I panicked when I read the first two words of this month’s Recipe Redux challenge: fermented foods. I had visions of having to turn my kitchen into a microbiology lab! My daughter calls me weird because I prepare brown rice instead of white. I cringe at what she’d call me if see discovered every dark corner of my kitchen filled with bottles of food meant to be refrigerated, left out for weeks, covered only with cheesecloth in hopes that I would grow millions of microorganisms. No, I am not going there. Fortunately, I don’t have to. The recipe redux theme is to use your favorite live cultured food, not nurture one!
Fermentation is one of the oldest ways of preserving food and it is the secret behind some of the world’s best tasting foods. It is the process in which food is exposed to bacteria and/or yeast by way of inoculation or naturally through the air. Fermentation occurs when the microorganisms convert carbohydrate (either sugar or starch) to alcohol and carbon dioxide or acids. The taste of fermented foods is tangy and sour and sometimes downright funky! But beyond preservation and taste, fermentation also has some health benefits.
There is mounting scientific evidence of benefits including calming digestive problems and boosting the immune system, from consuming foods containing bacteria or yeast that are believed to be healthy, i.e. probiotics. Scientists believe that when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes interrupted, digestive problems can result. In an article from WebMD Stefano Guandalini, MD, professor of pediatrics and gastroenterology at the University of Chicago Medical Center states,
“Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines.”
He also says this about probiotics and maintaining a strong immune system, “In societies with very good hygiene, we’ve seen a sharp increase in autoimmune and allergic diseases. That may be because the immune system isn’t being properly challenged by pathogenic organisms. Introducing friendly bacteria in the form of probiotics is believed to challenge the immune system in healthy ways.”
Yogurt is perhaps the most familiar probiotic, but there are many more including: kefir and milk with acidophilus, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi (to name a few).
That said, my favorite fermented food, sourdough bread, is one you eat for taste, not probiotics. The Lactobacilli (present in the sourdough starter and responsible for the breads tangy flavor and for leavening) are likely rendered inactive once the bread is baked. If you are seeking the health benefits from fermented foods, look for the words live cultures. Nevertheless, my recipe (below) for vegetable panini on sourdough is a winner on taste alone! There is one thing I am certain of : if you make it, they will come!!!!
Please see the links following my recipe and consider trying some of the many fermented foods from this month’s Recipe Redux!
Vegetable Panini with Fresh Basil
Prep Time: 30
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the Veggies
- 1 pound zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1 pound sweet onions, sliced
- 1 pound baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 2 T canola oil
For the Sandwich
- 1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
- 8 slices sourdough bread
- 8 ounces part- skim milk mozzarella cheese, slices
- 1/4 cup EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
For the vinaigrette dressing
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1T white wine vinegar
- 1T lemon juice
- 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 t salt
- 1/4 t sugar
- 1/8 t Dijon mustard
- 1/8 t dried oregano
- 1/8 t dried thyme
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 T fresh chopped basil
For the vegetables
Place sliced zucchini, onions and baby portobello mushrooms in a bowl and toss with canola oil. Roast in 400 degree F oven until tender and brown, approximately 20 minutes.
For the vinaigrette
While vegetables are roasting, prepare vinaigrette by mixing ingredients canola oil through fresh basil.
When vegetables are finished roasting, place in bowl and toss with vinaigrette dressing.
For the sandwich
Preheat a sandwich grill. For each sandwich, place two bread slices, cut sides down, on a work surface and brush 1 side of each bread with EVOO.Turn over one slice of bread and add fresh spinach, 2 ounces of sliced mozzarella cheese and roasted veggies. Top with second slice of sourdough bread, oiled side up.
Place the sandwich in the panini grill, close the top plate and cook until the bread is golden and toasted and the cheese is melted. Serve right away.