‘Probiotics 101’ and a recipe for a homemade probiotic drink: Beet Kanji

What does the word ‘probiotics’ mean? It seems to be the new buzzword? Everyone seems to be talking about probiotics and gut health. For the last 18 months or so I have been reading up a lot on the relationship between the gut and the immune system and thereby the implications for autoimmune diseases. I have been following a strict paleo diet(autoimmune protocol version) . Many of my friends and family have asked me about the relationship between diet and disease. Some of them seemed confused that our gut would have so much of an impact on our health and wanted to know why ‘probiotics’ were important.

So I thought of writing up this post explaining the basics for my readers.

  1. Significance of gut health on our overall health:  As I was reading up about the impact of diets on disease, one of the facts that really helped me understand this relationship was that “80% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract”!  Now, once you begin to appreciate this, it all begins to make sense doesn’t it? yeah, so if immune system is located in the gut, then what you eat has an impact on the immune system! Ta Da! Many health issues, such as thyroid imbalances, chronic fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, autism and many other conditions originate in the gut.
  2. Good bacteria vs bad bacteria: The secret to restoring your digestive health is all about balancing out the good and bad bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are bacteria that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. There are actually 10 times more probiotics in your gut then cells in your body! If you don’t have enough probiotics, the side effects can include digestive disorders, skin issues, candida, autoimmune disease, and frequent colds and flus.
  3. Probiotic ‘Killers’ or Eroders: In the olden days, our ancestors used plenty of probiotics in their diets from eating fresh foods from good soil and by fermenting our foods to keep them from spoiling. However, because of refrigeration and dangerous agricultural practices like soaking our foods with chlorine, our food contains little to no probiotics today, and most foods actually contain dangerous antibiotics that kill off the good bacteria in our bodies. Following are some ‘probiotic killers’ in our environment today: prescription antibiotics, Non Steroidal Anti inflammatory medications (NSAIDs/Pain killers), sugar, tap water , GMO foods, Grains, emotional stress etc.

Thus adding probiotics to our diet can help  to provide us with a

  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved digestion
  • Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
  • Healthier skin, since probiotics naturally treat eczema and psoriasis
  • Reduced cold and flu
  • Healing from leaky gut syndrome and thereby all autoimmune disorders

What are some natural probiotics?

Sour foods and fermented foods like apple cider vinegar, yoghurt (dairy free coconut yoghurt is best), kefir, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kimchi (fermented vegetables), beet kvass (fermented beets) are all great sources of probiotics.

What are some other sources of probiotics?

Nowadays you can buy probiotic capsules from the pharmacy and GNC stores that contain the good bacteria inside a capsule. Make sure you use a probiotic supplement that has a mix of strains from the two main genus lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Pick a brand that has at least five billion CFU (colony forming units) of bacteria. Otherwise it is not good enough. And always store them in a cool place always.

(references: https://draxe.com/probiotics-benefits-foods-supplements/

http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/what-are-probiotics#1

http://dailyburn.com/life/health/choose-best-probiotic/)

I recently came across this lovely recipe for an Indian probiotic drink called as Beet kanji from Myheartbeets.  This drink has been traditionally made in Northern India and I am so glad that I got to know about this drink.  I have been making it regularly now.  The first time I made it , it came out too strong and so after a couple variations, I have the process nailed down – adding just the right amount of mustard and keeping it for fermenting for the right amount of time. I love having this drink chilled! At our dinner gatherings at home, I sport a glass of bright red kanji while others have their alcoholic drinks 🙂  Oh, and you can use the fermented vegetables to add to your salads!

Probiotic 101 and a recipe for a homemade probiotic drink: Beet Kanji
Author: 
Recipe type: Healthy drink
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
A healthy traditional indian probiotic drink made from fermenting beets and carrots.
Ingredients
  • 1 large organic beet, peeled and cut into thin, long slices
  • 1 large organic carrot, scraped and cut into thin, long slices
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • 2 tsp powdered mustard seeds (coarsely powdered is fine)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
Instructions
  1. Take a large glass jar and add the vegetables and the mustard and salt. Pour the filtered water to cover all the vegetables completely plus leave about 1-2 inches of water above. Cover the jar with a lid and keep it aside on the kitchen counter for 4-5 days or until you see bubbles on top. Taste the liquid to see if you get a strong fermented taste and that's when it is done.

