In some instances, bacteria are a good thing. And much about these microbial creatures is unknown. That’s why the National Institutes of Health has launched a comprehensive Human Microbiome Project (HMP), with “the mission of generating resources enabling comprehensive characterization of the human microbiota and analysis of their role in human health and disease.”
Bacteria also are critical in “The Art of Fermentation,” which is the title of a new book by Sandor Ellix Katz. With an elegant discourse on “culture” in its multiple meanings, he waxes poetic about the ancient process in which microscopic organisms transform ingredients to extend preservation and enhance flavors. From bread, pickles and beer to yogurt, cheese and soy sauce, fermentation makes possible a long list of foods.
I join Katz in bowing to the brilliant foodies who thousands of years ago discovered this magical process. Two of my favorites in the fermentation category are kimchi, the Korean version of pickled Chinese cabbage, and sauerkraut. I love the first because it’s uniquely flavorful and, well, fragrant – my kids know I’ve opened a jar the moment they walk into the kitchen. And I love sauerkraut in all its pickly, juicy goodness because it’s a main ingredient of my favorite sandwich, the reuben.
Hearing about Katz’s book has me hankering for one right now. For a slightly lighter version, today I offer a reuben salad recipe. Sauerkraut is cheap, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can find the author’s recipe (and those for yogurt and sour pickles) online with his interview on the NPR program “Fresh Air.”
- 4-6 slices pumpernickel bread
- 1 cup drained sauerkraut
- 8 cups torn lettuce leaves
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions (optional)
- 1 tomato, diced
- 3/4 pound deli sliced corned beef, cut into strips
- 1/2 cup fat-free Thousand Island dressing, or to taste
- 3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush both sides of the bread with melted butter, then cut into cubes. Place on a baking sheet and bake until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container. (You can also use store-bought croutons for greater convenience.)
Layer the sauerkraut, lettuce, tomato and corned beef in a 9″x13″ dish. Carefully spread dressing over the top. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, top with croutons.