I am passionate about fermented foods. I love making them, eating them, and inventing new ones. My kitchen routinely bustles with microbial activity and new cultured creations. I’ve even reserved one counter as a fermentation station. But no matter how delicious these cultured creations may taste, the reality is that there is far more to eating fermented foods than their great taste—there are also some incredible health benefits.
Kefir: Even healthier than yogurt
While most people know about yogurt and its many health benefits, few people realize that there is a better bacterial booster in town. Kefir (pronounced ke-FEER) is similar to a drinkable form of yogurt, but it is so much healthier. It has a tart, tangy, slightly sour taste with a slight effervescence.
Kefir comes from the Turkish word keif, which means “good feeling,” probably because it offers so many health benefits—and many people report feeling good when they drink it regularly. Originally created in the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe, it has a slightly thinner consistency than yogurt.
It is made with kefir grains, which aren’t actually grains (and contain no gluten at all), but a combination of various bacteria and yeasts. Some commercial kefir products are made with powdered kefir starter, which isn’t truly authentic. As with yogurt, many commercial, bottled kefir products are heavily sweetened and flavored, so be sure to read the labels if you’re buying premade kefir. Or, better yet, make your own!
This delightful Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream, which doesn’t actually contain pumpkins, tastes like creamy pumpkin pie—or perhaps even better—without the crust.
The origin story
One summer, when my first planting of squash seeds didn’t grow, I planted another batch. Then I decided that growing squash down the retaining wall at the back of our home might also be nice (which it was!). Then, to my surprise, all three batches of squash seeds grew into a wide variety of gorgeous organic squashes. So I began creating new and different ways to enjoy this vegetable. Imagine my anticipation when I created this recipe and waited for the ice cream maker to churn out the finished product. Then there was the first bite. It was heavenly! I had created my new and favorite way to enjoy squash—in ice cream.
Traditionally, kefir is made using cows’ milk, but you can also make kefir with plant-based milks. Here’s a simple recipe for making your own Cashew Kefir from cashew milk, but feel free to try other types of milk as well, such as almond, sunflower seed, or coconut.
Grains that grow
The sweetener in this recipe feeds the kefir microbes, so there will be minimal sugar left in the final product. You’ll notice that the kefir grains will grow in number over time. You only need about 1 Tbsp of kefir grains to keep your kefir going, so you can remove the extras and either eat them, give them to friends, or put them in the compost.
This Walnut Thyme Cheese has a deliciously salty and savory taste with a rich, buttery texture. The recipe takes only about 10 minutes of actual preparation time, but the flavors are superb when the walnuts are allowed to culture for a couple of days. Of course, you can culture them for less time if you simply can’t wait to enjoy your next batch. The cheese is delicious on its own, or you can cut it into disks and serve it with your favorite crackers, grapes, or figs. Alternatively, spread it on freshly toasted bread and savor the rich flavor as it slowly melts from the warmth. Mmmm.
Walnuts for doubters
The walnuts give this recipe a distinct but ever-so-mild flavor that makes it unlike any other cheese. Even if you’re not a fan of walnuts, I encourage you to buy some high-quality raw walnuts from the refrigerated section in your local health food store. They offer high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs to protect your brain, maintain a healthy immune system, balance moods, and reduce pain and inflammation in your body. Walnuts are also a good source of vitamins B6 and E, as well as minerals, such as magnesium and potassium.
Excerpted from the book The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life. Copyright © 2017 by Michelle Schoffro Cook. Printed with permission from New World Library. newworldlibrary.com