Good Mood Food: Homemade Fermented Pickles

Homemade fermented pickles are an easy vegan source of probiotics and a great way to preserve summer's produce. Learn how to make your own, plus recipes for fermented spicy dill pickles, fermented pickled green tomatoes and jalapeno slaw. 

Fermented Spicy Dill Pickles
Fermented Spicy Dill Pickles

Last year, I learned the art of fermentation. With summer produce so plentiful, I’ve gotten really into it the past month. It’s to a point where I’m a bit concerned for anyone coming over to our house with all the bubbling jars of fermenting vegetables on our counter. It’s weird. If this was the 1700s and I lived in Salem, I would totally get turned in for witchcraft.

Lately, fermented foods have been getting a ton of (well deserved) press. In the past year alone, we’ve learned a mind boggling amount about how fermented food and a healthy gut flora promotes health. Healthy gut flora aids digestion, helps manage weight, improves immunity, and clears skin.

Also, the trillions of bacteria in your gut are like your personal army of cheerleaders, boosting mood and combatting anxiety and depression!

Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes
Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes

The brain is typically thought of as the main organ that regulates mood. It is, but there’s a major brain-gut connection and we’re just starting to realize the profound impact it has on mood. In fact, the gut has recently earned the nickname “the second brain.” That’s because it’s home to the enteric nervous system, the second largest concentration of neurons in the body.

The second brain does more than create that feeling of butterflies when you get nervous. Just like the brain, the gut uses and creates more than thirty types of neurotransmitters, including 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, the happy hormone. There’s information constantly going back and forth from the gut to the brain through the vagus nerve, and in fact, almost 90% of the fibers carry information out of the gut to the brain and not the other way around. It's so much more than a poop chute.

Gut bacteria play a special role. They communicate with the brain using the same neurochemicals that the brain uses – serotonin, dopamine, GABA. Multiple mice studies show specific bacteria are associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Other studies show you can alter mice behavior by transplanting them with fecal bacteria from mice that display more anxious behavios. Although there is less research in humans, it’ a growing area. In recent years, studies have shown eating yogurt can modulate activity in areas of the brain associated with anxiety, prebiotics alter the cortisol (stress hormone) response, and that probiotic supplements may lower anxiety and depression. 

I could talk for hours about the connection between the brain and the gut, but for the sake of brevity, I'll give you these links to articles on the topic to read at your leisure.

The Surprising Link Between Gut Bacteria and Anxiety (Huffington Post) 

Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut (Scientific American)

Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of Our Minds (NPR)

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Fermented Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw
Fermented Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw

Eating fermented foods regularly is a good way to get a dose of brain boosting probiotics. Yogurt is probably the fermented food most people are familiar with, but vegans (or yogurt haters), sometimes feel at a loss on how to get fermented foods in. Home fermented foods are some of the most nutritious, because you get such a wide variety of bacteria versus many storebought foods, which are inoculated with only a few strains.

Making fermented pickles at home sounds kind of terrifying, but it's actually quite easy. Also, I've been doing it for a year and haven't died yet, so there's that. All you do is put your pickle ingredients in a clean jar with a salt water solution and let it sit at room temperature for about a week. The salt water creates an anaerobic environment (oxygen-free) which allows the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria to grow and convert sugars to lactic acid, which provides the characteristic sour or pickled flavor.

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To pickle, you can use any size mason jar or any quantity of ingredients. As long as you use a ratio of 1 tablespoon kosher salt to 2 cups of water, you'll be set.

Fermented Spicy Dill Pickles

Author:

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

Adapted from [url href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0847839796/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0847839796&linkCode=as2&tag=anavada-20&linkId=7TTWA24LWJXVA37X" rel="nofollow"]Smoke.[/url]

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 small pickling cucumbers (or Persian cucumbers)
  • 2 green onions, roots trimmed
  • 1-2 jalapenos, halved and most of the seeds scooped out and discarded
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • Clean, sterilized mason jars
  • Cabbage leaf (optional)

Instructions

  1. Measure 4 cups of water. Add kosher salt and stir to dissolve.
  2. Cut the cucumbers to your desired pickle shape (I like spears). Divide among mason jars - this recipe should yield one large mason jar or 2-3 medium mason jars of pickles. Divide the remaining ingredients evenly between the jars.
  3. Pour the salt water solution to the top of the mason jar. If desired, use a cabbage leaf to weigh the ingredients down so they stay submerged. I usually just pour to the very top and leave the lid slightly ajar to allow gasses to escape. This way I don't have to "burp" the jar.
  4. Place the jars over a plate, which will collect any liquid that bubbles out, and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 5-10 days until the brine stops bubbling. If you notice the water is running low, add a pinch more salt and water to bring in to the top. At this point, the pickles are ready. Place them in the fridge and refrigerate until ready to eat. Will last a month or longer.

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Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes

Author:

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

The perfect sandwich pickle!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1-2 green tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs of dill
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds

Instructions

  1. Mix 1 tablespoon kosher salt with 2 cups of water. Stir to dissolve.
  2. Place sliced green tomatoes in a large mason jar. Top with remaining ingredients. Pour salt water brine over the top. If desired, use a cabbage leaf to weigh the ingredients down so they stay submerged. I usually just pour to the very top and leave the lid slightly ajar to allow gasses to escape. This way I don't have to "burp" the jar.
  3. Place the jars over a plate, which will collect any liquid that bubbles out, and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 5-10 days until the brine stops bubbling. If you notice the water is running low, add a pinch more salt and water to bring in to the top. At this point, the pickles are ready. Place them in the fridge and refrigerate until ready to eat.

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Fermented Pickled Jalapeno Slaw

Author:

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

This one is spicy! I like to add this to guacamole, serve over a burger or toss into bean salads.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 8-10 jalapenos, sliced
  • 1 bag shredded cabbage
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sterilized mason jars
  • Cabbage leaf (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine kosher salt with 4 cups water and stir to dissolve.
  2. Place a layer of jalapeno slices in the bottom of a mason jar. Top with a handful of cabbage and a couple minced garlic cloves. Repeat with another layer of jalapenos and cabbage until you reach the top. Pour the salt water solution to the top of the mason jar. If desired, use a cabbage leaf to weigh the ingredients down so they stay submerged. I usually just pour to the very top and leave the lid slightly ajar to allow gasses to escape. This way I don't have to "burp" the jar.
  3. Place the jars over a plate, which will collect any liquid that bubbles out, and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 5-10 days until the brine stops bubbling. If you notice the water is running low, add a pinch more salt and water to bring in to the top. At this point, the slaw is ready. Place in the fridge and refrigerate until ready to eat.Will last a month or longer.

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