Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not another detox post!

Yes, sorry about this one! This time of year internet and other media is bursting with body- and food-shaming masquerading as health advice, and quick fixes and sales on activewear are thick on the ground. This is not what this post is.

Look, your liver, kidneys, and intestines are all doing a fine job eliminating toxins. You cannot make your body more alkaline by eating certain foods. However, there are foods that help with digestion as well as peristalsis, and seasonal eating makes perfect sense at least in the temperate zone: temperatures and day length do affect metabolism as well as local food availability, and our bodies do respond to both. 

So with that in mind, I want to offer a few of my favorite kitchen things to do in the colder months. Most of them are vegetable-based, and thus are basically healthy and good for you. They are also seasonally appropriate in terms of either availability or fitting in with winter cravings for hearty fare. They make me happy in winter; I hope they'll make you happy too!

1. Fermented vegetables. Not quite pickles, since most pickling methods involve vinegar. These only need Lactobacillus to kick off lactic fermentation - lactic acid keeps the pH low and thus prevents harmful bacteria (Clostridium botulinum being the deadly one) from growing. On the pic above, there are two jars of cauliflower and one of beets, but pretty much anything can be fermented - carrots, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes etc.

Cut up the veggies in bite-sized pieces, fill the jars 3/4 way to the top. Prepare brine: 1-2 liters of water, 3-4 tablespoons  of sea salt, and spices of choice. I used bay leaf, dill and cumin seeds, coriander, and black tea for tannins. You can heat the brine but let it cool before adding to the veggies. You can let the nature take its course, or you can add Lactobacillus with some brine from a previous batch, or a spoonful of juice from store-bought kimchi or sauerkraut, or whey from Greek yogurt. Close the lids and let ferment at room temp. Open the jar once a day to taste the pickles and let out the gas. 3-5 days is usually plenty. After the pickles are done, move them to the fridge. Enjoy for the taste, probiotics, and seasonality -- they keep for a few months in the fridge!

2. Winter smoothies. I tend to make them without ice or frozen bananas, and add cold-weather spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves. The bright-green one pictured above is made with two cups of spinach, one cup of almond milk, one whole pear cut into pieces, a sprig of mint, two dashes of turmeric and ginger each (use fresh ginger if available), one tablespoon of flaxseed meal, sweetener to taste -I used a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of sea buckthorn berries pureed with sugar, because I am Russian and we feel strongly about health benefits of sea buckthorn.

3. Homemade kefir. Another Russian thing, but also probiotics and deliciousness. If you consume dairy, this is the stuff: sugar has been eaten by Lactobacillus so it's all low sugar, great protein, and probiotics. You can buy kefir grains (sometimes called Tibetan milk fungus) online. 

4. Root vegetables. They are the seasonal staple of temperate zone and national food of all cold European countries (along with fish!) Beets are a given, and sweet potatoes are always nice. I usually convert my salads to root-veggie based in the winter, as they feel heartier that usual summer greens. Here's the one I made today: daikon radish and carrots grated on the largest holes of a standard box grater, seasoned with sea salt and sea buckthorn oil. You may prefer any other vegetable oil, such as sunflower or olive.

The red color is due to the oil as well as the carrots. 

I like these foods because they are delicious yet healthy, filling but not excessively so. And they make me like winter just a little bit more!