Go With Your Gut (Flora) – The Great Pickle Experiment (Part I)

My first batch of crock pickles!

Gut bacteria have been on my mind a lot the last few years.  I bet that if you had a nickel for every time someone’s told you that, you’d probably have 5 cents.  Unless you’ve had problems with your digestive track, you probably don’t give much thought to the friendly little guys that call your intestines Home Sweet Home.  People are only just beginning to understand how big a role gut flora plays in, not just digestive health, but in our entire immune system.   Perhaps this is not the most delightful topic for a blog post, but I think its worthwhile to share.

 It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot about beneficial gut bacteria in the news lately — or maybe its just that I am interested in the topic and pick up on it when I hear it.  A few years ago I was diagnosed with a whopper of a case of diverticulosis.  After a few bouts of diverticulitis I noticed that when I am eating things that promote healthy, happy, friendly gut flora, they keep the bad ones at bay and all is well in my digestive world.  Initially my sources of probiotic were Kefir and yogurt.  However, after going paleo I stopped eating most dairy — particularly the processed Kefir I was drinking.  That got me thinking about the other probiotic rich foods there are out there — sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles to name a few.  The catch is, once these foods are pasteurized, the cadre of microscopic gut warriors are wiped out.  The food still tastes good, but you lose the probiotic benefit.  If (and that’s a big if) you can find a source of raw unpasteurized products, you will get an ulcer from the sticker shock (I may have just paid $10 for a small jar of sauerkraut).  No point trading one gastrointestinal problem for another!

So what to do?  Make my own of course!  I’m starting with pickles and sauerkraut.  Depending on the results  that I get, I may try some kimchi (I’m not even sure if I really like it) or some other pickled veggies.  Last weekend I downloaded “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.”  Up first — crock pickles.  I decided to start with pickles because:

  1. I totally love pickles.  My aunt always bought 2 jars of pickles for the holidays.  One for everybody else and one jar for me.   She also had to add extra mini hotdogs to the baked beans — but that’s a different post.
  2. Cukes are at the very end of the season here in Ohio and if I didn’t get them now, I wouldn’t be able to find local fresh ones.

So why are fermented pickles different from the jars of Vlassic in the store (other than pasteurization)?  I’m still a newbie to the whole fermenting thing, but I shall explain it as I understand it.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.  The bulk of the pickles in stores are not fermented at all, but are preserved in a vinegar/spice solution.  A crock pickle is preserved through fermentation.  And fermentation is where the probiotic benefits come in.  There are two or three different types of bacteria that appear at different stages, but as things reach that fully fermented stage, the primary bacteria is lactobacillus.  You should recognize that from yogurt labels as one of the major (known) friendly bacteria.  So not only do you get the crispy crunch of a fresh dill pickle with your burger, but you get a little something something for your gut health on the side!  Some people even drink the pickle brine as a tonic.  I will probably try it.  I like dill pickle juice. And I’m a little bit of a freak like that.

There isn’t much to report yet.  They just went into the jar today.  I am super excited by the project — and by the adorable vintage pickle jar I picked up from a farm estate auction last weekend!  I’m glad I didn’t go with a crock because I can see whats going on — they just look so darn pretty in there!   They are like little pickle shaped fish in their own underwater world.

The ingredients are just baby cucumbers, dill, garlic, pepper, salt, and filtered water.   I don’t have a recipe to share yet.   I thought I’d wait and see how they come out first.  My mom and aunt will be here this weekend.  I think they will make excellent guinea pigs dinner guests.

