Sunday, April 14, 2013

The benefits of fermented foods: How to make Kombucha

What is Kombucha? When people ask me, I often struggle to find an answer that sounds inviting. I have been saying that it is fermented tea, but the word fermented turns a lot of people off. So I guess it is better to say that it is a bubbly beverage with bacterial benefits.

If you have heard about Kombucha or had it, you probably drank from the fancy, expensive little bottle that you bought at Whole Foods for a fortune. It probably tasted good and you might have been intrigued why such a sweet drink has hardly any grams of sugar in it. You may have noticed a logo claiming its probiotics benefits. You might have been exposed to it through a friend who is making their own, or at a health workshop, where the presenter was selling their bottle for something like 8 or 9 dollars a liter. You may even have come into contact with a SCOBY, which is the main character in the making of kombucha. If you have never heard about Kombucha, you are in for a treat.

The SCOBY, which is the culture we use to ferment the tea, is a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. I know, it looks a bit like an alien, it doesn't look appetizing, but wait until you find out what the SCOBY can do to your body, and how good kombucha can actually taste!

Fermented foods have been a part of our culture since the beginning of times. Back then, fermented foods served different functions:

- It is nature's way of preserving foods, making it possible to have access to certain foods year round,    before the invention of fridges and aluminium cans.
- It allows for food to be pre-digested, making it easier for the body to absorb nutrition.
- It facilitates the assimilation of vitamins, which our body can't always create on its own.

Where digestion and assimilation happens is our gut. And in order to have a healthy body and a healthy mind, we need to have a healthy gut. Let me try to explain why:

There are more neurotransmitters in our gut than there are in our brain. Our gut can sense things, remember things, tell us what is going on. There are a lot of bacteria that live in our gut, and that are really important for our gut health. But in our environment, there are a lot of things that assault that bacterial balance. From toxins and chemicals in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods (GMOs, artificial colorants, additives, preservatives, pesticides) we eat and the products we put on our hair and skin, to the stress we are under, and the drugs and medicine we ingest, our gut is under constant assault and the balance between the healthy and harmful bacteria is often compromised, as these intruders wreak havoc on our gut. When our gut is sick, it doesn't know how to recognize the foods that are good for us and not anymore. It doesn't know how to process them, and starts perceiving certain foods as enemies, certain cells as invaders, and  starts attacking its own cells, creating auto-immune diseases, or food allergies.

You may have heard the saying: "all disease starts in the gut". When you are bacterially strong, meaning that the good bacteria outnumber, or are sufficiently present to fight the bad bacteria, you don't get sick as much. Restoring the good bacteria in your gut is extremely important. And one way of doing that, is to eat fermented, good bacteria containing, foods. Fermented foods are probiotic foods, vs. antibiotics, which destroy everything in your gut.

Here are some of the benefits of fermented foods:

- they improve digestion by breaking down your food for you
- they boost immunity by creating a lining in your gut, protecting it from bad bacteria
- they reduce inflammation
- they alkalize your PH, which protects you from inflammation and disease
- they contain and produce healthy bacteria and yeast
- they reduce sugar cravings. Sugar addiction means your gut is out of balance.
- they bring the body back into balance

What kinds of foods are fermented foods?

The ones you most likely have had access to the most is yogurt and cheese. But you may also have heard of Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kim-Chi, Beet Kvass, Pickles, or Kombucha.
Some of these are lacto fermented, but Kombucha is an acetic acid ferment similar to vinegar.

The SCOBY is this mother ship. It is not a mushroom, but because it  kind of looks like a mushroom, many people call it that way. It is alive and reproduces. Every time you make a new batch, the scoby makes a baby. Even in a bottle of kombucha drink, if you let it sit long enough, it will create a new scoby, by itself.
It has other usages, outside of making the drink. You can use the scoby as a bandage that heals wounds, you can use it as a facial mask, or in your compost to enrich your soil.

