Kimchi Cool

By on December 20, 2016

A fermentista delivers her farmstand and health enhancing products to
your door.

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JACKSON HOLE, WY – The first thing you’ll notice about Maya Cirkovic Nagy of Maya Organics is that everything about her glows—her skin, her eyes, and especially her passion for healthful living. If you’ve been to the Farmers Market on the Town Square, you’ve probably visited Nagy’s farmstand and perused her organic line of fermented foods.

Last year Nagy launched the Gourmet Health Food Club, a home delivery service of her food products.

“I want to change people’s view of health food,” she said. “I eat something fermented with every meal.”

One would expect Maya Organics to have a full line of sauerkrauts and fermented veggies, like her wildly popular Teton Kimchi and Ginger-Orange Beets. But Nagy ferments more than just veggies. There are good-for-your-belly fermented fruits, like the dark plum butter, the apricot-fig jam and the digestive orange and ginger relish. There are sprouted seeds and nuts, like the pumpkin seed butter, chocolate hazelnut spread and coconut honey cashew butter. There are fermented drinks, or “kvass,” made with ginger and lemon, beets or berries. And there are fermented condiments—salsas, pickled serranos, ketchup, chipotle sauce and chili-garlic sauce.

In other words, this is a whole new world of fermented foods.

Nagy has worked as a pharmacist’s assistant, a banker and a preschool teacher, but it wasn’t until she got sick and started healing herself with traditional foods that she found her niche in life.

“I developed a chemical sensitivity when I moved here, which is what took me down this path,” Nagy explained.

She had been traveling to Jackson for 10 years from her native country of Serbia (former Yugoslavia), working seasonal jobs to escape the heat at home. When she moved here full-time three years ago, she stopped eating the foods she had grown up with and just ate whatever was cheap and available.

“After a month, I got so sick my immune system was not working. I wasn’t getting nutrients I needed to support my system,” she said. “I started making healthy foods for myself, the foods I had grown up on.”

Nagy is talking about her microbiome, that kilogram mass of microorganisms that live in the gut, forming an ecosystem that affects your health in ways people are just beginning to understand.

As Michael Pollan writes in Cooked, A Natural History of Transformation, “In addition to bringing large numbers of probiotic guests to the party, the vegetables themselves also supply plenty of probiotics—nourishment for the bacteria already there. Since they have been in the human diet for thousands of years, it makes sense that these fermented foods would by now have become tightly woven into our biology.”

Variety, Nagy advised, is the key when it comes to fermented foods. “Start with a very small amount of anything. Sauerkrauts are my favorite because they have the best bacterial profile. That’s why I have so many different products.”

Nagy never intended to start a food business, but when friends came over to visit she fed them samples of all her fermented creations. “We have a really strong food culture in Serbia. And we feed people when they come over,” she said. “So I was always feeding my friends from all my jars. I made quite a lot of nut butters, and some fermented goods. I never really imagined that people would find them interesting.”

Nagy described life in Serbia like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “I spent weekends at my grandparents’ farm, and we were always helping with the food. If an animal was slaughtered, we had to help process it. If harvesting was going on, we had all the women from the extended family come into the home. If there was anything to be preserved, like big batches of sauerkraut, or peppers, those were chores for us kids.”

Nagy starts at the local farms to search for the highest quality, organic ingredients. But she also believes that if you want to eat good food, “you have to prepare them the right way. You have to enhance them to get rid of bad things.”

That’s why she soaks and sprouts certain foods to get rid of oxalates and phytic acid. “That’s literally traditional wisdom,” she said.

In the last two years that Nagy has been selling fermented foods, she has seen a huge interest in her products. “I’ve noticed with my customers, they may be shy at first but they keep going back for more,” she said. “Before they know it, their fridge is full of fermented foods. Once you start eating it, your body craves it naturally. With food, you should go with what you crave the most.”

If you are new to fermented foods, Nagy recommends that you start small, slowly increase your intake and try different things. “Every single jar has a different bacterial profile because of the different bacteria that lives on the vegetables.”

“And cook from scratch,” she said. “When you cook you are investing in longevity and wellness.”

To sign up for Nagy’s The Gourmet Health Food Club email list, email [email protected]. Visit Nagy at the winter People’s Market, the second Saturday each month of the winter, at the Teton County Fairgrounds building. PJH

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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