I Love Soup!

Meat and fish stocks have been a staple of traditional cuisines for a long time. Consider the Japanese breakfast of fish broth with rice. French onion soup. Korean sol long tang (beef broth and thinly shaved beef brisket). Russsian chlodnik (shrimp soup).

Lima Bean Soup

Yum! I want some right now! 😀

No question that a homemade soup based on homemade stock is delicious. Makes me wish for a do-over of my winter cooking this year. I didn’t make nearly as much soup as I’d intended.

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldBut homemade soup stock is great for a bunch other reasons too. Most of which I didn’t know before I read the book Nourishing Traditions.

Broth Is Super Nutritious

Okay, I “knew” soup was nutritious. You hear it all the time. But I didn’t know why. And, honestly, most commercial soups aren’t, because they’re made with cheap hydrolyzed vegetable protein as a base instead of actual beef stock or chicken stock.

So why is meat and fish broth so good for us? Two reasons.

All the minerals present in bone, cartilage, and marrow are present in the broth, especially the biggies of calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

These minerals, plus those of any vegetables you’ve included in your stock-making, are present as electrolytes, a form that is particularly easy for the body to assimilate – that is, your body will take in more of them, more easily.

Broth Is Hydrophilic

“What?” I hear you say. I said it too!

Hydrophilic means it attracts liquids. Most raw foods are hydrophilic. When we eat them, the particles attract the digestive juices present in the gut, causing the food particles to be rapidly and thoroughly digested.

But most cooked foods are hydrophobic. That is, they repel liquids. And repel the digestive juices. Which means your body has to use (and make) more enzymes to accomplish digestion, and it takes longer.

The gelatin in stock possesses the unusual property that even after heating it is hydrophilic. It attracts liquid. So all those lovely vegetable chunks and meat pieces in your soup? They’re coated in broth and thus become far easier to digest.

When I was a young thing, the emphasis placed by my elders on digestibility seemed incomprehensible. You swallow your food; it’s digested; end of story. After I’d experienced indigestion – ouch! – their concern made more sense. And after I’d experienced years of a painful gut from eating soy products such as tofu, digestibility seemed paramount! (All better, BTW, now that I’ve been avoiding soy for nearly a decade.)

Broth Is Protein Sparing

I said “what?” to that one as well.

Here’s the thing: all living cells are composed of protein. Or, put another way, protein is essential to life.

Proteins are assembled from amino acids. And our bodies can build many of the amino acids we need. But not all. There are eight of them that must be supplied by our diet. All essential eight are present in their most assimilable form in meat.

Roast Beefbeef stewBut meat is expensive. Plus, we now know that cooked meat is hydrophobic, which reduces the bio-availability of those amino acids.

So how does this protein sparing thing work?

It has to do with the protein in broth gelatin. The protein in broth gelatin is not complete. That is, it does not contain all eight essential amino acids. In fact, it’s mostly composed of two: arginine and glycine.

But meat broth (and fish broth) gelatin has another special property. It allows the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are eaten with it.

In other words, the chunks of beef in a beef stew (with its broth) will give you much more protein than the same amount of beef sliced from a roast. For those of us on a budget, soup with homemade stock is our friend. 😀

So how do you make soup stock?

I’ll confess that I make more chicken stock than any other, because it’s the easiest. Here’s how I do it.

Chicken StockChicken Stock Recipe

bones & necks from 2 free-range chickens
4 quarts cold, filtered water
2 tablespoons vinegar or whey
1 large onion
6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
2 large carrots, peeled
3 celery sticks

Put the chicken bones into a large pot, fill it with the water, and add the vinegar (or the whey – the liquid that runs off yogurt). Let it sit for an hour. This allows the acidic water to draw the minerals, especially calcium, out of the bones and into the liquid.

Stick the cloves into the onion.

Bring the soaking bones to a boil. Skim the foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat, put the onion and the bay leaf in, cover, and simmer for 4 hours. Add the vegetables and simmer for another 2 to 6 hours.

Remove the chicken bones and wilted vegetables with a slotted spoon. Let the stock cool. Strain it through a seive and pour it into jars to store. It will stay good for 5 days in the fridge, several months in the freezer.

Use as a base for soups and sauces. Plain broth with some salt added makes a great breakfast addition.

For more about nutrition, see:
Grass Green
Handle with Care

For more about food chemistry, see:
Electrolytes iin Solution
Essential Amino Acids

 

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Beet Kvass

I want to tell you about beet kvass!

Beet kvass is my favorite drink, savory and flavorful, yet refreshing. Plus it’s good for you. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get around to this.

'Red Ace' Beets

Before I zero in on beet kvass specifically, let’s consider lacto-fermented beverages generally. Lacto-fermented beverages use whey in their making, just as yogurt does, and have many of the same benefits.

Lacto-fermentation creates valuable enzymes that add to the health of the entire gastro-intestinal tract. We digest our food more thoroughly and easily – and receive more of its nutrition – when we eat enzymes.

Lacto-fermentation creates pro-biotics. Just as eating yogurt after a course of anti-biotics helps restore the natural and beneficial bacteria needed in the intestine, so will eating other lacto-fermented foods and beverages.

Plus lacto-fermentation makes the vitamins and minerals in food more bio-available, so that our bodies can absorb more of their goodness.