Let's look at the symbiotic cycle at play in the kombucha making:

You only need four ingredients: water, sugar, tea and a scoby. The yeast in the scoby consumes the sugar in your tea and creates ethanol and CO2. The bacteria in turn consumes the ethanol and creates healthy acids that help to release toxins and detoxify our liver, promote healthy joints and stimulate muscle building. Because it is such a detoxifier, it is important to drink a lot of water with your kombucha, to flush all those toxins out.
So basically, Kombucha takes sugar and transforms it into healthy acids. Isn't that awesome?

Kombucha also contains B vitamins, which our body can't create on our own, and is alkaline, which helps put the minerals back into your body. A diet rich in grains, beans, citrus, dairy and meat or fish tends to be acidic, which causes inflammation and disease. It is important to alkalize our diet to create a healthy PH and balance in our body, and kombucha helps doing that, even though it has an acidic PH. Once absorbed, it has an alkalizing effect, just like lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

In summary, kombucha restores balance so your body can heal itself.

Making kombucha is super easy:

You will need a big stock pot that doesn't contain aluminium, 3 quarts to 1 gallon of distilled water (preferably, because you want your water to be as free from chemicals as possible), 1 cup of sugar and 3-5 bags of tea.

Boil your water in the stock pot. When it starts boiling, add your cup of sugar and keep it boiling for 5 minutes. Then turn the stove off, add your tea bags (green tea or black tea, non flavored, non organic or it will cause mold) and let it steep for 10 minutes. I usually put 4-5 teabags of green tea, a little less of black tea. After ten minutes, remove the tea bags and let the tea cool down to room temperature. For a gallon, it takes about 16 hours to cool down.

Then pour the tea in a big glass jar. Add 8oz of starter liquid (which you will get with your scoby), mix, and place your scoby dark side down, on top of the tea. Cover with a kitchen cloth, place a rubber band around to keep it closed, and place your kombucha in a well ventilated place, away from direct sunlight, and away from fruits and other fermented foods. Leave it for 7 to 10 days at a room temperature of 70 to 90 degrees. The colder it is, the longer the fermentation will take. After 7 to 10 days, you will see that another scoby has formed. You now have two kombuchas.

Start over right away, and do not store the scobys in baggies in the fridge. Also, no metal must touch the kombucha, or it will die. Gently remove the baby kombucha from the top of the mother, and place each of them in jar with some of the fermented liquid. If you are not ready to start a new batch right away, you can keep them like that, covered with a cloth, for a few days.

Then place a white cotton cloth on top of a plastic funnel and pour your kombucha tea in clear glass bottles or jars. Close the lid and keep it in the fridge. You will know your kombucha is ready when the mother has made a baby, you can see gooey stuff hanging from the mother or lying at the bottom of your jar (which is why you filter it), it smells a bit like vinegar, and it is is fizzy and bubbly when you pour it into your bottles. If the Scoby looks moldy, toss everything away, it is not safe to drink it.

The best way to drink this, is to have small doses often. I usually have about a cup a day, in the morning, followed by a big drink of water. You can also dilute it in water, or add a little bit of juice to it. Kombucha tastes sweet and tart and bubbly all at the same time. Sometimes, if I am craving a cold drink on a hot day, I will have a second drink in the afternoon. If you are addicted to soda, this is a GREAT substitute!

My next post will be about how to flavor your kombucha through a second fermentation.

In the mean time, I have kombucha bottles for sale, because I am not drinking them fast enough for how much I am making, and because I would really love to start turning this little labor of love into a bit  of a business, which would then allow me to go back to school and learn the stuff that will make me a legit health coach. I also have scobys, which you can buy online for 20 or more dollars, or get free from me if you buy two bottles of kombucha.

