By Julie O’Brien, NTP
Book review by Jennifer Davis, NTP
Fresh & Fermented: 85 Delicious Ways to Make Fermented Carrots, Kraut, & Kimchi Part of Every Meal
“Can I add kraut to this?” has never been in the repertoire of questions I ask myself on a daily basis. As an NTP I know that fermented foods are an essential part of proper digestion and optimal health. In my culinary experience, incorporating ferments into my diet consisted of plunging my fork into a well-loved mason jar of kraut. I always had the belief that creativity was limited to the combination of ingredients you put into your fermented food. It never occurred to me that the ferment itself could be the secret ingredient to unlocking a whole new world of culinary exploration. This is what Fresh & Fermented brings to the table and I was more than willing to navigate my way through this uncharted terrain.
Julie and Richard’s unique and cleverly creative approach to infusing ferments in every meal is nothing short of inspiring. Their passion for fermented vegetables, optimal digestion and vivacious health is undeniably evident and is seamlessly woven into the valuable content of this book. Like the bacteria they love so much their sense of community is admirable. They lovingly share stories of the employees of FireFly Kitchen that have inspired some of the recipes used in Fresh & Fermented. Julie and Richard take their knowledge of nutrition and love of fermented foods seriously. To them ferments are a way of life and they are more than willing to listen, teach, share and provide ferments and knowledge to anyone seeking health and hope for a better quality of life. With all of the love and dedication they have put in their work and products it makes it easy to see why their ferments are award winning.
Beyond the mouthwatering recipes, they have included a brief history and science of fermentation as well as an informative section on the benefits of bacteria. They emphasize the importance of consuming fermented foods for better digestion and immune function so effectively that it makes this NTP reach for her jar of kraut while reading this book to reap the benefits. Good digestion is the foundation of health and it begins long before food even reaches our palate. Armed with this knowledge they graciously include a very helpful guide entitled Top Ten Tips for Better Digestion.
The kraut and ferment recipes in Fresh & Fermented are the same recipes they use in their retail line. This speaks to the commitment Julie and Richard have to cultivating health in their community. Their easy to follow instructions will bring a sense of confidence to even the most apprehensive fermenter. They put to rest some of the common misconceptions and problematic scenarios of fermenting by providing plenty of hints and tips as well as a very educational troubleshooting chart. Reviewing this book I came to appreciate the simplicity of making kraut. No fancy equipment or exotic ingredients are needed to make these recipes. Equipped with farm fresh veggies, sea salt, a knife and a mason jar you too can craft this simple health healing food.
I cannot express to you enough how excited I was to try these tantalizing recipes. The old adage “you eat with your eyes first” has never echoed as true as I flipped through the beautifully illustrated pages of Fresh & Fermented. As I read each passionately detailed description I found myself craving each dish, imagining all of the different complexities of tastes and possibilities. To be quite frank I was salivating in anticipation. But where would I begin this journey? Well the most obvious answer, as a NTP, of course was dessert. It was hard to choose but I was eager to put a new spin on an old favorite, Carrot Bars with Carrot Cream Frosting.
One attribute I seemingly share with Julie and Richard is my passion for sharing my culinary experiences with others. Most of the time this means my wonderful husband is a more than willing sous chef if he is privy to the spoils. Since I am sensitive to grains I did make a gluten free version of this, as suggested in the description, using coconut flour. These bars are quite simple to make and brought back cherished memories of being in the kitchen with my mother as a child. The familiar smell of warm cinnamon, sugar and butter filled the air as my husband and I embarked on the cream cheese frosting.
