Living La Vita Locale: Vida Salad

Growing up, my grandmother made this concoction called Health Salad.  So, color me shocked one day in NYC, when I saw it at a deli.  I turned to my friend and said, “I thought my grandmother made that up!” Honestly, when I was younger I didn’t like it.  I didn’t really like anything that tasted cabbage-y, from coleslaw to cabbage borsht, although I have since changed my mind and will heartily dig into all things cabbage, from kraut to prakas (stuffed cabbage).  My husband jokes that the horseradish is the root of my people, and if that is the case, then the cabbage is the brassica of Everyman.  The ancient Greeks wrote about them, as well as the ancient Chinese.  From north to south and east to west, there are varieties of cabbage that are central to most major cuisines.  This humble green is packed with vitamins and minerals, grows well in poor conditions, keeps well through the winter, and along with the potato, probably kept a gazillion people alive during hard times.

After a time, my mother took up the mantle of making the health salad.  It was one of her contributions to every family dinner occasion, from Thanksgiving to Passover, my mom, Vida, made the Health Salad.  It was about this time of year a few years back, and I was putting away my share from the CSA when I realized that I had all of the ingredients to make Health Salad.  There was a head of cabbage in the fridge from the week before, and I had cucumbers, carrots, and the one pepper per share from that week.  I called my mom and asked for the recipe.  Since then I have tweaked it a bit, and since my mom likes these results better than hers, I feel good about renaming the recipe, Vida Salad.  Yes, after my mom, but her name means “lifetime” in Spanish, so “Lifetime Salad” — salad that will help you be healthy for a lifetime!

Vida Salad


  • 1 medium head of cabbage, quartered and cored
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1-2 T salt
  1. Put a large colander inside a bowl.
  2. Slice the cabbage quarters thinly, across the grain, so you have thin shreds (I usually do this on a mandoline).  Put them in the colander and sprinkle with 1 T salt. Toss to coat.
  3. Grate the cucumbers and carrots.  Add them to the colander and sprinkle with the remaining salt.
  4. Cut the pepper into strips and then cut across the strips to make small squares.  Add them to the colander.
  5. Using a plate that has a smaller circumference than the colander, weigh down the veggies to press out the excess water that the salt is drawing out. While you are waiting, make

The Dressing

  • 1/2 C Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 sugar or honey (but use a mild flavored honey)
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/4 C coconut oil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar and shake until the sugar is dissolved.

6. Press out as much of the water as you can.  I take an extra step here and put the veggies in a towel and wring out as much water as I can.

7. Dump the water, and put the veggies in a bowl.  Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.  While you can eat this right away, the flavor definitely improves after a day or two in the fridge.


This is great as a side, on a burger or hot dog, or mixed with tuna.

Cabbage Borscht (Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup)

As I stated in the last entry, soup is a passionate area for me. Not only is it a comfort food on a cold, stormy day (or night), it also represents the best parts of my family: tradition, the fact that patience with one another yields excellent results, that while we are very different ingredients, when we come together, we are pretty awesome.

I can’t say that cabbage borscht was one of my fave’s as a kid. As a matter of fact, I think I may have been in my 20’s before I even tasted it, because I didn’t like the way it smelled – kind of cabbage-y. However, once I tasted it, I had to consider where that mushroom-barley soup stood in my esteem.

I have two recipes for cabbage borscht, a slow one that is going to be on your backburner for most of the day and a second that cooks faster and can be easily converted to a vegetarian recipe. Both of these are soured after cooking by adding about a cup of homemade kraut. If you don’t know about lacto-fermenting, there are earlier entries to consult.

DO NOT salt the soup before adding lacto-fermented vegetables! L-F Veggies are naturally salty, and you don’t want to over-salt. Once salt is in you can’t get it out. If there isn’t enough, you can always add more at the table.


SLOW Cabbage Borscht

1 – 2 lbs. short ribs

1 soup bone

1 large onion, cut in large pieces

16 oz. crushed tomatoes

1 medium carrot

1 medium head of cabbage

1 – 1 ½ C homemade sauerkraut

salt and pepper to taste


Put the short ribs, soup bone, onion, tomatoes, and carrot into a big pot and cover with cold water. Put on a medium heat and bring it up to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and let this simmer away for 5 -6 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add a quart for every quart you lose.

