Nourishing traditions

2013 has been the year of getting back to my roots. By this I mean reconnecting with family, deepening my community in Sydney and establishing a routine of work and life that involves some new hobbies and grounding rituals. I will tell the story of my edible gardening adventures in another post – now I want to focus on a wonderful book that it took me far too long to read and a simple, delicious food that has become a nourishing staple.

Nourishing traditions by Sally Fallon will be familiar to anyone who is interested in the Weston A Price Foundation and their approach to food. Their website has lots of information about the health benefits of traditional diets as well as guidelines for avoiding diet-related chronic disease.

They advocate the proper preparation of grains and legumes to increase digestibility, the consumption of healthy fats (with an interesting slant on what these are considered to be) and the preparation of fermented dairy and vegetable foods to add natural probiotics and digestion boosting enzymes to your daily meals.

One of the simplest fermented recipes to try is Sauerkraut or pickled cabbage. I have always felt an affinity with this juicy, tangy side dish thanks to my Polish roots and it was so exciting to have a go at making my own.

The king of Sauerkraut – beautiful organic cabbage

The recipe is pretty simple:

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded

1 tablespoon sea salt

4 tablespoons whey (optional – extra salt can be used instead)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional – but delicious)

Whey from strained yoghurt aids the lacto-fermentation process

The fermentation process is known as lacto-fermentation and involves the breakdown of carbohydrates by bacteria making them more digestible. Whey aids this process by providing probiotic bacteria to help encourage a healthy balance in your Sauerkraut and also adds a tangy flavour to the finished batch.

I got my whey by straining some plain organic yoghurt through a clean tea towel over a colander over night in the fridge. The whey can be kept in the fridge for up a few weeks for use in other fermented recipes and the solids are called yoghurt cheese and can be used in the same way as cream cheese (and is absolutely delicious!)

Pounding the ingredients releases juices and encourages fermentation

The method is simple and quite therapeutic!

Mix all your ingredients in a big sturdy bowl and grab something solid with which to pound. I use an ice cream scoop, I have seen others suggest a potato masher. The idea is to pound the cabbage until it has reduced in volume and release lots of juices. This might take 15-30 mins with breaks, depending on your tool and strength. Then pack it all into a clean jar, pressing down firmly and pouring in all the juices. You need a one inch gap at the top of your jar to allow for expansion (heed this warning – it will expand). Make sure that the cabbage is pretty well covered by its liquids to avoid mould forming.

My finished jar of Sauerkraut with not quite enough of a gap left at the top..

I left my jar in a room temperature cupboard for 3 days, checking daily to watch as bubbles formed and then liquid expanded. One day I opened the jar and released a build up of gas (apparently this is called ‘burping’). I tasted it after the third day and it was tangy but still crunchy (it seems the salt contributes to this, according to this great website).

At that point I put it in the fridge. And spent the next month enjoying colourful breakfasts and delicious salads. Sauerkraut can be eaten daily, can be added as a condiment to any meal and is a brilliant way to boost your digestion and nutrition. The flavour continued to develop over time and I enjoyed every mouthful!

A colourful breakfast - rye toast with yoghurt cheese and sauerkraut

For more information about the Weston A Price Foundation you can have a look here.

Any questions about this recipe or the benefits of fermented foods, feel free to email me at sgnaturopath@gmail.com

 

Make your own herbal medicines

I was given a great book for Christmas: ‘Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong’, the companion to the BBC TV show that has also aired here in Australia.  James Wong is an ethnobotanist interested in medicinal plants and home grown remedies (and quite easy on the eye).

James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs

I haven’t seen the show but the book is fantastic and filled with great ideas for turning fresh and dried herbs, essential oils and other simple ingredients into homemade herbal medicines.  Some of the herbs in his recipes are not readily available in Australia, at least to my knowledge, but I found plenty that are and so I had a go..

