I’ve been both infatuated and a little intimidated with the idea of making my own fermented foods for a few years now. The resurgence of this art as a home cook has me leafing through books about pickles and scrolling down internet articles for homemade sauerkraut recipes.
Of course I love that scientific research is helping us learn more about the human micro biome and how this centuries old practice of fermenting our foods supports our resident microbes. There has been a drastic decrease in the amount of live cultured foods we consume in the current standard American diet.
Ah America…. That leads me to this. I looked up the definition of ferment. It’s root is ‘fervre’ to boil or seethe.
As a verb, ferment refers to the natural process that creates alcohol. The fermentation of food is the result of the agitated development of bacteria (the good kind).
As a noun, ferment is a state of commotion or excitement often used to describe a state of agitation among a group of people concerning turbulent change or development. For example: A state of ferment is experienced at a political rally where tempers run high.
Wow, I thought…America is actually fermenting right now! I should make kimchi.
So I set about my trials and here is what I learned.
There’s an awesome winter farmers market here in Knoxville. I found local napa cabbage, watermelon radishes, scallions, ginger and garlic. Turns out it’s the perfect season to make kimchi.
If you don’t have access to local farm produce, you can find everything you need at most grocery stores. I’ve even been finding watermelon radish at our Whole Foods and Earth Fare. You can also look for an Asian market in your area. Substitute daikon radish if needed, but it’s worth looking for the watermelon radish. It lends a rich color to the kimchi.
I used Himalayan pink salt to salt the cabbage in the first step. I love working with this salt because it's beautiful, full of health benefits and brings forward flavor nicely. It’s available just about anywhere. You can use sea salt, but don’t use a refined table salt. The refining chemicals and added iodine can inhibit fermentation.
I found a really nice fish sauce at an Asian market. Turns out, not all fish sauce is created equal. I looked at all the labels and chose one without added MSG, artificial colors and flavors. Just anchovies, salt and sugar. If you want your kimchi to be vegan you can leave this out, but it really adds a special funky flavor.
Many kimchi recipes have a bit of sugar in them which make sense. Sweetness plays a role in the balance of savory flavors. I chose coconut sugar because it has a distinct flavor with caramel notes and is less refined. I used a very small amount (1 tsp) in this recipe, but if you avoid all sugar, you could leave it out.
The Korean chili flakes are called gochugaru. I had a hard time finding these and ended up ordering them on Amazon. I am really happy with the ones I got. The flavor is outstanding! here's a link to what I used
After mixing everything up I packed the cabbage down into a crock and set ceramic pickling weights on top. You can make this just as well by using a glass jar with a wide opening. One big cabbage made about 1 and half quarts when finished. Next time I will definitely double this recipe.
Ditched Dairy…Now What?
There are many reasons why one might decide to ditch dairy in their diet. Among the most common is lactose intolerance. If you’re shelling out at Costco for Lact-aid by the case, you might like to know there are a whole slew of other health benefits from making this minor switch.
A Happy Belly
Most adults no longer produce the enzymes necessary to digest lactose, leading to symptoms such as stomach cramping and irritable bowel syndrome. We often become accustomed to these minor symptoms as part of daily life, treating them with over the counter remedies. Long term, this stress on your body systems can cause bigger problems.
Many dermatologists recommend dairy-free as a first course of action against acne and eczema.
Relief from seasonal allergies and chronic sinusitis
Yep, dairy is a culprit in excess mucus production. Folks commonly report relief from these symptoms after going dairy-free.
The research is solid with many significant studies showing strong links between dairy intake and several hormone related cancers. It’s not surprising that these studies aren’t mainstream. The dairy industry is powerful and we are still teaching in our schools that milk is a health drink.
Ok, so you don’t need convincing? You’ve decided to forego the fromage. Now what? Here are a few of my fave tips for surviving the switch beyond the aisles of milk substitutes.
Cream for your Coffee
This is often the first crisis faced in the challenge. There are a whole bunch of dairy-free creamer products on the market now, but most contain ingredients you may also be avoiding. Why consume loads of sugar, artificial flavors and questionable thickeners when you’re trying to make a healthier choice? Now enter the mighty cashew…the vegan answer to all things creamy!
Making your own cashew cream is simple (I promise) and so much tastier than anything on the market shelf.
See my recipe here.
Can’t live without it? You don’t have to. There are more dairy-free varieties than ever on the market and they have really upped the bar on quality. If you are also avoiding soy and excess sugar there are still lots of sa-weet options. My personal fave brand is Coconut Bliss. Runner up is So Delicious Cashew Milk Ice Cream. They even make a coconut milk version that is sweetened with stevia! These brands have made their way to mainstream markets so no need to endure that post ice cream bellyache ever again.
Nut-based Cheese Products
With rising interests in the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, the market has responded. (Yay for the power of the consumer!) Most dairy-free products used to be geared towards imitating cheese for those with allergies, and contained artificial ingredients…much like Velveeta EW! Now we are seeing new companies working with real artisan cheese making methods to produce cheeses from plant-based milk. My favorite, Kite Hill, produces an awesome almond milk cream cheese that spreads on a bagel just as well as its dairy counterpart. Their ricotta style cheese will make lasagna even your Italian grandma wouldn’t know the difference in. My favorite yogurt comes from Forager project and is made with cashews and live cultures…cashewgurt if you will.
Pizza without Cheese???
Whaaat? Well, yes. It takes a little reframing of the mindset to let go of the idea of stringy melty mozzarella on your slice, but once you’ve experience the physical benefits of living dairy-free, you won’t want to go back and eventually won’t even be appetized by the smell of what is usually a pretty low quality cheese anyway.
When ordering pizza sans cheese, go heavier on the toppings to make your pie flavorful. In addition to the usual veggies, try adding pesto, mushrooms, olives, artichokes, beans and even top with avocado. Better yet, make your own at home! Pizza night is pretty easy to make part of your dinner routine and so much fun.
[insert photo and link pizza dough recipe]
Nutritional Yeast. The vegan answer to cheesy taste. You can find this in most markets or natural grocery stores. If you’re trying it for the first time, use sparingly. Toss on popcorn, add to pasta sauce, sprinkle on pizza and use in place of Parmesan in recipes.
Eliminating dairy is arguably the easiest singular change you can make in your diet to get the most noticeable positive results. It can take several weeks to adjust to the point of relief from cravings, but most people report that after an extended time living free from dairy, they no longer have any desire to go back to it.
I hope these tips are helpful and support you in journey to feeling your best!