I am a big advocate for fermented foods, and have committed to making them a regular part of my dietary habits. That’s why I am reviewing another great book about fermentation this week, Alex Lewin from Feed Me Like You Mean It’s recent book Real Food Fermentation.
Whether you are new to fermenting and are intrigued…or have already been doing it for a period of time, this wonderful book with gorgeous pictures (I’ve considered adding it to my coffee table collection for that reason) will delight any reader who is curious about flavors and textures, and the important role that microbes, enzymes, and bacteria play in preserving food.
It will also help you to appreciate that the art (yes, art) of culturing food is really one of the best and simplest ways to incorporate these essential living enzymes, good bacteria (probiotics), and increased vitamins and minerals in your diet for improved health.
Why make fermented foods, anyway?
You may be wondering what’s so great about fermented foods. They support digestion, immunity, and overall health by breaking down the elements in foods that our bodies might not otherwise be able to do and making nutritional elements more available. For an overview of the benefits of fermented foods, read The amazing health benefits of fermented & cultured foods & beverages. These foods support digestion, immunity, and overall health.
We are currently seeing a resurgence in interest of creating fermented foods for flavor and health, and what better time of year to learn something new like this than during the holiday season when there is so much focus on food anyway. This book would make a great gift for someone special in your life who loves and appreciates food and is perhaps thinking about taking their health to the next level.
What you’ll get out of this book and learning to ferment
In this book you’ll find basic recipes for fermented vegetable creations such as sauerkraut and pickles, kimchi, pickles, pico de gallo and more adventurous foods like hard apple cider, kombucha as well as a whole array of cultured dairy foods such as yogurt, whey, kefir, and crème fraîche, butter, and buttermilk (swoon!).
Recipes include clear instructions accompanied by images showing the reader just what his or her efforts will yield at various steps, and in effect bring to life the recipes discussed. I appreciate that, and I think someone who is just starting out on adventures in fermentation would too.
After meeting Alex in person, I have found that his book is written in a manner that is every bit as conversational as if you were actually talking to him. His relationship with food is very comfortable and it’s evident that he’s delighted to share his knowledge with the reader.
As you read this book, you’ll discover that it’s meant to be read not at all in the way you’d approach most “cookbooks”, but as a way to become better acquainted with, enthused about, and as a way to unleash the desire to understand food and experiment in the kitchen in ways you may never have felt you could. I hope the way he writes about food will not only compel you in this direction, but will inspire you to want to investigate this fascinating world of fermented foods, and try something for yourself.
I love the friendly, open explanations Alex provides about how enzymatic activity and oxidation occur, and definitions of preservation and fermentation – which helps remove the mystery from the unique process of fermentation and how it can benefit health…as well as the conditions under which optimal fermentation occurs. There is also some valuable discussion of the ways in which the slow food movement has taken form and how it is affected by the mainstream, commercial food system, and genetic modification, and other factors.
In this recent radio interview, Alex talks about the qualities of fermented foods and why they are so good for our health. In a world where so many people have digestive compromise from poor lifestyle and dietary habits, fermentation reduces the stress on the body of creating enzymes for digestion. Raw foods are more difficult to digest, and fermented foods which really fall between raw and cooked are actually easier because microbes and enzymes act on the parts of the raw foods that our bodies have trouble assimilating.
Here is one of the fabulous recipes in his book:
Fermented Carolina-Style Slaw
Yield: 1 quart (950 ml) or 2 pounds (900 g)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 4-7 days
1 pound (450 g) green cabbage
1 large onion (red, yellow, or white)
1 large green bell pepper
1 large carrot
1/2 apple (optional)
1/4 pound (115 g) celery root, or 1 teaspoon celery seed
4 teaspoons (20 g) sea salt
1/4 cup (80 g) honey (or less, if you have included an apple)
6 tablespoons (90 ml) oil (mixture of sesame, coconut, and olive oil works well)
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 piece (1/3 inch, or 8 mm) gingerroot, peeled and grated (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
- Large cutting board (wood is ideal)
- Large knife (a chef’s knife is ideal)
- Large mixing bowl
- 2 mason jars (1 pint, or 475 ml each) or similar glass jars with tight-fitting lids
- Colander or strainer
- Thinly slice the cabbage, onion, and bell pepper. (For tips on how to cut a bell pepper, see page 65.)
- Grate or shred the carrot, apple, if using, and celery root, if using.
- Ferment the vegetable mixture with the salt using the recipe for Lacto-Fermented Vegetables on page 75 (here’s a link on his site to this recipe), to the desired degree of sourness. Four to seven days is probably about right.
- Once the vegetables are fermented, drain them in a colander set over a mixing bowl, and press the liquid out with your hands, reserving the liquid.
- Combine 1/2 cup (120 ml) of the liquid with the honey, oil, dry mustard, and ginger, and mix well with a fork, whisk, or blender. Pour the dressing mixture and combine. Add salt and pepper as needed. Add more of the reserved liquid if you want more sourness. Refrigerate.
- Save any leftover fermentation liquid to use as a starter for your next project. Or mix it with oil and spices to use as a salad dressing. or drink it in the morning as a digestive tonic!
Alex studied math at Harvard University before graduating from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, as well as the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. He also serves on the board of the Boston Public Market Assocation, and teaches people how to put fermenting into action.
Listen to Alex’s interview about his book with Cary Nosler on Talk 650 KSTE, on Wide World of Health (Sacramento, CA).
Win a copy of Real Food Fermentation!
The giveaway starts today and ends on Wednesday, December 20th at 11:59 p.m., MST.
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Best of luck to everyone entering. I will announce the winner here on Thursday, December 20th.
Photo credit: Quarry Books