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Cultured Vegetables


Well, seems I’m on a raw kick this week–here’s a second raw recipe in a row (and also a tongue-twister using “R” words!).  As promised, I’m going to offer the recipe for “Cultured Vegetables” from my Total Health course.  Every time I utter the name of this recipe, I can’t help thinking, “As opposed to what?  Crass, uncouth vegetables?” But my mind just works that way.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a side of tangy, crisp coleslaw or the zing that some juicy sauerkraut can add to a Reuben sandwich, you’ve already sampled cultured vegetables.  The term refers to veggies that have been allowed to ferment naturally, within their own juices, to help breed the natural bacteria within them. These are good bacteria, people–the same kind you eat in healthy, immune-enhancing yogurt with live probiotics.  In fact, naturally cultured veggies may contain even more of these healthful bacteria than the yogurt does.

The practice of making our own cultured veggies has waned over the past century (why bother when you can just grab a jar from the supermarket?), but the store-bought kind can’t compare. In contrast to the assembly-line, limp and almost matte coloring of prepared brands, the homemade variety retains a lovely sheen and a springy bite with an appealing ascerbic tang.  And while the all-natural brands manufactured using traditional methods (the ones that require refrigeration even before you open them) are just fine, their cost is often exorbitant, and they don’t always offer the same probiotic benefits or equivalent array of vitamins and minerals in the all-natural types.

When you chop or grate raw, organic cabbage, the probiotic bacteria already present  (“friendly bacteria” that naturally populate our intestines and aid in myriad bodily functions, from boosting our immune systems to enhancing digestion to producing Vitamin K) begin to multiply and feed off the natural sugars in the veggies, thereby fermenting them.  The result is the slightly soft , slightly crisp, naturally pickled condiment that is most commonly known as sauerkraut. In this case, however, the food is truly raw and provides all the benefits of raw enzymes and easy digestibility from a living food.

I’ve always loved sauerkraut.  I can still remember how, throughout my childhood, my mom would crack open a jar of Mrs. Whytes  in natural brine and just eat it out of the jar as a snack (she had some weird culinary proclivities, that mom of mine). Well, as she did with my love for Jack and Carly, my mother also nurtured my taste for sauerkraut, and I’ve been eating it ever since.  When I finally learned to make it myself last week, I was surprised at how simple the process really is.

A quick Googling of “Cultured Vegetables Recipe” elicited 188,000 hits, so there’s obviously no shortage of information available for those who’d like to give it a try.  At our course, we used a combination of red cabbage, white cabbage, carrot and daikon radish.  The method is crazy-simple:  chop or grate the veggies very fine; blend a bit of them with water to create a “brine”; combine both parts in a tightly-closed jar and let it sit on your kitchen counter for a week.  Refrigerate before opening (both to stop the fermentation process and to prevent too much air escaping when you finally open it), then spear with your fork and enjoy.  My own batch ended up infused with a rosy, springlike hue throughout, courtesy of the red cabbage; on the plate, the mixture evoked a girl’s best party dress, or a sprinkling of confetti at a baby shower.

Once made, the veggies can be used alone as an accompaniment to salads, burgers, or other main courses; as a snack on their own (my mom would have loved them); or, as my instructor suggested, tossed at the last minute over some sautéed greens to warm them up a bit.

Below is the recipe we used, taken directly from Donna Gates’s Body Ecology site.  While my instructor did provide a “culture starter,” it’s entirely unnecessary to the success of this dish.  You should also feel free to experiment with the proportions of different vegetables, as long as cabbage is the the main event. And once you’ve got a batch ready, the veggies will last several months. 

Raw Cultured Vegetables

Don\'t those colors look yummy?

[Aren’t those colors purty?]

[From the website]: One important secret to making really delicious yet medicinal cultured veggies is to use freshly harvested, organic, well-cleaned vegetables. After washing the veggies, spin them dry. Clean equipment is essential. Scald everything you use in very hot water.