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Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style (Sort of)

I’m back!  I had a bit of a hard time food-wise this winter and early spring.  After my knee surgery in January, what started out as a simple indulgence in some “medicinal” M&M’s, quickly lead the way back into that vicious sugar/bad carb cycle.   This is particularly bad for me because I have discovered that sugar and/or refined carbs really wreak havoc with my moods and ability to deal with stress.  A depressed/stressed Tricia is a sugar craving beast.  Very bad stuff.  I become the hormonal equivalent of the Incredible Hulk — prone to crankiness and busting out of my clothes.   I quickly gained 20 pounds and was spiralling out of control.  Fortunately I realized how horrible I was feeling and dragged my butt back to Crossfit and dusted off my kitchen gadgetry and got back to cooking good stuff.   I’ve been eating pretty clean for a few weeks again and already feel 1,000% better.  Moods are better.  Sleep cycle is normalizing. Lost 11 pounds.  Let’s hear it for happy hormones!   If any of you are reading this and haven’t tried Paleo, do yourself a favor and try it for 30 days.  Even if you think the diet is whack (what do you mean grains are the devil?!?), give it a whirl, see how you feel after.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G what a difference it can make.  I’ve been kicking myself in the ass for wasting 3 months.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled recipe…

Paleo Stuffed Eggplant – Lebanese Style

So you guys know my food tastes are all over the place.   I’ve dabbled in Indian a few times on here already, but I haven’t messed with Middle Eastern.  Mostly because there was a fabulous Lebanese deli just down the street, and I liked the food there so much that it wasn’t worth the effort of trying to reproduce it.  However, they recently changed owners and switched cooks.  After a few marginal meals, I sadly have decided it just isn’t quite the same.  On the bright side, now I have no choice but to learn how to do it myself.  For my first attempt, I thought I’d try a stuffed eggplant.

Most Lebanese versions of stuffed eggplant work with the small baby size eggplant.  I know they have a name/type, but I don’t know what it is — baby eggplant works for me.   The grocery store only had the larger size eggplants in the organic section, so I went with the big ones.  (I’m really trying to eat organic veggies where I can).  I couldn’t really find a single recipe online that I liked, so I cobbled together a couple and added a few touches of my own.  The result was pretty good.  I think I may tweak it a bit next time. Maybe add some parsley to the stuffing and possibly add some additional cinnamon and allspice to the meat a few hours before cooking to up the flavor (I really love the taste of cinnamon with ground beef in middle eastern dishes).   I’ll update the recipe with future experiments.  Feel free to post your additions in the comments section and let me know how yours comes out.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Medium-ish Eggplants
  • About 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (These really add a little something something and I highly recommend not omitting them)
  • 1 pound ground beef or ground lamb (grass-fed preferably).  I used beef.
  • 1 Large onion – finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves – chopped
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (fresh ground is best if you have a spice mill)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut stem end off of each eggplant and cut in half long-ways.  Scoop out most of the flesh, leaving about 1/3 – 1/2 inch of flesh inside the skin.  This was the first time I’ve actually hollowed an eggplant, so I didn’t have my method perfected, but I found cutting with a paring knife to be the most effective for me.   Coarsely chop the eggplant innards and set aside in a bowl.

Liberally sprinkle salt on the inside of the eggplant shells and place them upside down on a paper towel to drain for about a half hour.  Being pretty much an eggplant virgin, I had to call my friend Erica to find out why.  Apparently the salt draws some of the bitterness out of the eggplant.  She actually soaks her halves in salt water before scooping out the innards.  I was happy with the sprinkle and drain method.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Add pine nuts and toast until lightly brown.  Watch these.  They tend to cook very quickly — you don’t want burned nuts.  When done scoop them out with a slotted spoon (leaving oil behind) and set aside.

Add garlic and onions to the pan and saute until translucent.

Add ground meat and eggplant.  Cook until the meat is done and the eggplant is tender (about 10 minutes).  Add can of tomatoes (juice and all), pine nuts, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper (I also plan to add some parsley next time.  I needed a little something extra).  Stir to mix and continue cooking for a couple of minutes to let the flavors blend.

Divide mixture evenly into eggplant shells and place in a baking dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes until shells are tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Deconstructed Paleo Pork Egg Rolls – Victory!!!