 

 

Blueberry Tartlets (Vegan, Paleo)

A lovely afternoon.  A lovely lunch. With a lovely lady. I had been wanting to invite my next door neighbor over for lunch since a few months now. Finally, it happened last week. This lovely lady is actually an octagenarian but behaves nothing like how a typical 80+ yr old would! She is bubbly, energetic, witty, chatty, open minded and so kind.  I first met her 9 years ago when we moved to our current house and we instantly clicked.  The 40 plus yrs age difference between us never felt like a barrier! We talk about so many different topics like gardening, home renovation, raising kids, health issues and occasionally we also indulge in some neighborhood gossip 🙂

She is not just a kind neighbor but a very caring one too. Two years ago when I was first diagnosed with RA, she was the first one to bring me an enormous amount of food – enough food to last a week actually!. She said that since her mom had RA, she knew how physically challenging this disease was! I was overwhelmed and all teary eyed by her kind gesture. Anyways, now that I was feeling much better and since I had more free time during the day having quit my job, I really wanted to make her a special lunch. She had also not been doing well lately. She had a fall recently injuring her shoulder and knee and was undergoing physical therapy. I asked her if she would like fish and her answer was a resounding ‘yes’!

So what did I make? Main course -Pan grilled Salmon with a honey lemon sauce and some ‘Pulao’ rice with vegetables. A small salad – With mangoes in season, I made my caribbean salad. And then I wanted to make a really special dessert since she had a sweet tooth! And I obviously wanted to make something that I could eat too!

So drawing inspiration from my raw vegan cake and my berry panna cotta recipes, I decided to make a tart/pie by making the base like the raw cake and use the filling like the panna cotta. Also I decided to make ‘tartlets’ since I had bought these cute tartlet pans recently and they were begging to be used!

I was so happy how great these blueberry tartlets came out! Not only did they look so pretty – My guest was totally blown away by how cute they looked…but they also tasted awesome! The blueberry coconut milk pudding was so so delicious! The crust with the shredded coconut and dates is to ‘die for’ and the combination just rocked. How great is it when you can bake your tartlets and eat them too without any feelings of guilt? Dairy free, refined sugar free and grain free dessert that is so damn delicious! My guest at the end of our meal told me that I was the best cook in the entire town! Now isn’t that something coming from someone who has been around for a bit? 🙂 🙂

Happy Mother’s day weekend to all of you lovely moms! You deserve a treat like this one!

Bringing this gorgeous and ‘feel good’ dessert to the Vegan, plant based party potluck

Blueberry Tartlets (Vegan, Paleo)
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Dessert, Raw Cuisine
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Mini Tartlets with a delicious crust of coconut and dates and a creamy blueberry and coconut filling.
Ingredients
For the crust:
  • 2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut (I used Bob's Mill )
  • 18 dates
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil melted
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
For the filling:
  • 2 cups full-fat organic coconut milk
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. gelatin (use agar powder for vegan version)
  • ½ cup maple syrup (or honey)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Instructions
For making the crust:
  1. In a food processor blend all the crust ingredients to form a thick dough / mixture. Place parchment paper to cover the base and the sides of the pan. Press this mixture to the bottom of the tartlet pans. Freeze the pans for 30 minutes.
To make the filling:
  1. Place the lemon juice into a small bowl. Add gelatin keep aside for 5 minutes.
  2. In a small pan, heat half of the coconut milk (about 1 cup) over medium heat. Add the maple syrup (or honey) and the gelatin (or agar) mixture. Stir until dissolved completely.
  3. Pour this mixture into the blender, along with the remaining coconut milk and the blueberries. Blend at low speed until smooth.
  4. Pour the filling into the tartlet pans and place in refrigerator for at least 6-8 hours to set.
  5. Slide the tartlets out onto a serving dish and serve with fresh berries on top!

 

Vegetable Minestrone soup (Vegan,Paleo)

I am sure you will agree that there is no food more comforting than a warm bowl of soup.  In my house they are welcome on any nights but especially on cold, wintery nights. Although spring is here, last weekend ended up being chilly. As I was wondering what to cook for dinner on sunday night, I noticed that there were a lot of different vegetables leftover in the refrigerator. So what better meal than a soup to be able to use all of them?