Version 1
3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
1 bunch kale, chopped by hand
(optional): 2 cups wakame ocean vegetables (measured after soaking), drained, spine removed, and chopped
1 Tbsp. dill seed
Version 2
3 heads green cabbage, shredded in a food processor
6 carrots, large, shredded in a food processor
3 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Remove several cups of this mixture and put into a blender.
  3. Add enough filtered water to make a “brine” the consistency of a thick juice. Blend well and then add brine back into first mixture. Stir well.
  4. Pack mixture down into a 1½ quart glass or stainless steel container. Use your fist, a wooden dowel, or a potato masher to pack veggies tightly.
  5. Fill container almost full, but leave about 2 inches of room at the top for veggies to expand.
  6. Roll up several cabbage leaves into a tight “log” and place them on top to fill the remaining 2 inch space. Clamp jar closed.
  7. Let veggies sit at about a 70 degree room temperature for at least three days. A week is even better. Refrigerate to slow down fermentation. Enjoy!

14 comments to Cultured Vegetables

  • Celine

    I love the colors! and it sounds delicious too.


  • LOL – I clicked on the “Jack and Carly” link expecting to find some kitschy local brand of some sort of delicacy, I laughed when I saw what it was that you love!


  • Fabulous (and very purty, too).

    Just what I need with a large preserving jar and a spankingly fresh red cabbage waiting to be played with.

    The course sounds fascinating.


  • Oh this is one of those foods that fascinate me but I am not a big fan of pickled veg – occasionally I get a hankering and then I don’t feel like them for months (which is why I have an almost full jar of pickled onions in my fridge). But yours would look great on a spread of salads

    But I like the name cultures vegetables – I kept thinking are these the vegetables that go to the ballet and the opera!


  • Celine,
    Thanks! I thought those colors were very spring-like–almost like a watercolor or something (and of course it tastes pretty good, too!).

    Different, in any case!

    I thought so, too.

    Glad to provide the chuckle! At least I can say not all my addictions are food-related! 😉

    I thought this particular course might appeal to you, too because of the holistic approach. I do find it fascinating and soak up all the info when I’m there, but will have to work on that mindfulness aspect. I hadn’t considered the wine approach, however–I think I’m going to have to give that one a try!


  • Great post. Did you know that raw food is also good for your dog? Well, raw meat that is. These processed kibbles & bits were feeding them will be the death of our four legged friends. Its also a great cure for parvo. Raw meat isnt as purty as your veggies though.


  • Crass, uncouth vegetables? Man, that made me laugh!

    Ricki, this is totally what I need to make. Since I can’t eat dairy I miss out on all of those good bacteria and I thought there was no way to get them other than yogurt! But alas! Superwoman Ricki has come to the rescue! Woohoo!


  • WOAH! i love the colors!


  • Brian Cruz,
    Thanks for your comment, and for visitng the blog! I do give The Girls raw veggies almost every day (sweet potato is a favorite). And raw sweet potato is ALMOST as purty as these veggies!

    Always happy when I can make you laugh 🙂 . I hadn’t even thought of these as a yogurt substitute for the bacteria, but of course they’d be great for that! In fact, I seem to remember my teacher saying that these contain an even wider array of healthy bacteria than the regular yogurt products! In our class, we made them with some starter bacteria (in a packet), but the website promises that you don’t need it. . . I’m going to try the veggies “on their own” next time.

    They are rather cheery, aren’t they? 🙂


  • I was just thinking that I make a version of “quick fermented” veggies in the summer in my pickle press (http://www.goldminenaturalfoods.com/cookware/detail.aspx?ID=754).It’s layers of thinly sliced veggies – like cucumbers or cabbage – layered alternately with sea salt and pressed so that the liquid rises and the veggies get pickled. I pack the finished veggies into glass jars, cover with the brine and refrigerate. You don’t list salt in your recipe. Does it work without salt? Doesn’t spoil?


  • Thanks, Ricki! Great post and photo. My cultured veggies are hissing and bubbling… and overflowing as we speak! And this is only day 2 after making them! *Extremely* cultured. haha
    Funny about the comment about cultured veggies going to the opera and ballet.
    As a musician, I play both. 🙂 Hope that means I’m as cultured as these veggies! 🙂


    Ricki Reply:

    I’d say you’re even MORE cultured than these veggies! 😉 Glad you’re enjoying them (and yes, I’d say they are really fermenting fast–mine took a whole week). 🙂


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