Using whey to make nutritious beverages isn’t new, although we moderns have forgotten about it. It’s an ancient practice once used throughout the world and valued for its medicinal benefits.

Lacto-fermented beverages:
• relieve intestinal problems and constipation
• promote lactation in nursing mothers
• strengthen the sick
• and promote overall wellness and stamina

Modern research discovered that liquids containing dilute sugars and electrolytes of minerals are absorbed faster and retained longer than plain water.

Commercial sports beverage companies tout this research to promote their products. But modern sports drinks are high-sugar brews with minimal electrolytes.

Naturally lacto-fermented beverages contain plentiful mineral electrolytes and only a small portion of sugar. Plus their lactic acid and beneficial lactobacilli promote good health and more effectively relieve thirst.

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldSipped with meals, lacto-fermented beverages promote thorough and easy digestion. Swallowed after physical labor, they gently replenish the body’s lost mineral ions. In Nourishing Traditions (a marvelous book from which I’ve learned a lot), Sally Fallon speculates that the human craving for alcohol and soft drinks may hark back to an archetypal collective memory of the ancient lacto-fermented beverages that were once foundational food ways. There’s no knowing the accuracy of the notion, but it’s an interesting idea.

So…what about beet kvass?

First a disclaimer. I adore the stuff, but some folks describe it as medicinal in taste. That doesn’t compute for me. Beet kvass medicinal? Huh? But I’m a kvass lover. You may not be. Or perhaps you simply loathe beets. Many do. In which case, beet kvass may not be for you!

However, beet kvass possesses all the benefits of lacto-fermented beverages plus some special qualities all its own.

Annelies Schoneck in Des Crudités L’Année tells us that sick people lack the proper digestive juices in the gastro-intestinal tract. And not only during the acute phase of an illness, but for a long time after. Cancer patients especially do not possess healthy intestinal flora. Lacto-fermented beets are particularly valuable to cancer patients and the chronically ill, because they are so rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Plus they help normalize disturbed cellular function.

Zukay beet kvassHow do you make beet kvass? The recipe’s coming right up. It’s an easy one, even simpler than sauerkraut.

(If cooking is not your thing, health food stores often carry Zukay Beet Kvass. As does Amazon. I just checked! 😀 It’s good, although not quite as tasty as homemade.)

BEET KVASS

3 medium or 2 large organic beets
1/4 cup whey
1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
filtered water
a 2-quart canning jar

In addition to its medicinal benefits, beet kvass works well as a substitute for vinegar in salad dressing and as a flavorful enhancement to soups.

A word on ingredients: Be sure to use organic beets. The pesticide residues on conventional produce can halt the lacto-fermentation process. Use liquid whey drained from yogurt with active cultures or obtained from raw milk, not the powdered whey (which won’t work for this) found in health food stores. Use Celtic sea salt, because most other salts have chemical additives that hurt or halt lacto-fermentation. Use filtered or well water, because the chlorine in chlorinated water also harms lacto-fermentation.

First wash and peel the beets. Then chop them coarsely. Do not grate them or chop them finely. Grated beets exude too much juice, which results in rapid fermentation. Rapid fermentation produces alcohol, rather than lactic acid. We need lactic acid for lacto-fermentation!

Place the chopped beets, the whey, and the salt in the 2-quart canning jar. Add filtered water to fill the jar. Stir well and cover with the lid, tightening firmly to finger tight.

Keep the jar on your kitchen counter for 2 to 4 days, depending on the temperature. At 80°F, 2 days will be enough. At 68°F, the kvass will need 3 or 4 days to lacto-ferment. You’ll know it’s ready to refrigerate (and drink) when the beet chunks float to the top.

beet kvass, homemadeServe by pouring the liquid – the kvass – into a glass. Keep the beet chunks in the jar. (I use a small strainer placed against the jar mouth while I pour to corral the beets.) If kvass is new to you, start with small servings, perhaps just a tablespoon or two, to give your body a chance to adjust.

When most of the liquid has been consumed (but not all – leave a quarter cup or so), fill the jar again with filtered water and keep it on the kitchen counter for 2 to 4 days to lacto-ferment again. This will give you another batch of kvass from the same chopped beets.

Or, you can decant the first batch into another jar and store it in the fridge, while starting your second batch right away. This makes pouring and serving the kvass easier. No beet chunks to corral. Plus you’ll have that second batch ready to drink at about the time the first one is gone. In the photo above, you can see one jar with beets still in it, and one jar of decanted kvass.

After the second brew, discard the beet pieces. You’ve used all their goodness! You may, however, reserve a quarter cup of the kvass to use in place of the whey and salt in your next batch. I’m rarely disciplined enough to not drink every last drop! Yes, I love the stuff that much. 😀

For more lacto-fermented recipes, see Corn Relish and Sauerkraut.

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Amazing Lactobacilli
Handle with Care

For more recipes with excellent nutrition, see Coconut Salmon and Baked Carrots.

For more on nutrition, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!

I’d love to hear about your cooking adventures and hope you’ll consider sharing in the comments.

 

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Lacto-fermented Corn

corn earsThe first corn of summer arrived in my kitchen last week.

Half of it I simply cooked and served, slathered in butter, to my family. The other half I made into corn relish.

I promised last August that I’d share the corn relish recipe with you when corn was in season again. Time to make good on my promise!