I make this ‘fridge clean up’ soup quite a lot. And usually it is on sunday nights.  Best part about soups is that you can create variations by just changing the combination of vegetables and the spices used. Before I went paleo, I used to make Minestrone soup all the time where I would add vegetables to the beans and use tomatoes to make the typical Italian favorite. So now I decided to make some changes – since I wasn’t going to add the beans, I decided to add in more of the starchy vegetables like turnip and taro root. And I used my favorite substitute for tomatoes – cranberries!  The soup turned out fabulous. The family ate it with some whole grain bread while I had mine with a small piece of boiled yucca on the side. Yes and that’s how I got the idea of adding the grated yucca on top!  I couldn’t resist – the grated yucca looked so much like grated mozzarella! But tasted so much better 🙂 Yum! 

Vegetable Minestrone soup (Vegan,Paleo)
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer, Main course
Cuisine: Italian, Fusion
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
A vegan and Paleo version of the Italian Minestrone soup - hearty and comforting with a variety of vegetables cooked in a delicious blend of Italian and Mexican spices
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 2 large cloves of garlic chopped
  • ½ inch piece of ginger
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ of a large purple turnip, chopped about 1 cup
  • 2 medium size taro root, peeled and diced
  • ½ cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 cup chopped pumpkin
  • 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
  • 1 cup cubed zucchini or smooth gourd
  • 6-8 frozen or fresh cranberries
  • 6 cups water
For garnish:
  • Boiled yucca, grated
Instructions
  1. In a large cooking pot, heat the oil. Then add the chopped onions and celery.Saute for about 2 minutes.
  2. Next add the garlic and ginger and the bay leaf. Sauce for a minute.
  3. Then add the turnip, taro root and green beans. Add the salt and all the spices. Stir for a minute.Then cover the pot with a lid and turn heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Next add the pumpkin, cabbage, the zucchini (or gourd) and the cranberries. Add the water and cover and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are cooked.
  5. Check for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed. Turn heat off.
  6. Serve soup warm with grated boiled yucca on top!
Notes
You can use any combination of vegetables. Just add the hard ones first to allow for more cooking time for them.
For AIp version, skip the cumin, coriander and cayenne powder

Spicy Baked Fish in banana leaves (Meen Pollichathu)

Fish roasted in banana leaves is a specialty of Kerala cuisine and if you have ever taken a houseboat tour in the backwaters of Kerala you would have most certainly been offered this culinary treat! Traditionally, ‘Kari meenu’ or pearl spot fish is used for this where an entire fish is marinated in spices, coated with a masala of fried onions with ginger garlic and other spices, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted (over a pan usually). It tastes heavenly and I must say that ‘Pearl spot’ fish is really the best for this as the naturally sweet and salty flavor of the fish combined with the flavors of coconut oil and banana leaves makes this an irresistible dish anytime of the day!

Since we do not get Kari Menu (Pearl Spot)fish here in the US, I use whole Mackerel to make a similar dish using frozen banana leaves from the Chinese supermarket. Although the end result is not as great as the traditional one, it is quite close. Plus what an unusual presentation – Try making this for your special guests sometime and you are bound to impress!

Extra virgin coconut oil and fresh curry leaves are an absolute must for this dish! This method of first pan frying the fish and then baking it results in a fish that is crispy fried on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. Absolutely delicious! Enjoy!

