So I promised to post this last night, but then after building the girls’ new art table, chopping up six pounds of onions and portioning them for freezing, making dinner for the Guys, and doing dishes for what seemed like the 18th time of the day, I went to bed instead.
However, this is important. Sauerkraut is amazing stuff. AMAZING. It’s credited with an ability to aid weight loss, boost energy, and increase blood circulation (and thus the oxygenation of organs), due to it’s iron content. The fermentation process produces probiotics, which–along with all of the dietary fiber–help to maintain a healthy gut biome and assist digestion, helping to eliminate constipation, bloating, cramping, and excessive gas. These probiotics can also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, reducing risks for atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues. Phytonutrient antioxidants in sauerkraut can double as anti-inflammatory agents, reducing pain and discomfort in joints, muscles, and other inflamed areas. They even say that along with the cancer preventative properties of the antioxidant compounds in sauerkraut, that its fermentation process also aids in apoptosis, which destroys cancer cells before they grow.
This miraculous side dish is low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with:
- vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant along with the carotenes to improve both eye and skin health.
- vitamin C, which is important for a healthy immune system. A single serving of sauerkraut has 35% of your daily recommended intake of C, which stimulates the production of white blood cells and aids cellular regeneration and repair, and also is important in the formation of collagen (needed for organs, blood vessels, skin, hair, muscles and bones).
- vitamin K, which is important for maintaining the integrity and strength of our bones and regulates bone mineralization.
- B vitamins (B6 and folate), which are vital for movement, memory, energy and blood flow. B6 helps the body to maintain a healthy nervous system, to make hemoglobin, to balance blood sugar, boost mood (raising serotonin levels in the brain and reducing stress and anxiety), and support our immune system.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I know, you didn’t come here to read me sing the praises of sauerkraut, but there really are a million reasons we should be eating it. Above all, however, it tastes FABULOUS! Whether you eat it with polish sausage, brats, hot dogs, salt beef, on a reuben or grilled cheese, in a salad or all by itself, this sauerkraut recipe is tangy and delicious, with just a hint of caraway.
Easy Fermented Sauerkraut
Prep time: ~ 30 minutes, Fermentation time: 4 – 14+ days, Yield: 2 quarts
- 2 medium heads of cabbage (about 5 pounds)
- 3 tbsp. finely ground sea salt
- 2 tbsp. caraway seeds (unless you’re nuts and don’t like them)
- Fermentation vessel (*see note below)
- Wash everything: cabbage, tools, surfaces, hands. Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Set them in the sink for use later, if you don’t have fermentation weights.
- Cut your cabbage into quarters and remove the core. Slice the cabbage into 1/4″ (or thinner, if you prefer) ribbons and toss into a large bowl. You can use your knife (I do), a food processor, or a mandolin.
- Sprinkle your salt over your cabbage ribbons. Start to massage the cabbage with your hands. Every recipe I see says that this will take 4-10 minutes, and I’ll tell you, I’ve NEVER had it take less than 10, so don’t get your hopes up. After a few minutes, the cabbage will start to soften up, get shiny, and start releasing liquid: your brine.
- Add your caraway seeds, unless you’re weird and you don’t like them (or you aren’t weird, but you’re allergic).
- Start loading your fermentation vessel* with the mixture a handful at a time. Pack it down tightly. I make enough kraut and kimchi, that I have a fun and pretty “kraut pounder”. You don’t need one. Use your fist, a wooden spoon, etc. But pack it tight (this will create more brine). Pour the extra brine from the bottom of your bowl into your jars. If you don’t have enough to cover your cabbage, you can mix some more up by using a ratio of 1 tbsp. of your salt to four cups of water.
- Leave about 4 inches of “head space,” or empty space above your cabbage, so that it has room to expand. Put your weights (or your cabbage leaf, Ziploc bag, etc.) down, and seal your jar. If you use an airlock lid like mine, it will release the built-up gas as it goes. If you use a regular lid, you’ll need to release the gas manually. Fabric will allow it to escape on its own.
- Be patient. Put your vessel someplace safe and preferably dark. Fermentation will start in a day, and some people like their kraut as young as 4 days old. I don’t even start tasting for doneness until it has developed for 10 days, and plenty of people will tell you it takes a month to five weeks to reach maturity.
- When you like your flavor, seal your container up and put it in the fridge. The cooler temperature will slow down fermentation to a crawl, and your finished sauerkraut will last for 6 months or even up to a year in the fridge (I generally have to make a new batch every month or so, because we eat it all up that fast!).
* You can use a crock meant for fermenting or two quart-sized mason jars / a half-gallon mason jar. If you’re using jars, you can use weights and a fancy fermentation airlock seal like mine, or make your own weight with a smaller jar that fits inside, a Ziploc bag filled with water, or one of the outer leaves of cabbage tucked down around the sides of the jar over the top of your sliced cabbage. Then cover with tightly woven cloth and a rubber band. The point is, the fermenting kraut needs to be kept UNDER the brine. “Under the brine, and it’s fine”.
It’s normal for there to be foam, white scum, or bubbles on the top during fermentation. If you see actual mold, however, scrape it off the top and make sure the cabbage is fully submerged in brine. The cabbage that was below the brine won’t have been affected by the mold.