Corn relish is a lacto-fermented food. The same lacto-bacilli that turn milk into yogurt also turn corn and a few other vegetables into corn relish.

photo of corn, tomato, onion melange in canning jarThere are several benefits to this.

For me personally, it means I can eat corn! Cooked in any ordinary way, corn makes me really ill. Lacto-fermented corn bothers my system not in the least.

Of course, most people can eat corn without my difficulty, but lacto-fermented corn offers everyone the great benefits of any lacto-fermented food.

The process of lacto-fermentation creates valuable enzymes which add to the health of the entire gastro-intestinal tract. We digest our food more thoroughly and easily, and receive more of its nutrition, when we eat enzymes.

Lacto-fermentation also creates pro-biotics. You know how your doctor recommends eating yogurt after a course of anti-biotics? Well, eating lacto-fermented vegetables does the same thing, repopulating the intestine with the beneficial bacteria that must be present in order for humans to be healthy!

And lacto-fermentation makes the vitamins and minerals in our foods more bio-available, so that our bodies absorb more of these vital substances, instead of letting them merely pass through and out.

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldI learned about lacto-fermantation in Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions. It’s an incredible treasury of the old food ways, and I encourage you to check it out for yourself! One caution: whenever you eat foods new to you, it’s wise to go slow. Your body isn’t used to the new substance. Eat just a spoonful or two and wait. Everyone’s body is a little different. Check to make sure yours is okay with something new before you eat a large serving!

For more information about lacto-fermented foods, check here and here.

And now, without more ado, here’s the recipe. (P.S. It’s delicious!)

Corn Relish

3 large ears of fresh organic corn
1 small onion (or a quarter of a large one)
3 tomatoes or 3 peaches
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
4 tablespoons whey

It’s important to use organic vegetables, because pesticide residues on conventional produce can halt the process of lacto-fermentation.

Also, do not use ordinary table salt. The anti-caking chemicals in it can likewise interfere with lacto-fermentation.

I obtain whey by allowing raw milk (from my herd share in a local dairy farm) to become old-fashioned curds and whey! But you can get it from draining the liquid – whey – from any yogurt with active cultures.

Last summer I made corn relish with tomatoes. It tasted marvelous. Last week, I had no tomatoes on hand, and I substituted peaches for them. This corn relish tastes very similar. The lacto-fermented corn and onions are somewhat spicy and dominant. If you have neither tomatoes nor peaches on hand, I encourage you to experiment. I suspect other substitutions might work equally well.

The first step is shucking the corn of its husks and rinsing the threads that cling to the corn away under running water. You may notice that the very tip of the corn is slightly brown. This is a good thing! It’s a bonafide that the corn really is organic. The browning is from a type of pest that loves corn, but is kept away by pesticides. Just cut the brown tip off and discard it.

Next, cut the corn kernels from the cob into a large bowl.

Wash the peaches, remove their pits, and dice the flesh. Add to the mix. (Or peel the tomatoes, dice them, and add them to the mix. The best way to peel tomatoes: immerse them in boiling water for 60 seconds, then in cold water. The skins will slip right off.)

Dice the onion very fine. Add to mixture.

corn relish in the makingPluck the cilantro leaves from their stems, if you are using cilantro, and add.

Add sea salt and whey. Stir the mixture with a spoon. Then pound it lightly with a wooden mallet or a meat pounder.

Spoon the mixture into a 1-quart canning jar. (Be sure you have put the jar and its lid through the hottest cycle of your dishwasher, or else fill the jar with boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes before pouring it out. And immerse the lid in boiling water as well. You want the lacto-bacilli to grow, not any pathogenic bacteria!)

Leave at least 1 inch of headroom between the top of the corn mixture and the lip of the jar. Pres the mixture down firmly, so that the whey and the vegetable juices cover the corn mixture. If there is not enough liquid for this, add a little filtered water or more whey. Screw the lid on to finger tight.

serving of corn relishLet the jar sit on your counter at room temperature for 3 days. This is when it lacto-ferments. After 3 days, refrigerate the corn relish. It is ready to eat now and will keep in the refrigerator for many months.

More recipes:
Sauerkraut
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots
Baked Apples

More on nutrition:
Test first, then conclude!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

 

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Handle with Care

glass cannister of granolaI’ve learned to be cautious with grains.

They’re high in carbohydrates and, as I’ve gotten older, my body has grown more sensitive to carbs. Philip Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health taught me that carbs were likely behind the chronic fatigue of my 30’s and the weight gain of my 40’s.

Gary Taubes, in his Good Calories, Bad Calories, explained some of why. When eaten, carbohydrates can provoke an inflammatory response (fatigue) and do cause the body to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin then causes the body to cease burning fat for energy and switch to burning glucose. Which means the fatty acids stay in the fat cells, and more fatty acids are packed in (weight gain).

But there’s another reason to be cautious with grains. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions explains that we modern westerners aren’t preparing whole grains safely any more. Our ancestors did. And a few of us still possess the old knowledge. (I did not.)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldIn India, rice and lentils are fermented for two days before being made into idli and dosas. In Africa, coarsely ground corn was soaked overnight before being added to soups and stews. Ethiopian injera bread is made by fermenting the grain teff for several days. American pioneers were famous for sourdough breads and biscuits. In old-fashioned European porridges, the oats or barley berries were soaked overnight or even for several days before cooking. Flours were never simply scooped from a canister, mixed into whatever, cooked, and eaten two hours later. There’s a reason for that!