Quarter and core the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into spoon size pieces. Place in a colander and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of salt. This will “sweat” some of the excess water put of the cabbage.

After 5-6 hours, remove the bones and meat. Run an immersion blender through the stock to puree the vegetables (you can put them through a food mill or sieve if you don’t have an immersion blender). Add the cabbage and simmer until the cabbage is cooked, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, get the meat off of the bones and cut it into spoon-sized pieces, removing any connective tissue, silver skin, or gristle that may still be there. Add the meat back into the pot.

Once the cabbage is cooked, turn off the heat. Add the kraut and stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. My grandmother had a heavy hand with the black pepper.


FAST Cabbage Borscht

Fat to sauté in

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

½ C apple cider

2 quarts of stock (any will do, including vegetable stock)

16 oz. crushed tomatoes

1 medium head of cabbage

1 -1 ½ C homemade sauerkraut

salt and pepper to taste


In the bottom of a large pot, heat the fat. Add the onion sauté until it starts to become translucent and then add the carrots. Cook until the carrots start to caramelize. Add the apple cider and use it to help scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add the stock and crushed tomatoes. Let this simmer for about 45 minutes.

Cut and core the cabbage. Slice into spoon-sized pieces.

After 45 minutes, run an immersion blender through the stock to puree the vegetables.

Add the cabbage and let simmer for 30 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked.

Once the cabbage is cooked, turn off the heat and add the kraut. Stir thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.

Simple Sauerkraut

One of the easiest things to make is sauerkraut.  I always liked sauerkraut on bratwursts, but I can honestly say, in the past I would never have choosen it as a side dish.

When I started lacto-fermenting foods, this is where I started.  I needed a use for the whey leftover from yogurt making.  At the time I didn’t have chickens, and I couldn’t stand the wastefulness of pouring it down the drain.  I quickly got hooked on lacto-fermenting, and got pretty good at it.  We now have lacto-fermented foods that vary from pickles (see earlier post) to kim-chee (coming soon).  As we get vegetables from our CSA at Fernbrook Farm, I use what is left from the week before and come up with new lacto-fermented salads and combinations.

I started teaching classes on lacto-fermentation in 2010.  One day, while speaking to my sister about what I was doing, she commented that lacto-fermentation sounded “clunky and unappealing.”  That was when I started to refer to it as Probiotic Preservation.  The alliteration appeals to my English Major.  The use of the term probiotic makes the preservation technique more accessible, as many people are now familiar with it because it is used so frequently as a marketing tool.


  •  One medium head of cabbage, shredded
  • One medium carrot, shredded
  • One small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 t caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1/4 C Whey (if it is not available increase salt to 2 T)
  1. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. I use a 4-quart, stainless steel pot.  With a pounder (a plunger from your grinder, a meat pounder, or the end of a boiled brick), pound the mixture for about 8 – 10 minutes, until juices are formed.
  2. Pack the cabbage into clean glass jars or a crock.  Be sure that the vegetables are below the surface of the juices!
  3. If you are using jars: Put the lids on the jars and place in a warm spot for 2-3days.  When bubbles form, move to cold storage.
  4. If you are using a crock:  Weight the top of the cabbage with a plate that fits inside the crock and a boiled brick.  Cover the top with cheesecloth to keep out dust and dirt.  Place the crock in a warm spot for 2-3 days.  Check the top of the brine for scum.  If scum has formed, scrape it off of the top of the brine before moving the kraut to cold storage.

We are just finishing our last jar of kraut from last fall.  It kept beautifully for 5 months.  Keep in mind that this is not heat processed and cannot be stored in a pantry with canned foods.  It must be cold-stored at a temperature below 50 degrees.

We keep our l-f vegetables in an old refrigerator we have in our mudroom that is set on the “vacation” setting.

  • Sauerkraut (