It is increasingly clear that human health is directly tied to the health of our gut and the microbial community that resides there. Historically, we consumed a wide variety of foods with microbial activity, but in modern times, we’ve increasingly sterilized our foods and our gut health has suffered. Our lifestyles are also detrimental to gut health, with overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals, over-sanitized homes and offices, and epidemic stress-levels.
There are several dietary changes we can make to improve our gut health and to encourage an ideal gut microbiome balance. One of those changes includes consuming foods that contain beneficial bacteria (probiotics) everyday. Probiotics can be found in a number of foods including yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles, kombucha, aged-cheese, and fermented drinks (coconut water, oat water, etc). Because these foods can be expensive to purchase, especially if you consume large quantities of them, I started making my own. The best book I’ve found for learning how to ferment foods is The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. It’s approachable, comprehensive, and contains information on how to ferment just about any type of food.
Using the guidelines found in Katz’s book, I’ve played around with several kimkraut “recipes”. Kimkraut is a combination name for kimchi and sauerkraut. I like this term because the fermented vegetable combinations I prefer don’t fit neatly into either the kimchi or sauerkraut category, they draw from both. Currently, I love making my kimkraut with red cabbage, beets, apple, and ginger. The recipe below is a general recommendation, you can play around with the ratios of different ingredients, remove ingredients, or add new ones. A general salt guideline Katz provides is 1.5-2 tsp salt per pound of vegetables, so if you adjust the volume of vegetables, or if you find my version too salty (or not salty enough), you can also modify the salt content.
If you are working to rebuild your microbiome, I recommend eating 3-4 servings of probiotic foods each day, sometimes with additional probiotic supplementation in capsule form. For microbiota maintenance, 1-2 servings/day should suffice. This kimkraut is particularly awesome on salads and is featured in the broccoli microgreens salad I posted a few weeks ago.
- 3 cups red cabbage (1/4 large head), shredded
- 2 cups beets (2 large beets), thinly sliced
- ½ apple, thinly sliced
- ½ of 6” daikon radish, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup ginger, minced
- 3 tsp sea salt
- Prepare each ingredient as listed above. You should have between 2-3 pounds of shredded and sliced produce.
- Place all prepped ingredients in to a large bowl.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- Use clean hands to squeeze, knead, and pound vegetables (and apple) in order to break cell walls and release water held inside. By breaking the cell walls, the vegetables can brine in their own juices. You'll want to thoroughly bruise the produce.
- Once you're finished pounding the produce, place it into a container for fermentation. I like using large 1 gallon ball jars (see photo).
- Push the vegetables down under the juices, so all of the vegetables are submerged. Add some distilled water if necessary. Because the juices are salty, the vegetables tend to float, so you will need to push them under the brine with a weight (I use a cabbage leaf with a weight on top). Ensuring all of the vegetables are submerged is the best way to ensure molds and yeasts don't develop in your ferment. However, some vegetables may still rise to the top and become discolored from oxidation or develop a white surface mold — just remove those vegetables and throw them away. Colored molds require more caution and should be either very carefully removed or cause for throwing out the ferment. For further discussion of mold and yeast, please either purchase the Art of Fermentation (link in recipe text) or do additional online research.
- Place a cap loosely over the top of the jar, keeping in mind that the fermentation process produces CO2, which will need a way to escape from the jar.
- Place the ferment away from direct sunlight and wait. Although there is no exact fermentation time, after 2-3 days, the vegetables will have begun changing flavor, so anytime from 3 days onward to a week or two is likely enough time. Keep in mind that temperature will influence the fermentation time, warmer ambient air will result in a faster ferment. During the summer, my home is around 75 degrees F and I like the flavors in my ferments after about a week. In the winter, when my home is more like 65 degrees F, the fermentation time will be longer. Taste your ferment each day after day 3 to observe how the flavors develop. Once you find the taste enjoyable, I recommend putting it in the refrigerator and close the lid, which will essentially stop the fermentation process. Enjoy!