All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer, the bran.

Of course, you can eat refined grains which lack the bran and the germ, but that leads to its own set of health problems. (White flour acts on the body a lot like sugar.) But if you eat whole grains, improperly prepared, phytic acid will harm you.

So what’s the problem with phytic acid?

It combines with minerals in the digestive tract and blocks their absorption. All that lovely calcium or iron or zinc or whatever binds to the phytic acid and rides away, right out of the body. On top of that, phytic acid can be very irritating. Hello, irritable bowel syndrome! Hello, mineral deficiencies! Hello, osteoporosis!

And that’s not all.

The protein in grains, especially the gluten, is hard to digest. Soaking and fermenting breaks down these proteins into their simpler building blocks, which are much easier on digestion.

Consider animals nourished primarily by plants. They have multiple stomachs (sometimes four!) and long intestines. Plants take a lot of digesting! Humans have only one stomach and shorter intestines. We need the help of friendly lactobacilli (the bacteria in yogurt and other live foods) when we eat plants such as grains (and legumes).

Another possibility to consider: add a dollop of cream or butter to cooked grains. The fat acts as a catalyst for mineral absorption. You’ll get more of that critical calcium (for example), if you pair those oats with cream.

And a final consideration: most processed breakfast cereals – even granola, alas! – are downright dangerous. Not only are they rife with phytic acid, but they are processed at high heat and under high pressure. This destroys many of the valuable nutrients in grains, turns the fragile plant oils rancid, and changes the proteins enough to render them toxic.

The take-away lesson is that grains (and legumes) need to be soaked or sprouted to confer their benefits.

If you’re a baker, bake true sourdough breads or loaves made with sprouted grains. If you purchase your bread (raising my hand here), buy true sourdoughs (not just flavored with sourdough) and sprouted grain breads.

I go very light on the grains myself. But for all the grain lovers among us, I’ll share three basic recipes with the grains properly prepared. (Plus crisp nuts.)

The oatmeal in this photo has raisons in it, cooked on the stovetop with the oats, but not soaked overnight with the oats!

oatmealOatmeal

1 cup oats, rolled (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup filtered water, warmed (but not hot)
2 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
1 more cup filtered water
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt

Add the whey to the warm water and soak the oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). Find a warm spot. A covered bowl on the kitchen counter is fine, if your house isn’t too chilly.

(Chlorine can interfere with lacto-fermentation, so don’t use straight water-plant tap water.)

In the morning, bring the additional cup of water to a boil. Add the salt. Add the soaked oats (along with any remaining liquid). Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit (still covered) for 5 minutes.

Serve with cream or butter.

Other optional toppings include maple syrup, raw honey, apricot butter, or crisp nuts.

Rice

2 cups brown rice
4 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice or vinegar
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
3 tablespoons butter

Rinse and drain the rice.

Add whey to the warm water and soak the rice in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

When soaking is complete, transfer mixture to a cooking pot and bring it to a boil on the stove top.

Skim off the foam that rises to the top.

Lower the heat, add the salt and butter, stir, and then cover tightly. Cook (without removing the lid) for 45 minutes over very low heat.

Serve.

granolaGranola (a safe version)

This recipe is a bit involved. My kids adore it, but I don’t make it very often! In fact, it’s been more than a year for me. Which leads me to a note of warning. I’ve made lots of adjustments to the recipe since the first time, with lots of scribbly notes in the margins of my recipe binder. I hope I’ve deciphered them accurately! But if your rendition of this granola isn’t working, it’s probably me, not you. I hope to make granola this spring. (And if I discover I’ve erred, I’ll come back and correct myself.) So you might wait to try this until after my essay. Or – if you’re the adventurous sort – dive in and post any adjustments you make in the comments!

Update:I did make granola this spring (as promised to my kids). Twice! And the recipe as I posted it was pretty close to correct. But it needed a touch more spice. I increased the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves in my second batch. Plus I made more. The first batch was devoured in 5 days flat. If you were waiting (as recommended above) for me to tweak my recipe, I’ve done so. The recipe below is the recipe. Go for it!

6 cups oats, rolled
6 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
3/8 cup butter (add 1 tablespoon butter, if you’re soaking the nuts with the oats)
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup (add 1 tablespoon syrup, if soaking nuts with oats)
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 cups crisp nuts (no crisp nuts on hand? throw some in to soak with the oats)
2 cups raisins

draining and spreading the granolaAdd whey to warm water and soak oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). If you are out of crisp nuts, add raw nuts to the oats to soak along with them.

Next day, drain the liquid off the oats. Press the mass a little (if it’s really soggy) to wring extra moisture out of it.

Spread baking parchment on 2 baking sheets. Spoon the oats onto the sheets and spread them out evenly. Place baking sheets in the oven and turn it on to 200ºF (no need to preheat). Bake for 3 hours. Check the oats for moisture. If you added nuts to soak with the oats, the mixture will be dry at the edges of the baking sheet, but still moist at the center. If you soaked the oats solo, they’ll be dry all the way through, but not crisp.

