Don’t Lament… Ferment!

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At the start of the year I began an experiment. It started before this experiment of writing about Marge’s chemo culinary journey and, looking back, was probably the seed that blossomed into the blog as it stands today. As I’ve already mentioned, as Mum’s treatment tiptoed ever closer, I felt an innate urge to do my bit to both assist her recovery and aid her determined and positive mindset. I started to research healing foods, both in their natural state and how we can use and manipulate certain ingredients to enhance their powerful properties. And there was one thing that came springing up time and time again: fermented foods.

Fermented foods come in a number of forms – from yoghurt to kimchi to sauerkraut to kefir – and their list of health benefits is even longer. Fermentation is a metabolic process in which microorganisms, for example bacteria, yeast or fungi, convert organic compounds, normally in the form of carbohydrates, into alcohol or acids. Not only is fermentation as excellent preservative and can add a real tang and gutsy flavour to your meals, but it also adds microbes to the gut, giving us a healthy dose of ‘good’ bacteria, increases micro-nutrient levels, especially that of B-vitamins, and makes food more easily digestible. Added to this, fermentation is thought to eliminate anti-nutrients, those natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

So there was really no excuse – rather than moping around lamenting Marge’s diagnose, I needed to take action, ferment-action (sorry)! I decided to ease myself in gently and chose a recipe that was not only joyfully easy but also gave me the chance channel my inner German (those that know me are aware that I have a mild – or, if I’m being honest, extreme – obsession with all things Deutsch): Sauerkraut.

Pickling cabbage in a brine solution (also known as lacto-fermentation) promotes the growth of gut-friendly bacteria and homemade sauerkraut is is richer than its shop bought counterparts in the enzymes that support a healthy gut. Insufficient of unbalanced levels of ‘good’ microbes in the gut not only affects digestion, but has been linked with a number of health issues: intestinal and bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome; immune disorders including allergies and type 1 diabetes; and metabolic diseases, for example type 2 diabetes and obesity. There have also been indications from a number of studies that consumption of fermented foods can help to reduce the risk of cancer and improve emotional health, two side effects that are much needed at this time. Plus, of course, this preserving technique helps to maintain the health boosting properties of cabbage.

Marge always did enjoy getting pickled, but now (rather than on cava), she was going to experience a whole new meaning of the word…

Healing Ingredients

Cabbage is an incredibly balancing and grounding food. It has been shown to clear the blood, boost skin health due to its high levels of vitamins C and K, and is a remedy for ulcers thanks to its ample amounts of vitamin U. It also supports liver function as it stimulates the production of glutathione (which plays a role in liver detoxification), is anti-parasitic due to its high sulphur content and helps to promote bowel regularity.

 

Recipe: Sauerkraut

Makes 1.35kg.

  • 2.5-3kg hard white, red or green cabbage
  • Approx. 60g coarse sea or rock salt
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds

Method.

  1. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage, reserving them for later, slice the cabbage in half, remove the cores, quarter and shred finely using a food processor or sharp knife.
  2. Weigh the cabbage and calculate the amoutn of slat you need – approx. 60g of salt per 2.5kg of cabbage
  3. Place the cabbage in a large, clean bowl and sprinkle in the salt evenly. Massage the salt into the cabbage until it begins to feel wet. Leave for a few minutes for the salt to draw out the water and soften the cabbage.
  4. Pack into a large, sterilised jar. Add 5cm of the cabbage at a time and scatter with the caraway seeds, packing each layer down with the end of a rolling pin or large pestle. Leave 7.5cm at the top of the jar.
  5. Add any juices from the bowl and top up with cold brine (1 1/2 tsp salt to 1 litre boiled, cooled water) so that the cabbage is covered.
  6. Place a clean muslin over the cabbage and place one of the larger outer leaves of the cabbage over the surface. Place a large jar or sandwich bag filled with water on top.
  7. Leave in a well-ventilated place at room temperature (ideal temperature 20-22°C, below 13°C and fermentation will stop, above 24°C and it will spoil). Check everyday that the cabbage is submerged. Remove any scum and replace with a clean muslin.
  8. Leave for around 3-4 weeks – fermentation is complete when all the bubbling has ceased. Store in clean, sterilised jars in the fridge.

For more information on fermentation see: https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/nutrition/superfoods/articles/fermented-foods

 

 

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Using my Loaf

There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread. That nutty, wholesome scent that wafts warmth from room to room, lovingly stroking the senses and spreading feelings of comfort and content throughout a household. And there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of baking bread for those that you love, knowing that this small, straightforward action will cause so much happiness and please so many rumbling tummies.

