Last week I got curious about the GAPS diet, as it kept popping up on a lot of Paleo blogs. After doing some reading I concluded that, while I can give up many things from my diet, alcohol and dark chocolate are not among them. Still, I liked some of the ideas behind GAPS. It got me interested in probiotics, which was an aspect of Paleo that I had never really explored. Undeniably, cultured foods were a staple in the human diet until very recently. Fermentation provided a means to preserve the harvest, prevent spoilage, and in some cases, provided an enjoyable side effects. Aside from these obvious advantages, fermented foods were also providing more subtle improvements to human health. In Probiotic Foods for Good Health, Beatrice Trum Hunter details a wide range of studies showing that the addition of yogurt to the diet can improve not only digestive function, but also boost immune response (without promoting inflammation), reduce incidence of rotovirus and rhinovirus infections, and lessen the effects of both food sensitivities and nasal allergies. The presence of lactic acid in the diet also appears to inhibit cholesterol production in the liver. The bacteria responsible for lacto-fermentation help to break down proteins and sugars in the gut, making nutrients more bio-available. The mechanisms behind this process are fascinating, though I’ll leave it to those with a biology background that runs deeper than 7.013.
I’ve actually been making my own yogurt for years, and, while not strictly Paleo, I’ve also dabbled in home brewing for a while too. Outside of these, though my only real experience with making fermented foods was my dad’s experiment with sauerkraut one summer, of which I was not a fan. As a friend one said to me, “I love the idea of homemade sauerkraut, but I’m not sure I could eat anything made by someone willing to ferment cabbage in their home.” Still, I was intrigued enough to try some DIY, and after some blog surfing, I came across this recipe for cultured strawberry applesauce. I de-stemmed, cored, pureed, and waited. When I opened the jar after about 36 hours, it smelled vaguely like sourdough, which seemed like a good sign. I’m notoriously paranoid about food safety, though, and I was a little concerned that the wrong bacteria might have multiplied and be lurking to kill me. I tried a teaspoon, which was delicious–applesauce with lovely strawberry overtones and a delightfully sour note. After another 8 hours and no obvious adverse affects, I tried a tablespoon. The next day I ramped it up to a quarter cup, after which I decided it was safe. I also decided that I needed to read something that assessed the safety of what I was doing, so as not to drive myself crazy. I ordered Wild Fermentation and started reading. Putting the long history of fermented foods in context helped assuage my worries, and the multitude of recipes in the book had me hooked. I decided that kimchi would be the next project, and today I got it underway.
I have no idea how spicy this first batch will turn out, but I’m of the general opinion that kimchi can never be too hot. I assembled one head of Napa cabbage, a nice chunk of ginger, some radishes, a carrot, one jalapeno, four serranos, and two habenero peppers. The cabbage got a rough chop and went in a pot to soak in some brine with the sliced carrot and radish for a few hours. I then made the remaining peppers and ginger into a paste in the food processor. After the cabbage and friends were done soaking I poured off the brine, reserving it, and combined it with the spice mixture. I then jammed all of it into a jar and topped it off with the brine.
I used another jar to weigh everything down and keep the veggies submerged in the brine. I covered the whole thing with some cheesecloth to keep the dust off and tucked it into a dark corner of the kitchen. If all goes well, in a week or so, I should have some kickin’ kimchi, and I’ve got big plans for it… Stay tuned.