Deconstructed Paleo Pork Egg Roll

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A couple of days ago I posted about my first effort to create a paleo egg roll.  Since you really can’t have a paleo egg roll wrapper, I opted for a deconstructed version.  While the first effort was OK, it needed some work.  I had a couple of hours to kill tonight while my paleo chocolate chili bubbled merrily on the stove (recipe review will be coming!), so I decided to give the egg roll another go.   I think I may have gotten it!  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground pork

2 Tbsp bacon fat (or other fat of choice, but the bacon grease worked well with the ground pork)

About 1/4 head of cabbage

4 shallots

3 stalks celery

2 Tbsp Coconut Aminos (paleo alternative to soy sauce)

Pinch of sea salt

Chinese hot mustard (optional)

Directions:

Shred cabbage, celery, and shallots in a food processor.  Set aside.

Break apart and cook ground pork until brown and crumbled.  Add bacon fat to pan.

Add shredded veggies to pan and saute until cabbage is softened but still slightly crisp.

Add coconut aminos* and a pinch of salt.  Stir well.  Cook for a few more minutes to let flavors blend.

Serve with a side of chinese hot mustard or topping of choice.

*I’ve always been a shaker, I don’t know why.  I’ll shake milk, ketchup, whatever.  However, whatever you do, do not shake coconut aminos!  The result is a cross between shaking a can of Pepsi and a lava flow.  You take off the cap, set it on the counter and next thing you know there is a foaming brown mess spewing from the top of the bottle and slowly oozing all over your counter.  Shakers of the world — you’ve been warned!

Deconstructed Paleo Egg Roll – Challenge Accepted!

(Since posting this, I have worked on the recipe more and came up with something I’m happy with.  Here’s a link to the new recipe.)

Yesterday I fell off so far off the paleo wagon that I got run over by it!  It started with the giant assortment of fabulous gourmet popcorn that showed up from one of our vendors — I sort of fell head first into that.  Also, there may or may not have been some pizza consumed at some point.   It was the culmination of a week in which I found myself cheating more than normal.   Needless to say, it wasn’t my proudest moment.

If there is a plus side, it made me realize how easy it is to slip back into your evil old ways.  I’ve felt so much better (and lost weight) while eating paleo that I definitely want to stay with it.  I decided to recommit myself to it and no better way to do that than to whip up some fabulous recipes!  While at it, I thought I’d challenge myself to try some new stuff.

The other day in my post on shopping for spices in ethnic markets, I suggested looking around while you were there to see what inspired you.  As I typed it, I realized that I hadn’t done a lot of that myself lately.  I shop often at the Middle Eastern and Indian markets but have never been to the Asian market, so I decided to pop in there this afternoon.   I lingered for a while over the dried seaweed/kelp section before deciding that I wasn’t up to that particular challenge (you can thank me if you’d like).  Further down the aisle I found the powdered chinese hot mustard — my favorite egg roll topper.  I’ve been craving egg rolls something fierce lately, so I picked up the mustard and decided to figure out a way to make a paleo egg roll.

I considered using a cabbage leaf to create a paleo friendly wrap, but decided that a deconstructed egg roll might be a better/easier option.  I started by shredding a 1/4 of a small head of red cabbage (it’s what I had in the house), two stalks of celery, and a couple of shallots in the food processor.  I stir fried these in 1 Tbsp of coconut oil until the cabbage was wilted but still slightly crispy.

Shredded cabbage, celery, and shallots

I added 1 Tbsp (+/-) of coconut aminos (a paleo soy sauce alternate) and heated a few more minutes.  I then served it topped with a dollop of fresh chinese hot mustard.

Deconstructed Paleo Egg Roll - Try #1

The result was not bad for a first effort. It was definitely close enough that I think it merits another go with a few modifications.  It definitely could use a little meat.  I think I’ll add some ground pork next time — and cook the cabbage right in the pork grease.  It needed a little extra seasoning too.  Definitely a pinch of salt.  I’ve never used Chinese 5 spice blend, but think I may check that out too.  If any of you give this a try, let me know how your version turns out.