I love sauerkraut (well I love cabbage in general, but that's another story), and I know that ‘real sauerkraut', i.e. homemade sauerkraut, is full of not only all the nutrients and phytochemicals that make cabbage a superfood but it contains probiotics as well. It tastes great and it helps with digestion too, well that's what I notice anyway. The store-bought variety may in some cases taste good, but it's not that healthy for you, and it's expensive. It usually has way too much salt, not necessarily good salt at that. And in most cases it's pasteurized, which means all the healthy probiotic bacteria that make sauerkraut so much more awesome and easily digestible than just plain cabbage have been killed off. Along with most of the nutrients I imagine. Mind you, you could do far worse as far as food choices go. But why settle for mediocre? Why not choose awesome? You're worth it.
For a very long time I have wanted to make my own sauerkraut. I talked to people who made their own, I read about how to make sauerkraut and watched some videos. It sounded so complicated. I thought it was difficult to make, that there was some ‘knack' to doing it, and if I didn't get it right the result would be a mushy, smelly disaster. Well, I finally got up the courage to try, and found out that making sauerkraut is so easy! It's got to be one of the easiest things to make. It takes a bit of time, not too much considering what you get in the end though. And I chop all the cabbage by hand, so if you use a mandoline* or food processor it won't take that long at all.
My sauerkraut came out beautiful the first time, using green cabbage. The second time I put in too much salt, but I made both white and red cabbage sauerkraut, and the red cabbage kraut is such a cool color that's all I want to make. It's more nutritious too because of the anthocyanins in the red cabbage. So last time I made it, I wrote down the recipe, and I think I got the salt just right.
Now don't let the length of this recipe scare you off. The process is really easy, it's just that it looks like a lot because I've tried to explain the process really thoroughly. If you have any questions just ask them in the comments area below. And if you want, skip down to the bottom and watch the video by Sandor Ellix Katz, author of one of my all-time favorite recipe books, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods
8 cups finely chopped cabbage (red/purple or green)
1 tbsp Himalayan or Celtic sea salt **
** I like to use coarse sea salt, during the process of massaging the cabbage the grains of salt will break down. I usually put on some good music, or listen to an audio book while I'm doing it and I know I don't have to pay much attention until all the grains of salt have dissolved. It should work just as well with finely ground salt as well.
Here's a tip if you're using red/purple cabbage, as you're massaging the cabbage your hands will get stained purple. An easy and effective way to get the stain off is to rub a cut lemon on your skin where it's stained and then rinse your hands. So if you don't want to have slightly purple hands, be sure to have a lemon on hand (no pun intended) if you're using red/purple cabbage.
You'll need a 1 litre (1 quart) glass jar with a tight fitting lid. I like the jars with a glass lid and rubber seal that clamp down. A canning jar with a tight fitting lid will work fine too.
Wash and drain the cabbage well. Cut off any outer leaves that don't look so good. Cut off and save one of the nicer looking outer leaves and put it to one side. After you've made and packed all the sauerkraut in the jar, you'll fold up this leaf and put it on top to help press down the cabbage to keep it under the brine.
Slice the cabbage as finely as you can. You can also use a mandoline* or food processor to slice the cabbage as finely as you can. The reason you want to slice it so finely is to maximize the surface area. This will make it easier to massage and quicker to ferment.
Add the sliced cabbage to a large mixing bowl, along with the salt. Using your hands massage the salt into the cabbage by grabbing handfuls of the cabbage and squeezing it like you would squeeze out a large sponge then let go and drop the cabbage back into the bowl. Grab another handful and do the same. Repeat this until the cabbage starts to get soft.
As the cabbage softens you'll notice more and more juice in the bottom of the bowl. The juice will dissolve the salt, which will in turn draw more juice out of the cabbage. That's exactly what we want. Don't drain the juice off, it's the brine that will allow the cabbage to ferment without going ‘off'. You'll also notice that the volume of cabbage gets smaller as you massage it.
Keep massaging until the cabbage is quite soft and limp, almost the consistency it is after being stir-fried or steamed. You want to keep massaging until the volume of the cabbage is reduced by about half. If you used coarse sea salt, it should all be dissolved. If you taste a bit at this point, you'll notice that the cabbage has lost that sharp, pungent taste that raw cabbage has. I love the cabbage like this, even before it's fermented. I often use this technique for cabbage and kale when I'm making a salad, sometimes adding a bit of olive oil and massaging that in as well.
Now it's time to pack the jar that you'll ferment your sauerkraut in. Grab a few handfuls of cabbage and put them into the jar and add a bit of the brine, just to the top of the cabbage. Reach in with your hand or a wooden spoon and press the cabbage down into the bottom. You want to release any air pockets and pack the cabbage in as tightly as you can. Continue to pack the cabbage into the jar in this way, a few handfuls at a time until you nearly reach the top of the jar.
Add more brine if you need so that all the cabbage is under brine. This prevents bad bacteria from forming during the fermentation process. Take the outer cabbage leaf you saved at the beginning and fold it up so that it will just fit inside the mouth of the jar. You want to use it almost like a lid to keep the sliced cabbage pressed down underneath the brine.
Put the lid on the jar, and leave it out at room temperature for about 4 days. Your fermentation time may vary depending on the temperature and how fermented you like your kraut. Keep out of direct sunlight.
Take off the lid once a day to release any gasses that may build up from the fermentation process. Use a wooden spoon to press the cabbage down and release any gas bubbles that have formed. That helps it ferment better and ensures that the cabbage is kept under the brine level and helps prevent the brine from overflowing your container.
You'll notice the color of the cabbage has changed after massaging it, and it will keep changing over the next few days as it ferments. I always do a taste test starting at day 3, and then daily after that. Once the sauerkraut gets to the point that you like it, put it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. I've had some last for about 2 months before I ate it all, and it just kept maturing and getting better.
Makes 1 litre of sauerkraut
This is a great video by fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz that shows you just how easy it is to make sauerkraut. This video was really instrumental in getting me started making my own sauerkraut. It shows just how easy it is and gave me the confidence to try it myself. It does a really good job showing how to massage the cabbage. Some good info on the benefits of fermenting vegetables too.
* What is a Mandoline?
A mandoline is great for slicing fruits and vegetables. They are usually made from plastic, or less commonly from stainless steel, with a very sharp set of interchangeable blades that fit into a ‘ramp'. The best blades are made from surgical steel and will keep their edge for years. They are probably the quickest way of slicing anything. Far faster than a knife, and easier to to set up and clean than a food processor. Those who have and use mandolines swear by them.
The interchangeable blades allow you to slice at different thicknesses, julienne, and shred. Because the blade is so sharp slicing is quick and easy, but it's also easy to slice your finger. So be sure the use the safety holder. They are not as awkward to use as you might think at first glance. Cleaning is easy, in most cases you just have to rinse.