Here are the flavors I currently have:

- Dixie Peach
- Dixie Peach and Ginger (ready in 2 days)
- Blueberry (ready in about a week)
- Pomegranate
- Blueberry lavender rose (ready in about a week)

Each bottle of 1 liter is $5.50 and I will sell it to you for $5 if you bring me an empty clear glass bottle with a lid. Or you can buy your probably pasteurized and not so full of good bacteria half liter bottle at Whole Foods for about $4. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! I will deliver if you're local. So write a little something in the comments if you'd like to embark on the kombucha adventure :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Soaking and sprouting grains, seeds and nuts

One of the things I have discovered over the last couple of years on this journey to health through food, is the importance of soaking and sprouting grains, seeds, beans and nuts. This may seem like a complicated and time-consuming enterprise, but if you plan it well and have a sift and a dehydrator or an oven, it is actually one of the easiest things you can do to improve your diet.

I have talked in here about not roasting nuts and seeds, as it oxidizes them and can turn their fat content into transfats. Well, I found out that there are other issues with eating raw nuts and seeds, as well as grains that haven't been soaked and/or sprouted. And let me tell you that Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.

You see, animals, which some of us eat, and which are eaten by other animals (predators), have natural defenses such as sharp teeth and claws, to protect themselves against predators that want to eat them. Likewise, certain plants have thorns and spikes, making them not so enticing to pick (think blackberries, raspberries, zucchini leaves...). When it comes to grains, nuts and seeds, like all plants, they have properties that allow them to survive to produce seed. When eaten by animals, they can pass through their digestive system and emerge on the other side as a pre-fertilized seed that can grow into a plant.

What allows plants to do this are things such as gluten, other lectins, enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. These substances allow the grains/nuts/seeds to pass through the digestive system without harm to the plant, but they can be very harmful to humans.

They keep the grain/nut/seed from germinating until it is in an ideal environment to grow, help them store nutrients and protect them from insects and pathogens. While this is good for the seed, it is not good for humans and constitutes an anti-nutrient component which, if untreated, can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This can lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

When you soak the seeds, the phytic acid (which is not digestible by the human GI tract) begins to break down, making vital minerals available,  and the enzyme inhibitors are neutralized. This unlocks all of the needed enzymes for the seed to germinate and grow into a plant. When seeds are not soaked or sprouted, only a fraction of nutrients are available.

How long you should soak and/or sprout depends on each seed. To get a better idea, please refer to this chart.

The How To:

Soaking is easy. Just pour your seeds in a glass container and cover with filtered water, overnight. For grains and legumes, it's a good idea to add a tbsp or two of lemon juice, vinegar, yogurt or whey, as they will benefit from soaking in an acidic water. I usually soak most things for 12 hours, even if they don't need that long. Sometimes, things like quinoa or buckwheat already start sprouting while they are soaking in the water. After 12 hours, I rinse the seeds and put them in a colander or on my dehydrator tray. I lay the colander or sift over a big glass bowl and put a clean towel on top to protect from the light. I rinse the grains several times a day to keep it moist. Once I start seeing little tails growing on my grains, I know the sprouting has begun. Follow the chart to see how long you can keep it sprouting.

Here are some wheat berries, and I think this is after 2-3 days of sprouting:

Buckwheat is the easiest thing to sprout. I put it just like that, on my sift over a pot, covered with a cloth, and rinse 2-3 times a day. After three days, this is what you will see:

Little tails coming out of the sift. In this picture, they started fermenting so I had to sort through it.

Once sprouted, you can directly cook the grains, or if you want to make flour or keep them for later, you can dehydrate them and then store them in the fridge of freezer where they will keep for a while. Since it is now a live food, it needs to be kept in a cold place or it will go bad.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chicken Soup With Leeks and Lemon

I feel like I owe my friend Missy a bunch of recipes to help her out during this 28 to Great challenge, and I have not done a very good job at posting here. Truth is, I've been busy with birthday celebrations this weekend and haven't cooked a thing for the whole weekend! So tonight I will steal a recipe from someone else and post it here. I made this soup last week, and the recipe was from the "Farm Fresh To You" box that I get every other week.
My kids are not crazy about leeks, but this was a success! You can make it Paleo friendly by omitting the grains, or you can, like I did, replace the rice with quinoa. It's rich in protein, and if you  use my broth recipe for the stock, it will be perfect for cold and flu season!

