Cultured Vegetables

May 1, 2008




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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

Well, seems I’m on a raw kick this week–here’s a second raw recipe in a row (and also a tongue-twister using “R” words!).  As promised, I’m going to offer the recipe for “Cultured Vegetables” from my Total Health course.  Every time I utter the name of this recipe, I can’t help thinking, “As opposed to what?  Crass, uncouth vegetables?” But my mind just works that way.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a side of tangy, crisp coleslaw or the zing that some juicy sauerkraut can add to a Reuben sandwich, you’ve already sampled cultured vegetables.  The term refers to veggies that have been allowed to ferment naturally, within their own juices, to help breed the natural bacteria within them. These are good bacteria, people–the same kind you eat in healthy, immune-enhancing yogurt with live probiotics.  In fact, naturally cultured veggies may contain even more of these healthful bacteria than the yogurt does.

The practice of making our own cultured veggies has waned over the past century (why bother when you can just grab a jar from the supermarket?), but the store-bought kind can’t compare. In contrast to the assembly-line, limp and almost matte coloring of prepared brands, the homemade variety retains a lovely sheen and a springy bite with an appealing ascerbic tang.  And while the all-natural brands manufactured using traditional methods (the ones that require refrigeration even before you open them) are just fine, their cost is often exorbitant, and they don’t always offer the same probiotic benefits or equivalent array of vitamins and minerals in the all-natural types.

When you chop or grate raw, organic cabbage, the probiotic bacteria already present  (“friendly bacteria” that naturally populate our intestines and aid in myriad bodily functions, from boosting our immune systems to enhancing digestion to producing Vitamin K) begin to multiply and feed off the natural sugars in the veggies, thereby fermenting them.  The result is the slightly soft , slightly crisp, naturally pickled condiment that is most commonly known as sauerkraut. In this case, however, the food is truly raw and provides all the benefits of raw enzymes and easy digestibility from a living food.

I’ve always loved sauerkraut.  I can still remember how, throughout my childhood, my mom would crack open a jar of Mrs. Whytes  in natural brine and just eat it out of the jar as a snack (she had some weird culinary proclivities, that mom of mine). Well, as she did with my love for Jack and Carly, my mother also nurtured my taste for sauerkraut, and I’ve been eating it ever since.  When I finally learned to make it myself last week, I was surprised at how simple the process really is.

A quick Googling of “Cultured Vegetables Recipe” elicited 188,000 hits, so there’s obviously no shortage of information available for those who’d like to give it a try.  At our course, we used a combination of red cabbage, white cabbage, carrot and daikon radish.  The method is crazy-simple:  chop or grate the veggies very fine; blend a bit of them with water to create a “brine”; combine both parts in a tightly-closed jar and let it sit on your kitchen counter for a week.  Refrigerate before opening (both to stop the fermentation process and to prevent too much air escaping when you finally open it), then spear with your fork and enjoy.  My own batch ended up infused with a rosy, springlike hue throughout, courtesy of the red cabbage; on the plate, the mixture evoked a girl’s best party dress, or a sprinkling of confetti at a baby shower.

Once made, the veggies can be used alone as an accompaniment to salads, burgers, or other main courses; as a snack on their own (my mom would have loved them); or, as my instructor suggested, tossed at the last minute over some sautéed greens to warm them up a bit.

Below is the recipe we used, taken directly from Donna Gates’s Body Ecology site.  While my instructor did provide a “culture starter,” it’s entirely unnecessary to the success of this dish.  You should also feel free to experiment with the proportions of different vegetables, as long as cabbage is the the main event. And once you’ve got a batch ready, the veggies will last several months. 

Raw Cultured Vegetables


Don\'t those colors look yummy?

[Aren’t those colors purty?]



Reubenesque Sandwich

February 7, 2008


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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]

Sometimes I wish I’d lived in the 1600s.  No, not for the lack of modern excesses like cell phones or Doritos or Survivor. Not for what was, in those days, the nonchalant expectation of personal chefs, cleaners, and maids (and all for no pay!). Not for the lack of indoor plumbing, heating, electricity or even daily bathing  (as I recently learned from the way-cool book I’m reading, The Dirt on Clean). Not even because back then, people already had dogs as pets, though of course they weren’t treated as well as our canine friends are today. (“Yes, Mum, you do treat us very well.  This is a nice story, yadda yadda yadda, but when are you going to get to the part about food?”)