Near the end of this first baking, melt the butter, honey, and maple syrup. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside, off the heat.

granola in the makingRemove the oats from the oven. Put the oats in a large bowl and break up the large clumps using 2 butter knives. Then get a handful between your palms and rub your hands together. This works really well to break the clumps even further. Keep going until the texture of the oats is fairly fine. Then pour the butter mixture over the oats, and blend thoroughly.

Put fresh sheets of baking parchment on the baking sheets. (The used parchment will be soggy.) Spoon the oat mixture onto the baking sheets and spread evenly. Place back in the 200ºF oven. Stir the oats and re-spread them every hour. Bake for 4 hours.

Remove oats from oven and allow to cool. Break up any clumps with your hands. Mix the now-crisp oats with raisons and crisp nuts (if you didn’t add raw nuts at the soaking step). Store in an air-tight canister.

Serve however you prefer granola: with milk, with cream, with yogurt, with fruit, etc. It will be a little more crisp than conventional store-bought granola.

Crisp Walnuts

Use these as a topping on oatmeal, in the granola recipe above, or as a snack. Just like grains and legumes, nuts should be soaked to neutralize the many enzyme inhibitors in them.

4 cups walnut pieces, raw
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
filtered water to cover nuts

Mix the salt with the filtered water and soak the nuts in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

Next day, drain the nuts in a colander.

Put baking parchment on a baking sheet. Spread the nuts evenly on it. Place in oven, turn on to 150ºF and “bake” for 12-24 hours, until completely dry and crisp. Stir the nuts with a spoon and re-spread them occasionally. (If you have a food dehydrator, use that!)

Store the nuts in an air-tight container.

Walnuts, alone of all the nuts, must be stored in the refrigerator. Their unique composition of oils will go rancid at room temperature. The other nuts may be safely stored at room temperature.

This recipe may be used for pecans, almonds, or macadamias. Do not use it for cashews. Cashews are not raw when they come to us. They contain a toxic oil that must be released and removed by two separate heatings before humans can eat them safely. This means that they’ll get slimy and nasty if soaked too long or dried too slowly. Soak them at most 6 hours. Dry them in a 200ºF oven.

Nourishing Traditions at Amazon

Nourishing Traditions at B&N

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Amazing Lactobacilli
Beet Kvass

Some posts challenging politically correct nutrition:
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Test first, then conclude!
Thinner and Healthier

And some more recipes:
Coconut Chocolates
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots

Do you have any old-time grain recipes that include the soaking or sprouting of grains?
Do please share!

 

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Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

After reading Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health and Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, I sought out more myth-busting information. Hold onto your hats! I’m going to tell you what I discovered, and we’re in for a wild ride!

The notion that intrigued me was this: what if saturated fat were actually good for you? Fallon’s notes on butter from grass-fed cows hinted at this idea. Maffetone’s advice to cut carbs out of your diet for his 2-week test echoed it. And the improved health and slimness of acquaintances following a low-carb regime further piqued my curiosity.

cover image with coconut palm treeI purchased Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and devoured it in one evening.

Here was myth-busting with a vengeance!

The book includes a review of the basic chemistry of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. It also touches briefly on the influence of the food industry on governmental agencies and the culture at large in promulgating the belief that saturated fat is bad for us. (There are big bucks to be made from processed food, with hefty profit margins if inexpensive vegetable oils are used instead of pricey animals fats or coconut oil or palm oil.)

(I read Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories after, not before, reading Eat Fat. He describes the sea change from “starches make you fat” to “fat makes you fat” in griping detail. I highly recommend giving his book a read yourself, if you haven’t.)

Many items in Eat Fat, Lose Fat grabbed my attention.

The first was Fallon’s analysis of the research to date about fats. Some consists of studies of the diets of indigenous peoples. Some are studies performed in labs.

I learned that the Massai, who drank a gallon of milk every day and consumed meat and blood for the rest of their nourishment, simply didn’t suffer heart attacks at all.

Then there were the employees of the Indian railway system. The largely vegetarian workers of Madras experienced 7 times more incidence of heart disease than the meat-loving Punjabi who ate 10 to 20 times as much fat.

In the Framingham-Peurto Rico-Honolulu study conducted by NIH, the participants who suffered heart attacks were those who consumed the most polyunsaturated oil.

A workshop held at the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute and analyzing studies on women and cholesterol found that, for women, high blood cholesterol is protective. The longest lived among elderly women were those with the highest cholesterol. Further, the statin drugs proscribed to lower cholesterol offer no benefit to women in preventing heart disease.

There’s more; a lot more. But I’m not going to list every one of the 18 studies presented in chapter 2. Fallon is concise, but it’s still too much for a blog post. The take-away point? Most studies looked at saturated fats and trans fats as the same thing. Mary Enig is the researcher who first blew the whistle on trans fats, and now we all know that no level of trans fats is safe. But all those studies with bad outcomes for fat in the diet? It was the trans fats doing it. Saturated fats have been tarred with the same brush quite inaccurately. Trans fats cause heart disease, contribute to cancer, cause hormone synthesis to go awry. Saturated fats? Probably not.

Next stop on our tour is a short list of various organs and other body systems which possess an intrinsic and critical need for saturated fat.

The Brain

60% of the brain is composed of fat. And phospholipids – 50% saturated fat – are an important component of brain cell membranes. Without saturated fat being supplied to the brain by diet, brain chemistry may be compromised.