I know we are back in the 80's here in California, but there's rain in the forecast, so a soup might be just what the doctor ordered by the time it's Sunday night. The picture doesn't look like much, but trust me, it was yumi!


2 quarts chicken or turkey stock, preferably homemade
1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced thin
2/3 cup rice or coarse bulgur, or quinoa (to taste)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Fresh juice of 2 lemons, strained, or about 6 to 8 tbsp, to taste
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or dill for garnish

Combine the stock and leeks; bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add the rice or bulgur and continue to simmer until the grain is cooked through, 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt.

Beat together the eggs and lemon juice until frothy in a medium bowl

Just before serving, making sure that the broth isn't boiling, gradually add 2 cups to the eggs and lemon mixture while beating vigorously with a whisk to prevent the eggs from curdling. Turn of the heat under the soup, pour the egg-lemon mixture into the soup, stir well and serve, adding a bit of pepper to each bowl and garnishing with chopped fresh parsley or dill. Serves 6.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Recipes for the 28 to Great girls out there

 Hi fellow "challengees",

If you are reading this, you have probably been reading my dear friend Missy's blog and are feeling super inspired, challenged and amused by her stories. Right? So Missy and I have been "talking" (on Facebook) about needing some more recipes for the challenge, and I have offered to try and create some.

I'm a busy mom and therapist, so I won't be able to blog daily during the challenge, like she does (not that she has more time than me, with 3 kids, geesh! How does she do it???), so I thought I would start by labeling all of the recipes on my blog that I think are challenge friendly.

If you look in the right margin, under labels, you will see a 28toGreatBarre3 label. If you click on it, it will magically take you to all the recipes on my blog that you can cook while on the challenge. Sadie, if you are reading this, and there is anything that is not "Kosher" in my recipes, please let me know, so I can make adjustments :)

A word of caution though: a lot of my salads include fruits, and not all of them include a full protein. It is easy to put less fruits in them, or omit the fruit and replace it with grilled chicken, salmon, tuna, shrimp....
Also, a lot of my salad dressings include agave syrup or maple syrup. I have now started to veer away from agave syrup, as I am not sure how much of a real food it is (how unprocessed it really is). You might want to avoid it and add some salt instead, or just put half the amount of it, or of maple syrup or honey. You can also replace it with one Sadie's dressings or your own. Remember the proportions and try to stay true to the challenge's principles about portion prescription.

I have also just posted a soup recipe that is challenge friendly, for those of you who are freezing and craving some winter comfort food.

Happy Challenge everyone, and thanks to Sadie and Missy and everyone else out there who is challenging and motivating others to be a healthier, stronger you :)

White Bean and Beet Greens Tomato Soup, in the crockpot

I know it feels a bit whiny to say that from sunny California, where the sun shines 345 days of the year and the temperatures rarely drop below the forties, but it has been COLD!
Even though I haven't posted a whole lot of warm meal recipes on here, I have been making a ton of soups during fall and winter. They are nothing exceptional, which is probably why I haven't really posted them, but we love them in my family, and that's one sure way I can feed my kids vegetables, as long as it is blended.
As I said in my last post, I am doing this 28 day challenge of eating only real whole foods, in the right quantities and proportions, and the friend who inspired me to do it asked me for recipes of warm foods. There are a ton of recipes on this blog that are 28toGreat friendly, but very few that are winter comfort foods.
I wrote this one about 8 months ago, but it was spring then, and I didn't think people would crave a bowl of hot soup in the California 80 degrees weather.

