FERMENTED FOODS FOR DIGESTION — SAUERKRAUT
Live fermented foods have been all the hype lately, as everyone is getting wise to their probiotic qualities. I’ve been a big fan of them for the last 10 years, but, as with all things, Ayurveda understands that you can easily tip the balance — less is usually more, and more is usually overkill (just ask avocado toast).
That said, when you need a little sour Taste in your life, sauerkraut is the perfect pickle to whip up and add a little something to your cooking. It’s an age-old dish that can actually be traced back to China some 2,000 years ago, where it was pickled with rice wine.
When it made its way to Germany (possibly via Genghis Khan), the locals began using salt and water to ferment the cabbage, which created sauerkraut as we know it. The lactic acid fermentation between the water and the cabbage is also what makes sauerkraut so good for your digestion. In addition to making the cabbage itself easier to digest, this process creates probiotics. Eaten like a condiment, I like to jazz my sauerkraut up with some of my favourite herbs and spices — traditionally, coriander seeds are used, as are fennel and caraway.
If you’re unfamiliar with sauerkraut, you may say that its taste — both milky and sour — is an acquired one. This is especially true in the context of our modern Western diet of convenience food, which tends to focus disproportionately on the salty and sweet tastes. In Eastern European countries like Poland and Romania, however, it is almost as common as ketchup is here! Sauerkraut is perhaps more popular in the U.S. than it is in Britain, as many Americans enjoy it on hot-dogs among other dishes.
Although freshly made sauerkraut has many probiotic benefits, not all pickled cabbage is created equal. Like most things today, mass production and food laws mean that companies pasteurise their products for a longer shelf life and to ensure consistency between the jars. When you make anything at home, it will never come out exactly the same, which is part of the fun!
If you’re ready to give sauerkraut a go, start slow — perhaps adding it to your lunchtime meals a tablespoon at a time and building up to a small portion over time. Remember: good health comes from a balanced attitude to your food rather than relying on one thing as your superfood and overdoing it.
If you have this condiment in moderation, you’ll find it can work wonders for your digestion. It’s especially good in winter to help restore your blood flow and make your skin glowy once again! If you’re feeling especially Vata, it may be better to cook your sauerkraut, whereas Kapha and Pitta types will benefit more from the raw stuff.
Making your own sauerkraut
1 medium white/green cabbage (or try red for a pink ‘kraut!)
1 tbs salt
1 leek (optional)
Optional spices to create heat in the body for winter:
2 tbs fennel seeds
1 tbs turmeric
1 tbs black peppercorns
1 tbs coriander seeds
1 tbs cumin seeds
Wash the cabbage (and leek if using) and, keeping aside the whole outer leaves, finely shred the rest of the cabbage using a sharp knife or food processor.
Combine the cabbage with the salt and spices (except turmeric if using) in a large plastic or wooden bowl and leave to sit for 10 mins to allow the salt to draw out some of the juices.
Use your hands to massage and pound the vegetables to really get them soft and juicy.
Sprinkle a little of the turmeric into the bottom of a sterilised 2-litre glass jar (I use a Kilner Jar), then transfer 2 handfuls of the cabbage to the jar. Using your fist, pack it down firmly until the juices are released. Continue layering the turmeric and the cabbage (I learned the hard way that this avoids yellow hands!), packing it down tight each time until the cabbage is compact and the juicy brine has covered the top of the cabbage.
Wedge the gap at the top of the jar with the rolled up outer cabbage leaves to keep it compact while leaving room for expansion.
Seal the jar and leave on a plate, undisturbed, at room temperature, for at least three days. Keep the jar away from direct sunlight, to start the initial fermentation process.
After that, the longer you leave it, the better and more mature and sour the flavour — try fermenting for 2 to 3 weeks, tasting at regular intervals.
Store in the fridge once the desired taste is reached, and to slow the fermentation process right down.
Avoid “double-dipping” to keep your sauerkraut fresh, and pack it down between the liquid line in between uses.
If you live in a hot country, the process will be much faster — so keep an eye on it!
Check out my book East by West for plenty more pickles and chutneys. If you have the book already, I highly recommend the delicious Sri Lankan pickle from page 237!