Baking bread is a smell of my childhood. When I was about 10, Marge bought a miraculous new machine, one that soon had me springing out of bed on school mornings rather than reluctantly dragging myself, out from under the duvet, limb by limb: the bread maker. It was without a doubt the best alarm clock you could ever imagine. Being gently nuzzled by the smell of freshly baked bread was the gentlest and most lovely wake-up call a child could ever ask for and it soon caused a slow grumbling sound to rise from under the bed sheets before a stampede of hungry children raced down the stairs to wolf down the doughy, buttery goodness.

It is this kind of comfort that Marge needs right now, so baking bread seems like a natural thing for me to do. The beauty of it is that there are so many amazing and contrasting varieties that baking tow loaves over the course of two days didn’t seem in the least bit over-indulgent. The weekend started with a Wholemeal Soda Bread – that miraculously easy yet decadently wholesome loaf that, as Felicity Cloake eloquently states, “can be in the oven in less time than it takes to brew a pot of tea, and is ready to eat by the time you get out of the shower”. Despite being so simple, the moist, cakey texture of this bread means that it is incredibly dense and satisfying and will most certainly sooth even the most upset of tummies.

I have to say it was a triumph – not only did Marge enjoy a few slices alongside a warming, vitamin-packed Minestrone soup on Friday evening, but she helped herself to a couple of slices for breakfast the following morning too, topped with mashed avocado, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of chilli flakes (I am so proud)! Soda bread it absolutely delicious toasted – its nutty flavour further enhanced by the heat and the charred, crunchy exterior acts as the perfect contrast to the moist crumbly middle.

The second loaf I made I was more nervous about – both making it and of Marge’s reaction – as it was a bread of a more unusual variety: Quinoa Bread. I came across the recipe when perusing through the beautiful and innovative cookbook The Detox Kitchen Bible and was immediately intrigued. I am a huge fan of this nutrient-dense grain (it provides a source of all the essential amino acids) and so to have it in bread form and to be able to pile on delicious toppings such as avocado, hummus, nut butters and fruit seemed like a dream come true. Plus it is an excellent way to help ensure Marge is eating enough protein, even when all she can eat is plain grains and simple fare.

Yet again, the loaf came out extremely well and went down a treat. Very different from the soda bread, it obviously didn’t have the same doughy, homely texture but, as you eat it, you feel as though you are doing something good for your body and that is a comfort in itself. It also has a subtle, nutty flavour, lifted by a touch of lemon juice, and a lovely light texture, making it an absolute pleasure to eat.

I loved spending pretty much my entire weekend pottering around the kitchen – it was a joy to see spoil Marge and see her slowly regaining her strength, gradually overcoming the worst of her side-effects. I know that it may just be timing and coincidence, but I like to think that these loaves helped her spirits and energy rise and that they played a part, no matter how small, in her beginning to feel a lot less crumby (pun definitely intended)!

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Recipe: Wholemeal Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf.

  • 450g coarse wholemeal flour
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 450ml buttermilk (or sour milk, or milk with 1 tbsp lemon juice)

Method.

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6/180°C and grease a baking sheet.
  2. Put all the dry ingredient into a large mixing bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Make a well in the middle. Stir the treacle and honey into the buttermilk until well mixed, then pour this into the well and, very quickly, stir together with your hands until you have a soft, sticky dough.
  4. Form this into a round on your baking sheet and cut a deep cross in the dough.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, keeping an eye on it, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
  6. Leave to cool before diving in. Eat as soon as possible, as it doesn’t keep very well.

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Recipe: Quinoa Bread

Makes 1 small loaf.

  • 30g chia seeds
  • 350g quinoa
  • 70ml olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of flaked sea salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • A handful mixed seeds

Method.

  1. Put the chia seed sin a bowl with 100ml water, stir well and leave for 30 minutes to form into a gel.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas 6/180°C. Line a small loaf tin (25.5 x 13.5 x 6cm) with baking parchment.
  3. Place the weighed quinoa in a saucepan and cover with three times its volume of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes – the quinoa will only be part cooked.
  4. Drain the quinoa in a sieve and rinse under running cold water until completely cooled. Leave to drain for a few minutes (this is important as if it is too wet, the bread will be stodgy).
  5. Combine the chia gel and quinoa in a food processor and blitz to combine. Add 150ml water, together with the olive oil, bicarbonate of soda, salt and lemon juice. Run the food processor for five minutes until the mixture becomes a similar wet texture to muffin batter.
  6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and sprinkle the seeds over the top. Bake for 1 hour until the bread is firm and slightly golden.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge until ready to slice.