One thing you might learn from this recipe is that there are foods out there you didn't even know where foods. Such as... beet greens! Did you know that when you buy that bunch of beets at the farmer's market or at Whole Foods or Sprouts, you don't need to toss the stems out or feed them to your pet rabbit?   They are perfectly edible if you cook them (don't try them raw in your smoothie, they will tast bitter!) and taste delicious simply sauteed in olive or coconut oil, garlic and salt. Or in a soup. Such as this one:

This soup is easy to make, whether you stir it in a pot on your stove, or let it simmer in your crockpot. I love my crockpot, it's a lifesaver for those work days when I don't come home until 9 or 10pm and I need my family to have a hot meal for dinner, or for the weekend, when we are out and about all day.

2 cups of dry white beans, soaked all night (or a can of cannellini beans)
1 onion, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced

6 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and cubed
1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 big can (16oz) of organic diced tomatoes, or the equivalent of freshed diced tomatoes
1 liter of chicken broth
a bunch of beet greens (from 3 beets) or other leafy greens, such as kale or swiss chard, washed and chopped
dried oregano, rosemary, parsley, basil, whatever you want to play with. You can also add these herbs fresh if you have them in your garden or fridge. I love fresh basil and parsley and I add them one hour before serving.
Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in the crockpot, with the beans, then onions and garlic, then crunchy veggies, tomatoes, cover with broth, and greens on top. Sprinkle with herbs. Cook on slow for 8 hours or on fast for 5-6 hours.

Serve with brown rice and sprinkle with parmesan cheese (optional) for a complete meal.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Cleansing with a Real Foods Diet

Have you noticed how many people around you are on a cleanse right now? I find that almost comical, and yet there is a part of me that feels super energized and excited about the amount of people that are making positive changes in their diet and lifestyle, all at the same time. At first, I thought it was a bit cliche for me to join in the bandwagon, and I could totally manage the extra pounds I gained during the holidays without being on a program. I know how to eat healthy, I've just got to cut the wine and the snacking.

I thought I would try to work out two more days a week, and that would do the trick. Well, at my age, things ain't so easy anymore and I can get a little unmotivated when the results are sloooooowww. While I think it's super positive that I am coming to a place of simply embracing where I am at in life and the kind of body I have, I don't want to just take that as an excuse to not exercise or to have too many cheating days (e.g., eating stuff I'm allergic to, like wheat, or sugar, which makes me cranky).

But then, my friend Missy started this blog on a 28 day challenge she is doing, which involves 6 days a week of barre3 workouts, which is the same kind of workout I do 3-4 times a week, and a diet made of real food, which is how I usually eat anyways. I must say her determination, courage, and hilarious sense of humor convinced me to join the challenge. Heck, if we can all do it together and be accountable, how much easier is that gonna be? And it's not some crazy juice cleanse where you are starving, cranky and peeing all day, it's just a clean diet, for 28 days, with only real, whole foods, plenty of water and low impact but hard core exercise. I'm in! So I'm on day three, and besides my back going out yesterday because I worked out a little too much and those hip flexors have gone super tight, it's felt good to be back on track and treat my body well.

So today, I wanted to share a few links that might be of interest if you are doing a cleanse or plan on doing one, or if you simply have intentions of eating better this year. Eating better doesn't mean eating low fat or sugar free foods. It means eating REAL FOODS.

As you may or may not know, a real food is something that grows and is alive, it's a one ingredient food, or a food made of real foods only (like homemade bread, jam, muffins, soup, etc...), and it's usually something you could imagine your grandmother eating.

Now this doesn't mean that you have to slave in the kitchen and make everything from scratch. There are some processed foods out there that ARE real foods. But they are rare, and you need to know how to read labels. Typically, it shouldn't contain more than five ingredients, shouldn't have anything artificial in it, or colorants, or nitrites or nitrates, MSG, aspartame, and so many other ingredients that are fake and unhealthy (the list is too long).

