How to make lacto-fermented vegetables

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You’ve probably heard of sauerkraut, kim chi or sour dill pickles. All these are lacto-fermented foods. Lacto-fermented vegetables are a light, refreshing accompaniment to everyday meals and they help to keep our digestive system in a good working order as they contain live bacteria that are good for our health. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But our body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. And lacto-fermented vegetables are full of ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria.

Lacto-fermentation is a simple traditional process that was used for preserving vegetables for the winter. The process itself might not sound appetising but the health benefits of eating probiotic food with live Lactobacillus bacteria are huge. Sadly in the advent of modern food production this ancient method seems to have been forgotten but the good news is that it is growing in popularity again as more and more people discover the health benefits.

So what exactly is lacto-fermentation? First of all, to dispel the most common myth about lacto-fermentation, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with dairy. Instead, the ‘lacto’ refers to lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. The “lacto” portion of the term also refers to a specific species of bacteria, namely Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus bacteria have the ability to convert sugars into lactic acid.  This strain is named so as it was first studied in milk ferments. The fermentation process releases a large amount of vitamin C, B and K and it also increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering the fermented vegetables even more nutritious than the raw ones.

Most cultures around the world have some sort of fermented food that is a staple in their diet. Various studies have shown that 80% of our immune system is in our gut. The immune system deals with ageing, infection, disease, and general health. Consuming probiotic and enzyme rich foods helps us to build the immune system and aid digestion.

To find out more details about lacto-fermetation click here or here.

There are three types of lacto-fermenting: quick (3-4 hours), short term (3-4 days) and longer term (1 week or longer).  I tried the middle method and it worked perfectly.

All you need is: a large glass jar, vegetables of your choice and salt (approximately one tablespoon). I chose Shetland cabbage, Chinese  cabbage, carrots, beetroots, onions and a red pepper. After chopping and grating the vegetables and adding salt I used a big pot to ‘scrunch’ the vegetables up until liquid starts appearing. I also added some chilli flakes for an extra kick. Then pack the vegetables tightly into the jar and cover with a small saucer and weigh down with a stone. I also covered the jar with tin foil. Leave at room temperature for 4-5 days, then place into a smaller container and refrigerate.

 

 

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Using up the last of last year’s beetroot – borscht

On this relatively cold and windy night (yes, it is summer after all) I felt like cooking some nice comforting food. After checking what’s in the fridge I discovered a poly bag with some of last year’s beetroot which kept remarkably well.

So I decided to make a big pot of borscht, a traditional Eastern European soup of possibly Russian or Ukrainian origin. I have a brilliant recipe from my friend who cooked the soup for us when visiting Shetland a few years ago. Since then I’ve been addicted to this authentic hearty soup.

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Here’s the recipe:

3 tbsp olive oil

250g beef

4 medium potatoes cubed

1/2 cabbage or a jar of sauerkraut

4 carrots grated

2 medium raw beetroot  peeled and cubed

2 onions chopped

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

100g tomato puree

2 beef stock cubes

2 bay leaves, 5 allspice berries, marjoram,salt and pepper

1.5l water

 

1. Cut the beef into cubes, brown it off in the olive oil, then add water, stock cubes, salt, pepper and spices and boil until the meat is tender.

2. Add potatoes and after ten minutes add shredded cabbage or sauerkraut

3. In a separate pan fry onions until golden brown, then add the carrot and beetroot and fry for 5-7 minutes, then add tomato puree and garlic. Add this in the first pan and boil for further 20 minutes.

4. Serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Delicious with rye or sourdough bread.

 

There are many recipes and ways of cooking borscht and if you fancy experimenting and trying a different version follow this link.

Three vegetable crops to sow this weekend

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m planning my gardening tasks for the weekend. Certainly there will be plenty of weeding required and also keeping on top of pests like caterpillars and slugs… And then there are those pesky starlings that seem to love young, tender and particularly fragrant plants like herbs. They just snip them off and take them to their nests. But there will also be sowing of seeds…

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It might seem a bit late to sow seeds in the middle of June but there are some vegetables you can still sow for the later season crop. So the seeds I will be sowing are:

Perpetual Spinach

If you like spinach then perpetual spinach is the perfect thing for you. It tastes like ordinary spinach but you don’t need to keep sowing it as you do with ‘real’ spinach. The same plants will keep going for months. I usually do a very late sowing (August) and if the winter is mild we usually have enough greens to take us through till the spring.

Spinach needs plenty moisture at the roots and lots of nutriens so digging in well rotted garden compost before you start sowing is good. Since spinach prefers shade you can consider intercropping with veg which will provide it. Sow the seed directly in drills about 1cm deep in rows 30cm apart. Thin seedlings out to 15cm apart. Harvest little and often. It’s perfect for freezing too!

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Peas

Fresh peas – oh my goodness, what could be better than eating peas seconds after picking them. A real treat for kids too! Definitely better than sweeties. And the great thing about growing peas is that is easy (peasy). All you need is a small area, bed, container or a pot. In order to maintain a steady supply of peas through the season sow an early variety every four weeks.

Peas like rich, moisture-retentive soil so again adding compost or well-rotted manure is ideal. Peas dislike hot weather so they do well in Shetland. To sow peas make a single V-shaped drill, approximately 5cm deep and sow them 5-10cm apart.

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Beetroot

Beetroot is simply amazing. Probably usually enjoyed more pickled or cooked however when eaten raw, beetroot is full of vitamins and minerals and it is also packed with powerful antioxidants. But most importantly beets are valued for their support in detoxification and helping to purify your blood and your liver. Sometimes I add beetrot to my fresh juice (nice with carrot, apple and ginger). And nothing beats borscht soup.

Beetroot grows well in an open, sunny site in well-drained, fertile soil. My friends in Scalloway seem to be able to grow any amount of beetroot in a small, relatively unsheltered space without any difficulties yet we have never really succeeded with beetroot yet. On the other hand they have not had much luck with garlic which we seem to be able to grow really well here.

Sow thinly, in drills 2.5cm deep, 30cm apart. Thin out if necessary (approximately 8-10cm). Tip: in the polytunnel we always leave some beetrots over the winter and in the early spring you are guaranteed lovely, colourful salad leaves full of vitamins and minerals.

Happy sowing!