Once a month, I feature a chapter from my book and partner with the folks from MightyNest on a related giveaway. This month, I’m focusing on the health benefits of cultured foods. Read on to learn more about how nutritious these can be, and you’ll have the opportunity to enter a giveaway for beautiful jars in which to make your own delicious versions.

spicy lacto-fermented pickles | healthy green kitchen

Naturally cultured foods and drinks are teeming with vitamins, live enzymes, and natural probiotics (bacteria that are helpful for reducing the amount of harmful organisms in the intestines). These were prevalent in the diets of our ancestors, yet they’re not frequently consumed by most people today. Cultured (aka lacto-fermented) foods are good for everyone, but they are particularly useful if your digestion is poor or your immune system is weak (75% of your immune system’s cells reside in your digestive tract!). Cultured foods foster a healthy digestive environment, and contribute to optimal wellness overall.

spicy lacto-fermented pickles | healthy green kitchen

How lacto-fermentation works: Bacteria known as lactobacilli convert sugars and starches into lactic acid. The presence of lots of lactic acid results in a food that’s exceptionally nutritious and much less prone to spoilage. Before there was refrigeration and before foods were canned to extend their shelf life, they were naturally preserved in small batches using the lacto-fermentation method. Examples of lacto-fermented foods and drinks include yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, and vegetable preparations such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and lacto-fermented pickles.

spicy lacto-fermented pickles | healthy green kitchen

I try to include at least one serving of something that’s been lacto-fermented in my diet every day, but I eat more when I have any sort of digestive issue going on or on the rare occasion that I have to take antibiotics. You can purchase high quality versions of cultured foods at natural food stores, but I think knowing how to make your own is a good skill to have (plus you’ll save money). In the photos for this post, you see lacto-fermented asparagus, carrots, and cucumbers. I’ve included the recipe for the cucumbers below, along with some of my favorite fermentation resources.

Lacto-fermented vegetables are a good place to start if you want to begin making your own cultured foods. These are particularly beneficial for you because they contain many nutrients as well as fiber: you can add them to all sorts of dishes as condiments. I’ve been making my own cultured vegetables for years: once you get the hang of the process, you’ll see how easy it is (you don’t need much more than veggies, salt, and a little time), and you’re sure to become hooked. Then you can look forward to always having some cultured veggies on hand to enhance your meals…and your health!

(Text adapted with permission from my book One Simple Change: Surprisingly Easy Ways to Transform Your Lifeby Winnie Abramson. Copyright 2013 by Chronicle Books.)
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I was a pretty early adopter of the green smoothie, but I burned out on them a while back. I was really excited about trying the Citrusy Green Smoothie on page 20 of the new book Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More, though. It looked different from any green smoothie I’ve had before…

green smoothie_text

I’ve now made this smoothie a few times and I really love it: the fresh orange juice and the pineapple combine with the greens to make a very delicious drink. The other thing I like about this smoothie is that it has some coconut oil in it. If you are going to drink green smoothies, I always advise adding some fat because fat helps your body to assimilate the calcium in the greens. Coconut oil is a good source of healthy fat, and makes a tasty addition here.

Though I haven’t yet had a chance to make more of the recipes from Brassicas, I am very much looking forward to doing so.

book cover

Author Laura B. Russell does a really nice job of focusing on both the nutritional benefits of these veggies and the cooking methods that allow them to shine. There are chapters on Kale, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts and Cabbage, Broccoli, Leafy Brassicas, Asian Brassicas, and Root Brassicas and Kohlrabi; the photographs by Sang An are really beautiful.

Also of note: the book addresses the potential downside of consuming too many brassicas raw (there is a concern that doing so can interfere with thyroid function). The upshot (which I discuss in my book, as well): don’t eat loads of uncooked brassicas. This means it’s best not to go overboard with the green smoothies, especially if you have a thyroid problem (honestly: I don’t think it’s a good plan to go overboard with any food, no matter how healthy it’s supposed to be!). There’s nothing to worry about as far as cooked brassicas go, though. So eat those cooked greens, etc. to your heart’s delight.
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We adopted a puppy last week! We named her Ozzie and she’s a Labrador mix. We adopted her through a rescue organization called Save A Lab and we couldn’t be happier about the decision.

Ozzie | healthy green kitchen

Ozzie | healthy green kitchen

As you can see, she’s SO cute. She’s also super affectionate and really smart. I am looking forward to taking her to obedience classes :)

Ozzie | healthy green kitchen

Ozzie | healthy green kitchen

So far, she’s doing pretty great with our (4!) cats, and things are going really well with my almost 10-year old lab, too. (She hasn’t met the chickens face to face yet, though…just through a fence.) We are having a blast with her and I’ll share more pictures soon.

Ozzie | healthy green kitchen

jake and ozzie | healthy green kitchen

Since it’s Friday, I have some great links I want to tell you about…I hope you have time to check them out over the weekend!
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My friend Ella writes and photographs the beautiful blog Pure Ella. Today, I am part of a group of bloggers helping Ella celebrate the upcoming birth of her second baby. Ella prefers to eat vegan and gluten free, so I made gluten-free and vegan vanilla cupcakes to bring to the virtual party :)

vegan cupcakes | healthy green kitchen

I adapted these treats from Minimalist Baker’s recipe for Strawberry Beet Cupcakes. They have a somewhat dense, moist texture and they are not too sweet; they are so yummy with the vegan buttercream. I was considering coloring the buttercream, and also piping it onto the cupcakes in a “fancier” way, but in the end I opted to honor Ella and keep things as natural as possible here. I love the look of the single candied violet on each cupcake and I hope Ella likes it too!

vegan cupcakes | healthy green kitchen

Though I’ve never baked with it before, I decided to try these with my homemade walnut milk as the liquid, and I think they came out great. The instructions for how to make the walnut milk are below, but know that you can substitute a different dairy-free milk, if you like. If you do, let me know how these work out…I’d love to know.

soaked walnuts | healthy green kitchen

If you have no issue with dairy, I think you can go ahead and just use milk, and also butter instead of the dairy-free butter. Along the same lines, you don’t have to make these gluten free. Use regular flour instead of the gluten-free flour if gluten is not a problem for you.

cupcakes in pan
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Violets pop up all over my yard every year at this time, and I’m always extremely excited when they do. Violets are edible, and though picking them can be a little painstaking, I really enjoy eating and making things with the delicate purple beauties. Yesterday, I made candied violets.

candied violets | healthy green kitchen

As I mentioned above, violets are delicate…fragile. If your lawn is similarly dotted, and you’d like to use them in a recipe, plan to do so right after you pick them (otherwise they will wilt). I decided to make just a small amount of sugared violets (I will tell you why tomorrow) so I didn’t pick that many flowers. If you want to make lots of candied flowers, or a syrup or jelly with your violets, you’ll need to pick quite a lot.

violets  on plate_

To make candied/sugared violets, all you need is the flowers, some sugar (I used organic sugar), and something to get the sugar to adhere to the flowers. Generally I would use beaten egg white, but since I wanted these candied violets to be vegan, I used a slurry of flax seeds and water*: approximately 1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water. The mixture was somewhat thick so I did add a little more water as I was working.

Superfine sugar is the best type of sugar to use for candied flowers: you can whir regular (or organic) sugar in a food processor to make it more fine, if you like.
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