Marj is a journalist based in France and previously the supervising producer of Green Living, a program that featured urban green solutions.
As an Asian growing up in the ‘80s, our fridge was stocked with bottles of Yakult. Commercials told us that we need good bacteria in our belly, but at the same time, we have to use Lysol on everything because there are villainous microscopic bacteria everywhere. The messaging was confusing, but I shrugged and just assumed: Lactobacilli Shirota strain, good. All other bacteria, bad.
I didn’t think much about it until a few years ago when I started seeing more and more academic studies that show how important it is to cultivate good bacteria in the gut through nutrition and supplementation. It’s not just a marketing ploy anymore. Having the right balance of good bacteria could help us stave off illness and absorb food nutrients better, which leads to a long list of other benefits. It is also linked to good mood and behavior because the brain and the gut are actually connected through the nervous system! It has become clear in the face of new evidence that this is the new frontier in the treatment of chronic diseases, cancer, and a host of other health problems that clinicians never even considered before. Our gut is the new battleground for better physical and mental health.
In France, we have aisles at the pharmacy reserved for probiotics. There are different kinds for whatever ails you, different doses of microbiota in the billions, different price points, and different formulations. I once stood there for an hour looking at the complex combinations of strains and looking them up online. It’s that serious, folks. But aside from buying probiotic capsules from the pharmacy, we can also get our delightful dose of microbiomes through food.
Yakult, miso, lassi, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and tempeh are great to incorporate in your diet to have a boost of probiotics. For those of us in lockdown during the pandemic though, these items are hard to find and even harder to make. This is why you absolutely have to try making atchara, a Filipino side dish that gives barbecues a sweet and tangy punch.
Yakult, miso, lassi, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and tempeh are great to incorporate into your diet to have a boost of probiotics. For those of us in lockdown during the pandemic though, these items are hard to find and even harder to make. This is why you absolutely have to try making atchara, a Filipino side dish that gives barbecues a sweet and tangy punch and an absolute cinch to make.
So why should you make an atchara?
Let me count the ways:
1. Atchara is pickled green papaya with ginger, onions, garlic, julienned bell peppers, and carrots sliced thinly. But if you don’t have green papaya, there are variants using chayotes or soft bamboo shoots. One can usually find these in an exotic grocery, but if you don’t have one near you, ordinary cabbages work just as well!
2. Fermenting preserves the antioxidant properties of all the raw ingredients. Cooking reduces nutrient content, so you’re saying goodbye to vitamins C and B (1-3, 5,6, 9, and 12) when you steam your veggies, for example. If the ingredients stay raw, they stay in the atchara. So if you make a big batch, the relish can stay in the fridge for a month and still keep all its nutrients while the bacteria ferment into beneficial probiotics.
3. When I was a kid, my mom ate all of her meals with a condiment of fresh garlic in vinegar. Her doctor prescribed it for hypertension. Aside from that, studies in humans show that vinegar may help lower blood sugar and insulin levels for people with type 2 diabetes. Some studies also link vinegar intake and weight loss.
4. Took antibiotics recently? Antibiotics disrupt the good bacteria in our bodies. They can’t discriminate bad bacteria from good, so they sometimes wipe your gut of probiotics. Eating fermented food like atchara can help restore the balance in your intestinal flora, especially if you purposefully eat more fiber. Your gut bacteria love to munch on fibrous vegetables.
5. It can put you in a good mood, and not just because it’s a delish relish! As I said, the gut and the brain are linked and to take care of the gut is to take care of your mental and emotional well-being. Serotonin is a brain chemical that impacts mood, social behavior, and memory that comes from the gut! Having low serotonin levels lead to anxiety and depression, so we have to make sure our levels are up. When people say follow your gut instincts, you better make sure your gut is churning out plenty of serotonin!
6. It’s easy to make! I used to watch my mom make atchara, and sometimes it fell to me to grate the papaya. It's much easier now with food processors, and I also realized much later that grating was just her preferred texture. We could have been cutting it in strips all this time! Anyway, here’s the recipe:
|Prep time||Ready in||Yields|
Serves 20 or more
- 2 kilos papaya/chayote/cabbage, julienned
- 2 medium-sized carrots, cut in plower shapes
- 1 piece cucumber, thin rondelles
- 1 piece red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 big piece onion, thin rondelles
- 5-10 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons salt
- 2-3 cups vinegar, as needed
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, can be increased as needed
- 1 tablespoon peppercors
Mix the papaya (or alternative ingredient) and carrots with half a cup of salt and leave in the fridge overnight.
Wash everything and squeeze out the liquid the next morning.
Mix all the other plant-based ingredients in with the papaya and carrots, then put everything inside a warm, sterilized jar.
Boil 2-3 cups of white vinegar (just enough to cover your vegetables in the jar).
Remove the vinegar from heat after boiling and add 1.5 cups of sugar and 2 teaspoons salt (actually this depends on your taste so feel free to add – but not subtract – the amount of sugar and salt).
Once it cools down a little, pour the vinegar solution in the jar (remember that you don’t want the vegetables to cook in heat)
Once it cools down fully, seal the jar and leave it in the fridge for a week.
7. Did I say atchara is awesome with barbecue? Well, it’s just as delicious with fried meats or battered oyster mushrooms. So go and make your own atchara now! And don’t forget to thank me in a week!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Marjorie Dumont