The ancient practice of fermentation is one of the hottest trends in nutrition circles today. Here’s why.
Fermentation is the science-driven process involved in making everything from crunchy dill pickles to creamy yogurt to refreshing beer. An ancient practice that dates back to the 1800s with Louis Pasteur, fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeast and other micro-organisms.
The output isn’t just tasty snacks but also mighty good bacteria called probiotics. Well, sorta. The truth is, probiotics are actually present before fermentation exists since bacteria live naturally on dairy and the skins of fruits and vegetables. But the process and environment involved in pickling, preserving and other fermentation methods allow them to flourish and multiply. Between the acidic solution (think vinegar), an oxygen-free environment (the jar) and a cool but not too cool temperature (ideally, around 70°F/21°C), you’re setting yourself up for bacteria to thrive and multiply. And while that usually doesn’t sound healthy, science tells us otherwise.
Probiotics are often synonymous with improvements in gut health, with research suggesting that probiotic supplementation may help reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. But that’s just scratching the surface: Fermenting food may also improve the bioavailability of some nutrients by improving antioxidant activity and reducing toxic antinutrients (like phytates).
Emerging research on rodents also suggests a link between the gut and the brain, with specific probiotic strains influencing brain activity in ways that may reduce anxiety, depression and even memory loss. In the world of chronic health conditions, research has linked eating fermented dairy with reducing the risk of stroke, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and even cancer.
While we love bread and butter cukes and a fiery bite of kimchi, one of our favourite foods to ferment or enjoy alongside fermented foods is beets. Beets pack a natural flavour profile that is both sweet and earthy – the perfect pairing for the acidity demanded from the fermentation process. These are two of our favourite beet recipes that are perfect for weekend entertaining and quick weeknight meals: One has a perfect pickled beet topper, and the other is paired with its fermented BFF, yogurt.
Beet Tartare Radicchio Cups
Makes: 16 (or 8 servings)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Need a quick appetizer that is elegant, vegetarian-friendly and not coated in grease from the deep-fryer? We’ve got you covered with these Beet Tartare Radicchio Cups. Beets are grossly underrated in our opinion. Though their unruly leaves and dirt-crusted skins may not make them the prettiest vegetables on the shelf, when peeled, roasted and minced in the food processor, they unveil an undeniably beautiful hue that just so happens to look a lot like beef tartare. While prepared beets may look like rich, fatty meat, they couldn’t be more different in the nutrient department. Beets are packed with dietary nitrates, which are naturally responsible for dilating blood vessels. Research suggests that consuming beets may help temporarily lower blood pressure by up to four to 10 mmHg, while drinking beet juice has been shown to improve high-intensity exercise performance in healthy adults. Beets are also rich in antioxidants called betalains, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and lutein, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and improve cognitive performance.
This recipe pairs two beet varieties – red and golden – to yield a sunset-coloured snack served in an edible radicchio cup. To complement high-fibre beets with a little extra gut-friendly power, we’ve topped them off with a little fermented plain yogurt. Got leftover “tartare”? This mixture is delicious on greens for a simple weekday lunch the next day.
- 1/2 lb (225 g) red beets, scrubbed
- 1/2 lb (225 g) golden beets, scrubbed
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) whole grain Dijon mustard
- 4 tsp (20 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp (10 mL) sherry vinegar
- 1 tsp (5 mL) low-sodium tamari (gluten-free, if needed)
- 1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice and zest
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) minced shallots
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh parsley
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
- 16 radicchio leaves
- 1/3 cup (75 mL) whole-milk plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) crushed pistachios
- Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
- Wrap red beets in one foil package and golden beets in another foil package. Place both on a baking sheet and roast for 1 to 1½ hours or until very tender when pricked with a fork.
- When cooled, peel and roughly chop beets. Transfer golden beets to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not puréed. Transfer to a medium bowl. Repeat with red beets and add to bowl.
- In a large bowl, combine mustard, oil, vinegar, tamari, lemon juice and zest, shallots and parsley; stir until combined. Add chopped beets and toss in dressing. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
- To serve, top each radicchio leaf with a spoonful of the beet tartare. Top with yogurt and pistachios. Serve at room temperature.
PER SERVING 79 calories, 2 g protein, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 8 g carbohydrates, 2 g fibre, 1 mg cholesterol, 71 mg sodium
Walnut Cauliflower Tacos With Pickled Beet Ribbons
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes (not including overnight brine)
Hello, Taco Tuesday! Meet your new plant-based star. This walnut-and-cauliflower “meat” taco with pickled beet spirals is hearty, healthy and packed with good-gut fuel.
When walnuts are minced in the food processor and cooked in a hot pan with smoky chipotle peppers, cumin, chili and tamari, they have an umami-rich taste and texture that’s similar to ground meat. To lighten up these tacos, we’ve mixed heart-healthy nuts with fibre-rich cauliflower “rice,” the trendy new staple in your grocer’s freezer aisle. This taco mixture is delicious right out of the pan, but for a full meal, we pack it into some toasted tortillas with extra veggies and vegan “cheese” and top it with our fermented BFF-pickled beets. Unlike most pickles, which are loaded with sugar, these pickled beets lean on their natural sweetness and are nicely balanced by the heat of jalapeño and smoky cumin.
Don’t have a spiralizer? No problem. While the ribbons look pretty on tacos, sandwiches and salads, they are just as delicious pickled as thin rounds and julienned for serving.
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) sugar1 tbsp (15 mL) salt
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground cumin
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 jalapeño, sliced (omit if you don’t like heat)
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) spiralized beets
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) walnuts, pulsed in a food processor until minced
- 1 (400 g) bag (about 2 cups) frozen cauliflower rice
- 1 tsp (5 mL) cumin
- 2 tsp (10 mL) chili powder
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) low-sodium tamari
- 2 chipotle in adobo peppers, minced
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) maple syrup
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Toasted corn tortillas
- Avocado, sliced
- Radishes, thinly sliced
- Vegan or regular crumbled cheese, if desired
- Vegan or regular sour cream, if desired
- In a saucepan, heat water, sugar, salt and cumin until sugar and salt dissolve. Add vinegar, jalapeño and beets. Place in a sealed Mason jar and let sit in the fridge for 3 to 6 hours or overnight. (For a quick version, cook beets first, then spiralize beets. Place in a jar with brine for 30 minutes.)
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add walnuts, frozen cauliflower rice, cumin, chili powder, tamari, chipotle, lime juice and maple syrup. Sauté and mix until everything is well combined and cauliflower rice is warmed through, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- To serve, add walnut mixture to tacos, along with avocado, radishes, pickled beets, crumbled cheese and sour cream, if using.
PER SERVING 354 calories, 11 g protein, 25 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 26 g carbohydrates, 8 g fibre, 0 mg cholesterol, 212 mg sodium