Pickles for Health


My doctor told me I should eat pickles for the electrolytes and to help my digestion. Pickles? Really? I LOVE those sweet gherkins I buy at the grocery store and the pickles Mustafa makes! Almost every meal I’ve eaten with the Mustafa family includes pickled vegetables.

So I did a little research. OK, I spent hours on the internet looking up pickle recipes and history. Turns out that for thousands of years, almost every culture has been pickling vegetables to preserve their nutrients and to add that sour tang our tongues so enjoy. I can still taste the pickled diakon radish served at my wedding feast in Okinawa, the hot spicy Kimchi I was introduced to in Honolulu, and of course the sauerkraut that is such a staple in German and East European diets.

I learned that there are two ways to pickle vegetables: soaking in vinegar, and fermenting with salt. Mustafa uses the vinegar method:

Mustafa’s Pickles
Into a gallon jar, put the cleaned cut vegetables. “Could be any vegetable,” Mustafa informed me. This time he put in carrots, cucumber, and cabbage. Another day it was string beans.

Then he added:
4 Tablespoons salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp red pepper powder (you can use mild, medium or hot depending on your taste)

1 TBS vinegar
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves sliced garlic

He filed the jar with warm water and put it in the refrigerator for 4-6 days. This will make a mild pickle that will last refrigerated for a couple of weeks or so. Eating these and drinking the juice may help relieve muscle cramps, aid digestion, and provide the antioxidants (vitamins C and E) which help combat cancer and heart disease. The garlic is known to be anti-viral. If he were to put these pickles through a canning bath, the vegetables would cook and lose the antioxidants. Using “raw” vinegar (with the cloudy material in the bottom called the “mother”) provides the healthy microbes that are so good for our guts.

Making pickles by fermentation increases the healthy bacteria content. The vegetables are packed in salt and cured for weeks, allowing the bacteria to convert the natural sugars in the vegetables into lactic acid, acetic acid, carbon dioxide, and other beneficial substances. The amounts of salt, water, and vegetables is critical to encouraging the healthy bacteria and killing off the toxic Clostridium botulinum. Kimchi, sauerkraut, and usually dill pickles fall into this category. Alas, my favorite grocery store sweet gherkins do not appear to be fermented, and the little gherkins are no longer raw. Perhaps these are not the pickles my doctor was referring to.

Another fermented food, also a healthy staple of the Mustafa household is cucumber yogurt soup. Yogurt does contain lots of the kind of bacteria that are so good for our guts. In Turkey and Greece this soup is called tziki, but in Syria, Mustafa says, “We just call it cucumber yogurt soup.”

Mustafa’s Cucumber Yogurt Soup
Grate one large cucumber (washed but not peeled) into a bowl.

Add to it:
4 cloves of smashed garlic
about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
salt to taste
1-2 tsp dried mint
2 cups of yogurt
water to the desired consistency (Mustafa used a cup or more)
Serve as a side to any meal.

*Recipes are from Mustafa Syrian Kitchen. For more information or for a special meal for a wedding, family gathering, or other event, call Jamila at 206-466-9597 or Mustafa at 206-458-2450 or email: m2mustafa71@gmail.com