Sunday, December 16, 2012

Healthy fermented foods! And a recipe for cultured cashew creme.

Hello everyone!

Today I want to write about natural fermentation. There are so many different kinds of fermented foods and beverages. Of course we all know about beer, wine, cider, and vinegars. Those are all the products of yeast fermentation.

Sourdough breads are also a product of slow yeast fermentation. This makes the grains much more digestible. If you are able to digest wheat or other grains, sourdoughs are the healthiest ways to enjoy them.

There are also fermented soy products. For those of you who are not allergic to soy and choose to eat it, organic, naturally fermented soy products like miso and natto can be much healthier additions to the diet than unfermented soy. I don't consume soy nor do I endorse it as a food, honestly, but if you do eat soy please use only fermented, and certified organic!

Right now I am really interested in lactofermentation. Lactofermented vegetables (and dairy if you tolerate it) can be nourishing ways to add probiotics to your diet. Unlike the breads, beers, wines, and hard ciders which all use yeast, lactofermented veggies are made by bacteria.

Some of the bacteria that create the lactofermentation process produce vitamin K2, which is so important for your health! We all know about K1, the one found in dark green leafy veggies, that helps with correct blood clotting. Yay green leafy veggies! But K2 is just as important! It helps you use vitamin D and calcium. It helps feed all the organs and tissues in your body. You need K2! There is debate about whether the body can make K2 out of K1, then use it. It used to be thought that you could, but now researchers are not so sure whether you can absorb it properly. Best to eat lots of healthy fermented foods with healthy fats for proper absorption to be sure! As a bonus, some of those healthy bacteria from the food will hang out in your gut and help with digesting everything you eat.

Once upon a time, I made my own dairy yogurt every week. Sometimes I used pasteurized goat milk, and sometimes raw cow milk, depending on what I could get. I stopped doing this when we went vegan, but I am thinking of trying it again. I'm looking into places to get raw unpasteurized cow and goat milk for yogurt and cheese. There are some in Massachusetts. I'll keep you posted, and then I'll do some posts about dairy yogurt and raw milk cheeses. (I'll also mention which cheeses have a lot more K2 than others - different cultures produce different amounts of it.)

While I was vegan (and even now that I am no longer vegan) I made cultured cashew creme. I'm going to teach you how to do that a little later in this post.

I also love lactofermented vegetables. Sauerkraut is amazingly nourishing stuff. It helps with digestion. It is delicious. It is full of that awesome K2 I was talking about earlier. Real kim chi is also lactofermented cabbage with lots of other healthy seasonings. I'll do posts about how to make both in the future.

But cabbage isn't the only vegetable you can do this with! It is definitely one of the cheapest, but far from the only one. I am going to try making a healthy fermented drink called beet kvass, and tell you about my adventures with that soon too. So many adventures!

For now, here's the recipe (more of a method, really) for cultured cashew creme!

You'll need:

Raw cashews (preferably the really raw sort, where heat isn't used in extracting them from their shells; but the ones labeled as raw in the grocery store will do)
Filtered water
Lemon juice (freshly squeezed and organic)
Sea salt

First, soak the cashews. You can get away with an hour, but I like to soak at least a few hours. This isn't like with other nuts where you really need to soak 8 or 12 hours; cashews are special like that. When you soak your cashews, take your lemons out of the fridge. They produce the most juice when they are at room temperature.

So you soak your cashews, then drain and rinse them. Put them in the blender jar, squeeze your lemons, and add the lemon juice to the blender. How much, you ask? Well, for a cup of cashews you might use the juice of a small lemon or half the juice of a large lemon. It's to taste, and you'll be adjusting it later.

Add a splash of water and blend. Start slow, scrape down a few times, and keep blending and adding a TINY bit of water at a time until you have a thick, smooth, creamy consistency. You want it to be thick like yogurt. It will only thicken up a little while culturing, unlike dairy yogurt. So make it only a tiny bit runnier than you want your finished product to be.

Once you have a beautifully smooth texture, stir in some probiotics or yogurt starter culture. Most starter culture packets contain traces of dairy. If you are dairy-free and/or vegan, use probiotic capsules instead. I like Country Life's Powerdophilus, but you should use whatever vegan probiotics you like that come in a capsule or powder format. I add about three capsules for about a cup to a cup and a half of cashews. Stir it in, transfer to a glass bowl or jar, and cover loosely. Set in a warm place.

If you have a dehydrator and are using it to dehydrate something else, set your cashew creme on top or on a towel inside. (I rarely turn mine above 105, and that's about the temp you want here. Cooler is okay, warmer will kill enzymes and damage these sensitive bacteria.) If you don't have one, just find a warm place. The cupboard above your fridge is a warm stable place. Any safe shelf is fine - just don't close the cupboard or forget where you put it!

Let it culture overnight or longer, up to about 24 hours, depending on how warm or cool your kitchen is, and how strongly you would like it to taste.

Now you can season to taste with more lemon and some sea salt, chill it down, use it in dips and dressings, or whatever you like! To make a ranch-like dressing, add some fresh or dried dill, parsley, garlic, and onion. Add a little more lemon or some raw apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour while the flavors meld (it won't taste like much at first if you use dried herbs, but the flavors will blossom and combine as the dressing chills.)

Make an antioxidant-rich curry dip by stirring in some fresh ginger and your favorite curry powder.

You can even add some raw honey or local maple syrup and a little raw cacao powder, and have a healthier and very satisfying sweet snack or topping.

You can also stir this creme into raw or cooked veggie "pasta" dishes, salads and slaws, chilled soups, anywhere you might otherwise have used yogurt or sour cream! For some people, this is easier to digest than dairy. And it's so much healthier than the non-dairy yogurts you can buy in the store. Live active cultures, no stabilizers or fillers, nothing but what you put in there. Nothing but real, honest food. Enjoy!

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