Make your own: sauerkraut

April 4, 2012 · 11 comments

kraut-jarred

Fermenting vegetables can feel like a mysterious, risky thing.

Or, it did to me, anyway. And the first time I did it? I hated the results.

It was back in the infamous days of starting my half-baked adventures with the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. I made ginger carrots, since that’s what Sally says is the fermented vegetable most palatable to the newbie.

She was wrong. I let that quart of lacto-fermented carrots sit in my refrigerator for almost a year, hoping I’d wake up one day and like them. I finally dumped the quart when we moved.

Eating fermented veggies was always a struggle for me — I just didn’t have a taste for them. But when I started the GAPS diet, I was required to eat them with every meal — the probiotic value of those ferments is a huge help in digestion and balancing gut flora. I whipped up my first batch of sauerkraut just before starting the intro diet, and had my first taste during the second week.

kraut-quarteredcabbage

I loved it. Something had changed.

I’m not sure if it was that I was starving to death that first week (blinding hunger will certainly change how things taste), or if it was the fact that I cultured my kraut with just salt, not whey — but I’ve continued to love it, and even crave other fermented veggies as well — dilly carrot sticks and beet relish are among my daily binges.

kraut-slicedcabbage

So what’s the difference between veggies fermented with salt and those using whey (the liquid that separates from yogurt, or leftover from making cheese — I get mine from straining homemade yogurt)? I checked with the experts, the guys over at Fermenti Artisan, to get an answer.

In short, using whey provides for a much quicker ferment. It’s also more consistent, and offers a larger yield (you usually don’t have to scrape off browned pieces from the top because the cabbage ferments more quickly, less susceptible to oxidation). For those guys, selling ferments to the public in large quantities, these things are all important. But for me, since I prefer the flavor of a salt-only ferment, I choose to lose a little cabbage and skip the whey (in case you’re wondering, all of the bacteria in a salt-only ferment comes from the cabbage itself — which is why buying organic cabbage is important).

kraut-bowl

As a bonus, this kraut can be started at home by just about anyone, even if you don’t have whey on-hand. All you really need is organic cabbage, salt, a wooden spoon, and a canning jar or two. A teaspoon or two of your favorite herb seed (caraway, dill, fennel, etc.) will add flavor.

And, of course, an ounce or two of patience. Your kraut won’t be ready for a week, and the ideal time to consume it is after several weeks. So starting a jar means you’ll be enjoying it in about a month (I start a new jar when I get halfway down my current stash).

kraut-pound

If you’re interested in learning more, and are local to Indy, there will be a class on Thursday, April 19, at 6pm at City Market. The class will be taught by the guys at Fermenti Artisan with additional info from Kate Payne, author of The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking, who’s coming to town for another visit. If you’d like to learn more and are not local, may I suggest a new book written by my online friend Wardeh Harmon of GNOWFGLINSThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods. It’s hot off the presses!

Or, if a simple brined kraut will do ya, grab a head of cabbage and get those juices flowing — let me know how it goes!

…………………………………………….

Recipe: Simple Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 1 medium (about 2 pounds) head organic* cabbage
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more for brine
  • 1/2 tsp caraway, dill, or fennel seeds
  • sliced onions and/or chopped peeled apple (optional)
  • 1 quart-sized canning jar, plus an additional pint jar if necessary

Instructions

  1. Rinse cabbage and remove any browned outer leaves. Using a large chef’s knife, cut the head into 4 quarters, cutting pole-to-pole (this is a great affordable chef’s knife)
  2. Remove the core by cutting at a diagonal along the stem (see photos above). With each core laying on its side, cut thin strips of cabbage.
  3. Place cabbage in a large bowl, and toss with 2 tsp sea salt. Let sit at room temperature (uncovered ok) for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Using a thick wooden spoon or meat tenderizer (a kraut pounder is on my gift list!), pound the cabbage for about 5 minutes to help release juices.
  5. Layer cabbage with optional onions & apples and seeds in a quart-sized glass canning jar. Really pack the vegetables in the jar.
  6. If more liquid is needed, make additional brine water: dissolve 1 tsp salt in 2 cups room-temperature filtered water. Pour this into the jars until the cabbage is covered.
  7. Place lids on the jars, but loosely. Place on a shelf or counter of your kitchen, and let sit for 7 days (it helps me to mark the date on the lid with a dry-erase marker).
  8. Remove any darkened vegetables from the top layer, and transfer lidded jar to the refrigerator. Kraut will continue to mellow for 3 or 4 weeks, but it’s safe to consume immediately. Will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

* Organic cabbage is important, as conventionally-raised cabbage could be bereft of bacteria needed to encourage fermentation.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2012.