Cells

Saturated fats maintain cellular integrity everywhere in the body. Every cell membrane is ideally composed of 50% saturated fat. When polyunsaturated fat fills in on the job, the cells actually become somewhat “floppy” and cannot work properly.

Bones

Saturated fat is necessary for calcium to be incorporated into the structure of the bones. Osteoporosis, anyone?

Liver

Saturated fat protects the liver from certain toxins, such as those in acetaminophen.

Heart

Saturated fats are the heart’s preferred food, especially in times of stress.

Saturated fatty acids lower the blood substance Lp(a), a proven marker for heart disease.

Saturated fats lower C-Reactive Protein, an indicator of inflammation, which may cause many cases of heart disease.

Lungs

The lungs require a surfactant in order to work, and the fatty acids in that surfactant are 100% saturated fatty acids. When trans fats and polyunsaturated fats fill those slots, the lungs suffer.

Hormones

Hormones are the messengers connecting the brain, nervous system, and glands into a synchronous whole. Some critical hormones cannot be synthesized in the body without the vitamin A provided by fatty animal foods such as liver and shellfish. The wrong kinds of fats substituted into the equation lead to problems with glucose balance, mineral metabolism, and reproduction.

Again, there’s more, but I’ll move on to the next myth-busting tidbits.

Myth: Plants provide enough vitamin A.

Fact: Many vegetables and fruits contain carotenes, building blocks for vitamin A. Our bodies can convert these carotenes into vitamin A via a complex operation in the small intestine, but usually not enough vitamin A. And some bodies cannot do it at all, lacking the necessary enzymes: diabetics, thyroid patients, sufferers from certain digestive disorders, and babies and children.

Myth: Sunlight provides enough vitamin D.

Fact: Our bodies make vitamin D only in the presence of UV-B light. In temperate regions, this happens only when the sun is directly overhead. And exposing merely face and lower arms is not sufficient. How many of us can sunbathe for 30 minutes at noon every day wearing swim trunks or a bikini? That’s what it would take – in the summer. In winter, with the sun lower in the sky, we’re out of luck.

The bottom line: Not only are saturated fats healthy, they are necessary!

Enter the oil of the coconut, the nut of the coconut palm.

Fallon calls it the queen of saturated fats, because of its special properties, and it really is a marvelous substance. It’s almost tailor-made for losing weight, since metabolizing the lauric acid within coconut oil (coconut oil is 50% lauric acid) actually uses more energy than it provides.

Three key benefits of coconut oil:

• The fats in coconut oil are not stored in the body as fat. They are quickly converted to energy.

(I can personally attest to the subjective experience of this. For most of my life I suffered from physical fatigue and lethargy, worsening as I got older. Once I started eating coconut oil (and reduced my carb intake), that changed. The feeling of having a physical reserve I can draw upon is wonderful.)

• People living in countries where the coconut is an important part of their diet have lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

• The fats in coconut oil kill viruses and pathogenic bacteria by stripping their protective outer layer. (You’ll get sick less often, when you eat coconut oil frequently!)

Next comes a run through nutrient-dense foods such as pasture-fed eggs, butter and cream from pastured cows, liver (the sacred food of many cultures), raw cheeses, lacto-fermented beverages, bone broths, and Celtic sea salt. And then we’re on to the food plans and recipes, some simple like fried eggs, some more sophisticated like chicken with coconut peanut sauce, but all good, all good for you, and all helpful for those of us watching our weight!

This book, together with Nourishing Traditions, In Fitness and in Health, and Good Calories, Bad Calories, completed the process of turning my nutritional know-how upside down. I’m still adjusting my cooking habits, still learning how best to feed this unique body of mine, but my health is better, my weight is down, and I’m optimistic about my future.

I’ve blogged about each of these amazing reads over the past year. If you missed those posts, you can find them at the links below.

In Fitness and in Health

Nourishing Traditions

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Good health and good eating to you all! And if you want your very own copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat, here are some links for that.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at Amazon

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at B&N

For more on books important to continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Yogurt and Kefir and Koumiss, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

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Amazing Lactobacilli

photo of corn, tomato, onion melange in canning jarSix weeks ago I made a quart of lacto-fermented corn relish. It was an experiment, because corn in its ordinary state – boiled, slathered with butter, and gnawed from the cob – makes me very ill. Sad, since I love the taste. I hoped lacto-fermented corn might not irritate my system When our CSA delivered yet another eight ears of corn, I decided to risk it. And it went well! I can eat lacto-fermented corn with nary a murmur from my digestion. Plus it tastes like seconds, thirds, and fourths!

(I know. I said that before about the eggplant dish below, but it’s true!)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldSo let me tell you about lacto-fermentation. The corn relish recipe was my own creation, but I learned the principles from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.

Lactobacilli – lactic acid producing bacteria – are everywhere. They thrive on the surface of all living things and are particularly numerous on the roots and leaves of low-growing plants.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative. It inhibits the action of bacteria that produce decay. Before the invention of freezers or canning machines, cooks preserved vegetables and fruits by lacto-fermentation.

The benefits of lacto-fermentation go far beyond mere preservation, however.

Lacto-fermented foods:
• are more digestible
• make their nutrients more bio-available to our bodies
• possess higher vitamin levels
• acquire many helpful enzymes during lacto-fermentation
• include substances that kill harmful bacteria and prevent cancer
• promote the growth of healthy flora along the entire length of the intestine.

