Superfood straight from the heart of Europe
Every nation has that food that one dreams of when away from the homeland for a long period of time. The Polish are no different – they are haunted by the sour taste and satisfying crunch of pickled cucumbers. Don’t get us wrong – we love chicken rice and laksa but if you go to any Facebook group of Poles living abroad the most common question will be: where can I find pickled cucumbers?
In the old days winters in Poland were harsh (we are talking temperatures 20 or 30°C degrees below zero) with lots and lots of snow. As you can imagine vegetables do not grow in frozen soil so our ancestors had to come up with a way to preserve them. In the summer they would take fresh cucumbers (or cabbage if they wanted to make sauerkraut) and put them in large wooden barrels.
The basic process is easy: you place cucumbers in brine made of clean water and salt and make sure that they are submerged as the entire process is anaerobic. Anaerobic means no air and this is how the good bacteria grows, without air, pretty much like in your gut. The big wooden barrels were somewhat awkward to move around so we replaced them with glass jars. You can add garlic, horseradish and whole dill stems which is why they are also known as dill cucumbers. Every Polish family has their own recipe. Some add oak or cherry tree leaves, some like it with more pepper or whole all-spice berries, some more salty. But it all boils down to the process of fermentation. The basic version is ready in just a week (we call them low-salt cucumbers) but you can also leave them to ferment for months. It is a natural process and pickles, if stored properly, don’t go bad. Fermented pickles can also be made with beets, cauliflower, radishes, carrots or even tomatoes, almost an endless variety of vegetables.
Naturally fermented foods like cucumbers, sauerkraut or kimchi can help keep your gut healthy. When you open the jar, you should see bubbles on the surface, a sign of live bacteria also known as probiotics inside. The fermentation process is dependent on the Lactobacillus bacteria that naturally occur on the skin of a cucumber.
Naturally fermented pickles are not only packed with the good bacteria but also high in nutritional value. For example dill pickles have lots of vitamin K, which helps your blood clot and keeps your bones strong; vitamin A, important for your vision and immune system; calcium that adults need for strong bones and teeth; potassium which helps your nervous system work properly; vitamin C an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage. Let’s have a look at sauerkraut. Similarly to pickled cucumbers it contains vitamin K and C, calcium, potassium but also iron which gives you energy and focus; folate an essential nutrient for protein and vitamin metabolism; copper that helps maintain healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves, and immune function and vitamin B6 that benefits the central nervous system.