By Lif (“experimentation in the kitchen is fun”) Strand
Sauerkraut, like all fermented and cultured food, is really good for you. Fermenting improves the nutritional value of food. It may sound yucky, but anything you eat that is produced through the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and molds increases your overall nutrition, promotes the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria, aids digestion and supports your body’s immune function. But beware! Commercially prepared fermented and cultured foods have preservatives in them and are no longer “live” foods. They’re just junk food in disguise.
Oh, and just let me add that fermented beverages - beer, wine, cider - are only sorta good for you, since the alcohol that's produced tends to kill off the friendly bacteria in your guts. Just sayin'.
Equipment what I used (and/or what normal people use):
· Large stainless steel bowl (any large bowl would do, I just like stainless steel)
· Wooden spoon (you don’t really need a spoon, but I had one out on the counter just in case. Plus I also like wooden kitchen utensils)
· Stainless steel coffee cup to use for “bruising” the cabbage (you can use your hands or a cooking mallet)
· Knife to chop pieces that are too floppy for the grater
· Chopping block
· Stainless steel fermenting container, holds at least a gallon (ceramic sauerkraut crock, glass container with wide mouth or large canning jars).
· A dish or something that won’t absorb liquids or react to them (glass or stainless will do) that is just smaller than the diameter of your fermenting container.
· Cabbage (4-5 lbs or so)
· Salt (1 - 1 ½ tsp per lb to taste)
· Some other spices if you want (juniper berries, caraway seeds, coriander for European style, or ginger, garlic, hot peppers for more Asian style)
1. Plant some cabbage a few months before you plan to make the sauerkraut. It’s easier if you use a tight head cabbage, like most everyone is used to seeing in the grocery store. Loose headed cabbage is fine, though - practically any veggie can be fermented.
2. Buy a couple heads of cabbage after you give up on growing your own. They should add up to about 4-5 lbs.
3. While your cabbage is still green and crispy (before it gets all yellow and soft because you either forgot about it or kept putting the project off), first clean them, then peel off the outer leaves and put them aside. Shred the rest (except for the hard stem part) into sauerkraut sized pieces. You can do this slowly and tediously with a knife, or you can use a hand grater or maybe even a food processer – whatever you use, make sure the pieces are thin.
4. Every few cups worth that you’ve shredded and put into your bowl, sprinkle some salt over the cabbage and pound it with the stainless steel cup (or squeeze and mash with your hands). When you’re done with all the shreds, they should be kind of beat up and soggy. Taste the cabbage – you want to taste some salt flavor but you don’t want it real salty. If it’s too salty, add more shredded cabbage or rinse part of it with water, drain and mix back into the batch in the bowl.
5. Add your spices and mix well. I wanted caraway seed but I didn’t have any, so I put in powdered coriander, dill (because I like it) and a good amount of ground cumin (because I really, really like cumin and besides, cumin seeds look like caraway seeds, so that’s pretty close). I also went outside and gathered about a teaspoon’s worth of ripe juniper berries. I’m not fond of gin so I figured a few berries - maybe 15 - would go a long ways.
6. Shovel all that cabbage out of the bowl and into the fermenting container – the crock or jars or whatever. Note that if you didn’t have a large container, you can still do this with a few smaller containers if they’re at least a quart each. You want at least 3 inches between the packed cabbage and the top of the jar. Pack it in tightly – the nice thing about glass is that you can see air bubbles, but oh well, I was using stainless steel, so it was a matter of smushing it with my stainless steel cup. The cabbage shreds are supposed to be submerged in their own liquid. Oops. Mine was all moist and soggy but as much as I packed the cabbage with the cup the vegetable matter wasn’t going to be submerged in liquid. Add a little water if you have to – just enough so that the shreds are fully submerged, because any veggie stuff that’s exposed to air will rot (ewwww!)
7. Arrange the leaves you set aside earlier over the top of all the shredded cabbage, making sure the shreds are totally covered.
8. Now you need a weight to make sure the shreds stay below the liquid and away from the air. Place your weight on top of the leaves – it could be a plate or bowl or even be a resealable plastic bag with rocks inside. A plate is good because as long as the water is above it, you know your cabbage isn’t exposed to the air. You don’t want a whole bunch of water, mind you, but you want that cabbage covered. A little mold might form in your crock, but if it’s just surface stuff just scrape it away and remove anything that’s discolored compared to the rest. Let your nose tell you: Sauerkraut doesn’t smell great but it shouldn’t smell rotten.
9. Over the first 24 hours keep your cabbage at room temperature. Check it 3 to 4 times and press it down to make sure that the water level rises to just above the cabbage. Any time that there isn't enough water to completely cover the cabbage, mix a brine in the proportions of 1 teaspoon of sea salt with 1 cup of water and add brine to just above the level of the cabbage.
10. For the first few days, store at room temperature, then move your crock to a cooler location, such as a basement. You can cover it if you want, but remember, this is fermentation and pressure can build up so if you’ve got a good seal, burp it every day or two, especially in the beginning when it’ll be bubbling – hey, that’s what happens in beer, too.
11. The rest is up to the sauerkraut gods. The cabbage ferments all by itself – the microbes that do it are on the leaves (and on those juniper berries I added). Let it do its thing for a week and then give it a taste. Check every week until it’s sour as you like. That could be a soon as a week, but if it’s cooler or if there weren’t so many microbes on the leaves it will take longer. Just remember, fermented foods are the most potent source of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) there is. The longer sauerkraut ferments the more probiotic support it offers your digestive system, and isn’t that why you are doing this in the first place? No? You just wanted to make Reuben sandwiches?
12. Store it in the fridge in its own container or in tightly sealed jars at that point to stop the fermentation – it’ll keep for months, because it is alive!
Disclaimer: I’m an irreverent cook and stuff I make rarely comes out the same two times in a row. Follow these directions at your own risk!