Lacto-fermented or “pickled” cabbage was (and is) popular worldwide. Europe developed sauerkraut; Latin America, cortido; Korea, kimchi; and Japan, tsukemono. But many other vegetables (and fruits) respond delisciously to lacto-fermentation: cucumber, corn, and watermelon rind, to name a few.

Lacto-fermentated foods are easy and fun to prepare at home. There’s something magical to the process – a little like baking, in which dough transforms into bread or cake or cookies, but requiring less hands-on prep and little precision.

The basic recipe goes as follows. Wash your fruits or vegetables thoroughly. Chop or shred or grate them and mix with sea salt and homemade whey. Pound the mix briefly with a wooden mallet. Then press the mass into a canning jar, leaving an inch of headroom at the top, and seal firmly. Leave the jar at room temperature for two to four days, then refrigerate. Fruits will keep for two months. Vegetables stay good indefinitely. (Experts consider sauerkraut to be best after six months!)

Speaking of sauerkraut, here’s a bit of trivia about it and a famous navigator of the past. Captain Cook loaded sixty barrels of the stuff onto his ship before embarking on his second trip around the world. None of the crew developed scurvy. (Sauerkraut has a lot of vitamin C.) And twenty-seven months later, when Cook was nearing home again, the last barrel was opened. It remained perfectly preserved – despite its long journey through every kind of weather and warmth – and delicious. When served to Portuguese nobles visiting aboard, the partial barrel was carried away to share with friends!

One more jot of trivia: ketchup was once a lacto-fermented food. The word derives from ke-tsiap, a Chinese Amoy term for a pickled fish sauce. (Fish sauce was the universal condiment of the ancient world.) The English added mushroom, walnut, cucumber, and oyster to fish sauce to create their own version. Then Americans added tomatoes for another unique take on the flavor enhancer. American ketchup is now largely high fructose corn syrup, but it is possible for the home cook to return to the old artisanal method of concocting it. (But that’s another blog post!)

What about my corn relish? Are you clamoring for the recipe? It’s worth trying, but I’m going to recommend that you start with sauerkraut instead. Corn relish is a simple recipe, but sauerkraut is the most basic of all. And I think you’ll be delighted with its taste – much fresher than the vinegar-laden and pasteurized stuff from the grocery store. I promise I’ll post the corn relish recipe when fresh corn is back in season!

Update: Corn did eventually come back in season, and I made more corn relish! The recipe is posted here.

Sauerkraut

1 large cabbage

2 tablespoons sea salt
(not ordinary shaker salt, which has additives that damage lacto-fermentation)

1/2 cup homemade whey
(draining and using the excess liquid from any yogurt with live cultures works fine)

The cabbage should be of high quality and preferably organic. Pesticide residues can kill lactobacilli and interfere with lacto-fermentation.

Wash the cabbage, peel off the outermost leaves and discard, and remove and discard the stem stalk and the densest part of the core. Then shred the cabbage. The grating attachment in a food processor works nicely, but you can also simply slice the cabbage with a chef knife.

Put the shredded cabbage in a large, sturdy bowl. Add the salt and the whey. Lightly pound the mixture with a wooden mallet for 10 minutes to release the cabbage juices.

(I know. My mallet is metal, and it shouldn’t be. A wooden one is on my shopping list. Why? The whey can damage metal utensils over time. As you can see, my meat pounder is undamaged after 2 years of use. But I still intend to get something wooden. Just not in any rush!)

Transfer the mixture into a pair of quart-sized canning jars. Press the cabbage down firmly in the jars until the juices come up to cover the cabbage. Be sure there is an inch of headroom between the cabbage and the lids. The cabbage will expand slightly while lacto-fermenting. Tighten the lids securely. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process.

Let the jars rest on your counter at room temperature for 2 – 4 days (2 if it’s summer or you’re using the oven a lot, 4 if it’s winter and you keep your house cool).

Then move the jars to the fridge. Let the kraut mature for 3 weeks to develop the best flavor. Serve!

Some people add caraway seed to the ferment. I tried it, but find cabbage straight up to be tastiest!

Once you’ve eaten a serving of your batch, visit here again and tell me what you think! Good?

 

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Handle with Care
Beet Kvass

More Recipes
Sautéed Eggplant
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots

 

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Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!

My nutritional education began under the aegis of my mother. Judged against the backdrop of the sixties, she was a pioneer, actively pursuing the benefits of serving whole grain breads, breastfeeding her babies, eating multiple servings of raw vegetables, and curtailing sugar intake. Compared to Wonder® bread, bottle feeding, miniscule portions of frozen corn-carrots-peas mix, and dessert every night after dinner, her choices represented a miracle of enlightenment. (Yay, Mom! Thank you!)

But she was also influenced by her time. Who isn′t? She gave up butter for margarine. (Transfats, anyone?) She remained unaware of the dangers of improperly prepared grains (those unfermented or unsprouted). She drifted toward a high-carb, low-fat diet. (As an adult, I did, too.)

So my own nutritional knowledge had a better foundation than that of my contemporaries, but it also featured serious deficits.