Allow me to clarify: when I say I would have liked living back then, I’m talking about cultural attitudes towards female pulchritude.  If today’s society held the same culturally-influenced ideals as to what is considered “beautiful” as they did in the 1600s, I’d be one fine-lookin’ piece of chattel. (Well, for the first 15 or so years of my life, anyway, after which I’d be forcibly betrothed to an old coot and made to bear six or eight children before shrivelling up like a dried dishrag and croaking from some 17th-Century pestilence).

Yes, I’ve always believed that, if only the zaftig female bodytype were still in style today, I’d have it made.  No more dieting! No more worrying about the little number printed on that tag sewn in the seam of my shirts! No more debating whether to get the elastic waist or the buttons! After all, those groups of 1600’s Rubenesque damsels in all those famous paintings could certainly have stood to get to the gym a little more often, and yet they were considered the paragon of beauty, right? 

However, since I live in the 21st century, I’m less inclined to flaunt my excess poundage.  With my recently-renewed vow to eat healthfully and also openly embrace the “now,” I’ve decided I may as well make peace with my plumpness, if not celebrate it.  Pondering all things Rubenesque, my mind naturally meandered toward the the concept of Reuben sandwiches.  Not only are they, too, pleasingly plump, but eating them may just ensure that I stay that way, as well (Bonus!).

reubenclosed2.jpg In my long-ago meat-eating days (though not as long-ago as the 1600s, mind you), I used to relish Reubens (the sandwiches, not the painter–though I suppose I’d have to concede that his work is okay).

There’s just something tantalizing about the mix of all those towering slices of pink, pickled meat, their softly shredded edges peeking out from beneath a buttered, crisply toasted piece of rye; the sour, briny haystack of sauerkraut, all smothered in creamy, sweet and tangy dressing (your choice of either Russian or Thousand Island), then capped off with a languid, softly spreading cloud of melted swiss cheese–well, the synergy of that particular combination of elements has always made my mouth water. 

I’ve encountered many recipes for vegan Reubens over the years, but nothing seemed to tickle my fancy (and my fancy is usually pretty ticklish, I can tell you*).  Then, the other evening, I finally decided to finish unpacking those fourteen boxes of cookbooks that have been waiting, patiently, in our basement since our recent move (who am I kidding?  November 12th is no longer “recent,” by any stretch of the imagination!). In the process, I happened upon my copy of Vegan with a Vengeance, and found–ta da!–a fabulous recipe for a vegan Tempeh Reuben Sandwich.

Well, since I am no longer fond of meat in any case, and since I have also determined to live in the moment, I decided, tempeh fugit! and went about preparing that sandwich. (Oooh.  I can hear the groans through the computer screen. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

With my mouth already watering in anticipation, I assembled the sandwich even though we were short a few key ingredients.  I was too impatient to properly marinate my tempeh,  so just steamed it in a little Braggs and water, as I normally do (which accounts for its pale countenance in the photos–sort of like a 17th Century Courtesan, come to think of it).  However, I did do up the rest of the recipe pretty much as described, except using a spelt bagel for the rye bread in the original.

The result was spectacular.  That Isa sure can whip up some great recipes! I devoured the thing in minutes, smacking my lips and licking my fingers as I imagine the denizens of King Charles’s court might have done as they sat round their enormous oak tables, imbibing and feasting. 

Not only are these sandwiches delectable, they are so chock full of filling that I daresay they themselves appear rather amply endowed. Like sandwich, like maker; eating that Reuben really did make me feel as if I inhabited a scene from a Rubens after all. Now, if only I could get that “servants at my beck and call” thing happening.

Tempeh Reuben Sandwich (adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)


Rather than reprint the recipe here, I’ll tell you what I did differently from the original:

  • 1 spelt bagel, cut in half and toasted instead of pumpernickel bread
  • instead of marinating the tempeh (which I would definitely do next time), I steamed it in about 1/4 cup water and 2 Tbsp. Braggs, then brushed with olive oil and browned lightly in a skillet
  • I omitted the avocado from the sandwich, because (a) I didn’t think it would work as a substitute for cheese, and (b) we didn’t have any.

*No, I wasn’t being suggestive, just silly.  Goodness me, you people have a depraved sense of humor!