For a more detailed account on how to read food labels, you should read this article, which is thorough but simple. Another great one on what a whole food is can be found on the barre3 blog, which is also where you will find information on this 28 day challenge my friend  Missy and I (and our friend Christy) are doing.

And if you need a good laugh in the midst of a frustrating cleanse, you should definitely read Missy's blog. It's hilarious, and way more entertaining than mine!

Happy Cleansing :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sauerkraut and the benefits of fermented foods

Happy New Year everyone! Have you made those New Year's resolutions yet? Do they involve eating healthier? I sure hope so, and to help you with that, I decided to post a few entries in a row on fermented foods. As mentioned in a previous post, I have been playing a lot with fermented foods in my kitchen. Sauerkraut, raw yogurt, pickled beets, beet kvaas, kombucha... It's been fun, and delicious!

But why ferment? you may ask... 

Well, if you think of our ancestors, before they had fridges and freezers, and ask yourself how they preserved foods, you will find the answer not only in canning and preserving, but also in fermenting. The lactic acid in the fermented food "is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol of wine" (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions).
What are the advantages and benefits of fermentation? You must have heard of probiotics... You know that when you take a dose of antibiotics, it is like dropping a bomb in your gut and destroying the flora in there. And you have been told to either eat a lot of yogurt or take probiotics in the form of pills. Well,  there is A LOT of lactobacilli (a probiotic) in fermented vegetables. These lactobacilli enhance the vegetables' digestibility and increase their vitamin levels. They also produce helpful enzymes, antibiotic and anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer) substances, and help restore the flora in your gut.

Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermented vegetables to make. As a kid, my mom would buy it from the store and cook it for hours on low, with bacon and sausages in it. It took me a while to learn to appreciate it, but now I absolutely love it! However, this was the first time I ate raw and cold sauerkraut, after I attended a workshop at the real food symposium.

I immediately made my own and it turned out delicious.

So, are you ready to try? Here we go! You will need:

A head of cabbage, preferably organic
2 tbsp sea salt
a pounder and/or your hands
mason jars

Shred the cabbage thinly (I use my food processor) and place it in a glass bowl. Spread the salt on top, and start pounding the cabbage, to release the juices. I don't have a pounder, so I use the bottom of a jar. After 30 seconds to 1 minute of pounding, start kneading the cabbage between your fingers, as you would when making bread. 

Squeeze the kraut in your hands, until it starts getting wilted and juicy. You want it to release as much juice as possible, so keep squeezing for about 5-10 minutes. 

Then place the kraut in your jars, squeezing tight, and adding the juice to cover the cabbage. You want the cabbage to be immersed in its own juice. The saying is "below the brine is fine". 

I usually add a cabbage leaf to cover the top, then close the lid tight. Place your jar of sauerkraut in a cool dark place for at least two weeks, before opening and eating it. Once open, keep it in the fridge.

Some recipes call for 4 tbsp of whey, which is the liquid you see in your yogurt after you have taken a few tbsp and placed it back in the fridge. But be mindful that not all whey is equal. Do not put whey from your strawberry yogurt that was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup! Don't even eat that yogurt to begin with. But if you are making your own yogurt, you can use some of that whey to add to your cultured vegetables. You will only need 1 tbsp of salt if you use whey. I personally prefer to make sauerkraut without whey.

You can also add peppercorns, caraway seeds, garlic, herbs, shredded carrots and other herbs. The possibilities are endless and you can be creative and adventurous. It's fun! And it's OK if a batch doesn't taste good. Not a big loss. 
You can keep your sauerkraut in the jar for months before opening it. As you open it, it might make a fizzy sound. It's normal! It's the fermentation gases being released, and I personally love it! It tells me my food is alive :)

 I eat sauerkraut as a condiment, to accompany salads or other dishes. We're talking a few tablespoons here, not a whole plate!

So go ahead, try it, and let me know how it turns out! And stay tuned for some kombucha stories pretty soon!