packing it in tightly so that the liquid floats to the top and covers all of the solids.
If your vegetables aren’t as fresh as they could be, they might not release very much liquid, which means you may need to add a bit of water so that it covers them. Now you need to weigh the veggies down so that they stay below the liquid and don’t float up. Crocks normally come with a weight that fits perfectly, but if you are using a jar, you may have to rely on your Macgyver skills. I usually use a glass jar rather than my crock, because I like making many smaller batches and having options, rather than having 4 litres of one kind. Cancer treatment and nausea can make variety one of the keys to eating well. I use a clip-topped jar with a smaller jar inside. The lid of bigger jar pushes the smaller jar down when it closes, pressing the veg down and the liquid up and the oxygen out.
Store in a cool dark place, but don’t forget about it! This is very slow (non) cooking, and just like when you are cooking anything, it is import to familiarize yourself with how each step tastes, until you start to get a feel for what is happening instinctively. It shouldn’t ever smell ‘off’, although it will start to smell pleasantly fermented, not unlike the way beer or wine does…mixed with cabbage, and you shouldn’t see mold o discolouring, these are signs that it is time to start again, usually because the water level dropped too low, or your veggies floated up above the water and you forgot to check on it. It happens to the best of us.
There is no cut and dry time frame for how long this should ferment, and there are varying opinions (some say 3 days, some say months), as the temperature of your house and the time of year make a difference. I usually ferment it for 3-4 weeks. I check on it every day, adjusting any floaters and skimming the foam, It’s alive after all, it needs attention. Once it’s done, I pack it into a clean jar with enough brine to cover it, and store it in the fridge to stare at proudly, enjoy with every meal, and ship out to others who need some intestinal love.
- 4c Green Cabbage, sliced
- 1 Large Golden Beet, grated
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Turmeric, grated
- 2 Tbsp Mustard Seeds
- 1 tsp Black Pepper, ground
- 1½ tsp Himalayan Sea Salt
- Water (as needed)
- Combine everything in large bowl and mix well, crushing a bit with your (clean and/or gloved) hands as you go.
- Using a wide-mouthed canning funnel (for convenience), pack the veggies and liquid into a jar that a smaller jar will fit into.
- Press down on the vegetables until the liquid floats to the top and the air is forced out (add extra water if needed).
- Put in a cool, dry place and check on it every day, skimming away foam floating bits and adjusting the weight to ensure it is pressing everything down efficiently.
- Let ferment for 7-10 days or longer in colder months.
- Pack it into a clean jar and store in the fridge, where it will keep for several months. Include as a condiment with every meal. Garnish soups, add to salads, veggie burgers and wraps, chop into guacamole, or just eat it on its own because it tastes that good.