TummySoother1

The first thing that caught my eye was his “Peppermint Tummy Soother for Indigestion”, a peppermint and chamomile syrup to take as needed for stomach cramps and nervous indigestion.  Most people have herbal tea bags in the cupboard so this is super easy.  I used dried peppermint leaves, 4 chamomile tea bags and some beautiful fresh chamomile flowers from J’s sister.

TummySoother2

I basically made a really strong tea, simmering the herbs in water for 20 mins, then leaving to cool and straining through a sieve and muslin.  He recommends pushing on the herby bits with a spoon (I used my fingers) to squeeze out all the therapeutic juices.  This is what I ended up with:

TummySoother3

I returned this to the clean pot and simmered for ages to reduce to 200ml volume.  James Wong suggested to simmer gently and I possibly took this slightly too far as it took about 40 mins to reduce!  Anyway, I was able to put a lot of love into my liquid herbs by spending so much time with them.  When the volume was right I added a cup and a bit of honey (from my cousins’ bees!) and 75ml of good cloudy apple cider vinegar.  This stuff is a great digestive tonic, alkaliser and all around friend to your body.

Continue reading

In defence of food

A quick but hearty recommendation for an important book. ‘In Defense of Food‘, by Michael Pollan, offers a welcome perspective for anyone who is confused about what to eat, perhaps as a result of conflicting nutrition advice or the current scientific tendency to reductionist thinking which has resulted in an emphasis on nutrients over wholefoods. I am as concerned as Pollan about the current status of food science, where it seems to be a good idea to develop products such as omega 3 fatty acid fortified bacon. Nature did not intend this. We can (and it is getting pretty close to a must) tap into our own instincts and common sense about what to nourish ourselves with. Pollan explains more on his site: http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/.

Does sugar make us fat?

I have just finished reading a very interesting book.  Sweet Poison: Why sugar makes us fat, by Australian David Gillespie, explores the possibility that the obesity epidemic may rest on our sugar consumption.  This challenges the long held perspective that it is fat in our diet that is primarily to blame for making us fat.

Gillespie was clinically obese and trying diet after diet with few long term results, until he cut foods and drink containing fructose out of his daily meals.  Fructose is a simple sugar that is half of the sucrose molecule and occurs naturally in many foods including fruit, honey and fruit juice and is also added to most processed foods, especially soft drinks, flavoured water and flavoured milk.  Basically any food or drink with added sugar contains fructose.  Gillespie noticed changes to his weight almost immediately and over a healthy two year period lost 40kg.

Gillespie is not a scientist but a consumer who embarked on his own research.  He has put together an easy to read but still very informative book that looks at the history of sugar consumption and the biochemical fate of excess sugar in our diet.  Fructose is unique as it seems to bypasses our inbuilt appetite control mechanisms and encourages the production of fatty acids by the liver, and thus leads directly to weight gain when eaten in excess.  The fructose in a piece of fruit is usually balanced out by the fibre in fruit which fills you up and prevents you from eating too much.  Fruit juice on the other hand has no fibre and thus you can consume much more before you feel full, leading to the consumption of a lot more fructose.  Fruit is a great source of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants, but still needs to be consumed in moderation: 1-2 pieces of fruit a day is ideal.

The overall message from this book is to trust your taste buds – if it tastes sweet then it will lead to greater energy production in your body and if this energy is not used by physical activity then you will gain weight.

I’m sure Gillespie will have been very pleased to see the study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study by Welsh et al (2010) explored the association between the consumption of dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels in US adults.  They found that increased dietary sugars are associated with  a variety of cardiovascular disease risk factors: low HDL cholesterol (the good type that helps clear gunk out of your arteries, high triglycerides (free fats that float around in your blood) and a high ratio of triglycerides to HDL-C.

The tides might be starting to turn in favour of the sugar makes us fat argument.

- Welsh, JA  et al. 2010 Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults;JAMA;303(15):1490-1497