Busting the myth behind sauerkraut! A time-honored, and yes, fermented food. When we hear the words “ferment” and “food” together, it tends to spark the uh-oh feeling. Not so my friends! It should truly spark the oh-yeah feeling. Fermented food is ripe with microorganisms that work together to build a community of immune system-boosting forces. That’s right, fermented food can keep you from getting sick. In fact, the USDA has reported less than 1 case (that’s 0 folks) of food poisoning related to fermented food.
I didn’t even think I was into fermentation until my friend Shoshi introduced me to Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. I quickly realized I had my hands deep in fermentation! A jar of red wine vinegar was acidifying on my living room dresser, and my kefir, kombucha and yogurt projects over the year were pure fermentation. Heck, I’d made pickles, kimchi and beer, and wasn’t afraid to let a wedge of cheese ripen in my refrigerator. Needless to say, a realm of food once shrouded in mystery has become a new source of joy and a even a slight foray into the world of science. (Check out the Find Your Ferment guide I created!) Not to mention, fermentation is an ancient method for preserving food and extending the garden life!
Here’s an easy way to jump into homemade fermentation: the much beloved sauerkraut.
These instructions are inspired by Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. She does such a magnificent job simplifying recipes. You can try making basic sauerkraut with salt an water, or make it your own with these combinations of spices, or other creative spice additions!
- Red cabbage or Green cabbage - 1 red cabbage or 1 green cabbage, or half of each! Each cabbage should produce about 5 cups of finely shredded cabbage.
- Sea salt - 2 1/2 teaspoons
- Water - 1 cup filtered water
- Sea salt - 1 tablespoon
- Muu radishes (optional) - 3 extra large muu radishes, utility grade
- Optional Seasoning combination #1:
- Chives - 1/2 cup
- Mustard seed - 1 1/2 tablespoon
- Korean red pepper - 1 tablespoon
- Optional Seasoning combination #2:
- Yellow mustard seed - 1 teaspoon
- Caraway seeds - 1 teaspoon
- Optional Seasoning combination #3:
- Juniper berries - 1 teaspoon
- Coriander seeds - 1 teaspoon
- Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core. Slice the cabbage as thin as possible, like a finely shredded slaw. If you have a food processor, grate the cabbage.
- Put the cabbage in a large bowl with the 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt and any additional spices you choose.
- Now, you might be surprised by this step, but it works! Using your hands, knead the cabbage in the bowl. It will begin to release juices. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes, with your fists even, encouraging the cabbage to toss out as much water as possible.
- Pack the cabbage into a clean, glass jar (or other non-reactive container). The jar should be about 2 quarts large, and when the cabbage is well packed in, it should come to just about an inch below the mouth of the jar.
- Press the cabbage down as you pack it, so that the liquid rises and covers the cabbage. If it does not come all the way up, create your brine by dissolving 1 tablespoon salt in 1 cup of filtered water. Add this solution to the cabbage until the liquid just covers the top.
- Place a weight over the cabbage to keep it submerged under the brine. I usually find a smaller glass or jar that fits inside the mouth of my cabbage jar. I fill it with water and place it inside the mouth of the jar to weigh down the cabbage. If the mouth of your jar is large enough, you might be able to use a water-filled plastic bag, a clean rock resting on a plate, a condiment bottle or another creative weight.
- Cover the jar with a dish towel, and seal it around the jar with a rubberband.
- Let the cabbage ferment at room temperature for 1 week. Remove the weight and taste it. If you like the taste, cover the jar with a lid and refrigerate indefinitely, until you've eaten it all up! Otherwise, let it continue to ferment until you like the flavor.
- Note: If you find scum on the surface of your brine, just scoop it out with a spoon!
- Double note: If it's too salty the first time around, reduce the amount of salt on your second experiment. I tend to go overboard at first because salt is the preservative that will keep out the bad guys and let this beauty ferment.