My first inkling that I′d gone astray arrived gradually and confusingly as health issues. It seemed there were more and more foods I could not eat without feeling really ill in the hours after my meal. Doctors had no real answers, other than telling me to keep a food diary. I did this, and the list of DO-NOT-EAT grew and grew. It was discouraging and inconvenient. I felt ill too often. And when my friends invited me over for dinner, they faced a Herculean task, if they wanted me to actually eat the foods they′d prepared.

Then I met a local dairywoman with a small family farm. She clued me into the fact that conventional dairy cows receive a soy-based feed. The soy proteins come through in their milk. Maybe it wasn′t cow milk that made me sick after all! Maybe it was the soy proteins.

Kathryn also knew that soy is added as filler to many foods, and not only the obvious candidates such as canned soup. It′s in canned tunafish. It′s in pizza (the tomato sauce and the cheese). It′s in conventional roast chicken, injected under the skin to add moisture to the breast meat. If you have trouble digesting soy . . . watch out! It′s a soy world out there.

I grew vigilant in detecting (and avoiding) soy. My health problems cleared up. Wow! I was thrilled.

But Kathryn had more to teach me. She recommended the book Pasture Perfect (which I shared with you a few weeks ago, here). That was the start of the real revolution in my thinking. Obviously there were a lot of things my mother never told me. And, like most of us, I′d been listening to the media and the mainstream medical establishment about what was healthy to eat and what was not. (Doctors are not taught nutrition, by the way. They′re reading the same newspapers and magazines as their patients!)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldThe next book featured in my continuing education was a doozie: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig. Kathryn followed its precepts, but never recommended it to me. I suspect she thought it would be too challenging for my PC thinking! She didn′t know me well enough to realize that the sheer novelty of the concepts (novel to me, millenia-old to humankind) would ignite my curiosity.

The tale of how I discovered that Nourishing Traditions held an honored place on Kathryn′s shelves is convoluted enough (and rather beside the point) that I won′t spend the paragraphs to recount it. Suffice it to say, I did discover the book, checked it out from the library, and was blown away by its contents. It′s a cookbook with hundreds of recipes, but it′s also a nutritional manual, packed with the wisdom accumulated by traditional peoples over the ages. Their food ways kept them healthy and strong, generation after generation, before doctors and medical science achieved modern power.

Nourishing Traditions is so dense with amazing information, my customary sharing of ″3 cool things″ not only can′t do it justice, but risks serious misrepresentation. I′ll be sharing 3 cool things from the first chapter today. (With more chapters following at intervals across the next half year.)

The Ancient Art of Culturing Milk

photo of fresh milk, homemade whey, homemade yogurtDrinking unfermented milk from dairy animals is a new and modern development. Without pasteurization and refrigeration, milk sours and separates quickly. Before the age of industry, traditional people harnessed this property for their advantage. During the process of lacto-fermentation, friendly bacteria that produce lactic acid (think yogurt) break down both milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein). Over time, they produce enough lactic acid to inactivate all putrefying bacteria. The milk reaches a state in which it is safely preserved for days or even weeks. (Longer for cheeses.)

Different cultures had different methods and produced different end products. Europeans once consumed clabber and curds and whey, as well as the more familiar yogurt and cheese. In Russia, one found kefir and koumiss. In Scandinavia, there were longfil and kjaeldermelk. In the Middle East: laban. India: dahi. France: crème fraîche (still popular). Germany: cultured butter. All over the globe, shaped by their unique climate, terrain, and history, traditional people cultured milk. It′s a practice worth reviving more fully today.

Fight Osteoporosis and Lactose Intolerance

The fermenting of milk creates many benefits. Casein, the milk protein, is one of the most difficult to digest. Breaking it down via fermentation renders it digestible. Culturing also restores or multiplies the helpful enzymes in milk. One of them, lactase, aids the digestion of lactose (milk sugar). Other enzymes help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Plus vitamins B and C both increase during fermentation. A ″witch′s brew″ of fermented milk is significantly more nutritious than the basic, conventional white stuff!

Viruses & Germs, Take That!

Most of us know that eating yogurt after a round of antibiotics restores the proper functioning of the gut. What I didn′t understand was that the benefits of healthy gut fauna are both more essential and more comprehensive than bouncing back from a sinus infection.

Friendly lacto-bacilli and the lactic acid they produce are just as much a part of moving nutrients from our food into our bodies′ cells as the actual structures and organs of digestion: mouth, stomach, pancreas, etc. Could we assimilate our food well without our intestines? Well, the friendly bacteria are just as necessary. In addition, these friendly bacteria keep unfriendly intruders at bay. There′s a reason traditional peoples fed fermented milk to the sick, the aged, and to nursing mothers. These vulnerable individuals needed all the bolstering they could get.

Strong bones, fewer stomach aches, more complete transfer of nutrients, less illness. What′s not to like?!

* * *

The chapter on cultured dairy products continues with recipes for piima, buttermilk, crème fraîche, kefir, and other tasty comestibles along with the foundational whey needed by the cook to make many of the dishes featured in later chapters. Margin notes provide vignettes into the kitchens of traditional peoples and the wonders they worked there. It′s an intriguing read, but it also turned many of my own mistaken notions upside down.

Education, entertainment, and health-saving practice all in one package. I couldn′t resist, and I′m glad I didn′t.

Nourishing Traditions at Amazon

Nourishing Traditions at B&N

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Amazing Lactobacilli
Handle with Care
Beet Kvass

For more on books important to continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

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