I must admit a finger or two went into the bowl as I put the ingredients together to make this intriguing garnish. I found it best to let the cream cheese, and of course the butter, come to room temperature before mixing it all together. The Yin Yang Carrots added a bright crunch and tangy zip to the frosting. The ginger added a nice bite as well. It was not as overwhelming sweet as some traditional cream cheese frostings can be, which I found to be a most appreciated change of pace. Waiting for the bars to cool was the hardest part of this recipe. They smelled amazing. Finally the time had come to put it all together. I decided to sneak a little slice before frosting. As a reviewer I had to be thorough in my research so don’t judge. The bars themselves were quite moist even with using the coconut flour as a substitute. I contribute this to the wonderful addition of the yogurt, pineapple and zucchini, something I have not added in before. The flavor was reminiscent of holidays past but with a more refined taste profile. There was a liveliness that I had not experienced before in a carrot cake. The addition of the frosting added even more complexity to this exciting dessert. The flavors melded together as I savored each bite; first the sweet nuttiness then the tangy zip of the ferments filled my senses. I was quite impressed and I think my son and husband shared the same sentiments because these bars were devoured in 2 days. I now get requests for these pretty regularly.
Having so much success with a fermented dessert recipe, I set my sights on another unusual venture, their smoothies. Since I had a delectable jar of Ruby Red Kraut at my disposal I decided to indulge in the Ruby Red Rush recipe. One morning, bright and early, I gathered my Vitamix and all of the ingredients and headed to the NTA office to share this creation with the girls. They were excited to see me carrying in my box of goodies. Unloading and prepping all the ingredients for the smoothie, I must say, I felt a bit like a mad scientist. This recipe gives you a couple of different options for the fruit and juices choices. I opted for using frozen strawberries and organic apple juice. As the blender whirled the elements into a tasty beverage I could not help but notice the beautifully vivid hues of pink, purple, and red, the depth of color that signifies life and health. The girls gathered around and I poured each a class. Still a little skeptical about the addition of kraut into a smoothie we said “Salud” and took the plunge. The intricate dance of flavors on my palate that followed awoke my senses. I am a believer and I know I was not the only convert. The refreshing flavor coupled with the warm spiciness of the fresh ginger was enhanced by the bright intensity of the lemon and kraut. There was a buzz around the office all morning and not just from the energy we had from the smoothie itself but of the unbelievable flavor profile. Words like bright, sparkling, and refreshing were thrown around the room without abandon. Thoughts of sitting on a warm beach and sipping a freshly prepared hand crafted Strawberry Margarita came to mind… a lot.
Ruby Red Rush definitely lived up to its name and it is the perfect excuse to ditch that morning cup of coffee.
One night while scouring my recipe books for a good side dish to compliment burger night, the brilliant salad on the front cover of Fresh & Fermented caught my eye, I had my next mission. As I sat down to the table I looked at the gorgeous salad front of me. The colorful kaleidoscope of fresh, vibrant foods provokes one to think that it is indicative of the life force contained within each bite and my eager eyes were taking it all in. The saltiness of the blue cheese, the sweetness of the pear and fennel, the nuttiness of the pecans were all accentuated by the vitality of the Ruby Red Kraut. I was aware of all the complexities and synergetic relationships of flavors. Before long we were piling the kraut onto our burgers fighting to claim the last fork full.
My love for good food, along with my taste buds, was revived with each bite. I found myself exploring my refrigerator and cabinets with a fresh jar of Ruby Red Kraut in one hand and an enthusiastic fork in the other. I have a new approach to cuisine in an age-old traditional food. I would not be out of place to say that these dishes have become a staple in our household. However, this book will inspire you go out and create your own recipes with ferments or put a twist on an old favorite. I am so grateful to have had the chance to review this book and have renewed sense of passion around ferments. Julie and Richard’s love for their craft and innovational approach to incorporating ferments in every day dishes in Fresh & Fermented will revolutionize your dining experience. I have successfully made my journey through this incredible book to answer one question “Can I add kraut to this?” The answer is an undeniable, “YES! I can and will put kraut on that!”
For more information about Julie O’Brien, NTP, her business Firefly Kitchens or her wonderful cookbook, please visit www.fireflykitchens.com.