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{ 11 comments }

Stefanii April 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm

The guy from Wild Fermentations (great book, BTW) suggests taking a TB or so from a really tasty kraut and adding it to your new batch. Speeds up the fermentation by a day or 2 and really gives a depth of flavor, especially after a few batches. I’ve been doing this with my carrots and like it a lot.

katy April 5, 2012 at 9:19 am

*almost* bought that on my last amazon order. darnit. great idea — I’ll do that on my next batch!

Stefanii April 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Oh, and how do you do your beets? Don’t love mine yet.

katy April 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

almost the exact same way — though I do shred them in the food processor. I salt them, then pound, then pack w/ chopped apple. I think I used bay leaf, but no other spices.

Pumpkin, Pie, Painter April 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Ooo, this sounds great!! I actually did mine to can…left them in a cooler on the porch for a few weeks til they had sealed. I had to use zinc lids with the rubber seals. This sounds much more doable. I’m looking forward to trying it!

katy April 6, 2012 at 9:45 am

Ok, you have piqued my curiosity! The zinc lids and rubber seals self-sealed over time? How long did you let them cure in the jar before you opened and enjoyed a jar (i.e., does the flavor change over time in the sealed jar)?

Nancy April 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

Alright, are you seated? You know how loquacious I can be. So, after finding out you were going to blog about sauerkraut this week, that very night our neighbor invited us over – he has a big green egg and after the brisket and salmon he smoked last year, we jump at any offer. One of the dishes was some smoked beef (I don’t remember the cut but that it was sliced super thin) and sauerkraut. Well, Nate was trying to say Will could have it and I said well that depends and our neighbor said he likes the taste of it without whey in it better but it was out at the Good Foods Co-Op and more expensive. This was just something he’d picked up at Kroger and did have whey. Nate looked at us like we were speaking German (see what I did there? Sauerkraut – German?? That is German, right?) Anyway, our neighbor said he was going to start making his own because it’s easy. I told him you were going to be blogging about it THIS WEEK! It was like serendipity. Anyway, he proceeded to tell me that last year he had been having horrible problems with his stomach and started eating yogurt and fermented vegetables and now he doesn’t have any trouble any more. And I told him that my stomach had recently been getting upset but I had grown so tired of yogurt. SO, all that to say, I’ll pass along your post to him and will be consuming more sauerkraut myself. And will probably encourage Will to try some, as well.

katy April 6, 2012 at 11:21 am

Well, listen to all that wisdom from your neighbor!
Yes, homemade kraut is a great way to get good bugs into the gut of your dairy-allergic ones. I can’t get T to eat it yet, but I’m working on him.
(FYI, I read that Bubba’s is a store-bought brand that still has live cultures, in case you don’t want to make it — though I don’t know if it uses whey)
Have you looked into water kefir, or kombucha, for W? Those are other really good gut-builders with no dairy. T loves both of them, I plan to start making them again this summer.

Nancy April 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I think W will eat a few bites if the reward is good enough. He likes pickles, so I think he would be ok with the sourness of it. And thanks for the other suggestions. I’ll try them. See, if I was living there, I’d just pay you to make this stuff for me. :)

Stefanii April 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Yes, yes, I want to know more about the zinc lids and rubber seals! I have a bunch of the lids and found a place online to order the seals, but I’m not confident enough to use them yet…Let me know if you find out more. I could have kraut fermenting on my counter as well as aging (and self-sealing?!) in a cooler somewhere. This could get yummy!

Mary April 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm

This looks interesting. Like yours, my first attempt was quite unimpressive. You’ve inspired me to try again. I still laugh every time I think about your When Katy Met Sally post.

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