Sauerkraut is a traditional food popular all over Europe as well as Asia that dates back as far as two thousand years ago. For centuries sauerkraut was revered for its high vitamin C content, it was a holistic remedy to prevent scurvy, and it has adequately nourished families throughout even the harshest winters. Fermented cabbage is a great, cheap resource that is truly wholesome. Raw or lightly cooked cabbage has great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that are even said to prevent cancer cell growth! In no time cabbage can be saute’d, fried, boiled, roasted, or steamed however, it is healthiest raw, or very gently prepared. While cooked cabbage is not exactly adored by my family, fermented anything is an easy win. Who doesn’t love a good pickle? The fermentation process really transforms even the plainest, simplest foods into something quite ethereal. Fermentation is a miraculous, easy process that increases the vitamins in foods and also builds enzymes and lactic acid. Lacto-fermentation creates a wonderful sour, salty taste but also really boosts your immune system and aids with efficient digestion.
Sauerkraut and naturally fermented pickles of all varieties are now a favorite of mine because they are delicious, nutritious, cheap and so stupid simple to prepare. The longer I focus primarily on the quality of food we are eating, the more I truly value the beauty of simple, high quality ingredients. Sauerkraut is a simple but nutrient dense food. It can be served with a great variety of things, we eat it with kielbasa and other sausages, schnitzel (a real MVP in our home), ham and even fried eggs and bacon. Sauerkraut and pickled vegetables can be tossed into salads, or saute’s and even the pickiest eaters often can’t detect it when mixed into soups and stews. (Be sure not to put your kraut into wicked hot soup though, it will kill all of that beneficial-bacterial love you worked into it! )
Although in my youth we primarily ate kraut braised with pork, or tossed with pierogi, I am trying to make raw, fermented foods a regular part of our diet. Pickled foods are so easy to just toss alongside everything from pot roast to homemade chicken nuggets. Even when purchasing organic cabbage, it is truly a budget buster. (On average, I pay approximately $1.25 per pound.) One head of cabbage and some salt will give you two jars of homemade sauerkraut. When you compare that to the $6 a jar for organic sauerkraut it is just silly to consider buying it! Raw, real sauerkraut is like nothing else and it is stupid easy to make. It’s so easy a child can do it… literally. I like to assign Riley to kraut duty from time to time. It teaches him about his food, and gives him something to be proud about. Although I occasionally pick up a jar of sauerkraut for braising, I almost always keep the real deal on hand for snacking, and of course colcannon.
You Will Need :
- Two, 1 Quart Jars, I like these Ball Wide Mouth Quart Jars
- 1 Medium Sized Head of Cabbage, More or Less to Fill The Jars
- Celtic Sea Salt, 2-3 Tablespoons (more for filling the jars)
- Optional: Dill, Caraway Seed, Juniper Berries, or Mustard Seeds
- With a sharp knife or Mandoline Slicer, shred the cabbage into very thin strands. I sometimes just chop it finely so that it resembles the chopped cole slaw my husband adores.
- Place cabbage into a non-metallic bowl with 2 tablespoons of salt. (Use the full 3 tablespoons if you have a particularly large head of cabbage.)
- Vigorously massage and knead the salt into the cabbage. Really tear into it and squeeze it. This tenderizes the strands and helps to reduce the moisture.
- Squeeze the liquid out of the cabbage and place it into your jars. Toss in a teaspoon or so of extra salt as you are packing the cabbage in. To really pack your jars, use a tamper or pestle if you have one on hand. This helps to remove excess air and it also reduces storage space.
- Once your jars are packed well, evenly distribute the reserved salty liquid into your jars.
- Cover the jars tightly with your rings and lids. Allow to ferment in a cupboard or closet at room temperature for at least 7 days, 3 months or longer if you are patient enough. (place the jars on a plate to catch any leakage)
- I have found that it does not taste like “real sauerkraut” until it has fermented at least 3 months.
- Be sure to vent the jars from time to time. If you get a chance, open the lids about once a week to let out the built up gas. Once the jar *Pops* and the bubbles have fizzled, place the lids back on and allow it to continue to ferment. Gas builds up and if you do not release it. Now and then you might get a build up that will literally take your breath away. The jar can also explode if it is build up too long … So don’t skip this step.
Fermenting – Room temperature may vary from household to household. An ideal temperature for a slow fermentation is about 65 degrees. Sauerkraut benefits from a cooler room temperature, a slow ferment tastes quite different than a food that was quickly fermented in two to three days.
To Brine or Not to Brine? I have found that the best sauerkraut I have made is this mason jar kraut. I do not add very much, if any liquid besides whatever was squeezed out of the salted cabbage. I have found no benefit to drowning the kraut in an excessive amount of liquid, in fact I have found that it causes me more trouble than if I had not added it at all. If you have packed your jars well, adding brine is not really absolutely necessary. If you choose to top off your jars with liquid, you will want to make a brine with 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of water. The addition of salt prevents bad bacterial growth, by adding an adequate amount of salt you are covering your bases. Adding water is only really important if you are using a jar that has excess air space. Be sure to pack your jars to the bottom ring with cabbage to prevent spoilage. (When Pressed on there should be liquid but it does not have to be swimming in brine) If the jars are half packed your best bed is to transfer the salted cabbage to a smaller jar.