While the Southern Hemisphere goes through it’s annual Spring Clean, so should we be giving our bodies a clean out from winter’s days of stagnancy. Buying organic is the first logical step to take when cleaning up our diets, but if you want to give your pantry an effortless oomf, I’ve got some tips to substitute substandard supermarket gunk with some really yummy alternatives. Once monotonous drone of highly processed and refined products that you have been using are replaced with ingredients full of their own flavour personality you will once again make your condiments work in your favour for taste, digestion and general wellbeing.
Part one includes mineral kicks with celtic seasalt, digestive aid apple cider vinegar, the limitless benefits of home made stocks, and the sharmanistic magic of fermented foods. I’ve even included a recipe for easy make your own easy sourdough bread (thanks to Arabella Forge, author of Frugavore). Check back in tomorrow to get Part 2.
1. Celtic sea salt
Easily my #1 recommendation to improve your health while improving on the flavour of your meals. Why? Modern farming practices have depleted soil of nutrients and as a result our fruit and vegies become less nutrient-dense themselves. Nowadays it’s not uncommon to see nutrient deficiencies in today’s era of surplus. Unlike it’s evil twin, table salt, celtic sea salt has a nutrient content of over 80 trace elements – a mineral profile very similar to that of healthy blood. Whole natural sea salt in its unrefined state renders the salt with a slight green tinge and some brands are even a little moist. The flavour is well rounded and has punch, which means you don’t need to use as much as regular table salt. There are several brands available, along with a coarse and fine option.
What about health concerns associated with sodium?
Salt has got a bad rap over the years and as a result we’re now starting to see sodium deficiencies. However, sodium is a vital element in our basic cellular health. Each of our cells contain what is called a sodium-potassium pump that maintains the water balance and supplies nutrients to cells. This pump is also responsible for eliminating the bio waste out of each cell. In short, sodium is a very important mineral to our health. Refined, bleached table salt in the form of sodium chloride has been stripped of its companion elements and contains toxic additives such as aluminium silicate, to keep it powdery and porous. This is the salt product that has a tendency to cause weight gain in the form of oedema and is linked to kidney and blood pressure problems as we have learned through the common food pyramid teachings. Not only bad for health, adding refined salt to foods progressively deadens the palate and taste buds so that more and more must be added to get any taste at all from the meal. Wean yourselves away from unnecessary salting and begin to enjoy the flavour of food again.
2. Apple cider vinegar
This unassuming product should be dubbed a super-food. Along with being choc full of digestion promoting enzymes, apple cider vinegar is warming by nature, which promotes circulation of qi in the body, removing stagnant blood and eliminating toxins. Apple cider vinegar also has the ability to neutralise poisons and for this reason is good for food poisoning (while replenishing digestive enzymes). Take 1 teaspoon diluted in a glass of water every 15 minutes until symptoms subside. Most interestingly, it has the ability to move stagnant emotions, quickly altering a bad mood. For this reason Paul Pitchford, the author of Healing With Wholefoods, prescribes apple cider vinegar for children, citing bad moods will usually disappear a few moments after taking. Carrying a little too much pudge around the middle? Because of its warming and moving properties, apple cider vinegar will help move weight known as a damp condition in Chinese Medicine.
In the same fashion of my Italian forefathers, I take a capful (approx 1 tsp) of vinegar diluted in my warm water of a morning to wake up my digestion. I prefer the taste and effect apple cider vinegar has over lemons, which are commonly recommended by Naturopaths which have a cooling effect (I personally need the warmth). I also use apple cider vinegar in my salad dressings or making quick pickles. Use in vegan baking, where vinegar and baking soda react to help create a rising effect in the absence of eggs. As a medicine, if ever I feel bloated and have eaten too much rich food, I take a little apple cider vinegar diluted with some warm water – the sour and bitter flavours of vinegar helps reduce accumulations in the liver, giving it’s Yang partner organ the gallbladder, a helping hand in digestion.
You want to choose an apple cider that is unrefined, unpasteurised, naturally brewed and aged in wood. Its counterparts are sped-aged imposters that are highly demineralising. My favourite brand is Braggs – it tastes the best and also includes the ‘mother’, which occurs naturally as connected strand-like chains of protein enzyme molecules.
3. Home made stocks
Nothing could be more simpler or more effective than homemade stocks. Not only can you control the quality of the ingredients, you can create different flavours depending on its final use. Your house will smell amazingly homely and you can generally put a stock on to boil on the back of the stove while you go away and do something domestic. Freeze in portions you can easily defrost what you need in advance or on the stove top – no microwaves please!
Health-wise your stock inherits all those gorgeous vitamins and minerals from the produce you make it with. Adding a strip of kombu to your stock enriches the final product with many beneficial minerals and adds extra depth of flavour (see point 6 in Part 2 tomorrow).
Recipe – Stock
Click here for my recipe.
4. Fermented foods
Fermenting was a technique traditionally used to preserve food in times of past. While there are many cheat ferments out there (just add vinegar!) preparing fermented foods properly comes in the form of lacto-fermentation. It’s all achieved by a bit of basic chemistry involving starches and sugar, lactic acid and naturally occurring bacteria. The result is proliferation of lactobacilli which enhances digestibility, amplifies vitamin levels, has anti- biotic and carcinogenic properties and importantly restores the good and bad bacteria balance in the intestines.
All traditional cultures have some form of fermented food in their repertoire; the Germans have sauerkraut, Japanese have uemboshi plums, India has fermented fruit chutneys, Russia and Poland does lettuce and the Koreans have kimchi. Traditionally produced butter, cheese and yoghurts have a fermentation process and are used in many European cultures.
In the case of hard to digest substances such as soy and gluten, fermentation begins a sort of pre-digestion which aids in their digestibility, reducing irritation to the gut. Fermented soy products include tempeh, miso and quality soy sauce in the form of Shoyu, which is necessary for your plant-based source of protein. Sourdough bread is a common fermented food, which most cases of gluten intolerance can tolerate. It tastes so much better than commercial bread, try making your own sourdough bread and mix it up with different combination of flavourings.
Recipe – Sourdough
¼ c. flour (Rye is best in starter)
¼ c. water
Stir into a paste and leave to sit at room temperature in bowl (ceramic or glass) for 12 hours and stir again. Feed starter by adding 1 heaped tsp of flour and dash of water and stir into paste again. Repeat every 12 hours. On Day 3 the starter will start bubbling. As the starter grows in size, you will need to “feed” it more. If you need to slow down the fermentation put in fridge. Before using it needs to be taken out of fridge, fed and left for 12 hours. The Starter has to be alive to make bread – the bigger the bubbles, the better!
Making Sourdough Bread
200g flour (double the starter amount) – best is 50/50 spelt and plain organic flour
1tsp rapadura or brown sugar
½ tsp salt
Coat hands in oil and mix to breadcrumbs. Add water as you go to form ball. Knead for a little while longer until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle the bottom of pan with polenta and place in dough. Leave the dough to rest in oven overnight. In morning turn on oven to 180°C. When it reaches maximum, bake for 45 – 50 mins.
Variations: add fennel, caraway or cumin seeds; rosemary and garlic; thyme; lavender; olives etc.
Note: Good result depends on type and freshness of flour, temperature in kitchen, chlorine in water, chemicals used in kitchen
Have you tried to make your own fermented foods? What little tricks did you find?
Check back in tomorrow for part 2 of 8 Ways To Make Your Pantry (and diet!) More Healthy.