Spicy Baked Fish in banana leaves (Meen Pollichathu)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Kerala, Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Whole Mackerel lightly pan fried and then coated with an onion and spice mixture and baked wrapped in banana leaves resulting in a fish that is crispy fried outside and moist and flaky on the inside
Ingredients
  • 4 Whole Mackerel or any other fish (cleaned from inside, you can retain head or cut it off)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil for frying
For the marinade:
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp red chili (cayenne pepper)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil (melted)
for the onion masala:
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • one 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped fine
  • 1 green chili, slit length wise
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp red chilli (cayenne pepper)
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala(optional)
  • 1 small piece of kodampuli/kokum soaked in ¼ cup warm water (optional)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 fresh or frozen(thawed) banana leaves, washed and wiped dry
Instructions
  1. Clean the fish and make cuts on it horizontally with a knife so that the marinade can creep inside.
  2. Mix all the ingredients listed under marinade in a small bowl and coat each fish with the marinade paste lightly.
  3. Heat a frying pan with coconut oil. When hot add the marinated fish and cook on medium to high heat for about 2 minutes on each side so as to get a crispy skin(Do not overcook). Keep the fried fish aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 deg F (or 200 deg C)
  5. In the same frying pan, add the rest of the coconut oil and heat. When hot, add the sliced onions and sauce for about 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften.
  6. Add the garlic, ginger, the green chili and curry leaves. Saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  7. Next add all the spice powders and sauce for another minute.
  8. Add the kodampuli with the water (if adding or just add plain water) and the vinegar and cover and cook for about 2 minutes until you see the oil separating off. Turn heat off.
  9. Take each banana leaf and cut in half so you have 4 pieces.
  10. Place a fish inside the center of each piece and place some of the onion and spice mixture over it to cover it. Wrap the leaf edges to form a packet (you can use a string or toothpicks to make parcels)
  11. Place all the parcels on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 400 deg f (200 deg c) for 20 minutes.
  12. Serve warm right out of the oven. Garnish with red onions and lime wedges!
Notes
Kokum/Kodampuli is optional - it gives an additional tangy flavor to the dish but vinegar alone is sufficient too.
For AIP version, skip cayenne, coriander and garam masala.

Tapioca Pearl and Sweet Potato Hash (Sabudana Khichdi)

Tapioca or Yucca or Cassava has become one important component of my diet these days since I am avoiding all grains and all other starches. I mostly just boil fresh yucca pieces (after peeling and chopping them) with sea salt. Or eat them with onion chutney. And they taste delicious! I also have been making the tapioca ‘rice’ or the steamed kappa Puttu which is a traditional Kerala breakfast item. And occasionally when I miss my rice, I tend to cook this hash using tapioca pearls.  Tapioca pearls are called ‘sabudana’ in both Hindi and Marathi and this savory hash recipe is called as ‘khichdi’, which just means a mish-mash of tapioca with potatoes or sweet potatoes. Traditionally in Marathi cuisine this ‘khichdi’ is eaten during religious fasting periods.  Doesn’t it seem like our ancestors were indeed very smart ? – Avoid grains and eat sabudana khichdi and only fresh fruits for the entire day- what better way to detox than this!

One slight drawback about this dish is that it does need a little bit of advance planning in that you need to soak the tapioca pearls in advance for at least 6-8 hours. Peanuts are what is used traditionally however I use walnuts nowadays since I seem to be having some reaction to peanuts. Also regular potatoes or sweet potatoes are used. However if using sweet potatoes, they have to be ‘white sweet potatoes’ or the Indian/Japanese variety of sweet potatoes with white flesh, which also are less sweet as compared to yellow sweet potatoes or yams.

This past week when I made this I paired it with a fresh kale and orange salad. Was so good and definitely filling!

Tapioca Pearl and Sweet Potato Hash (Sabudana Khichdi)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course, side dish
Cuisine: Indian, Maharashtrian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Tapioca pearls cooked with sweet potatoes and mild spices and mixed with roasted nuts and grated coconut
Ingredients
  • 1 cup tapioca pearls (soaked overnight or for 6-8 hours in water)
  • ½ cup roasted peanuts (or any other nuts)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated coconut (or fresh frozen grated coconut that has been thawed)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds(skip for AIP)
  • 1 green chili (serrano chili) cut into 3-4 pieces (skip for AIP)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger grated
  • 4-6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 large sweet potato or potato (boiled, peeled and mashed)
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or lime juice
Instructions
  1. Soak the tapioca pearls overnight in a large bowl with enough water on top (pearls will swell up). Drain them using a sieve or colander and blot dry using paper towels.
  2. Place the pearls in a mixing bowl. Add the nuts and the coconut to it and mix everything well together. Keep aside.
  3. Ina wok style pan or kadai, heat the oil. When hot add the cumin seeds and after 30 seconds add the green chillies, ginger and curry leaves. Stop fry for 1 minute on medium heat.
  4. Next add the tapioca pearl mixture to this and turning heat to low, keep stirring mix continuously to prevent the pearls from clumping together too much. After they start becoming transparent (about 4-5 minutes or so), add the mashed sweet potato (or potato) to the pan and str everything together well.
  5. Add the cilantro and lime juice and stir well before serving.
Notes
For AIP compliant version, skip the nuts, cumin seeds and the green chillies. Use only white sweet potatoes if using sweet potatoes otherwise the dish will be too sweet.