This is the new frontier. Scientists are going where no one has gone before, into our microbiome. It turns out that we are 90% micro-organisms, with approximately a trillion of them for each of us. So, who are we
really ? When we eat, who are we feeding ? The body that we provide for those organisms or are they the ones who are making the menu choices ? And, what is it that they are doing in there/here ? It seems obvious that we couldn’t live without them. They are our immune system. They assist in digestion. Weekly, scientists seem to be learning more and more what they are about. Check out this site for more about the Human Microbiome Project, and here for a related project, the Human Food Project.
We need to feed these little critters, and we need to feed them right. That is where probiotics and prebiotics come in. Keeping it very simple, probiotics are the microorganisms that actively help us, fending off invaders, etc. We need a proper balance of those to the microorganisms that are harmful to us, coming in the form of viruses, toxins from the outside, etc. Prebiotics can provide nutrition for those “good” microorganisms.
You may not like it but I am sure you know about the probiotic effects of sauerkraut. Likewise, most of us are familiar with those benefits of yoghurt and kefir. I’d like to introduce you to a few other delicious ways to incorporate a good diet for our 90%.
A very powerful prebiotic food is the jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke. I enjoy them roasted with other root vegetables or chopped up in a stir fry. They are a starchy carbohydrate, but please don’t be afraid of that. They have a lot of powerful nutrients and have a nutty sort of taste. Try this recipe from Epicurious.
A simple delicious thing you can do with that yoghurt is make a kind of cheese. This serves two purposes. You have a spreadable cheese that you can transform into any flavor you enjoy. You also get a handy liquid called whey that you can use to lactoferment all kinds of other foods. This process adds beneficial microorganisms as well as helps preserve the food.
Calling it yoghurt cheese isn’t really quite correct but thickened yoghurt doesn’t sound quite so appetizing. Use the very best organic yoghurt from cows that are grass fed ( here in California, we get Strauss). Line a colander with a flour sack kind of dish towel ( very clean, of course). Place the colander over a bowl. Dump a quart of yoghurt into the colander. Cover it loosely with another towel and let it sit for a few hours. You can put it in the fridge and let it sit overnight. Gradually, the whey will separate and drip into the lower bowl. Thi is the precious fermenting liquid you will save for other uses. Keep it refrigerated and try to use it right away.
Some ideas will follow. You can see that the yoghurt is nice and thick like a soft cheese ( if it is not, let it sit longer). At this point, you can make it savory or sweet. For a savory cheese, add herbs of your liking. A favorite of mine is salt, granulated garlic, herbs de Provence, and some finely minced parsley. For something sweet, add a bit of honey and cinnamon. Try that on a piece of toast for breakfast! The sky is the limit – get creative with your additions.
For much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is a challenging time of year to eat fruit. Chutneys are a great way to use some of that whey which drained from the yoghurt. Chutneys are traditionally a combination of fruit, onion, and spices. In the winter, use frozen fruit and add a bit of cheer and brightness to your meal. A spoonful can liven up a piece of meat or a vegetarian entrée.( think spicy cranberry sauce and all the ways you could use that).
This recipe calls for cherries but you could also use frozen blueberries or peaches.
adapted from Truly Cultured by Nancy Lee Bentley
4 cups of frozen pitted organic cherries ( during cherry season, use fresh) ( thaw them first and drain off any liquid)
1/2c. cooked chopped onion ( I like to use red, use whatever cooking fat you like)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds ( ground is fine)
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
1 organic orange, cut in 8ths, approximately
2 T organic cane sugar ( I usually leave it out)
1/3 cup whey
2 tsp. sea salt
1/3 c. red wine ( pinot noir is good) ( of course it’s good, pour yourself a glass) There are some really good organic versions out there.
( use the reserved cherry liquid if you don’t want the alcohol, or a combination of the two)
variations – use a few Tablespoons of chopped candied ginger instead of the clove, throw in a few Tablespoons of currants.
Place all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with the S blade. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Put the result in a wide mouth mason jar and press the solids down. You will want about an inch of water covering the fruit. If you don’t have that much liquid, add some more whey and/or the cherry water until you do.
Cover tightly and keep at room temperature ( yes, room temperature, just on the counter top is ok) for 2 days. Then refrigerate.
This stuff is great on a pork chop, ham, or a burger. I also like it as a condiment with stir fried tempeh and vegetables. It’s good on polenta as well.