Cooked Food Topped with Live Culture Condiments
Renatured Pickling - Bringing Cooked Food Back to "Life"
While I was teaching a cooking class, a senior-citizen student of Finnish descent mentioned something that was a Eureka! moment for me. Having spent the better half of my adult life as a student of world cuisine and a seeker of the underpinnings of good health, Lorraine Jarvela handed me one of the keys to a treasure of the ancients.
But first, I want to share some insight. I assume any cultural diet that exists today does so because it provides the nourishment necessary over eons for her people to survive and thrive. Conversely, any diet that does not will eventually be this culture’s demise. Therefore, all today’s world cuisines have innate dietary laws that produce a general healthiness for her citizens. My curiosity has been in trying to find common links in world cuisines.
And then my student mentioned a fact I had simply missed. She said, “Bill, in Finland we always ate a little something pickled when we ate meat or other hard-to-digest foods.”
Of course! This made utter sense and it was right under my nose. Take something cooked, then add something rich with micro-cultures and enzymes to make it more digestible. I looked at the perennial long lived cultures and saw this wisdom repeated. The Japanese include daily amounts of fermented condiments: soy sauce, miso, and pickled vegetables. Northern Europeans developed sauerkraut, sour cream, dill pickles, and pickled beets to help combine with their cooked meals. The Chinese and Koreans salted cabbage and produced fermented condiments such as kimchi. Southeast Asians developed fermented fish sauce as well as pickled vegetables. Mexicans ferment cream and use it to top their cooked dishes along with hard cheese. Southern Europeans include a cornucopia of pickled vegetables, artisan cheeses, and vinegars.
Cooked food in these cuisines comes back to life with fresh, fermented condiments. This is due to the astounding number of beneficial bacteria present including a vast array of enzymes they create to digest these food complexes. When I bite into a hot dog on a sourdough roll with dijon-style mustard and fresh sauerkraut I like to think that “me and my billion buddies” are enjoying a complete ready-to-digest meal.
Resurrecting cooked food happens on several levels in our diet. Cooked milk is cooled and cultured to make yogurt and cheese. You make mustards, relishes, and chutneys by adding live ferments to the cooked ingredients. Beer is first cooked and then revived with microbes.
The difference in our modern cuisine is most our condiments are made and sold without the micro-cultures and enzymes present. With the introduction of pasteurization and modern canning techniques the life force is gone. We taste the sour, but the life is not there. If you go back a couple generations in America you could buy fresh, culture-active kraut and dill pickles in barrels at the general store. Or you could go to old-world delicatessens to buy fresh kraut, kosher dill pickles, and cream cheese with lox. Or, like my grandmother, you made sauerkraut in the cellar.
When you buy these traditional condiments in the non-refrigerated sections, you get the traditional taste, but not the life force of these super digesters! The natural taste of something sour (like the taste of fermented vegetables) combined with cooked protein is a pleasant combination found throughout the world. Bratwurst with mustard, steak with ketchup, fish and chips with vinegar, and pasta with grated cheese come to mind. In the Scandinavian countries they go to pickled herring and salmon, and have a fermented beverage called Piima. Go on reader! Think of others—there are so many.
It might seem plausible that our developed sense of the sour taste is a feedback system to sense we are getting enough live culture in our diet; as these beneficial microbes produce lactic acid which provides a sour taste. If you imagine at this moment you are about to bite into a juicy dill pickle spear (go ahead and imagine) then you very well might start to salivate. That is another effect of eating sour tasting foods — they innately start your digestion.
In the Amish diet a traditional meal includes seven sweet with seven sour tastes. Now my mouth is watering! Today we taste the sour and we are happy, but without the live culture and enzymes, maybe we are lacking a great source of digestion.
So I wondered—as a home pickle maker, what if I could take cooked vegetables and bring them back to life as a pickle? It sounded fiendish, but voila! I have created a wonderful recipe for pickled beets, where we use cooked beets and “resurrect them” with the magic of microbes. Why cook the beets? Like other tubers, beets have another life in their cooked state—they become satiny and succulent.
To a mixture of salt and water I mixed in raw onions, added raw cider vinegar, and a little bit of brine from an existing batch of fresh, brine pickles. I was able to bring the beets back to life. Pickled Lazarus Beets are done in about four days. This is a classic sweet and sour beet recipe that actually fizzes on your tongue due to the active, vibrant cultures! Just as Lazarus was brought back to life after four days, you can do the same by making fresh pickles and adding them to your meals.
By reintroducing live-culture condiments to our diet, you will gain the benefits of our ancient diets. To digest well is to live well!
- by Bill Hettig